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The Hows and Whys of the

Games Industry

Sjoerd “Hourences” De Jong
http://www.Hourences.com

This book “The Hows and Whys of the Games
Industry” is copyright 2007, by Sjoerd
"Hourences" De Jong
By possessing and/or reading this book you agree
to the usage terms. See the Copyright and
Permissions chapter for more information.
I am an independent individual who is in no way
backed or supported by any company, group or
organization. I put a lot of work and knowledge
into this book. By stealing content or illegally
reproducing this book you don't hit a multi million
dollar company but you hit me as the author.
Please respect my work. If you obtained this book
through illegal means do buy it if it proves helpful
to you. Knowledge is precious and if it can garner
you a (better) job then those few dollars are well
worth the money.

The Hows and Whys of the Games Industry
Table of Contents
About This Book..................................................................................6
The Author.........................................................................................8
Chapter 1 - Introduction......................................................................9
History...............................................................................................10
Facts..................................................................................................11
The Expectations.................................................................................12

Chapter 2 - The Industry....................................................................15
The Good and the Bad..........................................................................16
Why...........................................................................................16
Why not.....................................................................................18
A Frustrating Industry..........................................................................21
The Money..........................................................................................25
The Public Opinion...............................................................................27

Chapter 3 - Skills, Schools, and Study..................................................29
Skills..................................................................................................30
Starting Out................................................................................31
Specialization......................................................................................34
Why?.........................................................................................34
What?........................................................................................37
Game Development Schools – The Good Side..........................................42
Game Development Schools – The Bad Side............................................45
The Future..........................................................................................48
Long Term Vision.................................................................................50
Conclusion..........................................................................................52

Chapter 4 - The Mod Community.........................................................53
A Door To The Industry........................................................................54
Why...........................................................................................55
Why Not.....................................................................................57
How...........................................................................................59
The Types...........................................................................................61
Advice on joining a team.......................................................................68

Conclusion..........................................................................................72

Chapter 5 - Going ‘Commercial’...........................................................74
Taking The Step..................................................................................75
Portfolio.............................................................................................76
The Goal.....................................................................................76
The Presentation..........................................................................77
Internships and Junior Positions.............................................................80
Testers...............................................................................................81
Why...................................................................................82
Why Not.............................................................................82
Freelance............................................................................................84
Why...........................................................................................85
Why Not.....................................................................................86
The people with great ideas...................................................................89

Chapter 6 - Companies And Games......................................................91
Types Of Games..................................................................................92
Different Company Types......................................................................98
Good Qualities...................................................................................109
Dangerous Qualities...........................................................................112
Success And Luck...............................................................................117

Chapter 7 - The Application, Interview, And Contract............................119
Applying...........................................................................................120
The How...................................................................................120
The What..................................................................................126
The Interview....................................................................................130
Types.......................................................................................130
What To Expect..........................................................................132
Their Questions..................................................................133
Your Questions...................................................................134
Additional information.........................................................135
Do's and Don’ts..........................................................................136
The Contract.....................................................................................140
The Necessity Of The Contract.....................................................144

Chapter 8 - Once You're Hired...........................................................146
Moving.............................................................................................147
Why.........................................................................................147
Why Not...................................................................................148
The Expectations...............................................................................151
Their Expectations......................................................................151

What You Can Expect..................................................................152
The Community.................................................................................154
Your Career.......................................................................................156

The Conclusion................................................................................158
Appendix A - Interviews...................................................................159
Special Thanks................................................................................183
Copyright.......................................................................................184

About This Book
This book is for those who are interested in the video game industry, but
who are still undecided as to whether or not to pursue a game development
career, and those who have already made their decision but are looking for
additional information and guidance before plunging in head first.
The basic questions this book will attempt to answer are: Why would one
want to work in the games industry? Or why not? And, if the decision has
already been made, then: What would one look for or expect? How can one
pick a good mod (modification) team or a development studio that will fit
one’s personality and meet one’s expectations?
This book will also delve into how the game development industry works
in general and some of its current issues. In addition, it will also touch on
game development schools and how they currently fit into the larger
picture. Finally, there will be some ruminations on what the future may
bring to the industry.
The overall goal here, is to provide an objective and honest discourse on
how the industry works as a whole; the general expectations within it, and
discussion of its positive and negative aspects. A career in the games
industry may sound nice, but is it really as good as it sounds? Is it actually
what you – the reader – are looking for? It is your dream job? Are you a
good fit for it? The intent here is not to disparage or praise the industry.
The intent is to examine the perceived pluses and minuses of the industry
which would subsequently allow you, the reader, to make an informed
decision about whether this is the right industry for you.
The text will attempt to provide you with answers to some of the most
common questions. For example, how much can one expect to earn?
What’s the best way to apply to a position with a company? What can once
expect during a job interview? Plenty of tips for what to look for when
searching for a job will be provided.
The content should not be perceived as a ‘step by step’ instruction book
on how to land a job in the games industry. The successful paths to an
industry job are still quite different and more varied when compared to
other, more ‘historical’ industries. A few different paths will be discussed,
but in the end – it’s up to the individual to decide how they will handle it.
Finally, try to keep in mind that the North American, British, and
European branches of the games industry all differ – sometimes a little,
sometimes dramatically. This book will attempt to present a picture as
accurate as possible of the whole Western branch of the industry. However,

due to regional differences, some of the information may not be as
important to other regions, and perhaps, not applicable at all.
It should also be noted that this is an industry evolving very fast. While
what has been described fits the industry well today, it may not be entirely
applicable in five years time. The overall description of this industry is
unlikely to change in the foreseeable future though.

