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Ask the Experts: Secret Jobs in Games Industry

Ask the Experts: Secret Jobs in Games Industry

July 10, 2007 | By Jill Duffy

[Tired of feeling like you have to master Maya or compose in C++ just to work in the game industry? Fear not! In the latest Ask the Experts column from educational site Game Career Guide, contributing editor Jill Duffy reveals what other jobs hide beneath the surface, from office assistants, to marketing managers, or tech support gurus.

We're also running this useful breaking-in column on Gamasutra - please consult the Game Career Guide 'Getting Started' page for more advice on entering and progressing your career in the game biz.]

"Many readers have written to me over the past few months with the rather vague and slightly frantic question: "What should I do?"

Some emails have come in the form of "I'm lost! I'm stuck! I'm fresh out of high school want to start working now!" Others have written more along the lines of "I hate my job. I work all day long. I'm tired of it. Working with video games sounds cool. How do I get a job?" And still other have said, "I love video games but I'm not artistic and I don't know anything about programming. How can I still work in the industry?"

This column is for you all out there who haven't made a game yet. You're not in art school. You didn't teach yourself C++ when you were seven years old. You just like video games and are thinking about how to make games a part of your business life.

On this web site and others that are dedicated to the video game industry, you've probably come across a vast array of information for would-be programmers, artists, and designers. You've likely been dispelled of the myths of working in the test department (Q/A is certainly not all it's cracked up to be), heard in passing about the workload of game producers, and wondered how the oxymoron "technical artist" came to be.

But beyond all these staple job titles lies a wealth of other opportunities in the industry.

Not long ago, I received a note from a young man who said he had read the Game Developer magazine annual salary survey and desperately needed information on how much money an IT support person made in the game industry. Although he was born and raised in Canada, he had been offered an IT job in the U.S. and didn't have a clue as to what he should ask for in terms of a U.S. salary. In the "Salary Survey" article, he noted, Game Developer reports a combined figure for people working in the "Business and Legal" sector -- but it's such a broad category that it didn't do him any good.

Being the author of that article, I dug into an Excel file of raw data, pulled out my trusty rusty calculator, and punched some numbers for the poor guy. For the published survey, we didn't receive enough respondents who labeled themselves as "IT/Tech Support" to feel comfortable listing an average salary figure, but for this one request (and with that disclaimer at the fore), I thought I could extend a helping hand to my new Canadian friend.

The truth of the matter is there are plenty of jobs in IT and tech support right inside the game development industry. All those computers -- someone has to keep them running and connected!

But if you were going to head into IT, maybe you would have thought of becoming a programmer, too. If you're not a bit-and-byte geek and need to find a job that caters to someone with general office skills, all large-scale game development houses have a staff of administrative assistants, office managers, facilities personnel, human resources staff, accountants and more.

The beauty of any of these jobs is that they are open to anyone who can do the basic functions, but applicants who love games are still typically given preference. No joke. Who do you think is more valuable at a game company: an office manager who has five years experience working in a law firm but has never laid hands on a PlayStation 2, or one who reads game industry web sites and loosely understands what a Scrum is? (A Scrum is a meeting that occurs daily when a software development team uses an agile development methodology.)

Even at my job at Game Developer and, we have sales people on staff who sell magazine and web ads--a job that doesn't necessarily require them to love video games--but many of them have Second Life accounts or World of Warcraft battle scars (that is, bags under the eyes). I don't know if any of them ever aspired to actually work in the game industry making games, but I think they all appreciate being in an environment where people are more likely to take coffee breaks over Xbox Live Arcade than they are over coffee.

So we've covered IT and office drone. There's still more. Marketing and PR in this industry, quite frankly, could use some freshly educated minds. The same goes for writers and editors of consumer publications.

In the end, if you want to make games, go make games. But if that's not really your speed, you don't have to write off the industry entirely. There's an increasing need to fill all the other positions that keep the proverbial machine running, and bright, enthusiastic video game players are just who everyone is looking for!"

[Jill Duffy is managing editor of Game Developer. She has more than seven years experience in publishing, writing, and editing. If you have a well thought-out question you'd like to ask her about working in the game development industry, email her at [email protected].]

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