GDC08: Hottest Jobs at the Hottest Companies

Summary

Speakers: Karen Chelini, SCEA; Jason Pankow, Microsoft; Matthew Jeffrey, EA

I didn’t stay more than about half the session – my laptop battery ran out, so I couldn’t take any more notes. I’m writing this up really only because there was one key point that came up which illustrates something that CMP and their GameCareerGuide.com do often which hugely angers me, and I want to see changed. They not only spread a rumour that is blatantly not true, but I keep meeting undergraduates and students wanting to break in to the games industry who are in danger of having years of their lives wasted because of this misinformation.

Which is a real pity, because other than that I think GameCareerGuide.com is fantastic. I wouldn’t have written an article for them if I didn’t believe in them and in what they do (generally).

Q: Horror stories?

Jason: I asked why the applicant was interested in games:

“I just think that people who go home and play games after working on them all day are nuts.”

karen: interviewing animators, one had coursework that was “too large” to bring in, so we had to go visit it. It was a ship model with a real dog’s head on it. Couldn’t work out how on earth this was related to 3d animation.

matthew: really strong game designer, loved the sims, will wright got in the lift, and the candidate froze, and they went and gave him a hug. Hero worship at its worst.

Q: Name for us an entry-level job title that you hired for in last 6 months

matthew: junior producers, junior game designers, junior software engineers. We’re desperately hiring graduates [Adam: and he went on and on about how much they were hiring. I’ve noticed he does this. I would quite like him at my company, he’s very good at going to conferences and using his talks as a hiring pitch :). Cheeky, but he just about gets away with it]

Q: You really can get into games at the entry level? We’re told this is a myth

[this is what really pisses me off about CMP and their various outlets every time they talk about games industry jobs – they lie outrageously about it. I have come to suspect it’s because they make lots of money out of selling guides to “breaking-in”, because it’s been so obviously not true for a good 5 years now. I don’t really believe that – it’s just I’m finding it harder and harder to accept that they really believe what they say in the face of so much evidence to the contrary!]

matthew: yes, you can. A great game designer can come from anywhere, you can’t predict it like you can with programmers, so yes.

karen: yes for art

michael: if you can code, then you can code, that’s what happens. If you can write the code we ask, you’re hired. But computer science degrees are very very good for those interested in a career in it.

Computer Games degrees

matthew: strongly advise you to be suspicious about the quality of the degrees that are not traditional. Very tempting for academics to think they can setup games degrees, but I say to the professors what the heck are people going to do with a games degree if they don’t get a job in the industry? Is it good for anything else?

Karen: I’ll look at someone with a good degree way beyond anyone without

Q: Name a job you’ve hired for over and over again?

matthew: software engineer

[everyone else agreed]

Q: Who are your ideal people? What made someone stand out?

michael: Resume [aka CV] intrigued me because even though it had no games industry experience it said “go to my website and look at the FPS I programmed”. She now works for Windows Gaming.

karen: it’s the projects that you work on, that will make a difference. Looking for highlights in your school career

matthew: so many people don’t put their best work forward when applying. That’s insane – we get hundreds of demo reels a week, so we only see the first 30 seconds initially, a few minutes if it’s good, and that’s what you’re judged on.

Q: is it OK to send resumes to companies where there’s no job posted?

michael: short answer is yes, we will. Ultimately however you will have to apply to an open position because of US govt legal requirements. We will funnel a resume through to an actual job if we like it, so it’s OK, but it can be a bit convoluted.

karen: its about timing, so by the time you’ve applied the job might exist, or not. applying more than once through a website is never going to hurt you

matthew: no company is going to turn away top talent

Q: I’m afraid my CS degree may not be attractive to the industry in 4 years time when I graduate – should I be worried?

matthew: CS degree is no loss, games degree might be

what skills are presently / projected to be in high demand?

michael: producers are in crazy high demand in my group right now. People who oversee the project are hugely needed right now.

karen: across the board in our organization, everything is in huge demand because we’re growing so much

matthew: ditto. Never been a better time to come into gaming.