The Author
I originally came from the Unreal Tournament Mod scene in which I am
still active. I started my career when I was fifteen, and worked my way up
since then. I am entirely self-taught.
As a level designer and environment artist I have worked both on and offsite for a range of studios; small & large, startups as well as established
studios. These include: Guerrilla Games, Streamline Studios, Psyonix
Studios, Digital Extremes, Epic Games, Webzen, Prophecy Games, Playlogic,
and Khaeon. Titles I have worked on include Killzone, Shellshock nam'67,
Unreal Tournament 2004 and its ECE add-on pack, Warpath, Huxley and
The Chronicles Of Spellborn.
For UT2004, I created two of the most well-known levels from the game:
DM-Rankin and ONS-Torlan. Both were also featured in the UT2004 demo,
and have been played millions of times.
As a mod developer, I have created dozens of free stand-alone levels for
a number of games. I also worked on several very large mods such as
Operation Na Pali, Xidia, and Jailbreak. My mod work also won me several
prizes in the large, one million dollar, ‘MakeSomethingUnreal’ contest.
Including a first prize.
I am still active in online communities, and have been so for the past
eight years. I moderate chat channels, forums, and answer people’s game
development questions. Participation in community activities has made me
very familiar with the issues and questions of people who are trying to
break into the games industry. It is these issues and questions that are the
inspiration for this book, and I aim to answer the majority of them here.
Because of my extensive experience with online communities and the
modding scene, as well as with permanent on-site jobs and freelance offsite jobs, and having performed work in both small studios as large studios,
nearby as well as far away, I believe I am able to present an accurate
picture of the games industry and approach various subjects from a
different and more community minded perspective than similar books.

Chapter 1

Introduction

Art by Romano Molenaar

History
While Pong was the first commercially successful video game, other
various experimental games were created before Pong ever saw the light of
day.
In 1962, a group of friends wrote a little space game named “Spacewar!”
for their DEC PDP-1 computer. The game was controlled by two players,
each controlling a space ship, and the goal was to destroy the others’ ship.
The game attracted the interest of the DEC’s manufacturer who then
decided to distribute the game with all of its computers in order to
demonstrate its power. This decision caused the game to be distributed to
university labs across the United States thus influencing an entire
generation of students.
Almost ten years later, in 1971, two students from Stanford University
put the game to its first commercial use: they hooked it up to a coin
machine and placed the computer in the university.
One of the students influenced by the game was Nolan Bushnell. After
graduating he developed his own “Spacewar!” clone with the aim of getting
video games into arcade halls. He struck a deal with a coin operator
company and distributed 1500 units. Unfortunately the game proved to be
a little too complex for the average customer and the venture failed.
However, this did not stop Nolan Bushnell and soon after, with co-worker
Ted Dabney, he founded Atari.
Almost simultaneously, another important development too place. In
1951, Ralph Baer started thinking about the principles of an interactive TV
game. In 1966 he put his idea to the test and built a simple two-player
game called “Chase”. Each payer controlled a dot on the screen and one
player would chase the other. The game was well-received by the company
he worked at and a toy rifle was added to control one of the dots.
Soon after, Bill Rusch joined the project and, with his help, a third dot
was added to the game, but this time, the dot was controlled by the
computer. Soon, this new variant led to a game very much like Pong. This,
in turn, led to the development of two controllers, and a simple console to
control the game.
A few years later, Nolan Bushnell witnessed a demonstration of the
project and saw commercial potential in this little game. He hired a
programmer to create a separate version of the game and named it Pong.
In 1975 the home version of Pong was released to the public and it was a
hit. Soon, games quickly began to gain popularity.

Facts

The games industry is one of the newest and fastest growing industries in
the world. It’s internationally oriented, has grown almost continuously
since its inception, and now generates billions of dollars a year. Yet there
remains plenty of room for additional growth and continued success is
expected for many years to come.
Some Facts:

Since 1996, the games industry has grown by nearly 300 percent.
That's an average of about thirty percent a year. Compared to
‘historical’ industries, that's a lot.

Over $13 billion worth of games and related hardware will be sold in
just the USA in 2007.

The average gamer is over thirty years old.

Three fourths of all households in the developed world play games on
a more or less regular base.

Currently it can cost from ten to twenty million dollars to produce a
large and complex game. Blockbusters may take up to thirty or forty
million dollars over the course of three to four years, or even longer.

The games industry is projected to, in one way or another, employ
over 250,000 people in the USA by 2010, and hundreds of thousands
more across the world.

Nearly all developers are male and, on average, between twenty and
thirty-five years old. The average age largely depends on the age of
the industry in the region. The developers in the USA and the UK in
general have the highest average age. In other regions most
developers are in their twenties.

