In the latest advice column from Gamasutra sister website GameCareerGuide, a reader asks for advice for getting into the game development industry
without having to work on independent game projects or study game development in a school program.
Jill Duffy, editor of GameCareerGuide, shares the bad news first, but also has some ideas on how to make a career in game development work for someone who is tight on time.
Gamasutra, which is affiliated with GameCareerGuide, is running this exclusive game industry career advice column in full. For more advice about breaking into the game development industry, visit GameCareerGuide's Getting Started section
I am a software developer in Canada and aspiring game programmer/designer. I have done a lot of research into the qualifications needed to join a game company, including many articles on gamecareerguide.com and I believe I have a good grasp of what the expectations are. My problem is that to meet these expectations, I feel I will need to either go back to school for a game-related program, or gain experience by simply trying to develop games on my own.
However, with the constant obligation to the job I currently hold, social obligations, and the fatigue of the everyday commute, I find myself physically and mentally drained whenever I get a moment to myself, and unable to work on the career path that I truly want.
With no time to go back to school, or work on personal projects, I see every path leading into the industry as a mountain I'm unable to climb. What is your advice for someone who wishes there were more hours in the day?
Dear Time Manager,
I'm sorry to have to say this, but I honestly get the feeling that a typical development job in the video game industry is probably not for you.
People who work as video game programmers and designers tend to put in way more than 40 hours a week. This amount of time is in addition to commuting, spending time with their families and maintaining a social life (many game developers' social lives are intertwined with their professional lives), and keeping up with (that is, self-learning) new technologies and tools that hit the market. A successful game developer might also spend several hours a month networking with other professionals (again, this may be intertwined or indistinguishable from social time), keeping a development blog, reading industry news, writing for industry publications, and playing games.
If it sounds like that kind of lifestyle leads to burnout, it does. The average age of a video game developer falls somewhere in the 32 to 35 range.
But it is that
Oh and one more thing: Chances are you'll be earning less money, too.
If you don't feel like you have the stamina to work on game projects or work on a portfolio now, then you might not have the stamina to keep up with the pressures of a job in the game industry later either.
I do have a couple of ideas for how you might be able to pull off a career in the video game industry, but it won't be for a triple-A title on a major console -- and even then, it will require some sacrifices.
The gleaming ray of hope starts with the fact that you have programming experience. Of all the jobs in game development, programmers are the most in demand. Game companies are desperate to hire good, qualified, and experienced programmers. If you do not have explicit video game development experience, then you are not quite as "experienced" as most companies want you to be, but many will be willing to overlook that if you have a specific skill that is needed, such as experience with artificial intelligence programming, or network architecture, or whatever else the company needs.
My advice breaks down into four parts.
First, consider carefully whether you really want to work in the game industry.
Second, decide where you're going to sacrifice a few hours each week to work on a small game project. By "small," I mean coding an imitation of an existing game; this way you don't even have to design anything - you just have to code it. A few examples are Pong
, or Black Jack. I know you don't feel you have the time to do this, but it's a sacrifice you're going to have to make. As long as you aim to make a small game, you can conceivably accomplish this over the course of a few months. The trick is actually doing it
. There are a lot of things in life that are not inherently difficult, but are difficult to do. (To lose weight all you have to do is eat fewer calories than you burn -- the hard art is doing it.)
Third, promote yourself as a programmer rather than a designer. You're chances of getting a job as a programming who has software development experienced are far greater than getting one as a game design who has no experience with games. If you still find yourself interested in game design after you begin working in the field, then and only then would I really recommend you try to sidle into the game design department.
Finally, because of the way you described your lifestyle, I think you might be happiest at a company that does not make large console games. Games for mobile phones, for example typically take the shortest amount of time. Web-based casual games might have a development cycle of three to nine months. Alternatively, you might like working on MMOs, which could require you to work incrementally for a long stretch of time, rather than work furiously at the end of a development cycle to get a product out the door.
One last word of advice is to consider non-development jobs in the video game industry. Canada has a huge presence of not only game developers, but game publishers as well. That means there are plenty of jobs in marketing, sales, public relations, and a number of other business and support roles, like IT. If you really don't have the time to work on learning game programming, then you can still work in the game industry, it just has to be in a position where you're not actually making the game.
[Jill Duffy is editor-in-chief of GameCareerGuide.com and is content manager for the Game Career Seminar series. She is also senior contributing editor of Game Developer magazine. If you have a question you would like to see answered in this column, send it via email to [email protected]]
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