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HyperCube009 08-20-2012 03:34 PM

Graduate Degree Options for Aspiring Producer
How's everybody doing? I am looking for some honest opinions from experienced people on this forum on what I should select to study for my master's degree based on my background and desire to eventually become a Producer for a reputable game company.

Just a little about me: I am a West Point class of 2010 graduate with a Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science. I am currently serving on active duty in the military as an Executive Officer for an Administrative Company. Prior to this position, I was a Platoon Leader for an Air Defense Battery in which I managed over 20 people towards mission success for 18 months. I have 3 years left in the Army before I can elect to leave the service, and undoubtedly in those 3 years I will be promoted to Captain and lead a Company of about 120 people.

In my current position as an XO, I have enough extra time on my hands to start working towards my Master's Degree. I want to study something that will better enable me to land a job as an assistant producer and eventually move up the ranks in that position. I have looked around at several sites and they seem to suggest that having a Master's Degree in a related field is a must for someone looking to be picked up as an assistant producer.

My question is, would it be better for me to grab a masters in something closely related to the technical side of game-making, i.e. a masters in game design? Or something more along the lines of project management? Please elaborate on your responses. The only master's degree specifically for game production that I have found is the one available from UAT. Unfortunately, that program is not online and I have no chance of taking a classroom course until I exit the Army in 3 years.

Sorry for the long read, but thank you to anyone who chooses to respond. Later!

tsloper 08-20-2012 06:05 PM

Re: Graduate Degree Options for Aspiring Producer

Originally Posted by HyperCube009 (Post 28746)
I am looking for ... opinions from experienced people ... on what I should ... study for my master's degree based on my ... desire to... become a Producer
... would it be better for me to grab a masters in something closely related to the technical side of game-making, i.e. a masters in game design? Or something more along the lines of project management?

I don't think the master's degree is essential. Your standing as an officer and XO establishes your credentials as a manager. To get hired in games you'll need to have been intimately involved with the making of games. I don't think you'll be able to do that until after you're discharged (making games is a huge timesuck).
If you want to get a master's, go for whatever learning you can get (do it for the learning, not for the piece of paper).

HyperCube009 08-21-2012 05:11 AM

Re: Graduate Degree Options for Aspiring Producer
Thanks for the fast response! Please describe what you mean by intimately involved in the making of games. Should I be working on a portfolio of small indie games or mods that I can make on my own while still in the army to show to a game company once I am discharged? If so, that makes me lean towards grabbing a masters in game design because I would surely make a game or two just being in that major.

If that is not the case, what job in the game industry do you see me getting once I am discharged if its not producer or assistant producer right off the bat? Thanks again.

tsloper 08-21-2012 06:04 AM

Re: Graduate Degree Options for Aspiring Producer

Originally Posted by HyperCube009 (Post 28748)
1. Should I be working on a portfolio of small indie games or mods
2. that I can make on my own while still in the army
3. I would surely make a game or two just being in that major.

1. That is what I said.

2. I said, you won't be able to do that while still in the army. Read that timesuck line again.

3. Student projects rarely count. You need stuff made out of other motives than "getting graded."

HyperCube009 08-21-2012 07:45 AM

Re: Graduate Degree Options for Aspiring Producer
Mr. Sloper, despite your rather brash way of presenting your arguments, I appreciate your candid advice. I know you have a lot of experience in the industry, especially with your time in Activision. However, what say you to the following article stating "it is becoming more common to see producers who have a masterís degree begin their careers as project managers or assistant producers after an internship with a developer"?

I would ask your advice on the current state of the video game job market, and how you think it will be in 3-5 years when I would be keen on entering it.

tsloper 08-21-2012 08:38 AM

Re: Graduate Degree Options for Aspiring Producer

Originally Posted by HyperCube009 (Post 28750)
what say you to the following article stating "it is becoming more common to see producers who have a masterís degree begin their careers as project managers or assistant producers after an internship with a developer"?

I don't read articles on request. To the statement/quote, I say "you can try that." Every person has to blaze his own path. Just watch out for hugely expensive for-profit degree programs.

HyperCube009 08-21-2012 09:19 AM

Re: Graduate Degree Options for Aspiring Producer
Got it, thanks Sir.

Anybody else have any input?

