|< Day Day Up >|| |
Getting a job at an established company is the most practical way to start off in the game industry. You will gain knowledge and experience, meet and work with other talented people, and see the inner workings of game production first hand. But even at the entry level, the game industry is very competitive. Aside from the obvious routes of responding to job postings and contacting the HR departments of game companies, we have several strategic recommendations that may help you get your first job.
When contacting companies and going on interviews, the most important thing you bring with you as a beginning game designer is a solid knowledge of games and the game industry. Being able to articulate concepts in gameplay and mechanics, knowing the history of games, and understanding how the companies you are speaking to fit into the business of games are all important ways to show your skills. There are many ways to educate yourself about games and the industry—everything from academic programs to a do-it-yourself regime of games and research.
Many colleges around the country are beginning to offer degrees in multimedia studies and game design. This includes some top-tier universities, like NYU, USC, and Carnegie Mellon, which are just beginning to develop their programs. There are also well-established trade schools, like DigiPen and Full Sail, which specialize in placing people in the game industry.
Although the game industry to date has not had a strong emphasis on higher-level education as preparation for careers, according to Rusty Rueff, EVP of Human Resources at Electronic Arts, larger game companies, like EA, are looking forward to a time when the majority of their new hires will come from university programs.
If you choose to attend one of these schools, keep in mind that a well-rounded program may better prepare you for a career in game design than a curriculum focused only on tools and techniques. Additionally, studying subjects outside the field, such as history, psychology, economics, literature, film, or other topics you are passionate about, will stimulate your mind and imagination and give you interesting perspectives from which to design games.
That said, there’s one bias that game companies do have: they are more likely to hire people with technical skills. So if you take some courses in engineering or computer science, it will give you an edge over the competition. And while you shouldn’t make tools your learning focus, you should become familiar with the applications used to make games. Programs like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, 3D Studio Max, Maya, Macromedia’s Shockwave and Flash, Microsoft Project, Word, and Excel are all important tools that you may want to become familiar with and most game programs will offer some training in these tools.
Even if you are not at a university or trade school that offers a program in game development, you can teach yourself about design by playing as many games as you can, reading about their history and development, and analyzing their systems.
We assume you love games, so playing them a lot is probably something you do already. But just playing is not enough. Get in the habit of analyzing the games you play. Challenge yourself to learn something new from each game you play. With the concepts you’ve learned from this book, you should now be seeing the structure of games in a different light. Try branching out to new genres and platforms—web games, card games, boardgames, classic games, cutting edge games, and independent games can all teach you about the craft and make you a better candidate for a job in the industry.
If you are following along with the exercises in this book, you should have designed at least one original game prototype by now. This experience is one of the most valuable tools you have in your search for a game design job.
Good solid paper game prototypes and well written concept documents can form the basis for a great beginning portfolio. If you have the skills to turn your designs into software prototypes as well, you should do so. Even if you don’t plan on pitching your ideas to a publisher at this point, polish your prototype and concept document anyway. During that crucial moment in a job interview when they ask you what experience you have, you’ll be able to show your work and discuss the process of design, playtesting, and revision in detail. This will differentiate you from other applicants, because even though you are a beginner, you’ll be able to display actual experience of the development process, even though your games have not yet been published.
In addition to making physical and digital prototypes of original games, you can demonstrate your game design skills by building levels for existing games. As we discussed in Chapter 7, many games ship with level editing and mod building tools that are both powerful and flexible. Several quite famous game designers have gotten their start by designing mods that become so popular a publisher took notice. There are also mod and level-making competitions that you can enter, which may help give you the visibility and recognition you need to secure that first job. One strategy for getting in the door at a game company is to make levels or mods of that company’s games, then submit these examples of your work along with your resume.
by Tom Sloper, President, Sloperama Productions
Get this, and get it straight. The job of “game designer” is a much sought-after position with a prerequisite of a lot of game industry experience. So even if you have just graduated from college, don’t hold out for the vaunted title of “game designer.” Just apply for any game industry job you can get.
The key is getting in in the first place. Your first goal must be simply to get inside the industry. We’re talking about a career—a way of life—not a sinecure.
Once you are inside, you have to work hard, volunteer to help out in any way you can, learn everything you can, and prove yourself, before you can gain the title of “game designer.”
