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After Some Research...
by William Holt on 12/02/10 03:02:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


I don't think I'm cut out to sit through another 5+ years of school to earn a degree that only vaguely relates to what I want to end up doing.

Project Management is the field I want to enter, as it gives me the opportunity to have a little bit of input on each facet of the development process, as well as the ability to set the general direction of the game.

It sounds like the kind of thing that I'd be good at, and I've really enjoyed working out details on a game I'm working on via a design document I'm working on. Fortunately, the time I spent at Fanshawe included several courses on project management, so I'm not entirely lost; I just have little to no idea as to how to apply that knowledge in a game design environment. I'll figure it out, though.

I've been going over every game design resource I can find, both on this site and others - The Escapist's Extra Credits feature has been particularily enlightening - and more and more I find myself drawn into the world of game design.

I suppose that within the next couple of weeks I'll have to get active on some indie development forums, as interacting with the community is the only way I'll ever be able to make friends, make myself known and ultimately gain experience.

A lot of the information out there indicates that those who want to work in the game industry need to have had a varied life and, along with that, a myriad or experiences to draw upon. This, as far as I can figure it, is true, but saying that one who crafts experiences needs to have had a variety of experiences themselves is like saying those who call themselves mountaineers need to have climbed a mountain or three.

The main question I have is whether it's important to have a piece of paper saying that you know what you're doing for your piece of paper to be an official one from an accredited school or simply to be one that lists your curriculum vitae. How many have gotten their start with doing indie games, how many have gotten their start doing games linked to a preexisting IP (Yo! Noid, Pirates of the Caribbean or the Burger King series) and how many have gotten their start simply by being hired by one of the AAA studios?

Anyway. The main thing I've been working on is a 2d shmup / platformer. I've noticed that the 2d shmup genre has been keeping itself nestled snugly in the niche of bullet hell games (see Do Don Pachi for a great example of the Bullet Hell / Manic Shooter genre), and that that very same trend is alienating the entire genre from receiving an infusion of new players.

I grew up in the era of Gradius, R-Type, Contra and Strider, and I think that an accessible visit back to those days combined with some of the innovations that you see in more modern games would make an interesting title to work on - especially on a mobile platform, but also via a small download based distribution platform, such as WiiWare, XBLA, PSN or even Steam.

Still in the development stages, though, and I'm revamping the development group's website to reflect this. I think my seeking out a new social group to assist me with this will happen sooner, rather than later.

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Kenneth Bowen
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I don't know if you've checked out but it is a great resource for those looking to break in. The answer to your specific question, our industry generally companies wants you to have the skill set, and generally education is lower on the list of priorities. Prove you can do the job working on projects like you're doing and you should be on the right track.

William Holt
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Thanks for the link, and for the advice. :)

Sean Farrell
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I am not sure if project management is what you want. In classical software engineering the project manager only serves as facilitator and has not real impact on the project. He serves only to track progress and check if that progress is on track. If that is not the case he takes corrective actions; that is talk with developers and stakeholders to either modify the schedule or the scope. Often the job of project manager is doubles with an other, like architect or so.

In game development there seldom is someone that can be called a project manager. The closest that comes to that is a producer. Unless you have experience in other creative fields, I doubt that you can break into the game industry as producer. But there are positions that might bring you there eventually.

Robert Anderson
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I agree with you Sean. PM may not be the route you are looking for. But whatever it is you want to end up doing, don't give up. Don't ever give up. If game dev is what you want to do then making small games as proof that you can do it could help?

For me when I forst got in to films, way back in the day, I did whatever job was available. No matter how mundane or uninspiring and I did it to the absolute best that I could. It helped me get jobs that were closer to what I wanted to do. Schooling played little to no roll in this. Hard work and the desire to excel is golden.

William Holt
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Well, project manager is a term I pulled out of my IT education, but I do have quite a bit of experience in the creative arts side of things, as well. I knew I wanted to do the whole 'work in the game industry' thing, but it wasn't until I saw's Extra Credits on So You Want To Be A Game Designer that I knew precisely what role I wanted to play.

I realize that a project manager in game development would be doing a lot more than simply managing due dates and work loads; that's why it appeals to me. I'm the kind of guy who likes to have a hand in everything, and can successfully communicate ideas clearly to those who have different ways of looking at things, different priorities. I don't even necessarily care if it's even MY idea I'm communicating; I just want to contribute and have my team put forth a unified effort, towards one end, and end up with the best end product we can, because of everyone's combined and directed efforts.

