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Education Op-Ed: ‘From the Outside Looking In’
Education Op-Ed: ‘From the Outside Looking In’
May 15, 2008 | By Jill Duffy

May 15, 2008 | By Jill Duffy
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Brian Nathanson attended a game school and feels it left him underprepared to apply for jobs in the game industry. Sharing his story and opinions on GameCareerGuide.com, he wonders if part of the problem is that game studios won’t take a chance on an inexperienced candidate, even if he is a game school graduate.

In the world of game development, there are many unresolved issues between students, educators, and the industry. What’s worse is that each party seems to have a different idea of what these issues are, what’s causing them, and how to mitigate them. Nathanson’s op-ed is his own personal perspective, yet it may shed light on how other game school graduates see things. He writes:

“Two years ago, I moved from Ohio to Arizona to pursue my dream of becoming a part of the industry. I attended a school that offered the promise that with hard work, the school would provide the education and support I needed to learn skills I had never learned before. I was told that over the course of my studies, a powerful portfolio would be created and my degree would confer confidence to game developers because the school was known and accredited.

Needless to say, nothing of the sort has come to pass. Such is the story of many of my acquaintances and friends as well who dream of nothing more than to work hard and make that next stellar video game.

This article is not a lamentation, nor is it meant to place blame on anyone for my personal shortcomings. There are probably many reasons why I failed to get even so much as a phone interview. …

I believe the industry needs to allow for outside and inexperienced people to reinvigorate the game development process. I believe that those who have a shipped title on their resumes, while talented and dedicated, perhaps are closer to burning out than an individual out to make his or her mark.

The reason I bring up the issue of burn out is because the game industry seems to be in a perpetual state of start-ups that spring off from established development studios. New studios understandably don’t want some inexperienced person with a mixed portfolio and no projects or titles. It’s very risky. However, I believe that a new studio should take some risk to recruit hungry and fresh outsiders instead of just looking for people who may already be disaffected by their own careers.”


Nathanson’s op-ed, “From the Outside Looking In,” is printed in full on GameCareerGuide.com.


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Comments


Lalleve Julien
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Hi,

As a CS student who works hard to get into the industry, I must say I agree with the fact that it's so DAMN hard to get an interview in a game company as a student.

However, I managed to get a 6 month internship at Ubisoft Paris last year and it was extended with a short contract during the rest of my holiday. This is parly because I took (a lot) on my free time to develop demos and create my portfolio myself. Well, I thought it would make it easier for me to get another internship in the industry this year (I wanted to change country at the same time), but it's very tough to see how most of the game company stop considering you when they read the word internship ...

I really think it's very interesting for game companies to hire freshly graduate student/interns with an urge to prove themselves in the industry ... and it's CHEAP! so that "risky" factor is no good excuse ...



However, I'm in a very good studio in the UK after zillions of mails so it's worth keep trying again, and again, AND AGAIN!

Anonymous
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I think one of the best things you can do ( besides getting a CS degree ) is write games / demos in your free time. This is the ONLY thing that will make you stand out in the crowd from other graduates.



You have to show a willingness and interest in games besides just taking the courses in school. It's that extra mile that companies look for when going through resumes.

Anonymous
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The video game industry is hardly the hardest industry to break into. Unlike many other industries, formal education doesn't particularly matter, especially if you're a designer. You need to have commonsense and actually apply it to well-made projects, not crap. Teach yourself to produce professional quality work, and you'll be hired in no time. There is a shortage of workers in the industry now.



The most important thing is to know how to sell yourself. If you're looking for an internship, that just tells me you're being lazy. Teach yourself what you don't know and apply for a real position. Brain's first mistake in this article is starting off saying he has no experience. If you say that, then you won't get a job, ever! You don't need professional experience, but you do need experience. You need to say, "I have 2 years of experience building games on my own", and then provide the proof. Don't expect a diploma to do the heavy lifting.

Lalleve Julien
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What do you mean by "If you're looking for an internship, that just tells me you're being lazy."



Internship is part of a lot of school cursus ... There's nothing lazy about it.

Anonymous
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Why do you seek an internship over a full-time position? I get this feeling that folks seek out internships like lottery tickets into the industry because they don't ask for experience. That's the easy way, and why they're rarer than hens teeth. If you're diligent, make a mod or make a game, craft a solid portfolio & resume, and start applying for entry-level positions that require 2 years experience and under. If your work looks good, you'll get plenty of phone interviews at the very least. If you can't even get an interview, then you need to polish up that portfolio and resume. If your work isn't close to professional level, don't show it. Better to show 1 or 2 awesome pieces than 50 sub-standard ones. Bottom line: bait the hook properly, and you'll land a fish. Just don't mistake diplomas for bait.



Keep at it.

Anonymous
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I would have to agree with anon with many points, especially with professional looking work (as an artist). It is many times better to show one piece that looks professional than a bunch of pieces that look substandard. As soon as the person looking at the portfolio sees a piece of crap, they will likely say "If he thinks this is good enough to show, then I don't want him working here. What was he thinking?" If he sees one or two nice pieces of work, then it shows potential and that is what you may get hired on. Spend a lot of time and effort making a few really good pieces.



However, I don't agree with that view on internships. If you get an internship, you'd better bust your ass, put out good work, and show that you are willing and able to learn. Make a difference and show that you are worth hiring. If that happens, then you usually have a great chance of being hired by that company at the end of your internship. If you treat it like school, or just as an internship like most other people, then you won't get squat.

Anonymous
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Speaking as a programmer who's done the school->job path, I kinda understand the feelings here. It was almost a year before I got my first real job offer and now I've plunged headlong into it and am working for a company.