After proving yourself as a game designer once, you will have to prove yourself time and time again. Know that ahead of time, steel yourself, and be willing. And you’ll be fine. Okay, the necessary basic info is out of the way now. Here’s how to apply for that game industry job.
First, you must be prepared for the job.
Presumably you have completed the exercises in this book. Presumably, you are a high school graduate and have a college degree. Presumably, you are an avid game player. Presumably, you have already been participating in the game newsgroups, to wit:
Next, you need to have a well-written resume.
I’m not going to tell you how to write a resume. There are lots of books and web sites about that. One way to sweeten your resume, though, is to mention your personal design projects. You will differentiate yourself a lot if you list prototypes you’ve made, treatments you’ve written, mods you’ve created, game groups you’ve organized, newsgroups you participate in, etc.
Next, prepare your portfolio.
What’s a portfolio, you ask? According to Merriam-Webster, a portfolio is:
A hinged cover or flexible case for carrying loose papers, pictures, or pamphlets
A set of pictures (as drawings or photographs) either bound in book form or loose in a folder
If you’re an aspiring game designer, you can create a portfolio with samples of your writings and drawings, photographs of your paper prototypes, flyers, newspaper clippings, or photos from game events you organized—anything that shows off your creativity and desirability as a job candidate. Just the best stuff, though. A portfolio should fit into a 1/2" flexible three-ring binder (it shouldn’t be too thick; you’ll only have a few minutes to show it off). Protect the paper by encasing it in “sheet protectors” (available at office supply stores). And make copies of your portfolio, so you have the option of leaving one with a hiring manager.
Organize your portfolio with your most striking stuff in the front. In an interview, the interviewer may open the binder, look at the first few things, then close it. So you need to make the best possible impression with the first things, right up front.
Don’t put complete designs into your design portfolio—game companies almost always have prohibitions against receiving game concept “submissions” without signed agreements in place, and they might perceive your portfolio as a stealth submission. There shouldn’t be more than about 20 sheets in a portfolio.
If you’ve created animations, audio pieces, or programs, collect those on a CD. Don’t bring demos on Zip disks, 8-tracks, Syquests, or reel-to-reel tapes! But, as with the paper portfolio, make a copy.
So that’s what a portfolio is, and how it’s used. If you can’t make a spectacular portfolio, don’t make a portfolio at all. It’s okay to show up for an interview without a portfolio. However, having one is important if you want to set yourself apart from the competition.
Next, you have to have a target list of game companies.
I can’t give you a target list; each aspirant has to make this for himself. Any game company worth working for has a web site. And there are lots of game industry job web sites. Assuming you’re active in the newsgroups you will find them. Ideally, your list contains companies in your local area, or in an area you are willing to move to.
Next, you need to educate yourself about your target companies.
Read their web sites. Learn their product lines. Find out about their stock, if they’re publicly owned. It looks bad if an applicant comes in and says, “Well, I don’t know anything about your company, but I’d like to work here.”
Now you’re ready to contact the target companies.
Don’t pin all your hopes on one specific company. Have multiple companies to contact. You never know what’s going to happen. Find out the name of a person to contact at each company. If you know someone who knows someone at a company, get in touch with that person and find out whom you should send your resume to. You need a name to put at the top of each cover letter. If you don’t know anybody who knows somebody, call the company and ask for the name of the studio head (the VP in charge of the game production department) or for the name of the Human Resources head.
Write a good cover letter.
As with resumes, you can find information about how to craft a good cover letter on the Internet. Being a game designer means being a creative writer. Your cover letter should showcase your creativity and your communication skills. Mention the games you’ve created on your own. The cover letter (especially if there’s basically nothing on your resume) is arguably even more important than the resume.
It’s unrealistic to say “I’m seeking a job as a game designer,” and it’s not helpful to say “I’ll take any job you have open.” Find out what job openings are available. Figure out which opening is suited to your skills and interests. That’s the job you should be applying for.
Mail the resume and cover letter, or deliver them in person.
If you do not live in the local area of the target company, mail your package to the person identified above. But if you do live in the local area of the target company, call the person and request an interview. If you mailed your package, follow up with a phone call a week or so later. Ask the person if she’s received your package. Your goal is to come in and meet with the person. A game company will not pay your airfare to fly out for an interview for an entry-level position so don’t ask.