The times when games were a kid’s toy are long gone. Games, more and
more, are becoming a fusion of technology, art, and design, and a method
to generate revenue. Today, games are a multi-million dollar industry
where the focus is shifting more and more to adults. Current games are
more serious and even though it’s unclear exactly what direction they’re
heading in, one way or another, it’s clear that video games are here to stay.

The Expectations

If you’re looking for a stable job in a stable industry where you can live
the remainder of your life in a quiet suburban home, then the games
industry probably isn’t for you. The video game industry is new and
dynamic; it changes rapidly – both for the good and the bad. It’s highly
volatile. One bad game can break a company, and even if the company is
solid, sometimes the games don’t even reach ‘beta’ before getting canned.
Many reasons for this exist: complexity of the game, costs, bad
management, bad organization, staffing problems, missed deadlines,
publishers losing interest or trust, and more.
In this industry, one must be dynamic. If you absolutely must have job
security then you’d be better served picking another industry. In the games
industry the only sense of stability one can attain is that of one’s own skills
and experience. If you’re good enough, you’ll never be without a job for
long.
Additionally, work in the industry can be lonely, and antisocial. It’s also
an indoor job and most developers focus almost entirely on their job. If
you’re an active and social person, then sitting quietly behind a desk all day
may not fit your personality very well. Usually, more quiet and introverted
people pick these jobs; of course there are always exceptions.
Because of its fluctuating nature, odds are that you will move a few times,
or more. The industry is spread all over the world and there are few
companies. Unless you live in one of the few locations where game
companies have already congregated, then it’s quite unlikely that there are
more than a few interesting companies within a 100 KM/60 mi radius
around you. Moving cross country, or even internationally, is an option
you’ll need to keep in mind if you want to get anywhere.
A common misconception is that game developers play games day in and
day out – almost like a big, ongoing party. Usually, you’ll really only be
playing the game you’re working on, unless you’re doing research. Also,
playing your very unfinished game that you’ve already played hundreds of
times usually isn’t much fun – and certainly can’t be considered a party.
Development includes boring and repetitive work – it’s simply part of the
job.

One of the largest problems beginning game developers (and actually all
beginner-level professionals) face is that one needs experience to get hired
in the first place. It’s the common problem: if you don’t have experience,
no one will hire you, but without anyone hiring you, you can’t gain
experience. It may seem like an endless circle, but there are a few ways
out. For example, some companies offer internships or and/or junior
positions, and there’s also non-commercial mod work. This issue will be
addressed more in depth further on in the book.
The bad issues aside, there are also positive aspects that one can expect
of a job in the games industry – we’ll get to these shortly.

The industry will expect to see certain traits in their employees. The most
common are:

#1 Passion: A person who loves games.
If you don’t play games, you don’t know games, and therefore you
can't create games. Studios look out for avid and passionate gamers;
not occasional gamers who can never get further than the first three
levels and have only played a handful.

#2 Competency: A person who can prove his or her skill.
In this industry you are nothing if you can't prove your skill. A
great resume and a good school grade can only do so much; a
portfolio with examples of your work will have to do the rest. Without
showing what you can do, no one will believe you.

#3 Dedication: A dedicated person.
This work requires dedication: long workdays, moving abroad, and
sometimes, for example during ‘crunch time’, even giving up the rest
of your non-work life. This industry is really only meant for those who
absolutely love what they are doing. Do not get into the games
industry because you ‘kind of’ like games. Get into it because you
love games and game development. It shouldn't just be your work
and livelihood; it should be your life.
Studios don’t want developers who go home when the clock strikes
five pm. Nor do they want someone who quits a project halfway
through. They want people who believe in what they do.

#4 Initiative: A self-starter.
The industry looks for those who need little supervision and don't
need to ask for everything. They search for those who can figure out

what to do themselves and get started on it without being told. This
industry is not looking for people who do nothing until they are
actually told, nor does it want someone who can't figure out basic
tasks for themselves and who constantly bothers others with simple
questions. It does not want people who wait passively until
something happens. On the contrary, it wants people who are active,
inquisitive, and undertake action themselves.

#5 Completion: Somebody who finishes what they start.
The last thing this industry wants is people who are never able to
finish what they start. In a commercial production environment it's
obviously very important that work gets done. This industry is looking
for people who have the dedication to finish what they start.

#6 Efficient: Someone who is organized; can stick to the rules and
the available time. A perfectionist!
Game development distinguishes itself from other types of digital
art and design by its need to be rendered in real time on the platform
of choice. All parts of a game must be created and implemented
efficiently so the maximum benefits can be achieved. There are rules
for this, and the games industry looks for people who can stick to
these rules and accomplish the work within the available time. The
group that has most problems with this is normally the artists who
often care more about how it looks than how it runs. Great looks are
good, but they mean little if it doesn't run well when rendered in real
time.

#7 Analysis: A problem-solver.
Don't just ask, research it first. Experiment with techniques,
research it online and, if after all that you still don’t have the answer,
only then are you expected to ask. A person who asks for help for
every little problem will quickly become an annoyance and will waste
the time of the senior developers who have better things to do than
to answer basic questions.

#8 Potential: Someone who is eager to learn.
This industry is constantly evolving. If you don't keep up with the
pace, you stagnate. Studios are looking for a person who can keep up
with the pace of industry developments, new tools, new engines, and
new whatever else. You need to be a quick adapter in this industry.

