Breaking Into the Game Industry: Advice for a Successful Career from Those Who Have Done It Paperback – Jun 16 2011
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1. Why are you doing this? 2. Who are you? 3. No, really, why are you doing this? 4. What percentage of my school work will help me get a job? 5. How do I make contacts? 6. It costs HOW much to go to GDC? How will I ever afford that? 7. Should I get my own business cards? 8. What should be on my business cards? 9. Who do I give my card to? 10. Speaking of networking, when does it start? 11. How do I get game developers' business cards? 12. When should I follow up after getting someone's card? 13. Is there anything you shouldn't do when following up? 14. What else shouldn't you do with developers? 15. Can we talk about portfolios? 16. What should the front page of your portfolio look like? 17. How about the images? What do I need to do there? 18. What do character artists need to show? 19. What do environmental artists need to show? 20. What about modelers? 21. And texture artists? 22. What about game designers? 23. What about game writers? 24. Wait, doesn't everyone say that it's impossible to get hired as a game designer or game writer straight out of college? 25. What is the one thing we ALL need to do for our portfolio? 26. How many images/games should I have in my portfolio? 27. When should I start working on my portfolio? 28. Have you seen any stupid portfolio tricks? 29. Do you have a pet peeve about portfolios? 30. What's an art/design test? 31. What happens at an interview? 32. Do people still expect me to follow up after an interview? 33. What about my resume? 34. How much money will I make working in the game industry? 35. What should I do before I accept a job offer? 36. How do I find a place to live if I'm hired in a new city? 37. Where should I look for jobs? 38. I talked to a woman and she was really excited because she heard I was a character artist! She totally wanted to talk with me and see my portfolio. That's great, right? 39. What about MFAs? Are they useful? 40. What's an MFA do? 41. I've heard people say that getting a degree (even an undergrad degree) was a waste of time. Is that true? 42. Anything else you'd like to add on the subject of game education? 43. How should I dress for an interview? 44. How do I need to handle the interview? 45. They want me to sign a non-compete. What's that? 46. What will I feel like my first day on the job? 47. Once I have a job, any key pointers? 48. If you could add something to a student with great vision, what would it be? 49. Any opinion on who was the greatest game designer ever? 50. What question number are we on? 51. Typically, what do entry-level employees do in their first few months? 52. What programming language is used the most? 53. How much experience should you have before you start looking for a job as a game designer? 54. If you enter in the middle of a project, what's the best way to get up to speed? 55. Is there another way to get up to speed on game development, other than making games? 56. Is it better to be a generalist or specialist, in the short term or long term? 57. How is performance measured for raises/bonuses? 58. Have you ever seen a game company promote independent projects outside of the core project among employees? 59. What's the worst thing you've seen in a game development meeting? 60. Is it important to play games? 61. Have you seen someone make it in the industry with a learning disability? 62. What's the best subject to make a game about? 63. What is the "game industry"? 64. Does the current state of the economy have an effect on game development or hiring? 65. Do small studios typically have health, dental, and savings plans? 66. What is the best approach toward getting an internship? 67. How much weight do studios put on GPAs? 68. How much weight do they put on the major or college attended? 69. How do you write a good cover letter, one that connects with HR and developers? 70. How do I get my stuff out there so someone can see it? 71. How do I get my games to be more fun and not just tasks? 72. Is there such a thing as taking a new job too early? 73. Is there a way to get a feel for the industry before even getting there? 74. How early should I show up for an interview? 75. Should I just show up unannounced at a game company? 76. In your opinion, what games stand out? 77. What do you look for in a game? 78. How much help will videogame literature be in obtaining a job in the game industry? 79. I have this amazing story... 80. I have this amazing idea for a game... 81. What does a game designer do? 82. What question are we on now? 83. Will you look at my game design idea? 84. I want to send in my idea to a game company. How do I do this? 85. Where do you get your ideas? 86. What was it like to work on a big licensed title? 87. What is the scariest thing about being a game designer? 88. What does the lead do? 89. Who is the most evil person on a game development team? 90. If I join a game company, will they make my game idea? 91. Do you really work 70 hours a week? 92. Is there such a thing as a stupid question? 93. Have you played Halo 4? 94. Have you played the game that I worked on? 95. Do interviewees ever say dumb things? 96. Do you know [insert famous game developer name]? 97. Can I come work for you? 98. Is the game industry a good place to meet someone to date? 99. What are you working on now? What's it about? 100. Are we done?
About the Author
Brenda Brathwaite is an award-winning game designer, artist, writer, and creative director with 30 years of experience in the industry. Before founding Loot Drop, Brenda worked for a variety of game companies including Atari, Electronic Arts, Sir-tech Software, and numerous companies in the social games space. She has worked on many Facebook games, including Cloudforest Expedition, Ravenwood Fair, Critter Island, SuperPoke Pets!, SPP Ranch, Garden Life, Rock Riot, and Top Fish. Brenda served on the board of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) and presently chairs the IGDA's Women in Games Special Interest group. Brenda was named Woman of the Year by Charisma+2 Magazine in 2010 and also was a nominee in Microsoft's 2010 Women in Games game design awards. In 2009, her game Train won the coveted Vanguard Award at IndieCade. She was named one of the top 20 most influential women in the game industry by Gamasutra.com in 2008 and one of the 100 most influential women in the game industry by Next Generation magazine in 2007. Nerve magazine also called her one of the 50 artists, actors, authors, activists, and icons who are making the world a more stimulating place.
