Building a User Group in your area
User groups are a great way to meet local developers in your area, share tips and techniques, demo your projects and possibly find work at local studios. Since moving back to the UK and helping to form the Manchester Unity User Group I have discovered quite a bit about the trials and tribulations of running an effective user group. Here’s some advice:
User groups are a great way to meet local developers in your area, share tips and techniques, demo your projects and possibly find work at local studios.
If you have been to our Unity User Groups page and discovered that there is no local user group, all is not lost! This might be a great opportunity to establish a Unity User Group of your own.
There are a number of things to take into account when looking at establishing a user group. This is what you can do to get the ball rolling:
The first step is finding out how many folks in your area will be interested in a user group! This will have a strong bearing on the flavour and scale of your events, so it’s important to have an idea of what to expect. A good way to do this is to find other pre-existing game development groups in the area and join them. This can be in the form of local your IGDA chapter, game jam events or if you are at college/university, perhaps there are relevant classes that may have an interest.
Find a venue
Getting the venue right is crucial. If you anticipate a handful of interested developers, simply meeting up in a bar/coffee shop can be a nice relaxed way to start things off. However, if you expect a group that is a bit larger, you will need to consider a more dedicated space that can better cater to your needs. This is especially true if you’d like to give people a chance to present through a projector. Good places to start the search include the IGDA, local universities and hackerspaces.
Plan your first event
Depending on how structured you want things to be, it’s a good idea to have a specific plan. With smaller scale groups, grabbing a drink in a pub/coffee shop and hanging out in a corner works fine. Once you reach a point where the entire group is unable to huddle around a laptop or two, you’ll probably want to scale up the venue a touch and prepare a program. At the Manchester group we usually have one or two main presentations. Then, during the second hour, we open it up to the group, so that anybody can showcase what they are working on.
Making your group easy to discover online is important. We found that many more folks than expected turned up to our first meeting just from some because we promoted the group on Twitter.
Choosing a platform to co-ordinate the group is also something that you need to consider, as the Manchester Unity User Group has evolved we have tried out a number of different systems. Initially we used Eventbrite, we are now using a Facebook group and are considering setting up a Meetup page, which proves to be a popular choice with Unity user groups in general.
Be sure to register your new user group on the Unity website.
In addition to that we also have a Google form that feeds into a spreadsheet for talk submissions, if somebody wants to talk at a meeting, we ask that they fill in the details on the form so that they are saved for ease of planning. Google forms and spreadsheets are generally pretty good way to get organized.
Beyond the first event
So, you’ve had a super awesome first event and are looking ahead to the next one. The first thing to consider is when you should hold the next meeting. The trap that we fell into in Manchester was effectively “too much too soon”. We reached a point where we were running low on news and projects to share. Me and Dan, the two main organizers, were also incredibly busy and didn’t have the capacity to give the group the time it deserved. As a result, we switched to alternating between a normal meeting and just a casual social meet up. We are now considering an ad-hoc approach where when we have a primary speaker who wants to share their projects, we arrange a meet-up around that headline session.
So, that about does it. If you happen to have experience of running a User Group, please chime in with your nuggets of wisdom in the comments below! Ultimately, there isn’t really a wrong or right way of doing things, so feel free to experiment with different formats and structures.
A few pictures from the latest Manchester Unity User Group Meet Up: