What is networking?
Within the games development industry networking can be defined simply as the group of contacts you can build up through those that you have worked successfully with in the past, met at conventions or meetings and those that you have completed work for or have a history of reliability with.
Why is networking important?
Networking is essential within the games develop industry, especially to those going down the route of freelancing as those that have chosen to go down this path have to undertake a whole spectrum of business responsibilities with one of the most important being reaching out and finding customers while also hopefully retaining most of them if you are delivering a consistent level of quality and professionalism.
This however does not mean in any way that networking is only for those who are wanting to freelance as it is always useful to have groups or individuals with similar skills who you know can rely on if you need advice or support, while also being able to offer this to others.
This sort of give and take is not only beneficial on a peer to peer level but is also useful for those hiring for projects as you can trust your own instincts on who you have worked and using those you trusts judgement on whether someone is worth hiring or not. On the other side of the coin it additionally benefits those who are seeking employment as having a strong connection with individuals, companies or groups can help get a foot in the door and be a deciding factor in whether you ultimately achieve a sought after position or not.
How do I start networking?
The simplest way to begin networking is to go to big events, such as the ones hosted by the IGDA, that will be host to multiple organisations and individuals who are like-minded as you.
Another great place to meet and interact with potential similarly minded people would be game jams, this is even accessible at a student level as it would be hard to find a university without some sort of games society. As much as this level of networking is not on a professional level it does gear a person towards the actions and steps, they would have to undertake to start their networking journey
A great tool to help build up a community or network would be LinkedIn as it plays a tremendous role in connecting peers and those trying to get a foot in the door within a professional setting. LinkedIn allows someone to be able to reach out and help, or get help easily, allows for you to get your portfolio out there, or view others to get an idea of how to create or amend yours to catch the most attention.
On the other hand I would strongly suggest avoiding other social media such as Facebook, as even though they can be used to connect with people I strongly believe professional and personal aspects of your life should be kept apart as what you like or share on Facebook can be interpreted in any manner and could lead to a potential employer being put off or just not wanting to take the chance on you.