Ian Schreiber has been in the industry for eight years, first as a programmer and then as a game designer. He has worked on five published game titles, including Playboy: the Mansion and the Nintendo DS version of Marvel Trading Card Game. He has also developed training/simulation games for two Fortune 500 companies. Ian has taught game design and development courses at Ohio University, Columbus State Community College, and Savannah College of Art and Design, and has mentored college students at those and several other universities. Ian is co-author of "Challenges for Game Designers."
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As grade school turned into high school, BASIC went extinct, C++ became the programming language of choice, I discovered cars and girls, and somehow my aspirations of video game designing were dropkicked by the allure of a college major in Business Administration. Those early days spent writing code were as close as I would ever get but the charm of video gaming never wore off. In fact, even now, while immersed in some epic quest on the Playstation 3, I find myself wondering about the industry as a whole and what it takes to become a part of it. Enter Breaking Into the Game Industry by Brenda Brathwaite and Ian Schreiber; for me satiation to long-standing curiosity, for someone serious about being employed in the video game industry, a lifesaver.
The book is of the Course Technology series part of something called the CENGAGE Learning System. Not to worry if that means nothing to you, as I understand it, such classification puts it in the Professional, Technical & Reference category. Indeed, a perfect-bound softcover, it appears as if it would belong on the same shelf as say, "Welcome to the Exciting World of C++" and "Computer Programming for Dummies".
Coming in at close to 300 pages, the initial reaction could be one of overwhelmed until scanning even the introductory pages. The authors of the book take a very conversational approach to the material, written almost as if it were an email to a friend. Better still once the actual book begins, each and every bit of advice provided come in the form of easily digestible question & answer format.
Spanning the 291 pages are 100 questions; identified by the author as the most commonly asked of she and her colleagues and they cover some points I suspect would be incredibly useful for a student of video game design looking to get out and find employment in the field. Among these are what your business card should say, how your portfolio should look, dos and don'ts when talking to established game designers, writing cover letters, even proper attire when showing up to an interview!
Additionally interesting is that the book addresses the reality that while going to a college, university or specialized school to acquire degrees/ certifications is one route to breaking in, it is not the only one. It does frequently offer advice and tips to those individuals gifted with artistic ability, naturally bilingual (where the second happens to be assembly language) and those oddities who always wondered what it takes to break into the video game industry.
Another point worth mentioning is that while she does not elaborate on it, the author (Brenda Brathwaite) claims to have gotten her start in the industry at merely 15-years-old so clearly PhDs are not a requisite. The subtitle of this book is "Advice for a Successful Career from Those Who Have Done It" and while I figured we would have to take the authors' word for that, the fact is Brenda herself comes packing a resume that had me wanting to offer her a job- and I don't even work in the game industry! Her credits include working for Atari and Electronics Arts and having played a hand in the development of countless popular social-networking classics like Garden Life, Ravenwood Fair, Critter Island, and SuperPoke Pets!
Her coauthor Ian Schreiber has a history of teaching game design, has worked on many projects (including developing software used for corporate training) and is known for having co-founded Global Game Jam (GGJ); the world's largest game creation event.
As highly decorated as this pair come, surprisingly they serve mainly as the structure and research behind the book; chiming in with their own answers periodically, though a majority of the questions are fielded by their colleagues in the industry. This technique goes a long way in diversifying the information presented and prevents the authors from coming off as know-it-allish.
In all, I have to say that reading through the book was quite an interesting experience. I won't try to pretend that all of the information here was pertinent to someone in my position (just mild curiosity as to how it all works), it will likely prove quite beneficial to those individuals seriously putting together a plan of attack for getting involved. I did come away with some newfound tidbits such as what separates a Triple-A game (nothing to do with roadside assistance as you may have suspected) from a Casual Game from a Serious Game for example. I can also state with certainty that the word BASIC is never once mentioned throughout- go figure.
The book's basic format is 100 sections, each being devoted to a commonly asked question about the game industry. These questions span a tremendous period of experience, with answers being provided by the two authors and other individuals in the game industry.
In just a brief scan of the book:
For those about to apply to undergrad: how to pick a school, what majors to pick, how important is a GPA.
For those starting to test the waters: business card and networking etiquette, Facebook and twitter, and the importance of portfolios.
For people actively seeking: internships, interviews, and resumes.
For people who've just been hired: salary negotiations, entering in the middle of a project timeline, AAA studios, small studios, crunch time, disagreements in teams.
Not only that, but the book spends an admirable amount of time covering the different disciplines (tech, art, design, audio, etc) and different people (minorities, disabled, women, lgbt, etc)
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. If you're thinking about, working towards, or actively trying to get into the game industry, this book is an incredible asset.