[Adam: I left at this point, no battery left]

7 thoughts on “GDC08: Hottest Jobs at the Hottest Companies

  1. Matthew Weigel

    Could you explain the lie a little more clearly? I don’t understand whether you’re saying the question (“Q: You really can get into games at the entry level? We’re told this is a myth”) is a lie, or the responses are inaccurate, or… what? It’s not clear at all, and saying there is so much evidence to the contrary doesn’t clarify what you think the facts of the matter (which matter?) are either. :-)

  2. adam Post author

    Ha! that’s what I get for posting late-at-night-on-a-saturday notes that were typed up in the last session of the last day of an exhausting conference :).

    What I meant: GCG has been saying for a while that it’s “really hard to break into the games industry” and that, for instance, wannabe games programmers and designers need to take jobs in QA first for a year or several in order to work their way up.

    This is completely not true. The industry has long been, and continues to be, desperate for people in all core disciplines. I am fed up with the number of times I get – for instance – people graduating with a degree in Computer Science asking me if we have any QA jobs going, when their CV shows they couldn’t care less about it – they’ve never done any testing, they have no background in precising things, etc. Sometimes it takes substantial effort to get them to admit they have no interest in QA, but they had been told they had to in order to get a games job – usually it only takes about 5 seconds for them to admit it.

    It does us no good. I don’t want people working in QA who have no interest in it, and are going to do a bad job. QA should not be a stepping stone to “better jobs”, where anyone who does any good is immediately going to try and use that to jump to a different department.

    It does candidates no good. They’d be better off spending that year or two working as a programmer, or a designer, doing *what they actually joined the industry in order to do* – even if it means working on a crappy project for a crappy studio. They’ll learn more, they’ll be more useful and more skilled at the end, and they’ll not be getting up in the morning thinking of their job as a chore rather than as a thing they do because they enjoy it.

    The games industry already takes huge advantage of the fact that people chose to join it because they love it (poor salaries, poor contracts, etc) – if people aren’t even doing jobs they like, then they’re getting the worst of all worlds.

    (and…knowing how little I knew or could find out about “real” games companies when I was at university myself, I’m pretty sure that in their situation I’d probably make the same mistake too, mainly because of the bad advice)

  3. David McGraw

    That’s great to hear, especially from somebody IN the industry, Adam. I keep thinking of QA the same way, because that is all I ever read in relation to getting in to the industry. Though, I wouldn’t mind doing QA stuff at all (I’ve done it in the past, and enjoy it), but being a programmer is something I really crave (

  4. Darius K.

    Yeah. QA is still pretty much the only way in if your eventual goal is to be a Producer (although I’ve seen community management lead there too). But for programming and art, there are plenty of entry level positions. I’m not so sure about game design, though.

  5. adam Post author

    I see plenty of entry level design jobs all the time (not that they are necessarily easy to get – but IME being in QA doesn’t make it easier). I also see PLENTY of associate and assistant producer roles, which IMHO are a much better route to producer than QA – both in terms of being more of the job you “want” to do, and in giving you much better training or being a “real” producer.

  6. simonc

    Adam, you appear to have gone ‘off on one’ a bit here. Since when has GameCareerGuide been implying that it’s not possible to get entry level jobs in the industry?

    Articles like this on GCG.com:

    http://www.gamecareerguide.com/features/475/parents_faqs_about_game_development.php

    …clearly explain that it’s definitely possible to get a job in the game industry without working in QA. I’m not even aware of a single article on GCG.com that implies this is the primary career path – certainly not from our editors.

    And we certainly do not make money from getting-in guides, like those evil ‘become a game test’ $75 guides you see linked on Google all the time – besides which, our editor have a firm church/state boundary, so business considerations don’t play into it.

    How about you go contact Jill about writing an article putting the myth (as you see it) to rest, rather than just flaming us on your blog? :)

    Regards,
    Simon
    (Publisher, Game Developer/Gamasutra.)

  7. OlivierC

    There is also another strategy I can think of behind the myth of the mandatory QA transition. Qa employees usually get minimal wage, and promoting a QA employee to an entry level artist/programmer often means getting someone at a greatly reduced salary over regular “junior” staff. So keepign this myth alive allows cheaper staff.
    It’s definitely not the strategy I’d use, but I’ve seen it in action in quite a few instances.

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