Shut Up and Listen!
By Johnny Foley
Audio always gets forgotten. It always ends up being last -- in everything! Meetings, production, you name it!
It makes sense, then, that audio developers, be they audio directors, composers, sound designers, or voice directors (all sensitive souls who strive for quality), are generally evangelists by nature. At any audio-exclusive gathering, you'll hear the same war stories and tales of producers and senior management making horrific decisions that adversely affect the quality of the audio.
Venting is natural and, I would argue, actually necessary to mental well-being and survival in video game audio development. However, that same airing of grievances can often be the downfall of audio developers who cross over to the dark side and start overtly speaking their minds and generally losing it with senior development staff.
I have seen and interviewed many of the fallen, those who were let go for disagreeing with a fundamental product or studio decision because it affected their audio in some disagreeable way, and who, rather than working in a bustling team atmosphere, now work in a lonely home studio.
Developing audio for a video game is, ironically, intensely collaborative, not just between the audio, design, art, and code, but (and this is something that never gets talked about) between producers, senior producers, and executive producers. The top brass often likes to be involved when it comes to casting, dialogue recording, and directing, and sometimes composing There's always a corporate creative guy who owns a studio and thinks audio is his "thing." There will always be an exec producer whose "thing" is dialogue direction, especially if someone famous is involved.
The same thing happens when product and marketing people get involved, too. And, oh yes, they are also your collaborators. Marketing and PR always had a presence in voice casting meetings, and often it was my job to fight for quality and common sense casting, while they bounced around the latest pop stars as wouldbe lead characters in the game.
The trick is to view this as a part of the collaborative process as an inevitable part of development. Get them involved and listen to their ideas. In all likelihood, they'll be distracted by a shiny object and will leave you alone.
Survival Tip: Always treat senior publisher staff and producers with respect (through all communication channels), as they are collaborators, too. Often, they see the bigger picture on a product with a clarity that you don't have. Listen to their ideas, try to understand what they want to achieve, and give them a way that it can be done. Compromise of creative ideals is unavoidable, but it need not always be negative.
If you can make things happen for them and make what they want actually happen, they will sing your praises and adorn you with all the respect you can hope to get. This will ultimately make future projects a lot easier.
Getting the Hell Out of QA
By Bugsy Checker
QA is often thought of as the standard point of entry into game development for careers outside the programming and art fields. While this is true for some, it also means you're far from alone in trying to make your move. Because of this, the most basic rule for getting the hell out of QA is to get noticed.
Know your producer, and make yourself an asset to her. Find out what extra work needs to be done, and do it. If the company doesn't have an associate producer role, try to forge one by taking on some of those tasks. Get yourself known as the guy who is interested in learning new skills and going the extra mile.
Unfortunately, just being good at your job and eager to learn often isn't enough. You'll need to play politics.
Some companies develop an adversarial culture between QA and the development teams. Do your best to avoid this. It's going to be difficult to join development if you see each other as the enemy. Beyond that, you'll need to know people socially.
Be friendly around the office, go to company events, and get to know people in the positions that will be making hiring decisions when the time comes. The smaller your company, the easier it is.
There are also a few things to watch out for. When taking on extra tasks and learning new things, don't do it to the point that you're ignoring your duties in QA. It's also important to not become Free Work Guy. You don't want to be seen as the person who doesn't need to be promoted because, after all, he'll do all the extra work for free.
Do as much as you can, but don't hesitate to make it clear that with your QA responsibilities, you can only do so much. And don't overdo the socializing. You want to be friendly and easy to talk to, but not a social butterfly who can't walk to the bathroom and back without chatting for 30 minutes about the last episode of Battlestar Galactica.
Assuming you can walk these lines effectively, you should be in good shape, but nothing is sure in this world. While working at a small company makes it easier for a QA staffer to get noticed, the budget there may be too lean to accommodate an associate producer or junior designer position, meaning getting out of QA could require you to jump two or three steps up into a role that's a little out of your league.
Larger companies, on the other hand, are more likely to have one-step-up openings, but that also means more competition and more distance between you and the people doing the hiring.
Naysaying aside, QA is still probably the best place to get a foot in the door. You'll develop familiarity with development cycles; working as a lead will give you important experience managing people and schedules; and creating test plans and scripts develops your technical writing abilities -- all of which are essential skills for both game producers and designers. And, of course, the longer you're in the industry, the more people you'll know, and the more connections you'll make. Don't assume that the promotion you're hoping for will be at the company where you're currently working.