Chapter 2

The Industry

Art by Romano Molenaar

The Good and the Bad
Compared to other, more historical industries, the games industry is a
different world with its own set of rules. What may be regarded as a
standard procedure in other work could be, and often is, completely
different in the games industry – for example, wearing a suit during a job
interview. Some game developer human resource people could ‘read’ an
applicant wearing a suit as too strict or serious for their company. The
office atmosphere, job application process, benefits, and other ‘standard’
office accouterments can vary widely from developer to developer and are
generally different compared to more traditional industries. This difference
has both advantages and disadvantages. Here are some reasons why you
either would or would not want to work in this industry.

Why

#1 Love: It's your hobby and passion!
What’s better than being able to make a living from your hobby?
Even though work is always work, and there will always be days that
are worse (and better) than others, being paid to do what you like
and want to do is a blessing. For far too many people work is
regarded simply as work. It’s a necessary evil that they have to drag
themselves through each day. If you truly love the work, then you
can be different: you can go to the office every day with a smile
because you enjoy what you’re doing. And that’s worth much more
than a paycheck. If you love the work you do in the games industry,
your work will become your life, and your life will become your work.

#2 A Sympathetic Culture: A relaxed atmosphere and likeminded
people.
The atmosphere in the offices is usually fairly relaxed, sometimes
even very relaxed, depending on the studio. Some studios even have
free working hours, most have no dress code, and the atmosphere,
generally, is open and friendly. Colleagues talk to each other while
music plays in the background, and it’s all quite casual. Artists and
more creative people usually appreciate this looser environment.
Another advantage is the fact that you’re able to socialize and work
with people who share your interests. Everyone in the games
industry is as passionate about what they do as you are. You’ll find
people who understand what you’re talking about when you talk
about vertices and UV coordinates, unlike your family and friends

who, at best, usually feign interest. Also, a good portion of the
people in the industry have introverted, quiet personalities which can
help you feel more at ease – especially if you share those personality
traits.

#3 International: Get paid to see the world.
The games industry is a very internationally orientated industry.
Moving to another region or country is sometimes simply part of the
job. If you’re the adventurous type who likes to travel and get paid
to do so, but also likes to stay in different places for short to long
periods, then this is the job for you. Especially since relocation
expenses are often either wholly or partially taken care of. In just
five years time, it’s conceivable that one could have lived in three to
four different countries and cultures, thus widening one’s vision of
our planet and the people who live on it. If you’ve never been happy
in your home region and always thought the grass was greener on
the other side, then the games industry can give you the opportunity
to see exactly how green it is.

#4 Creativity: It’s a creative job.
Few things are worse than a mindless job where you’re just a cog
in the machine. Working in the games industry allows you to use your
brain and be creative in what you do. It challenges you to think about
what you create and search for the perfect solution yourself. The
games industry encourages you to think for yourself. Especially
further up in your career, in more senior positions, you can really use
all your imagination and creativity to help shape the game into what
you envision, and there's nothing better than that.

#5 Blossoming: A young industry.
The industry is young and there are still many things that haven't
been done before or aren’t yet written in stone. Unlike traditional
forms of art, where, to a certain extent, pretty much everything has
already been done, and where older and more established artists look
down on anything new; game development, as a whole, is new. Even
though plenty of things have already been done, there are also ever
growing possibilities to go further than anything ever done before.
The rising hardware power and understanding of the media can open
up new doors in the future, and you can be part of that ‘revolution’.
There is no real group of established people with set rules that may
not be broken; everything is still possible and is open to exploration.
Because of the young age of this industry, there are also relatively
few really experienced developers around. Most developers have
only been active in the industry themselves for a few years.

Especially true in regions where the industry is brand new (mainland
Europe comes to mind), and where you can still become a veteran
with just a few years experience; unlike other industries where one
might require ten to twenty years of experience before getting
promoted to a higher position. A quickly rising career is more than
possible in the games industry; promotion can be right around the
corner at all times.
Another positive point of the young nature of this industry is the
average age. Most developers are young; the average age is between
twenty and thirty-five at most game development studios. Being able
to work with people of one’s own age is quite a big plus, and
improves the atmosphere on the office floor.

#6 Satisfaction: Exactly how much?
Your work matters - kind of. Although it won't save any lives, it is
quite a satisfying job. The work that you do actually gets noticed, it
gets printed in magazines, uploaded on websites and perhaps even
shown on TV. You're not working on anonymous projects with little
prestige such as small internal applications that only a few
enthusiasts cares about. People actually care about what you make.
They might even be excited about it. A whole fan base might even
develop and try to support you and your fellow developers. They'll
give you the feeling that all the time you've put in might actually be
worth it, and that's satisfaction.