When speaking with the person on the phone, be your normal personable self. Don’t say you want to come in for a job interview, just ask if you could come in to introduce yourself. You’re interested in learning about the game industry, you’re a college graduate, you’ve done some stuff on your own, and you’d appreciate a short chat.
Eight times out of ten, that straightforward approach will get you in the door. And that’s exactly where you want to get—in the door.
Don’t put on a three-piece suit. Nobody in a game studio (aside from some top executives) wears a suit. Wear clean presentable clothes. Long pants. Shoes and socks. Bring two or three copies of your resume and cover letter and bring your portfolio along with extra copies of that as well.
The main goody, the best thing you bring to the interview, is you. Be eager, attentive, charming. Your goal is to get a job, any job, so that you can eventually be a game designer. Find out what job openings are available. Figure out which opening is suited to your skills and interests. That’s the job you should be angling for.
What the company is looking for is hard working, smart, capable communicators first and foremost. That’s the impression you want to convey, through your appearance, your eye contact, and what you say during the interview.
Show your portfolio, if possible.
In an in-person interview, you could, at a logical point in the conversation, show samples of your work. If you’re a game designer, sample game concepts might be construed as an unsolicited submission, making the game company liable to a lawsuit from you if they ever did anything similar. It would be wise to put your designs on your own web site (like a free Geocities web page for instance), which would make them public knowledge (taking your portfolio out of the realm of “submission” and into the realm of “portfolio”). Letting the interviewer know this in advance could prevent what might otherwise turn into an awkward moment if someone perceives your portfolio as an unsolicited submission. And it shows that you are both savvy and sensitive to the company’s needs.
Be prepared with your portfolio, in paper form, CD form, and/or web form but realize that the interviewer may not have the time to look at it. Do not expect the interviewer to navigate through whatever labyrinthine path you have on the web or on a CD during the interview. It doesn’t work like that. If you have the opportunity to show it, that’s great. If not, don’t be upset.
An important point about game concepts you developed on your own (oft stated on the game design newsgroups): It’s unlikely that anybody is going to steal your idea and make your game idea without you. It’s also unlikely that they’ll take your idea and make the game with you. Game companies are teeming with more ideas than they can ever make. What game companies need is people, not game ideas. Your purpose in showing them your portfolio is purely to show them that you’re a creative individual that they should hire.
After the interview
It’s unlikely that the interview will end with you walking out the door with a job offer in hand. That’s possible, and that’s desirable, but it’s more likely that the interviewer will discuss you and your resume with others before any decision is made about offering you a job. When you leave the interview, you will probably have a sense of how well the interview went. If it didn’t go very well, then just spend a few minutes thinking of what you could have done to make it go better. Then use that thinking on the next interview. When a stumbling block is in your way, use it as a stepping-stone.
Send thank-you notes to the people who interviewed you. I know it sounds old-fashioned, but we’re not talking about robots, we’re talking about human beings with whom you want to build human relationships. Some folks send thank-yous electronically, some will tell you a paper letter is best. Here are some tips on thank-you letters from the Los Angeles Times CareerBuilder (latimes.com/careerbuilder):
Send the thank-you letter within 24 hours of the interview. The idea is to show them that you have follow-up skills.
One page max.
Each one you send must be written specifically for the individual. If you met multiple individuals, get their business cards so you have proper spellings and job titles, and take notes immediately after the interview so you recall details for personalizing the letters.
An important purpose of the letter is to restate why you are a good candidate, and also to answer any potential objections, especially those you may have heard the individual mention during your interview.
Just like with a cover letter or resume, the smallest writing error can spoil any good impression they may have gotten of you.
Again, don’t pin all your hopes on one company. Go for other interviews. The worst thing that can happen is that you don’t get any offers. The second-worst thing that can happen is that you get one offer. The third-worst thing (the same thing as the best thing that can happen) is: you get more than one job offer to choose from.
