All The Advice I’ve Thus Far Received Regarding The Game Design Industry



From Katie Chironis:

“I’ve only been a designer for a few months in total (3 at EA, 3 in internship here, and 1 as a FTE) but Tony, I have found that most of what I needed to get an internship I learned by doing – unfortunately being a designer is not really the kind of thing you can learn from external resources the way you can learn C# or UDK. It tends to be mushy feely soft-skills stuff a lot of the time. You can read a bunch of Gamasutra articles but they really only go so far if you’re hire-able in the first place.

So with that in mind, the skills I’ve so far found to be handy are diplomacy and networking. I got my internship at MS through networking – there was a MS Studios recruiting event at Carnegie Mellon’s graduate school campus, and I was not invited (because I was an undergrad). Luckily, I had taken a few classes on that campus and bummed around a bit, and had some friends over there, so they let me know that the recruiter would be coming around. From there, I spoke to the recruiter and asked if I could submit my resume late. I tried to not be a creep and be genuinely interested in her role at Microsoft. She took my resume, I got an interview, and here I am. J

Before that, I got my internship at EA by talking to a couple of recruiters on campus. At the time they didn’t seem that interested in taking me on (I was a college sophomore with some basic web dev experience and I really liked The Sims… so basically I was even more of a nobody than I am now). I met them later on at a party – which I was invited to by a professor who really liked my work — and luckily one of the recruiters was a Sims engineer. I told him I wanted to be a designer. He asked how I would improve The Sims. I had probably clocked over 3,000 hours of Sims time, so I had about 100 answers for that. I ended up on SimCity 5 doing javascript work and learned crash-course programming while making telemetry analysis tools.

I think diplomacy is the most important skill for a designer here. I’ve learned that being self-critical and thick-skinned as a designer is a great skill, but designers are also creative people, and everyone feels crappy when their ideas get hacked to pieces on a whiteboard. Also, most designers in publishing work with external devs on a daily basis, and each studio has their OWN design staff who don’t appreciate being bossed around by an entry-level designer. So if I’m tactful with feedback, I get a lot more done. J My mom used to always say “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but they’ll always remember how you made them feel.” That applies to so much of the getting-a-job process in games that it’s really scary sometimes.

Speaking of diplomacy and tact: I know someone who applied for a design internship here, got to the interview stage, and then was asked about his opinions of Gears of War. He started tearing the game apart as one of his least favorite games ever. Unfortunately, the guy he was talking to happened to be a former Gears designer. Let’s just say that guy doesn’t currently work in games and probably won’t.

And as Alex said, no one hires an “idea guy” – technical skill is a good thing. During my internship at EA I learned how to prototype in their GlassBox engine and I have continued to learn other engines. I have a BA in English. It reeeeeally doesn’t come naturally. But I think every designer should know at least a few engines and have made some demos in them.

Lastly: tell your friend to have a website! This is SO IMPORTANT for designers and it’s really hard to convince people you’re good at design if your work isn’t playable anywhere.

TL;DR don’t be an a**hole and make cool stuff and you will get an internship.”

From Chris Avellone:

“Doing game design (mods, level building) is worth more than education (specific advice below).

You should network – if you can attend the Game Developer’s Conference in SF, you should, and introduce yourself whenever you can – the goal is to find the writers in their lairs and hunt them down. 😉

Join LinkedIn and do a search for developers who work at a company you want to work at and feel free to ask them the same question about narrative – if they’re cool, they should be willing to help you out. If they’re jerks, then you don’t want to work there anyway.

Also if you have an IGDA – International Game Developer’s Association – chapter in the area, join that as well (along with their LinkedIn forums).

This industry interview breaks down what we look for in design applicants (you may have to fast forward past the Fallout stuff): Designer Advice on Getting Into the Industry.

We don’t care so much about education, we care what you’ve done with it, or done on your own. Grab whatever editors you can, demonstrate knowledge of them, and demonstrate a finished product – and preferably, that finished product you already put up on the internet for people to check out. If you’ve taken their critiques to heart, iterated on your work, and made a superior product, all the better.

We make RPGs, obviously, so the more you can play of every RPG and be able to provide detailed, critical feedback on it (not your opinions of what you’d like to play – detailed critiques of inconsistencies, things that interfere with fun, things that support fun, etc.).

If I had to boil it down:

  • Design or write a game/short adventure on your own. Fallout, Skyrim, and Oblivion all have editors that allow you to write your own characters, quests, etc. and then you can post them on-line and get reactions to them (the more critiques, the better). One of our area builders actually got hired because of this, and even if you make mistakes, you’ll learn from them and grow. The worst thing is not to do anything – if you want to write for games, then my advice is to spend your extracurricular time writing for games.
  • Play a lot of games and analyze what you like and don’t like about them. If you interview for a game company, that’ll always be part of the interview questions, and having smart answers ready beforehand helps them determine if you’ll be a good developer or not.
  • You should play a lot of games, but just as importantly, watch a lot of other people play games. Pay attention to how the game is played, especially the interface and menus and the means by which the player interacts with the game. When you do, you’ll quickly start seeing what irritates players and what they enjoy – keep a running log in your head of successful ideas used in games and what made them work.
  • If a game comes with level or map editors, play around with them, try out levels or scenarios with your friends and use that as an acid test for your work. There are tons of editors out there, like the level editors for Warcraft, Arcanum, Neverwinter Nights, or any others you can get your hands on. Put your levels or mods up on the net, get critiques, and try to make a name for yourself as a good level or map designer before you even go to a game company – it helps when the interviewer’s already seen your work on the internet and perhaps even played one of your levels.
  • Persistence and enthusiasm mean a lot in the game industry, so if you get knocked down once, just get back up and try again. You’ll get noticed.
  • If you’re looking for college classes to take, I’d suggest some programming courses and creative writing courses, maybe a little bit of art, and any classes that deal with interface design or layout for computer programs. Learn how to write critically and technically, and become familiar with Microsoft Word and Excel. Programming classes are a bonus because it helps designers understand how computers “think,” and gives them better avenues of communication with programmers in general.
  • Game development is a very team-oriented process, so we’d also recommend taking as many college classes as possible that reinforce teamwork and communication (or if not in college, finding the opportunity to work with teams). If you have difficulty with working in teams or communication, your job in game development will end up being more difficult for both you and the people you work with.
  • A lot of designers did not start out as designers. If you want a door into the game industry, try manual writing, web design, quality assurance, or any of a bunch of other jobs in the game industry. Make your interest in becoming a designer known, and if you have the skills, somebody should give you a chance.”

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