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  • Valve's Gabe Newell on Becoming a Game Developer

    - staff

  •  GN: My big break came from the support and encouragement of people already in the industry.

    DP: Tell us about the first time you felt star-struck when meeting a leading game developer (and no, we won't tell Mr. Miyamoto your real name). Do you even realize that some people will get butterflies in their stomach when first meeting you?

    Meeting Mr. Miyamoto was very cool, but the first time I was star-struck was when I realized the person who was asking such thoughtful questions during my Half-Life presentation was Warren Spector.

    Without using terms like "indentured servant" or "voluntary servitude," please describe your ideal protégé.

    GN: I don't want a protégé -- I want a colleague. There are three questions we ask ourselves when making hiring decisions that are relevant to this.

    1) Would I work for this candidate?
    2) What would I learn from this candidate?

    3) How would I feel if this person went to work at a competitor?

    These questions are actually more invariant with respect to experience than you would think, and are often very clarifying.

    DP: Let's say I was interviewing with you tomorrow. Short of showing up drunk and naked, what could I say or do to completely ruin my shot? And what could I do to totally win your heart?

    GN: For us, having clear ideas about customers and how you make decisions, having demonstrated excellence in a specific domain, and understanding how to work collaboratively in a non-hierarchical environment are the keys.

    Let's look several years into the future for a moment. Should I even bother learning today's skills? Surely they'll have completely changed by the time I get out of college? What kinds of jobs are absolutely 'rock-solid', and will undoubtedly still be around five to 10 years from now? And what new jobs do you think might exist that nobody has quite pinned down just yet?

    Specialization and hierarchy are the norms in film production, and are antithetical to what needs to happen in the games industry. The reason for that distinction is that the game industry is more focused on invention than on repeatability/measurability. Programmers that can draw are going to be in much better shape than an animator specializing in putting talking mouths on cats. The solutions of tomorrow are not going to fall into the production or organizational categories of today.

    How much stock do you put in the emerging game design programs at universities? Does it matter more to you that an interviewee knows the history of and theory behind the third-person action MMO/puzzle platformer hybrid, or is all about the demo he/she shows up with?

    GN: It varies tremendously from program to program. Some are really good, and we have people step out of, say, Digipen directly into key roles on shipping games. Others are completely broken.

    DP: Okay, just imagine three companies make me an offer (a guy has gotta dream!). They're all kinda low-end jobs, and I need to move 3,000 miles to take any of them. How do I pick the right team? What would you look for?

    GN: The quality of the people you would be working with on a daily basis would be the best criterion to use to make that decision.

    DP: Finally, there are a ton of game development colleges around the world now. Imagine you had to start again, and have all the choices I have -- how would you pick? And how would you convince your mother to get out her checkbook?

    GN: Ask people who graduated from the program. Tell your mom it's either Digipen or Rennaissance French poetry.


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