But I may be babbling ideology here, so I'll stop. :)

Glenn Storm
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To add to the advice/wisdom above, it might be good to mention that from studio to studio, the title of PM, as well as many others, is very subjective. Due to this industry's relatively short history compared to other industries, there little in the way of title/role/responsibility standards. A production manager in one company is an asset tracker and schedule keeper, in another company they are a people manager and supervisor, in another, they play the role of director/producer and make significant contributions to the design and development direction. The factors that play into this variance includes size of the company, pedigree of the staff culture, as well as the company development philosophy.

In light of that, I'd add my voice to the chorus urging you to get involved in a company in any way you can, make your interests known, contribute and continue to seek opportunities in the direction of your interests. By remaining flexible and focusing on your interests and talents, you avoid the trap of mislabeling yourself or your goal, and you allow opportunities to find you.

Jamin Messenger
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Will, I had the same realization myself. I came out of school with a political science major assuming that any passion I had for game design would not be there after graduating. Boy was I wrong. I am now more excited than ever to create my own work or assist in the development of a game, but I am not so eager to go back to school for a computer engineering degree. I ended up jumping at the chance to be a PM at my current company and I am hoping to use this as well as a game I am making myself to prove to other companies that I have what it takes to be a PM at a game company. I have been looking at associate producer positions as well. Point is, I am glad to hear I am not the only one who would rather get real world experience than try to get a degree without the work experience to back it up.

Christian Allen
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"The main question I have is whether it's important to have a piece of paper saying that you know what you're doing for your piece of paper to be an official one from an accredited school or simply to be one that lists your curriculum vitae. How many have gotten their start with doing indie games, how many have gotten their start doing games linked to a preexisting IP (Yo! Noid, Pirates of the Caribbean or the Burger King series) and how many have gotten their start simply by being hired by one of the AAA studios?"

Education is not as important as experience. I got hired by RSE because of my mod work and my military background. I got my degree later, mainly because if in the future I decide to work abroad, it makes getting Visa's easier.

Looking at a junior designer, I am going to be more impressed with someone with no degree and a (good) game on XBLA, than someone with some fancy degree and nothing else to show.

Kimberly Unger
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Ugh. Somebody shoot the spammer pls.

Kimberly Unger
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Will, you've got some fabulous advice in this list of posts :) And in my experience, the "proof is in the pudding" aspect of game develoment is extremely valid. The piece of paper might give you an extra nudge if you're in a dead-heat tie for an intro position, but experience will beat education. We are an industry founded on people who just made it go, no matter what their background might hae been when starting out.

One advantage to the education aspect, I will point out, is that it's easier to find teams of like-minded people to work with on game projects. The student competitions every year showcase excellent examples of this. In addition, with a game degree, you're going to get the chance to try your hand a many different elements of game production, from concept work up through game design. It would give you the opportunity to see where you really click so you can focus your efforts in that specific area. Back when I was still teaching game art, I would see students come in *convinced* that character concept was their forte, or animation was where they wanted to be, but then by the end of the degree they had completely changed track and found something that was an even better fit.

William Holt
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You're right, and the thought of social advantages had occurred to me, as well. The student competitions always produce fascinating entries, and I can only imagine what those same students are learning as they chip their way through an actual game design process. Being in an environment like that is a true advantage; one that you can't get elsewhere.

With regards to the changing of the mind... eh, I'm not a spring chicken anymore. I know myself well enough that design / management is where I want to be. Thanks to the (very kind) advice given as replies to my original post, I'm confident that I just need to follow my usual process of teach myself and make it happen. The goal is to run my own studio, so if an official education's chief advantages are a broadened social group and giving me an edge when attempting to impress someone else, I think I can listen to my wife and bypass the schooling. ;)

Besides, if I need to get official comprehensive material on technical aspects of things, there's always Open Courseware.

Randy OConnor
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I did a five-year animation degree at a university because I had no desire to go to just a trade school, I wanted more to college. If you're at a point where you just want to get it done, the gain of a paid education is what Kimberly said: it gives you access to a network of individuals being paid to help you and working alongside you, most for the same goals. I am critical of most game design schools because you can find the experience and communities you need online for free compared to an expensive education, the challenge is they are harder to find online. But you can find others making your type of game.

Don't ignore the mod community either. There are groups of dedicated individuals making giant indie projects using UDK or the Source engine. I definitely witnessed modders getting hired at major AAA studios having put out really impressive portfolios of projects. Managing a team of modders could be a really challenging and educational experience.

You sound like you've a really good head on your shoulders. The main thing is to keep at it, because my experience is that many good-intentioned projects (mods, indie games, pro games) die silently. But keep at it, prove yourself to a community to be hard-working and competent, work well with others, and have a solid game to prove you can finish something. Any and all of those and you're there.