Why not

#1 International: Seeing the world can come at a cost.
Moving all the time can certainly complicate one’s life. It doesn’t
make building a stable life easy, and it can be frustrating for
someone who generally avoids change and doesn’t like being
independent in strange places.
Moving may not be much of a problem when you’re young and
adventurous (and single). But it becomes a much larger issue when
you’re older and try to settle down. If you have a wife/husband or
boy/girlfriend moving suddenly becomes much more difficult. This
issue becomes even more pronounced when you have a child/children
or if your partner is unable to get a visa or work permit for an
international move. Likewise, it also makes buying a house or other
type of property more difficult. Even relatively simple moving tasks,

like dealing with furniture or vehicles, can become much more
complicated the farther away the job – especially if there’s an ocean
in the way.
Moving also usually takes you farther away from friends and family.
If there’s a problem, you’re on your own to deal with it. And there’s
also the potentially thousands of dollars/euros a year to spend on
trips back home for the holidays or significant family events. We’ll go
over this more in depth near the end of the book in the section about
moving.

#2 Insecurity: An unstable and volatile industry.
The industry is highly volatile. It is possible to lose your job at any
given moment. Few companies are wealthy and stable enough to
withstand serious problems. In most areas of the world, there are
only a few studios near each other. Losing a job usually also means
moving away, thus adding to the stress.
The constant danger of losing a job is also disastrous when you’re
trying to purchase a mortgage, a house, or are exposing yourself to
other kinds of financial risk. This situation is usually impossible to
deal with for most.

#3 Exploitation: It’s everywhere.
Like other young industries work and office standards are still being
developed. This leaves various portions of the industry open to
exploit. Developers get exploited by the management and
publishers. Employees are often expected to work unpaid overtime –
usually near milestones or the end of a project. Unrealistic and highly
stressful deadlines are often imposed which sometimes turns a
developer’s studio into something akin to fifty monkeys sitting in
cubicles working like machines. Developers are still often regarded
as expendable and simply part of the machine that makes a game.
Obviously, this is regrettable; developers are actually the most
important element of the process and the least expendable.
Developers can’t simply be replaced. Their skills are unique and
there’s a shortage of skilled developers – few of the managers who
work with the developers realize this.
The developers earn relatively little compared to what less essential
people, such as marketing, earn, and they see little or no financial
return on their own game, unless it’s a blockbuster hit, and even then
the return can be paltry. The pieces of the game-making machine
that had very little to do with the actual development get rich from
the developers’ hard work but when something goes wrong, the
developers are the first to get the blame, and are the first to be fired.
If the industry ever wants to mature, it needs to become, and

encourage, stability. Recent graduates may be willing to work
overtime every day, but older developers will not accept that as
easily. People will grow older, they will want to settle, have kids, and
demand more predictable hours and conditions.

#4 Blossoming: When the petals wither.
Because the industry is still relatively young, mistakes and
mismanagement are rife due to the inexperience of the entire
industry. People with too little experience are often in charge.
Sometimes managers who have never worked on a game before lead
a team of developers. Completely unrealistic projects and deadlines
are set by people who have no inkling of what to expect. There are
far too few experienced people around and because of it, people get
promoted much too quickly in a bid to close the gap of experienced
developers and leaders. Those new people mismanage a dozen things
and sometimes micromanage the staff to a state of creative paralysis,
and the errors pile up until the game crashes down or get butchered
in reviews.
Often, entire development teams are new and have never worked
together yet on a project. They don't know each other and they have
insufficient knowledge of each other's priorities and workflows. The
result is often a complete chaotic mess where every department
works individually with insufficient communication about what each
department needs from the other. In fact, the organization altogether
in some studios is a disaster; simply nonexistent or just plain wrong.
People in charge design workflows and organizational rules that either
do not work for the company as a whole or a specific department, or
completely miss the point and are irrelevant.

#5 A heavy, closed door: Hard to get a foot in.
It's hard to get into this industry, especially if you're not living
close to a number of game development studios. The often lacking
support of relatives, and sometimes even governments, only makes
things worse. Game development is a new and relatively unknown
industry and those who are not familiar with it usually don't regard it
as a valid career path for you. The government often has no clue that
it even exists, let alone that they would support you or the industry
in the quest to success. Although this certainly also depends on
where you're living.

#6 Frustration: Across all aspects.
As you may have figured out already by reading all the other
negative points, the industry can be incredibly frustrating at times.
There is a high turn over rate among developers. People quit because
they are fed up with a company’s or game’s progress. Because of the
significant passion involved in this industry, the slightest problem can
cause a huge amount of frustration. The frequent mismanagement,
insecurity, exploitation, games getting canned, or released too soon,
and so on only make the matter worse.

A Frustrating Industry
As previously discussed, the industry can be incredibly frustrating. Some
say the average developer only survives for five years before they leave the
industry, burned out by frustration. This is, of course, largely dependent on
who you are working for and what you are working on, as well as your
personality and personal expectations. But rest assured that at one point or
another, this industry can be extremely taxing on one’s patience.
There are several common sources of frustration:

#1 Passion!
This is a very passionate industry. Every developer in this industry
is passionate about what he or she does. To many, this isn't just
work; this is their life, blood, sweat and tears. The more passionate
you are about something, the more any setback will upset and
disturb you. Even the smallest issue could become a huge source of
frustration when blown out of proportion by emotional investment.

