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  • Game Careers: The Basics

    [04.12.07]
    - Ed Magnin
  •  I've often told those who ask me for career advice about the game industry, "Even if I won the lottery, I'd still make games!" There aren't a lot of other careers you can say that about.

    What It Takes

    Making games isn't for everyone. It requires a certain kind of person. You need to be:

    • a self-starter,
    • someone who doesn't need to be told every minute what to do,
    • able to look at a job and figure out for yourself all the subtasks you need to do,
    • someone who figures out how to solve problems,
    • someone who figures out where to go to find solutions,
    • someone who likes to keep learning -- whatever platforms you learn to program on now, you'll need to learn newer ones later. If you're still doing Xbox, PlayStation 2, or GameCube games, this year you'll need to switch to Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, or Wii.
    • someone who sets goals and accomplishes them -- our industry has little patience for people who don't finish what they start.

    The game industry is also looking for people who are passionate about games. Possibly because of the long hours many of us put in, we assume that only someone with the same passion would bother to put in the extra time it takes to get it right. My brother runs marathons, which is probably a good analogy. It's not enough to run 26 miles; you still have another 385 yards to go.

    Passion is something you can't fake. I had a friend whose son with a PhD in math needed a job, so he asked me if a game company could use someone with his background. "Absolutely! Does he like games?"

    "No."

    "Then tell him not to waste his time applying."

    One of the most important questions almost all game companies ask in an interview is "Which games do you like and why?" If they think you're faking it, they ask, "Which games did you play in the last week, and how many minutes did you spend playing each?" Once you've named a game or two, they'll ask you how far you got or which level you liked best. Of course, it would be nice if you also were excited about their company. If asked, "Why do you want to work for us?" and the answer is, "Because I'd like a job in the game industry," that doesn't explain why you've selected this particular company from all of the others out there.


    Even Earthworm Jim has a PhD.

    Career Options

    While it may seem obvious, to become a game programmer you need to know how to program, preferably in C++, which is by far the most widely used language in the game industry. If you've never tried your hand at programming, your mathematical ability is usually a good predictor of future programming ability. Do you do well in math? Do you like math? Did you take advanced placement math classes or get as far as calculus?

    If you didn't do well in math, maybe you don't really like it that much. You may think you have acquired a new interest in it since high school, but realize that programming a game is solving a continuous series of math and logic problems. There are lots of easier ways to make a living if math is not something you really enjoy.

    For example, if you enjoyed art classes or have dabbled at computer art, you might be interested in creating art for games. The game industry needs a variety of artists to create 2D menus and title screens, 3D models, 2D textures for those models, and so on. We also need storyboard artists to conceptualize what a game might look like before we make it. The game industry also needs talented musicians and audio technicians. Unfortunately, a lot of musicians with quite a few movie and TV credits have no clue how to create music for games. Game developers realize that they don't know how long a player is going to stay in any given room or level, so they set an intro and then loop a variety of tracks while the player is in one room and then play some kind of transition when she or he leaves. The average musician has had no experience doing this, not that one couldn't learn. As far as job prospects, there are far fewer jobs for audio positions than programming or art. A company of 100 people might have 40 programmers, 30 artists, some executives, sales and support people, but only one or two audio people, if that.

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