Tom Sloper’s game biz career began at Western Technologies, where he designed LCD watch and calculator games, and the Vectrex games Spike and Bedlam. Subsequently, he worked in designer, producer, and director roles at Sega Enterprises, Rudell Design, Atari Corporation, and Activision. Sloper participated in the completion of 121 game products—78 in the role of project leader, 27 in the role of designer—winning six awards along the way. Sloper has produced games with developers in the U.S., Japan, the UK, Australia, Russia, Europe, and Southeast Asia, and lived for several months in Tokyo, working for Activision’s Japan operation. Doing business as Sloperama Productions, Sloper is currently consulting, writing, speaking, teaching, and developing original games.
As we discussed in the previous chapter, it’s important to stay informed about the industry you want to be a part of. Read books, magazines, and web sites that can help you find out the latest news and trends. Having a grasp on the latest industry news when you go into an interview or meeting is a good way to show your knowledge of the space and it will allow you to take advantage of opportunities that may arise with the latest announcements.
Another great opportunity for networking is at conferences. Two of the top conferences in the U.S. are the Game Developers Conference and E3. Developers and publishing executives attend these events en masse, and you will have the opportunity to meet people from all levels and areas of the industry. There are lectures and seminars on any number of topics, and you may be surprised at how accessible some of the top talent in the industry is at these events.
Networking is a powerful tool for people at all levels of the game industry. By networking, we simply mean getting out and meeting people within the industry. You can do this by going to industry- related events, attending conferences and conventions, reaching out to people in the industry via the Internet, and getting introductions via friends and relatives who know people in the industry. Networking may not come easily for you, but the payoffs are great. You can learn a lot by interacting with industry professionals, and when a job becomes available, you may be the person they think of first.
Joining organizations related to the industry is one way of meeting people. One of the best to consider joining is the International Game Developers Association, or the IGDA. The IGDA is an international organization of programmers, designers, artists, producers, and many other types of industry professionals, which fosters community and action for the furthering of games as a medium. The organization has local chapters in many geographic locations—you can find out if there is one near you by going to www.igda.org/chapters.
Chapters often hold networking events, lectures and other opportunities to meet people working in the industry. There are membership fees for this organization, but if you are a student, you can get a reduced rate.
Exercise 16.1: Networking
Make it your goal to attend at least one networking event per month. This can be a conference, a party, a meeting, a lecture, or any other opportunity in which you can meet people in the game industry. Start a database of the contacts you make at these events.
Another networking resource is the Internet. You can meet many people in the industry in online communities, such as the forums on IGDA.org. Or you can find internships or positions in the jobs and projects sections of Gamasutra.com. E-mail is a very efficient tool for reaching out to people, but not necessarily the most powerful or persuasive way to introduce yourself. You can find lists of developers and publishers in the companies area of Gamasutra.com, and you can go to their web sites and contact them via a “cold” (i.e., unsolicited) e-mail, but don’t be surprised if you don’t get a response. Game companies are flooded with e- mail from people who want to work in the game industry, and the chance of your e-mail getting to the right person without an introduction is slim. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, but don’t be dismayed if the response to your carefully written e-mail is silence.
One problem is that HR departments are often not the best way to reach the decision-makers for project hiring. We recommend searching for the individual addresses of people inside the company. Find out who is the producer or line producer on a particular game title, and then try to get an introduction to this person. Do you know someone in the industry, or otherwise, who knows him? If so, get a personal introduction. If not, try to find his e-mail address from press releases or postings on the web and contact them directly.
Before sitting down to write your e-mail, research this person’s background and the games he’s worked on. Personalize your e-mail to him, based on your research. A little knowledge and a well-written introduction to yourself and why you are contacting him can go a long way. If you’re lucky, your e-mail will get a response—even if there is no job at the moment, you’ll have made a contact and you can introduce yourself in person at the next industry event or conference.
Good research and writing notwithstanding, don’t expect too much from each message that you send. Professionals working in the game industry receive a lot of unsolicited inquiries. If they don’t write back, don’t be surprised or upset. They are probably in the midst of production and too busy to answer their mail. But if you continue to persevere, your odds will increase with every message you send.
Exercise 16.2: Follow-Up Letter
Write a follow-up letter to a person you’ve met via your networking efforts to talk about job opportunities in her company or to show her your original game idea. Try to make your letter both persuasive and courteous. Be sure you are prepared for the meeting should they respond—the next few exercises will help you to do that.