#2 Incompetency: Both with colleagues and publishers.
Incompetent colleagues or other industry people are also a huge
source of frustration. They might request things that make no sense
or put emphasis on completely irrelevant tasks. Their incompetence
could slow you down or even crash the project in which you've put all
your hard work. You might have coded the greatest engine ever, but
if the artists are terrible in their job no one is ever going to notice
your talent. The other way around is also true. You may be the best
artist in the world, but if the engine programmers are bad at their job
then you’ll never be able to display your talent. The success or failure
of everyone as the project progresses eventually all boils down to
what is being done together as a team.

Publishers might simply cancel the project for whatever reason, or
decide to put it on hold for a couple of years. Or they may come up
with the absolutely worst name, or release marketing screenshots or
box art that does not represent the quality of the game or the hard
work you've put into it.

#3 People: Interfering colleagues.
Sometimes colleagues who have little to no clue about what you’re
doing can interfere with your work. Either someone from another
department may request an impossible, or extremely difficult to
implement, feature; or your own lead might not fully understand your
specialization, and thus fail to represent you or your work, let alone
defend it when decisions are made.
This also depends on the position you hold. Higher positions are
usually assailed by worthless requests more often, but they can
usually defend against them better. Someone in a senior position
can usually defend themselves much easier than a beginner. As a
beginner, you sometimes have little to no voice in the team and you
therefore cannot protect yourself against stupid tasks. If the lead
want you to do x or y, then as a beginner, you’ll likely have to do it,
no matter what you think of it. A more senior person is better
equipped, both through experience and authority, to repulse such
requests and will have a better go at pressing their point of view.
Whereas senior developers often fight decisions and requests from
outside their department, a beginner usually has to fight their own
team members. Beginners are more likely to have their work
reviewed more critically than a senior developer, and will receive
more comments back than usual on what needs to be changed. This
can become especially frustrating when combined with the first point
regarding incompetent seniors. If your lead has no clue what you’re
doing and yet orders you to change something that would ruin or
slow down your creation, and you’re unable to stop it, then that can
certainly cause a huge amount of frustration. An example of this is a
Lead Artist who has absolutely no animation experience, yet
interferes with what the animator is doing.

#4 Creativity: Or rather, a lack thereof…
Even while game development is a creative profession, there is no
guarantee that you personally will experience much creative freedom.
In some cases the work can be extremely boring and repetitive.
There are several reasons for this:

Teamwork. By working in a team, you often have a very
narrow task list and you might only be expected to make a
small part of the larger whole. It can quickly become repetitive
to have the same narrow set of tasks for an entire year or
longer.

Low position. As a beginner you usually have little influence
on the game as a whole. You are likely to work on smaller
tasks, and you are told what to do. You are unlikely to design
new features or entire areas of the game yourself. You are
closely watched by more experienced developers who will push
you into the direction they want, and that may not be the one
you were hoping for.

Deadlines. The game must be done in time, even if that
means sacrificing quality and originality. Features may be cut
or drastically minimized. You will not be able to design or
create anything you have in mind because whatever you come
up with must fit the larger picture and deadlines.

Money. The same is true for money. Whatever you create or
design must fit into the budget, this can severely restrict what
you want to make.

Depending on where you work, the games industry may not be as
creative as you expected it to be, especially in lower positions.

#5 Luck: Well, do you feel lucky?
We will return to this later on, but for now, to put it briefly;
sometimes not skill, nor talent, but luck is the deciding factor.
Another, much less talented, person might find a job more quickly
than you, and possibly earn more, simply because they happened to
live close by or because they knew someone on the inside.

#6 Deadlines: A necessary evil.
Like most projects, games need to be finished on time. Exceptions
aside, very few developers actually take the time to truly finish a
game. Most games are developed on tight schedules and are often
released before they’re completely finished. The result might be
decent; but more often than not, it could have been so much more if
adequate time was invested into the game. Time makes the
difference between average and great, yet most games are never

given this chance. Whatever you do, there is always the stress of an
impending deadline on the horizon. You, or the team as a whole,
might have to rush through a particular task or you might never have
the chance to truly finish a game to match what you had in mind.
After years of hard work you might have to abandon the game
because some guy in a suit tells you it’s good enough to be released,
even though you still see a hundred shortcomings. This issue
becomes even worse when a game is released and completely
butchered by the press and the public - something that could have
been avoided if the game was given another few months. All your
trouble and effort can be rendered useless in just a month.

#7 Money: The other necessary evil.
Money is all some people care about. Even while game
development is a passion for many, it is the money that is the final
deciding factor. Games are made to be profitable, even if that means
sacrificing things like quality and originality. You might need to work
on low quality games for budget reasons. Small games usually aren't
very motivating to work on, and the more creative a mind you have,
the more trouble you will have with working on simple games or
sacrificing, for example, the visual quality purely for the sake of a
little money. In the end, this whole industry doesn't revolve around
passion; it is all about the big money. This means for some that you,
as the developer, are just a tool to get rich quick – the means to the
end and nothing more. Personally however, you will likely not see any
of the money return to you...

According to surveys, less than half of all game developers see
themselves working in the games industry their entire life. The other half
expects to leave the industry within the next five to ten years. On the one
hand, their departure can make room for new people, including beginners,
but on the other hand, it is a huge brain drain.
The games industry does not have a great reputation regarding the
quality of life of its employees. Too much overtime, missing deadlines, and,
in general, various ways to be exploited can make this industry a living hell.
The problem is that many developers still see their job as their hobby and
passion, while the people at the top happily exploit this willingness to push
their employees in whatever direction they want.
Passion should never be an excuse to be exploited! That might well be the
most important sentence of this entire book.

