Valve's Gabe Newell on Becoming a Game Developer [11.07.08]
- GameCareerGuide.com staff
[Shiny Entertainment founder Dave Perry recently wrote up an interview he did with Gabe Newell, co-founder and managing director of Valve Software, about getting into the video game industry. It is reprinted here with permission. —GameCareerGuide.com staff]
Gabe Newell on Careers in Video Game Development
Interview by Dave Perry
I've been quoted as saying that Gabe Newell will be the richest person in the video game industry. It's a bold statement, but he and his very talented crew have been able to stay ahead of the curve on engine technology, game design, sales, business, publishing, you name it. I have a lot of respect for his "Steam" initiative (cutting edge digital distribution service that a major media company will buy), and the fact that he has completely opened up the industry to new indie teams. It's hard to find someone that's more busy than him [sic], and that makes the fact that he's willing to give advice to students even more valuable.
I laughed out loud when I read how he compared Hollywood and the video game industry when it comes to niche talent. I've been expecting the opposite of what he says (I'm not going to spoil it), but I've now changed my opinion and agree that blended talent is indeed much more valuable these days.
So here you go. Iif you're a student, here's some great advice from Gabe Newell, the founder of Valve.
Dave Perry: What did your mother want you to do as a career? Surely, it couldn't have been to make professional video games!
Gabe Newell: Well, my mom was actually the first programmer in the family (Bell Labs). She told me that I should be a "system analyst" which is, in retrospect, an odd thing to say to a 9-year-old.
DP: What would you say to my mother, to get her off my back and let me make professional video games as a career?
GN: Video games are growing faster than the rest of the economy, combine the best aspects of the high tech and entertainment industries, and they are personally satisfying to work on.
DP: Tell us about your start in the industry. What was your life like when you were younger and hungrier?
GN: There were two aspects of my early experiences in the industry that are probably relevant: networking and personal interests. On the networking side, I already knew people in the industry who were instrumental in helping launch me in the field (specifically, Michael Abrash who was at id Software, and with whom I'd worked at Microsoft). On the personal interest side, in addition to loving video games, I had already done a lot of thinking about consumer computing platforms that had given me a set of tools that were helpful in starting Valve.
DP: It's pretty tough (almost damn impossible) to get hired without industry experience on a resume. Should I lie? It's the standard Catch-22, need a job to get experience, need experience to get a job. Imagine you are me, caught in the 22 -- what the heck would you do?
GN: Don't lie. That's just a disaster on multiple levels. The best thing to do is to start making content using the mod tools that are out there. Whether you use Civilization or Warcraft III or Hammer doesn't matter as much as that you are building and shipping stuff to customers, getting their feedback, and then iterating your work. Mod development is better in a lot of ways of both honing your skills and demonstrating your talent to a potential employer than work experience as there are going to be fewer institutional barriers and creative constraints to limit the work you do.
DP: People that never went to college in the video games business swear blind that colleges aren't needed to get a job. Are they for real? Should I burn my books now?
GN: That is changing very quickly. In the past, colleges didn't really have anything to teach people that directly applied to game development, so people who went to school or didn't go to school were more or less on the same footing. However programs like Digipen are a huge advantage, and are very valuable for the students who make it through.
DP: How did you get your big break? Did you claw your way out of the testers' pit? Did you sleep your way to the top? Did you sleep at all?