An important note about networking is to not expect too much from each activity you do. If you go to an event and don’t meet anyone who can help you, don’t consider it a failure. Networking is a cumulative endeavor. It’s seldom that a single meeting will result in a job opportunity. Usually, you’ll have to meet people several times at events and follow up with them each time before opportunities open up. Even if a networking event opens up no opportunities, you’ll still learn a lot by simply mingling and interacting with the people there.
What jobs should you be trying to get in your quest to enter the industry? If you are an artist or a programmer, there are entry-levels positions in these tracks at most companies. You’ll need to have a good resume/portfolio. These positions are competitive, but demand is high for this type of talent. As the size of game teams has grown, the largest percentage of new jobs has been created in the art and programming groups.
If you want to produce games, there may be production assistant or coordinator jobs (or internships) you can apply for. But if you want to design games, the outlook is a bit more complicated. The best job you could get would be as an assistant designer or level designer. Truthfully, however, these positions are difficult to come by unless you’re experienced or already working within a game company. Many people who become game designers do so by starting in another track and jumping over into design once they have gained experience in the industry. For example, many game designers first work as programmers or producers.
Exercise 16.3: Resume
Create a resume focusing on your game design experience. Even if you don’t have much professional experience, make sure to include references to all the design work you’ve done in the exercises throughout this book, courses you’ve taken, or organizations you belong to, such as the IGDA.
A good way to get into the industry in any career track is by interning. Game companies, especially publishers, bring on summer interns from colleges regularly. These are generally not paid positions, and are not as hard as getting a paying job. But before you take an intern position, make sure the company is serious about letting you become involved in actual projects. You don’t want to spend three to six months making photocopies or acting as a receptionist. This won’t advance your career much, or teach you about the industry. A good internship will allow you to learn about some aspect of the business. Interns often do research, testing, or assist producers or executives. It’s a great way to get to network and to increase your knowledge.
Exercise 16.4: Internship
If you are a student, an internship is a good place to start. Go to the career center on campus or visit the web site and look for postings. Another option is to approach game companies directly and ask them if there are any internship openings.
The most common paid entry-level job is as a QA tester. The pay is usually low and hours can be long, but it’s a good way to start your career because QA testers are exposed to the whole development team. You’ll be writing bug reports that go directly to the programmers, artists, and producers. Managers may take note of talented QA testers because many of them started in QA themselves. When production teams are being built for new projects, some companies will give a good QA tester, who has paid his dues, consideration over an outsider. More importantly, QA testing gives you front row seats to the development process. You’ll get to see games evolve and come together from early builds to the final release.
Once you’ve proven yourself as a QA tester, it’s easier to transition into other roles, including assistant producer, programmer, assistant designer, or level designer. Be dedicated to your work in QA, but take the opportunity to communicate to your managers and co-workers the path you hope to take. Don’t be pushy, but if the occasion arises, invite your colleagues to see the work you’ve done on your own as a game designer, and be open to opportunities to advance, even it means extra work or volunteering some time to another department.
Richard Leibowitz is the president of Union Entertainment.
Game Design Workshop: How did you become a game agent and why?
Richard Leibowitz: After considering careers in law, finance, and politics, I decided to combine the three in entertainment and took a position at Paramount Pictures as an attorney in the Domestic Television department. From there, I went on to head Rysher Entertainment’s International Business and Legal Affairs department, and later returned to Paramount when Paramount acquired Rysher. During that period, I became enamored with the videogame industry and left Paramount to apply my entertainment deal-making and legal experience towards the production of games. Eventually, I established my own agency and partnered with Sean O’Keefe, a feature film producer, in 2003 to form Union, a feature film and videogame production and management company.
GDW: What’s the role of an agent in the game industry today?
RL: In my opinion, there are three types of agents in the game industry today: recruiting agents, packaging agents, and Hollywood agents.
Recruiting agents simply make phone calls to publishers on behalf of developers, whether clients or not, to solicit and secure work-for-hire deals. For example, a recruiting agent calls a publisher and learns that the publisher is requesting proposals from developers to make a game based on a recently acquired license. The recruiting agent then calls random developers, tells them of the opportunity, finds or settles on one interested developer, and pitches that developer to the publisher. If the publisher hires the developer, then the recruiting agent successfully used his contacts and networking abilities to secure a project for the developer. Typically, the developer will pay the recruiting agent a percentage of the development budget.