And if you're already in the industry and are used to fielding these questions regularly, it's a great resource to add to your bookshelf.
Here's the thing -- if you ask a hundred people how they managed to get excellent jobs in the industry, you aren't going to hear one story, or even twelve stories, you're going to hear something like 50 to 60 different stories. And that's one of the things this book does well -- it doesn't break things down into a simplified step-by-step, it affords you the opportunity to learn from a multiplicity of experiences.
I like books that are structured in a Q and A fashion because I can get through the information more quickly with the Q and A structure. So this was a good match for me.
And there's about $100,000 of practical information to be found in this book. Things like...
- how do I negotiate an actual job offer?
- how do I put together a portfolio?
- how much might I make?
- is it true that all game designers wear filthy ironic t-shirts with stains on them?
- what sort of school should I attend?
- does it help if I am a geek when it comes to the history of games?
- am I the sort of personality that will fit into the professional gaming world?
- should I focus on audio or on art or on design? do I have to specialize now?
- what sort of things happen when you're on a team with a big deadline and people aren't getting along?
- what should my business card look like?
- I've had this semi-crazy idea for a game that I've been fiddling around with for two years, what do I do with it?
- how can I use Twitter and Facebook to promote my career?
It is all very easy to read (almost conversational) with short, but detailed answers for every question you could dream up.
Just a brief overview of the "some of" the things answered in this book are...
-Which school to go for?
-Which degree to get?
-Is it worth getting Masters or PHD?
-Which technical focus to chose?
-What not to say during job interviews.
I would go as far as to say unless you are best friends (or family) with someone who is an industry veteran this book should be required reading if this is your field of choice. I highly recommend it to budding video game professionals.
I particularly enjoy reading each individual section that is broken up into categories based on job discipline. Are you looking to be a Character Artist? Environment Artist? Game Designer? Game Writer? Programmer? Sound Designer? Pretty much ever major discipline has it's own individual chapter in this book (note that the chapters are more conducted as sub-chapters and all follow a brief and to-the-point approach. So a single chapter may only be a page long). The book will tell you exactly what studios are looking for and what to have in your portfolio or what to focus on while you are in school. How do you know it's exactly what studios are looking for? Well, many times the criteria is outlined by a professional in the field (sometimes a team lead or someone more experienced).
Another insightful side-effect of reading this book are the personal anecdotes. I know that, from my perspective, I am always interested in hearing how people got their start in the game industry and also how they moved up or moved laterally to positions with other studios. This is helpful because once you hear so many, you start to see subtle patterns developing. This may be unimportant to some but I can guarantee you that reading between the lines from people who have done it is about the best way to learn for yourself, as we all know that some may not be the best at easily explaining themselves or quantifying and outlining their success. Once you get to hearing their experiences, though, you will be able to form the picture in your head of why they were successful or what type of mindset they have (hint: ambition and hard-working are two of the strongest characteristics to have when starting your career).
Perhaps the most valuable portion of this book, in my opinion, is the section about searching for jobs. I am a seasoned veteran to the industry but I may not have been keeping up with technology A or practicing the theories of group B. Well, Brenda is always on top of her technology and she introduced new methods of searching for jobs--or posting job listings or mod team help, for that matter--and one of the strategies she mentions is using Twitter to find all of your industry information. I usually have been using popular job websites like LinkedIn and Gamasutra, or lesser-known ones such as creativeheads.net or gameguzzler.com, but really never considered Twitter serious in apprehending a new job. Well, she says she almost uses it exclusively to recruit new talent and it seems to be the way to go if you are looking to be a social games developer or get your foot in the door at a small start-up, as they will not have the capital to be listing jobs on major job boards and taking large amounts of time screening international candidates. So, I highly recommend that you start following major game developers such as Ian, Brenda, Will Wright, Warren Spector, Gabe Newell, Richard Garriot, Cliff Bleszinski, and other lesser-known developers to get the current industry scoop and to find potential job listings.
There is a section in this book that explicitly tells you how to recover from a failed art/programming/design test. I didn't know that this was possible, but it's great to know that you can at least try and the worst the studio will say is no--again--which isn't bad since you've already got a rejection. This type of information is valuable to industry professionals as well as rookies or newbies, and it is an example why anyone at any level can take away something from this book.
Lastly, I highly respect the honesty that the authors give when describing how to handle job interviews and salary negotiation. I am not as veteran as the them, as they have had decades of experience in the industry. Thus, it was interesting to learn how they handle salary negotiation and when the best time to negotiate is. Want to know? ...You'll have to read the book!
If you are serious about your career than you will understand that it is common sense that reading books about what it takes to get a job in a specific industry that you are aiming at are worth their weight in gold. It is far cheaper than any textbook you will need for a single college course, and teach you a heck of a lot more. So, you would be only missing out if you don't buy Breaking into the Game Industry and learning what is has to offer in your pursuit of being the best game developer that you can be.
Author, "How to Get a Job in Video Games"