AcuraSpeed 08-23-2012 08:41 AM

Re: Graduate Degree Options for Aspiring Producer
Hey Cube - I think I could really give you an honest opinion as I was exactly where you are and considering an AP (Associate Producer) job, as I thought it required the least specialized skill set and because I graduated from a highly-ranked, prestigious university and loved video games above all else and am a really smart guy that I would be hired at a AAA studio. Obviously, life had beaten me down and that was not the case, but I truly believe I have a wealth of knowledge for someone who has graduated from a university, gone down a path in life, then decided (and possibly they think too late) that they will never be happy unless they do something they are passionate about - work in a AAA video game studio. There are a few routes from your point in life and I have thoroughly researched them all, including Grad Schools, and really think I can give you an honest profile on all the big ones (SMU Guildhall, DigiPen MSc, CMU ETC, USC Interactive, UCF FIEA). I haven't logged on here in years and only did because I saw your post in a Google search and I think I can help you out from my learnings and experiences with the industry in the past few years. Be W-A-R-Y of info you may get on here - there are some very helpful people, but I have also found quite a few bitter people who try to discourage you from trying to enter the industry or tell you that it's not worth it because it's not as great as what your nostalgic childlike fantasies tell you, or it's too difficult or volatile, or, for some reason unbeknownst to me, are just plain rude, as if young people asking for advice is an annoyance or a burden. Maybe they don't understand how much that can upset an eager, excited young passionate person, as they have grand hopes and visions of creating the games that they love and grew up with, and even though it may not be the miracle dream, nor as easy as they think, there is no reason to completely destroy a hopeful person's dreams and cause them to believe it's not all that great and they should get a stable, conventional job (that makes a creative person want to jump off a cliff) instead, which is what happened to me, and what I did for 3 years of my life after graduating, where I made more in management consulting than I probably will ever see in the industry, but wanting to off myself everyday at the same time. Luckily, I finally realized I couldn't handle being so unhappy any longer and took the plunge. If entering the industry is what you truly believe you want to do with your life, do not even read those responses. Yes it will be difficult, but with the right plan and proper execution of that plan, it is very feasible.

First thing: Why do you want to be a producer? Do you want to create video games on some level, or do you want to use Excel all day to manage scope, budget, timeline for a large scale software project? Because you don't need to enter the industry for that. As I said above, I originally thought about production, as I thought it was my best shot because it didn't require that specialized a skill set, and I get the feeling you believe your management experience leading a platoon, and maybe a company if you get the railroad tracks (Yup, I was a USMC brat and grew up on base my entire childhood), will qualify you for project management above all else. However, the problem with production is that it's damn near impossible to get your first job I found. Unlike being a programmer, artist, animator, or level designer, you cannot submit a portfolio, unless you consider yours to be a deeply impassioned cover letter, which I found will do nothing, despite your skill with prose. Many people who are AP's get there via QA unfortunately, and others come from other disciplines - you were a CS undergrad, would you not be interested in programming? Production is so un-substantiave, that for example, at Guildhall, production will be your secondary focus esentially, as you still need to choose one of their main tracks: programming, art, or level design (80% of their students I have found). Is there something else you think you may be interested in? If you liked coding, game programming can be especially satisfying in terms of the problems you will get to solve. If you want to move away from the technical level of your CS studies, you should look at level design, which is a common entry-level position (entry-level after you have built up some serious skills (Maya, 3DMax) and with engines/dev kits (UE3, Source, Skyrim Creation Kit) and created some damn good mods, which you can do on your own, or in a program like Guildhall. A level design position can lead to becoming a game designer, and eventually a lead or executive designer, or it can also lead to project management if you still want to go that route with production. But the important thing is to get into the industry first, and you cannot build a demo to be a producer unfortunately. Do you think there are any other areas you would be interested in?