Packaging agents identify and secure content, whether original or licensed, attach the best available developer, and pitch and sell the package (i.e., content and developer) to a publisher. For example, the packaging agent is offered or identifies a property that has been successful as a television series, but has yet to be made into a game. The packaging agent secures an agreement from the licensor to represent the property in the videogame industry, attaches an interested developer to the property, and pitches the package to publishers. If a publisher buys the package, then the recruiting agent has successfully secured a license agreement for the licensor, secured a development project for the developer, and provided the publisher with an opportunity to start and develop a game franchise. Typically, the licensor will pay the packaging agent a percentage of the license fee and the developer will pay the packaging agent a percentage of its development budget.
Hollywood agents include those at Endeavor, CAA, ICM, William Morris, and a host of other agencies. Each of the agencies has at least one person dedicated to games, although the services they provide vary greatly. For the most part, Hollywood agents represent their film clients’ interests in the game world. For example, if a publisher wants to secure an actor’s name and likeness rights and/or hire the actor for voice recordings, the publisher will have to deal with the Hollywood agent to secure such rights and/or services. Several Hollywood agents are more proactive, though. Such agents, for example, package developers with film projects at the agency and sell those packages to publishers. Typically, the publisher will pay the Hollywood agent a percentage of the package (i.e., license, actor’s rights and services fees, and development budget).
GDW: How is a typical deal structured between a developer, publisher, and your company?
RL: Union provides a wide array of specialized services and has a successful track record. As a result, there are many developers that utilize Union’s services. The most common deal structures between Union and its clients include: (1) straight retainer (i.e., an amount per month for services), (2) fees (i.e., a percentage of development budget), and (3) retainer plus fees (i.e., compared to straight retainer and fees, a lesser amount per month plus a lesser percentage of development budget).
GDW: What do you look for in a client?
RL: Talent. Publishers hire two types of developers: (1) established developers with robust and proven technology, or (2) brand new developers with superstar talent and capable management.
GDW: What do you think the role of a game agent will become?
RL: There will always be a place for game agents—even the biggest and best developers can take advantage of an agent’s contacts and deal-making abilities. That being said, I believe the role of a game agent in the future will be more of the packaging variety than recruiting for at least two reasons:
Internal business development personnel: Developers have business development personnel on staff to secure and sell projects. Typically, the associated costs to employ such personnel are equal to or less than what the developer would pay a recruiting agent to secure a work-for-hire deal.
Publisher demand for projects: Publishers are extremely risk averse. One way publishers reduce risk is by hiring the best development companies, and another is to green light projects based on pre-existing and identifiable underlying content (i.e., Harry Potter).
Packaging agents add value to developers and pique publishers’ interest when they attach developers to desirable content. By so doing, the packaging agent will most likely either (1) secure a deal for a developer that the developer wouldn’t have otherwise secured, or (2) make it possible for the developer to charge a premium for its game development services(i.e., higher development budget or a larger share of royalties).
GDW: Will agents be as established in the game industry in the future as they are in the film and television industry today?
RL: Eventually. The Hollywood agencies are big and powerful because they were established many years ago and are unequivocally accepted by both talent and movie studios as standard operating procedure. At this time, developers demand agents less than Hollywood talent does and publishers haven’t fully embraced the role of the game agent. However, the game industry is slowly but surely modeling itself after the Hollywood industry and, after some time, game agents will surely act similarly and be as influential as their Hollywood brethren.
Just as in Hollywood, content is king in the game industry (followed closely by technology). The packaging and Hollywood agents are best suited to assist and add value to developers since they often control the underlying content demanded by publishers. In the not so distant future, publishers will follow the movie studios’ lead and rely upon the game agents to package and present compelling projects.
There are countless other ways to establish yourself in the industry. You may find work in public relations or human resources, and then transition by networking and interacting with other departments. You may start in the sound department as a production assistant, or as we said earlier, as a programmer or a producer. There have been lawyers, accountants, and office managers who’ve managed to transition into game design. What really counts is that you start working within the game industry in some fashion, and while you’re in that position, network with the rest of the team and show them your skills. If your ideas are good, people will notice, and they’ll think of you when openings come up.
|< Day Day Up >|| |