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  • How To Break Into The Industry, Part 1

    [03.13.12]
    - GameCareerGuide.com staff

  • Step 2: Recognize the Opportunities

    The process of creating games often requires a significant amount of people from varying disciplines to contribute to the success of the product. Here we outline the many different jobs that are a part of the business, share insight into what it's like working in these roles today, and offer origin stories from accomplished developers.

    Over the years the complexity of creating (most) games has increased dramatically. That fact, combined with the recent rise of new platforms (iOS, Facebook) and distribution methods (Steam, direct to consumer), means that there are more roles than ever involved in bringing a game to life. Below we do our best to capture a high-level snapshot of each of those roles to help you recognize the sheer amount of job opportunities that exist today.

    Game Designer

    Many people who think about making games picture the role of the game designer in their heads. There are many different types of design positions but in general the designer establishes and communicates the key concepts of how the game should play to the rest of the development team. What systems will the game have, what the levels or areas of the game should look like, and how challenging the overall experience will be are all typical questions that designers are tasked with answering.

    Here are a list of key resources you can follow to learn more about what the role of game designer entails:

    One of the most rewarding elements of being a designer is having the opportunity to help steer the overall direction of a given feature or game towards your desired vision. Alternatively, many designers may be frustrated to find that they are beholden to the work of artists, engineers, and even other designers to actually see their concepts come to life on screen.

    Key skills that a designer must possess include the ability to effectively communicate with others, a collaborative spirit, and an unrelenting passion for understanding the fundamental building blocks of what makes games enjoyable to play.

    "Ever since I was a kid I loved telling stories to my friends. I'd run pen and paper RPG's with them and I learned quickly what kept their interest and what did not. The art of listening to the player was the greatest skill I learned before working in the industry.

    When given the opportunity to write stories for games, I used that skill to deliver experiences to the player that they wanted to play."

    - Joe Morrissey, Lead Designer | Paragon Studios

    Quality Assurance Tester

    The QA tester position represents one of your best chances at obtaining an entry level role in game development. A critical part of the process, testing games as they are created is instrumental in ensuring a quality title and when done properly can be the difference between a hit game and a poorly reviewed disappointment. Working as a team, your main responsibility is to evaluate the game as it is being created and provide feedback to the development team regarding what is working properly versus what is not.

    "I was able to get into the industry by networking. I graduated from college with a BFA in digital media art, and my brother was testing for a big game producer and publisher. He put in a good word for me, and soon after I started my first testing job."

    - Jared Aizawa, QA Tester | Paragon Studios

    Here are a list of key resources you can follow to learn more about what the role of QA tester entails:

    One of the most rewarding aspects of being a QA Tester is knowing that you are the final line of defense between the development team and the consumers of your product. Saving a particularly nasty bug from finding its way into the final build helps the team tremendously. Additionally, many people use the role of QA Tester as a springboard towards other jobs in the game development pipeline. There are a number of potentially frustrating elements to the job however. The process of testing itself can be quite dull, especially if you are required to test the same part of the game hundreds of times in a row. Also QA Testers are frequently asked to work long hours towards the release of a project and in some cases this can impact their personal lives in a negative way.

    Key skills that a game tester must possess include effective verbal and written communication, a superb attention to detail, and the ability to maintain focus while completing a potentially repetitive task.

    "The hardest part about getting your first QA job is overcoming your lack of testing experience. I focused on my gaming history and how my previous job-related skills could apply to game testing, convinced them that I was passionate and had potential, and they gave me a shot."

    - Daryl Hall, Lead QA | Paragon Studios

    Programmer / Engineer

    Programmers or Engineers are the backbone of the development process, writing the code that brings games to life. Though some are self-taught most engineers learn the trade in college and obtain a degree in Computer Science.

    "Programmers work with other departments to get a high-level understanding of how the game should play. Their task is then to figure out every last little detail of how the game world should work and then translate that into code that computers can understand. Much of your time is spent building or learning re-useable libraries of code that provide common game features like physics or rendering."

    - Neal Kettler, Technical Director | Paragon Studios

    Here are a list of key resources you can follow to learn more about what the role of programmer entails:

    One of the most rewarding elements of being a programmer is that you often get direct and immediate feedback of your work on screen without the reliance of any outside parties. While designers and artists are reliant upon others to see their work in game, programmers are capable of making it happen on their own. Furthermore, as the recent success of some indie hit games have shown, programmers are occasionally able to make compelling games entirely by themselves for mobile phones or on the web. The most successful example of this is the game Minecraft which was originally created by just one programmer.


    Minecraft, the hit indie game originally created by Markus "Notch" Persson

    While engineers hold the ability to most directly affect the game, they can sometimes be frustrated by their lack of involvement with regards to the overall design of the game. Good teams ensure that all disciplines are properly represented as concepts are approved, however this may not yet be the norm in the industry.

    Skills required to be a valuable programmer include the ability to efficiently solve problems, a strong understanding of software architecture, the ability to work collaboratively with others (often in the same code), and a self motivated approach towards completing your tasks.

    "Like many in the games industry, I started in a completely different field - I began my career as a Chemical Engineer in the Pharmaceutical industry. I really enjoyed creating computer simulations, which led me to games - where simulations don't have to obey the laws of mother nature!"

    - Fred Ehnow, Co-Founder and Software Engineer | Hypnos Entertainment

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