Recent college grad in desperate need of help
Hi, I don't really know where to begin because I am so confused at this stage of my life, but I'll give it my best. I am graduating from a top-tier university next month (May) and am now looking for a job in the industry. For a little background - I have changed my career aspirations more times than I can count, and think I have finally settled on something. I had considered everything from medical school to management consulting, but for the majority of college I was set on going to law school. All went well, and I got into a good law school, but I thought - is this what you want to do for the next 40 years? Well, no it's not, so I made the complete foolish and naive choice to defer going to a great law school and making over 100k in another 3 years, in hopes of working with video games. I also passed up a few great jobs paying over 60k. I am probably a fool, but working with games is the only thing I can seriously see myself doing full-time for the next few decades. Well now you know how determined (or stupid) I am, let's move on.
I am interested in a variety of areas in gaming, most notably, design, production, and journalism. I know I can't jump into any of these right away, so my question is - what should I do? I really don't want to be a QA tester, because I need to pay my bills and student loans, plus I would like to use the fact that I have degree from a prestigious university. Although I like to think that I would be immensely successful in design or production, I KNOW that I would be nothing short of a phenomenal journalist. I think I have a lot of academic skills, but writing is hands down my niche (not evident from this post, since I am exhausted and suffering from anxiety-induced insomnia at the moment). I have always been a linguist, love composing all sorts of writings, from rhetorical pieces to poetry, and speak two other languages nearly fluently. My writing skills are so profound, that I have successfully used them throughout my academic tenure to pursuade Ivy-league educated professors into believing that I am knowledged on a topic (such as art history) that I am actually completely ignorant towards. Equally imporant as writing, I have been playing games since I was 4 years old and there is nothing on this Earth that I know more about.
Can anyone help me out? I am willing to take any job that a non-computer science college grad can get in the industry. However, I can't find anything and now my only possible plan is to humble myself, go into poverty, and be a QA tester, while freelancing on the side. However, I don't know anything about freelancing. What should I do, should I pursue another area of the industry, and if so - what? I need to make a decent salary soon (not out of greed, but of necessity). If all else fails, I might stay in school for another 2 years (which I really don't want to do) and get a second degree in Computer Science and be a programmer, since they seem to be the only ones that can easily get a good job. Programming is not my preference, but I know a little Java and do enjoy PC's, and if that's what it takes to work in the industry, so be it. I'm sorry to ramble for so long, I just really need help and with graduation rapidly approaching, I think I might be suffering from anxiety. Maybe I should have went to law school...ugh. HELP!
Oops, I almost forgot - I am not just limiting myself to journalism. I have quite a creative mind, and would be interested in development-related writing jobs as well, such as dialogues, cut-scenes, story writing, script, pretty much anything, it justs seems like journalism is more prominent that these other jobs. Anyway, I would be a janitor (a slight exaggeration) at a game company if I could, so I am open to all replies or suggestions - please help!
Getting in to any area of journalism is a bit of a bull pen (I'm approaching the end of a journalism university course myself, and find the prospect very daunting).
The best advice I can give you initially is read these two brilliant features:
Guide to games journalism staff position
Guide to games journalism freelance
Both are good starts, with some great advice. Also, if you do not already have one, start up a gaming related blog to show off your writing abilities. I have one that I update every week (see below if you are interested, or have a spare five minutes) that goes on my CV to show potential employers that I am committed to writing a decent blog every week come hell or high water.
Whilst having a degree on a piece of paper looks nice, most employers look for a sign of skill and dedication when considering who to employ (or so I am told).
It sounds like you want to either be a journalist or creative writer/designer.
That, or you just want to be in the games industry for no other reason then to be just in it because it sounds like you have no idea what you actually want to do in the games industry.
What exactly is your degree?
If you are trying to get in to the journalistic side of things, there are some very good guides in the features section on how to get in to a freelance or staff position.
One thing that seems to be the recurring bit of advice around here is start putting some of your writing online. Start a games related blog and maintain it regularly, even if you do not think anybody will read it. You can put it on your CV and it will act as a bit of a portfolio and be a sign of your skill.
Unfortunately your prestigious school experience really isn't going to give you much of an edge. I know that's not what you wanted to hear, but it's the truth. Yes if the applications come down to you versus someone who attended a 'lesser' university, you'd probably get the job, but it's going to come down to you versus someone who made a demo, has worked on a module team, can present level design, provided an interactive script, etc: and I can guarantee that person will win out every time in this industry.
What you need to do is present yourself as the total package and use your educational experience to bolster that. But first you need to decide what it is you actually want to do. From your post, I would recommend one of three areas:
There are a lot of different ways to be a games journalist. You can work on staff at a big magazine (print or online), work freelance, run your own site/blog... really anything you can do in traditional journalism, you can find a way to do here. If this is your dream job, I recommend starting your own blog and writing an article every single day. Blogs are very hot right now and with a fresh spin you can attract a lot of people, including industry professionals. Use your knowledge outside of games - there are some very successful game law blogs out there.