The Money

One does not work in the games industry for the money. People who think
they can get rich off it or wonder if they would earn more in industry a or b
before making their career choice are not meant for the games industry. I
have seen plenty of people who leave the games industry after a year or
two to return to the ‘real’ world, simply because a ‘regular’ IT company
offered them a car and a laptop. If you are truly passionate about games
you don't leave the industry purely for financial reasons.
Few game developers will ever get things like a company car or an
expense account. However, the industry does not pay badly either. The
average salary is highly dependent on the region but is, in general, around,
or slightly more than, the average income of that region.
The highest salaries can be earned in the United States, followed by
countries like the UK and Canada. The salaries in mainland Europe are in
general only half of what the same position would earn in the USA, or even
less.
According to surveys the average salary in the USA is between 3,000 and
6,000 USD gross a month. Cut that in half and you end up with an average
salary of 1.300 - 2.600 Euro a month gross for average European
developers. The UK is somewhere in between those two.
The salary is, of course, also very dependent on the position one holds
and the type of projects one works on. A junior artist working on a local
market game is obviously going to earn much less than a lead artist
working on a AAA blockbuster.
Within the same company a lead developer could easily receive double or
more, than what a junior developer receives monthly. All other positions are
in between the two.
Programmers usually earn slightly more than designers who, in turn,
often earn a little more than artists. Testers and all kinds of other less
essential team members earn the least of all. Any type of lead or senior
position usually earns the most. In general, the more specialized it is what
you are doing, the more you will earn. For example, an animator will earn
significantly more than a general 3D artist.

More information regarding this subject can be found on various websites.
Note that most of these surveys focus on the American game development
scene and are, in general, much less applicable to other parts of the world.

http://www.animationarena.com/video-game-salary.html

http://gamecareerguide.com/features/266/features/266/are_you_in_
demand_2006_game_.php

Also note that even while some salaries might appear either huge or tiny,
you need to take into account that another region or country might have
more or lesser expensive standards of living. This is especially true in urban
areas: in parts of the USA rent might be a tenfold higher than what you are
used to paying and you may also have to pay for insurance, a dozen hidden
taxes, and multiple utilities. Europe, on the other hand, is usually somewhat
cheaper to live in, but also features much higher taxes.
Occasionally one might also receive bonuses. When certain milestones are
achieved on time or when a game goes gold the developers are often
rewarded with a bonus; sometimes worth thousands. And while those
bonuses are great they are, most of the time, also some of the only extras
the developers ever receive. A regular developer will never become wealthy
from their own game; even if the game sells millions. Most of that money
goes to the publisher and other parties. The developers themselves usually
don’t see any of that money at all, or only a few thousand, return to them.
Royalties are usually not part of a contract.
The only way to ever become wealthy in the games industry is to start up
your own company and turn it into a success. That may sound easy but it is
very hard to pull off these days. The main reason being that it is a huge
challenge to acquire the funds necessary for a decently sized project.
Budgets of five to ten million USD are not unusual for the average game,
and even larger budgets are slowly becoming the norm.
Private investors are often wary of getting into such a new and unstable
industry and game publishers want to see a smoothly working company
with a strong game demo before they will commit themselves to financing
the project. Both of these are hard to pull off without a significant amount
of investment money in the bank. It's the same story most beginners face.
You can only get hold of a job if you have experience, but without a job you
can't get the necessary experience. The same is true for companies. A
company needs experience as a studio if it wants to secure funding, but it
can't get experience if it doesn't have funds in the first place.

However, those who start small and have enough patience, or simply a lot
of luck, may end up becoming successful and very wealthy in this industry.
A single good game can make millions and make up the initial investment
several times over. Some dare to take that risk, others don't.
Like other companies in the computer and internet industry, game
companies too have the unique ability of returning a huge profit within just
a few years and with only a relatively small team of a few dozen employees.
What most forget though, is that the number of companies that do not
make it is larger than those few who manage to shine. This is a very volatile
and funding-intensive industry and it is very difficult to pull off a successful
project when you have very little. The days of garage developers working
on the next sleeper hit are over and unlikely to ever return. Game
development has evolved into multi-million dollar projects and few
independent studios survive.

The Public Opinion

Although games are becoming massive in size and even though the
games industry receives more money than, one could say, an third world
country, the general public still has a stigma toward video games. The
unknown scares humans; and this is no different with video games. Today's
youth is the first generation that has really grown up with video games and
understand them. Those who know little of games often do not regard a
game developer job as a real profession or valid career path. These people
often view games as entertainment for kids. If the people close to you have
such opinion you might be in for a hard time.
Although the situation is, luckily, slowly improving because of the
increasing influence of games on daily life and because of game
development schools, the public support is still a long way from where it
should be. Negative media coverage – stories of violence in video games and simple lack of knowledge and understanding may make your family and
friends respond negatively to a game career.
Regardless of their opinion the most important consideration should
always be what would make you happy. What do you want to achieve and
what do you enjoy? What do you dream of? What do you think you should
do with your life so you will not regret your choice once you're retired?
Those who are cynical will usually turn around and be convinced once you
achieve success. Although it is not easy, try not to worry too much about
them; their doubts and opposition usually melt away when you begin to be
successful.

