So You Want to Work in Games?
Matt Plotecher, game designer at Arkadium, offers advice for those taking their first steps in the business
As graduates from various schools wrap up their studies and bravely venture out into the unmitigated chaos that is the games industry job market, there has been an avalanche of articles and postings containing tips, tactics and checklists to aid these freshly-minted grads in their noble (if slightly quixotic) quest.
The one thing many of these advice columns are missing is the big picture of working in the industry. There are miles of tracts that give very good and sensible notes on how to prepare a resume, how to network and how to set up a digital presence. This is all useful advice but something that I would have appreciated more as I stumbled out from the broken-glass lined tunnel of thesis research into the swirling maelstrom of job hunting would have been a few more points about what, exactly, I was getting myself into.
"It's never a good idea to take disappointment as a personal affront to your imperial ego. Doing so only poisons your professional relationships"
Working in the games industry is a wonderful opportunity, but it's beneficial to keep in mind what one can realistically expect, both in the workplace as well as in the job search. Here are five things that I would have appreciated knowing as I started my own adventure within the industry.
Recruiters Don't Really Read Your Resume
Generally, they (or a computer) will scan through your resume to select a few key phrases, and then politely ignore the rest. For example, on my own resume I have listed some experience with C/C++; it accounts for about 2 per cent of my resume content, easily outweighed by my game design and level design experiences. Nevertheless, about 90 per cent of the calls I got from recruiters were about a lead C# programming role, a database administrator position, or some equally dubious job. Now, while I would be more than happy to apply to something like a Teleportation Chamber Specialist, for the most part, getting a call about a position that is not in line with my strengths is rather disappointing. However, it helps to remember that the goal of the recruiter is to fill a position, and while the good ones try to make sure that they find good matches, there are many whose only requirements consist of finding someone with a pulse and the motor skills needed to use a keyboard. That said, always follow up with recruiters, even if it's just to clear up what type of position you're looking for - it'll make both of you happier in the end.
Don't Take It Personally
A lot can happen in the course of applying for a job, making a game, attending a convention, etc. You may have a great interview with a company only to never hear back from them. You may spend years working on a project that winds up never seeing the light of day. Your suggestions for game mechanics may be discarded. You may always be picked last when the company is choosing Rock Band teams. In any case, it's never a good idea to take these disappointments as a personal affront to your imperial ego. Doing so only poisons your professional relationships. Chances are good that you'll be working with others who will have different ideas than your own. I can't remember if I ever saw a game that went from the original concept to a finished project without undergoing a host of changes, almost always for the best. If you can learn to keep your ego in check you'll be a happier, more productive colleague.
Embrace All Forms Of Games, Even The Ones You Don't Love
Most of the new grads that I've spoken to tend to split into two camps: the classic hardcore gamers raised on consoles and PCs, and those who are swept up in the iPhone game market looking to make the next Fruit Ninja or Angry Birds. However, I have not met a lot of people who gush on about Facebook games. In fact, they usually have less-than-kind things to say about that platform. While it is certainly true that Facebook games approach gaming in a different way than the traditional model, it's also worth noting that there are some really interesting social games that are being developed, and a lot of companies are looking to hire people to work on this new breed of games. After all, wouldn't you rather be part of shaping a revolution than be swept away by it? It's important to be aware that, regardless of the platform, great games all share some basic things in common: an engaging user experience, strong game loops and intuitive controls. These are things that apply to all games, and once you open your mind to different platforms it's easy to see the plethora of possibilities.
"Once you open your mind to different platforms it's easy to see the plethora of possibilities. Wouldn't you rather be part of shaping a revolution than be swept away by it?"
Be Kind To Everyone, Even Those Who Are Utterly, Utterly Irritating
For as big as it looks, the game industry is a surprisingly small place. After about a year or two, you can easily find yourself just a few degrees of separation away from Will Wright, Sid Meyer or Tim Schafer. The good news is that this means it's easy to grow your network, since it's easy for anyone to follow-up on your work with your colleagues. The bad news is... it's easy for anyone to follow-up on your work with your colleagues. If you happen to forget the aforementioned point of not taking things personally, then you can find yourself with a checkered past, as everyone will remember all the difficulties of working with you. Even more amusingly ironic is when that one "infuriating" coworker you just could not stand moves on, but then winds up being the only person standing between you and your dream job. I've seen this happen on more than one occasion, and if you were even a touch on the vindictive side in the past, it can be highly problematic. Besides, allowing yourself to become jaded and bitter doesn't put you in the right mindset for making fun games (although it might explain the large amount of games set in a bleak, post-apocalyptic landscape).
Be Grateful For What You Have
Most people are pretty happy just to get their foot in the door, but as time goes on we all start to take a closer look at our career path and what can be done to improve it and ourselves. This can lead to frustration, disillusionment or dissatisfaction. It's always important to take stock in just how fortunate it is having a job making games. Yes, some bad jobs exist in this industry, but for the most part I think it's vital to remember how lucky we are to be making a living by creating games - celebrate this fact. Don't get dragged down too much by setbacks and roadblocks. Keep your spirits up. Understand that you'll have some rocky moments during your career, which makes it all the more important to enjoy what you have while you still have it.
Naturally, everyone's experience in the game industry will take varying paths, but the themes I outlined above are ones that can apply to pretty much all situations. With any luck, this might give you a bit of an edge going into your next interview, or even ease your mind a little in your current job. After all, even if you've been playing a game for a while, it's nice to revisit the instruction manual now and then to see if you forgot some of the tips and tactics.
Matt Plotecher is a game designer at Arkadium Inc.