This job is still evolving; fortunately more developers are recognizing the benefits of having a staff writer. But even then, you're maybe looking at one writer at a developer who is perma-staffed, and that's quite rare. Most places contract writers, so you'd be looking at freelance work. Your chances improve when applying to big RPG developers, but the spots are extremely competitive. In this job you'd be writing game dialogue, narrative, documentation; really anything and everything that needs to be written, you will probably handle at some point in your career. Depending on the developer sometimes you have technical writers and designers who handle some of these things. Dialogue is going to consistently be a huge part of your job and I can tell you with absolute certainty that being a good essay writer and being a good dialogue writer are two very different crafts. If this is your dream job, research formatting for video games and develop a ~3000 word script. Ideally you should familiarize yourself with Conversation Editors within engines. And again, keeping a blog is a great idea.
I put this one in here because you have the potential to be a rather well-rounded individual, and your educational background will help you here. You have knowledge that most applicants don't - make the most of it and point it out. The term 'game designer' is used to describe different things but in this case I'm using it to describe the persons who formulate, document, and implement methods of gameplay and ultimately 'fun'. These are people who are responsible for communicating across all teams. It's very much a 'team player' job. If this is your passion, start designing games. Begin with card, board, or 2D games. The principles are the same. Again, a blog is appropriate here too.
One thing troubles me about your post. You say you need to make a decent salary soon. Granted this is true of all of us, but you stress it here, and I want to stress that banking on getting a job in the game industry in x amount of time for y amount of money - even a testing job - is a bet you will most likely lose every time. Do it because you love it, as I assure you it will take some time to get in. You're not even ready to apply yet - you need to decide what you want to do and build up your portfolio.
Also, whether you meant for it to come off this way or not, I wouldn't publicly give off the vibe that QA is beneath you. Without QA everything else would go to hell and everybody would look bad. It takes a ridiculous amount of dedication, organization, and persistence to be a good QA member, and if you're willing to work hard at it you will go places by starting in QA and impressing people. It's the equivalent of starting at the salad station in a fancy restaurant. Watch the chefs around you, go above and beyond, take the opportunities to shine and make the most of them and eventually you'll be one of the chefs the new salad worker watches for tips and techniques.
First of all, congrats on graduating.
Second of all: relax!
You will be just fine. I was in a similar position as you are when I graduated from school -- I wanted to work in games and I had no idea how to get there.
You know what didn't help me get a job as a designer at a AAA game developer? An ivy league degree.
You know what did help me get a job there? A friend. And a willingness to take a shit entry level job.
So stay in touch with your friends. Stay playing games, and stay passionate.
And, just as others have posted here: you need to forget about the money. You aren't going to make lawyer money. You aren't even going to make paralegal money. Just forget about it. If you are lucky you will start at 30k. If you are lucky! Unless you are a sick programmer -- then more like 70-ish, depending on the studio. But it sounds like you are a soft-skills kinda guy, so you need to hack those expectations down to size my friend.
But if you succeed, you will get to work in a field you care about. It's also a field that that has a lot of possibility for smart people who are willing to take risks.
Frankly, we are living in the dark ages of game development. It's still all about the technology -- ideas are cheap and easy. You sound like an idea guy. Read this as: get in early before ideas become more valuable. Think about what this field looks like in ten years: do you want to be a lawyer looking in, or a bootstrapped dev with four titles under you belt?
Don't be so down on QA, either. At the right studios, smart QA guys become designers and producers every day. My executive producer? Started in QA. My associate producer? Started in QA. My lead designer? Started in QA. The smartest young designers on my team? All started in QA.
Buck up, get ready for some tough times, shitty hours, some ego checks and some bad pay and you will do just fine. If you can't handle that, I suggest you pursue law school -- god knows that I often I wish I'd been an investment banker or doctor like all my college friends. But that feeling passes the moment I remember I'm smack in the middle of my generation's version of rock and roll.
Oh, and learn python, perl, MEL or even C. It will make you stand out from the legions of creative folks who don't know the basics of programming. And make a darn game or two!
Thanks so much for all the advice, everyone. I got turned down for an Associate Producer position at a HUGE developer, so now I am hopefully getting a QA job at an equally big developer. I am not concerned about money, just as long as I can pay my bills. My girlfriend is in medical school, so I don't need to worry about being the breadwinner, lol. I think I'm going to stick with the QA for a while, create a blog, and try to do some freelance stuff. I figure, either the QA will move on to something better, like production or design, or maybe my writing will take off. Wish me luck everyone, I have abandoned a six-figure salary and taken a vow of poverty. Man, I must really love video games. But like the guy above me said, low pay is worth having a job I actually want to go to. Any more advice will be greatly appriciated.
Mork really hit the nail on the head above, the most important things you'll find in the industry are friends. They are often the ones who can give you early notice about new jobs, they can sway their managers decision to hire you, and they can guide you through exactly what you need to know when applying to their company*. Do what you can to make and keep contacts, and your career will be much easier.
You have to get the timing right for looking down on QA. I can look down on them for examlpe, because I'm a programmer and that's practically part of my job description! (A bug arrives... step 1 - work out why it is the tester's fault, step 2 - Fix the bug (only if necessary) :) ). Very few people tend to get a QA job, because they want to be a tester. Most intend it as a stepping stone to another role.
Another thing to consider, very big publishers and developers can often become stagnant. Many people find it easier to distinguish themselves, and rise to higher positions in smaller companies. In big companies you sacrifice job mobility, for greater job security (although QA jobs are rarely 'Safe' - many don't even get a full time contract).
*It also works the other way of course, they can make sure you don't get a job (and this can be a supprisingly small industry where you find yourself repeatedly working with the same people), so don't go around upsetting everyone.
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