AcuraSpeed 08-23-2012 09:42 AM

Re: Graduate Degree Options for Aspiring Producer
Hey I just re-read your post and I obviously had a lot built up I needed to say (sorry if it's too much, I'm very passionate about helping people try to accomplish their dream of getting into the industry, particularly those who have already graduated or are a little late in life's path, like I was) but was worried I didn't address your specific questions. Unfortunately I saw that you would need to look at online programs due to your officer contract commitments (isn't it 10 years these days...yikes). In that case, I hate to say it, but you need to scrap the idea of an advanced game degree entirely, at least until you are free to complete a campus program. The value of those programs (the good ones only that I listed above) is that they emulate real-life industry situations by putting teams together to build large scale projects, which both teaches you the skills and experience, but also provides you with your demo items for your resume. This sort of experience just cannot be accomplished via an online program, and would frankly probably be a waste of money when you could instead be doing the following. Instead, I would say self-study is your best bet - get involved in online communities, find/build a team, and create a kick-ass mod. I would highly suggest using the Skyrim Creation Kit (and UE3 as a second), as BethSoft has done an incredible job of reaching out to the mod community/aspiring game devs by making some amazing tools, and even providing step-by-step tutorial videos to get started on nearly every aspect. You can do this remotely, and be part of a team online. However, I know that can be difficult for some people (including myself) to discipline yourself to do so much and that the structure of an academic program guiding you to do this can be so much better for some (possibly you, as you may function better with structure from the USMA and Army (though I don't know how much structure you guys actually's not the Corps or anything...JK JK). In this case, it certainly would not be too late for you to enroll in 3 years at all - I was a very late bloomer as I got sucked into the Corporate world for far too long. In this situation, it would be a great idea to learn as much as you can on your own or as part of an online mod team in the next 3 years. Who knows, you could create an amazing project and be ready for the industry right off the bat in 3 years with no need for grad school, and if not, you would absolutely be ready for a graduate program. The good thing is that you realized what you want to do. Now, I would just suggest thinking more specifically about what that is (do you really want it to be management/production, or are you more tech-saavy or creative than you think?) and formulating a plan to get there, such as those I suggested above.

HyperCube009 08-23-2012 06:41 PM

Re: Graduate Degree Options for Aspiring Producer
Hey Acura, thank you very much for your response brother. You seem really passionate in your response and your desire to help is very genuine, I really appreciate it.

You brought a lot of things to my attention and I will try to give you a full response in return. First of all, I am glad you say you finally took the plunge and found a position in the gaming industry. It has been a dream of mine for a very long time and, like you, my enthusiasm for working in the game industry is not just because of a love for games as a child, it actually stems from the appreciation I have for the groups of people that spend countless hours putting together such immersive and creative experiences and sharing them with people. All I really want is to be a part of that group.

The reason I say I want to be a producer is for two reasons. First, because it seems to be a very good fit. My bachelor's was in Computer Science and I graduated from a prestigious school, and I would like to think this gives me some good background in software development while not being a programming or creative expert. My time as an officer in the army, which will total 5-8 years once I finish my service, lends well to the management side, i.e. making sure the different groups that fall under you are communicating, making their deadlines, managing resources, etc. By the time I leave the military, this will have become second nature to me in the army world, and hopefully applicable to managing a group of men and women designing a game. The second reason I want to be a producer is because it just sounds like a fun job to me. I do enjoy managing people, motivating them towards a common goal, and seeing a project come together. I have seen this happen many times with my Soldiers as a platoon leader, and will continue to see it as I hold leadership positions of higher responsibility. While I would love to take part in a more creative role of game creation, I fear I do not have the time to become an expert at anything because of the time constraints I have in the military.

I understand what you are saying about taking the time to do a real campus program, rather than an online course. I agree that it definitely sounds better to be in a program that emulates real life situations, rather than imagining them online. Therefore, if I were to take your advice, it would seem that my best option would be to work on my own projects for the next 3-6 years (if I stay for another 6 years, for a total of 8, I have the option of using the full post 9-11 GI bill to assist me in paying for a masters degree), and then attending a graduate program at a university. One program I found, and in fact the only one of its kind that I found, is a master's degree specifically in Game Production at the University of Advancing Technology (UAT) in Arizona. Have you heard of this program? What are you thoughts on it?

Thanks for your great response, it actually made my day when I logged in and saw it. If I could ask, what do you do in the game industry currently? Without providing too much detail for privacy concerns, could you let me know what position you currently hold and what your are on it, and any producer-related positions? That would be fantastic. I will be looking into those other colleges you mentioned while I wait for your response. Thanks again man. oo-rah

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