All I can say is this. Persistance pays off. I usually spent every single day sending off at least one resume to a company with an opening and/or looking for more places to do so. As it is I found this job by actualy going to the company website and tripping over the offer. I'd also highly suggest looking into smaller companies, most of the big names won't take you without experience where as a smaller company will tend to hand you a test, see what you do, then hire based on that.

Anonymous
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From the article:

"I am completely aware of how many people want to be a part of the video game industry. I will admit, openly and publicly, that I probably don't have a very competitive portfolio."



Does any more need to be said then that? Selling yourself and being persistent is a big part of it but this industry isn't exactly an old boy's club (only 40% have 5+ years experience if I remember the numbers right) and recent grads do get hired. But you need to stand out from all the other grads from all the other game schools (and art schools and animation schools...) in the country (if not the world) and the way to do that is with a better portfolio then your plethora of competition. Without that, you won't get the chance to sell yourself. If your school made claims when it *sold* you an education, it's not the game industry's fault if they weren't true.



There are lots of places online to get professional advice on your portfolio (cgtalk, conceptart.org, etc). I recommend you find some critiques and advice to make your portfolio better and more marketable.

Tom Phillips
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All the education in the world won't make up for a lack of passion and commitment. If making games is truly your calling, then get started now. In the meantime, seek jobs that will leverage any game-related skills you have. It's not so much that someone starting out needs professional game building experience, but you do need to show a real commitment to the trade. Work hard and you will reap the reward.

Rodolfo Camarena
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Yes. I completely agree with Tom. You can have your gaming degree and never get considered for your desired position, but you can work around this.



It's all about how bad you want the job. What steps are you taking other than education? Using myself as an example, I am on the right track in approaching my ultimate goal/dream job.



Things that have helped me: Passion for games #1, knowledge of game hardware/software, some education, and one of the most important things... networking.



I'm on this site, gamejobs.com, and even craigslists everyday looking at job postings! Found an opportunity to work at SCEA as a tester and took it. Pre-interview test, interview, call back to attend paid training, took test after the training, passed, waited for a call to wok on my first title, got the call, and the rest is history. Currently I'm a Manager at Gamestop, so my game plan is to continue to build my management experience for about 4-8 more months to show more credibility. Topped off with a strong military background, some networking, I gave myself a 6-12 month window.



Create a mark of where you want to be in a few months. Do what you have to do get there, and when the time comes, check out the results. If you're no where close, don't give up. I've had a friend who took 5 years to get into the game industry...working at Bungie now. Patience pays off my friend.



-Rotendo

Michael Mylenski
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First off I am very happy that there is all this feedback about getting into this industry and such because I haven't been able to get any information other than 2+ years game industry experience.....or no answer at all.



Anyways I am a software developer one year removed from college and I have always wanted to develop games. You know you have heard the stories a billion times, played video games since I was three and such. When I was a bit younger I fooled around with the Half Life SDK, but nothing too intense being I had no programming experience or knowledge. I guess my biggest mistake was the lack of research about getting into the industry.



I am currently taking a C++ course at GameInstitute.com, I have experience in C++ prior to this, and also modding with Half-Life 2, I guess what I am asking is what are these companies looking for in a portfolio? Am I looking to make a complex game solo? This entails graphics, design, programming etc. I figured that seems quite odd being that I'm meshing several jobs into one. Like could I just develop a working demo of a Half-Life 2 modification and thats it? It is very difficult with the job I am currently working at to get free time enough to program as a hobby, half the time I just want to goto bed.



I currently live in New York and have lived here all my life and don't really want to leave the area even though I seem to be screwed for the most part in terms of game industry jobs, I have noticed like two companies in the New York City area, in terms of actual development there, I pray that there is more because I love this area. Anyways the passion is there, always has been, I just need insight about portfolio requirements and what else can I do? Sorry for the ramble fest!



-Mike



-Mike

Rodolfo Camarena
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Mike,

There are quite a few studios up in New York and they have some in North Carolina too. One of the downside is the location. The majority of the jobs are located here in California and if you're not willing to relocate you're going to hurt your chances of getting your desired job.



Do some research and ask around to find out who else is up in New York.

Michael Mylenski
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Rodolfo,

First I would like to say thank you for responding. It is very difficult with relocation because my family is very close and they cannot afford traveling all the time to far distances. Believe me when I first came out of school my feelings were that I am left with no option, California is the only place I can go and my mother couldn't take it so I was really paining me to even think about going. I hate that there is a coast bias with this industry in terms of development. I understand there are the financial portions of these gaming companies located in the New York area. Do you have any suggestions on how can I find out where these companies are? I know job postings are not completely out in the open in this industry so if you could help that would be great. Thank you so much.



-Mike

Rodolfo Camarena
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Gameloft, Kaos Studios, Vicarious Visions, Agora Games, and perhaps a few others that I may have missed.

Michael Mylenski
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Yeah I know about most of those, if only I knew about Vicarious Visions when I was in college, I would have tried for an internship because my school was located in Albany, NY. I guess my best bet is to just work on personal stuff and one day apply to one of the NYC companies. Thanks for your help.

Anonymous
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This kind of lament is seen in many industries, "I don't have experience so how can I get a job". And the same assertion, "the industry should hire people with passion even if they have no experience". Easy to say when it isn't *your* money at risk, I'm afraid. Businesspeople aren't in the business of helping out the passionate but ill-prepared--not if they want to stay in business.



As others have said, you have to show you can create something, and school alone doesn't show that. There are too many mediocre schools with mediocre teachers, too many degree factories. You should first go somewhere where you earn a real degree, not a trade school, because you probably won't be in the industry more than 5 or 6 years even if you get in to begin with.


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