[In today's feature, industry veteran Jake Simpson lists 12 common questions asked of video game industry interviewees, and offers tips on how to best answer them.]
You're avidly applying for your first job in the video game industry. A couple of companies saw your enormous potential in your resume and cover letter, and they want to bring you in for an interview. How should you prepare?
In the game industry, there are several interview questions that tend to come up a lot. Here's a smattering of those and some tips on how you might handle them.
1. Why do you want to work here?
(This question implicitly includes, "Why do you want to leave where you are?" if you're currently employed.)
This question is an open opportunity to show you've done some research on the company where you're interviewing. All companies and interviewers are flattered when the interviewee knows who they are, knows what games they make, and wants to be a part of their experience. Do your homework and put on a good show!
Don't say things like, "I need a job," or "I need to move to Sacramento." Instead, pick a few things that are germane to the company in question. The more specific your reasons are tied to the company, the better. "I want to work on FPS shooters" isn't as good an answer as "I want to work on Game Franchise X because I played the first two games and still see potential for future growth of the product." It's sycophantic, yes, but interviewers are as prone to flattery as anyone else -- although don't give that as your only reason.
When explaining why you want to leave your current job, the trick is to not be negative. Pick a couple of points that are inarguable, for example, "There was no career development" or "They weren't working on the kinds of games I'm interested in," rather than "Their management is clueless and they are going to die soon." The game industry is a small community -- you could very well be talking smack about your interviewer's close buddy.
If you were let go or fired, it's better to say something like, "We decided to part ways," or "It was my time to leave," rather than go into too much detail, unless directly pressed. In that case, the interviewer probably already knows what went down and is just looking to see what you'll say. Answer the question quickly and without negativity, and move on. You want to leave a positive impression.
2. What games are you playing?
If you plan to work for a video game company, you'd better be playing games -- and you'd better be able to demonstrate that.
It's good form to mention some games that are in the same genre as the games made at that company. It's even better if you mention playing some of the games that were actually made there. Again though, don't go over the top.
At the very least, play the demo of anything they've produced. You need to be knowledgeable about the genre, what you enjoy about it, and how the development of these games is affected by the genre (as much as you can be). So research the company before the interview.
How you answer this question can be a deal breaker or a deal maker for hiring managers. They want to hire people who are demonstrably passionate about the games their company makes. Saying, "I have a level 70 mage in World of Warcraft and a level 40 druid in EverQuest," to Blizzard makes the point that you are immersed in its product genre.
Demonstrating some knowledge about older games also shows you're grounded in game history, which is never a bad thing. The wider your knowledge base, the more you can forestall going down blind alleys in terms of implementation and design, which benefits everyone, and that's exactly what a company is looking for in its employees.
3. How would you make the games you're playing better?
You'd be surprised how often this question comes up, even if you aren't interviewing for a design position. Everyone wants a developer who has design sensibilities because it inevitably means she or he will be more involved and engaged in whatever is going on.
Knowing ahead of time how you might answer this question means you'll come off sounding like you've actually thought about a game in development terms. Game studios are looking for people who think as they play -- about what they're playing, how it's done, what could have been improved, and most importantly, what they can rip off.
One downside to adopting this mentality is that it becomes harder to enjoy a game for what it is, but that's an occupational hazard in all jobs.
Believe it or not, you can answer this question in an entirely positive way. However, if you decide instead to criticize a design or implementation decision in a game, be sure you have a solution to the problem too. It's not enough to moan about the final strider battle in Half-Life 2: Episode 2; you have to have an idea of how it could have been made more enjoyable, perhaps through easier car control, or not destroying all the supply stations so quickly.
If you decide to bash a game that the company where you're interviewing developed (and that takes courage; some companies will applaud you while others will diss you for not drinking the Kool-Aid), then ensure that what you're criticizing isn't something subjective but something that everyone has had a pop at. Be ready to back up the criticism with proof that it's an agreed-upon flaw, not just you being nit-picky.