Personally, I received plenty of criticism myself when I announced I would
pursue a career in the games industry. I ignored all of it and worked
towards my goal because I was 100 percent convinced it was the right thing
to do for me. And it was. It certainly wasn't easy to overcome all of the
criticism. Apart from a few online friends I was completely on my own when
I started, for years on end. I had nothing to fall back on if my plan failed
but my dedication and belief in what I was doing kept me going and in the
end I was lucky enough to succeed. I am in a much better position now
than those who criticized me.
Try to convince the people around you that games are a valid career path,
that it is what you enjoy and most importantly, that it is a very serious
business in which one can earn a healthy living.
Involve them in what you do and what you create. Try to give them insight
into your work and prove to them that you're not spending your entire day
dreaming or playing games. Show them your work and put it into
perspective as much as possible. Show them any online success you might
have had with your creations such as reviews or comments from the public.
The point is that they need to understand that it is not just clicking, but a
profession that requires real skill, and that you are good at it.
Attending a game development school might also help them realize that
this is a serious business that is not just about seemingly randomly clicking
your mouse in an attic or basement, but requires years of study and hard
work to get to a professional level, much like any other profession.

Chapter 3

Skills, Schools, and Study

Art by Romano Molenaar

Skills
Nearly all the people who currently work in the games industry are almost
entirely self-taught. Personal initiative is one of the most important aspects
of the games industry. Without plenty of personal study and practice one
will not be successful in the games industry.
One of the most decisive aspects in the industry is your skill. What you
are capable of is very important - perhaps even more important than any
experience you might have and much more important than any education.
How you achieved that skill is irrelevant if you are good enough. Whether
you learned what you know by going to a specialized school or by personal
study doesn't really matter in the end. Whatever works best for you is the
best method. Both approaches have positive and negative aspects.
Skill also means that you can demonstrate what you can do. In this
industry skill means nothing if it can't be proved. Stating that you are a
great modeler will do no good if you can't also show a couple of great
models. Your portfolio, the work you have, is even more important than the
actual skill because it will demonstrate your skill, as well as your dedication
and passion.
It can take years to really master a skill. On average it takes most people
at least two to four years to reach an entry-level skill level in their
profession, dependent on how motivated they are, how talented they are,
and how much time they put in. It takes about twice as much time (or even
more) to become an expert. It personally took me seven years of 24/7 work
before I fully understood what I really do and more importantly why I do so.
There are various stages to go through before one reaches an expert
status. The difference between an expert and a person of an average skill
level is the level of understanding and the time spent on trying things out. A
person with an average skill often does know how to achieve certain results
but they do not always know why exactly they take certain steps - the
reasoning behind the actions. Most people simply do something because
they remember it worked out well last time, or perhaps looked great in
another game they've played, instead of understanding the actual reasoning
behind it or the bigger picture. This understanding, in general, takes many
years to acquire.
Related to this is the amount of time spent on trying different techniques
and options. An expert has to experiment little because their previous
experience enables them to foresee any future problems with a design or
technical approach. Also, because they likely encountered similar situations
earlier on in their career, they know exactly what to look for. An expert
works efficiently and quickly with little need to repeatedly experiment. A
person with an average skill level works slower and often has to redo and
remake something because they hit on an unexpected problem they should
have foreseen.

Skill is also something that becomes more satisfying over time. A
beginner constantly faces issues and problems they don't know the solution
for. It can be incredibly frustrating to get stuck all the time and I have seen
many people quit over it. Once past the initial problems however, things get
more fun. You will not get stuck often anymore and you will never, or
rarely, face issues that you can't figure out. Instead, you will be able to
focus on the actual task. That's where the real fun begins.
Lack of skill is a limiting factor for beginners and it affects their potential
and the quality of their work. The only way to overcome it is to practice, a
lot.

Starting Out
Beginners can gain experience by focusing on just one or two things and
trying to master just those few before moving on to something else. Once
mastered, progress on to the next few things you want to learn. If you dive
into too many different things at the same time, you can easily become
overwhelmed and give up. In addition, your time will usually be too
fragmented over a many different things. This will not give you the time
necessary to really master any of them.
I started my career by investigating the Unreal Editor and Level Design. It
was only two years later that I also moved into, for my profession,
secondary programs such as 3DSMax and Photoshop. I would never have
been able to handle all the complex new material if I had gotten into all four
at the same time. Split up and focus on what's most important first, then
gently move on to related skills. We'll get back to this more extensively in
Specialization.
At first, it was never my intention to get into the games industry. I never
started designing levels to get into the industry; at the time it was just my
hobby and nothing more and that kept me motivated. The desire to do this
for a living only came much later when I realized that this was what I
wanted to do with my life. There are two things that can be learned from
this:

You need to enjoy what you do or you won't evolve. It needs to be
your hobby and you need to like what you do. If you create things
simply because you want something out of it (a job, money, or
fame), you will likely give up. It takes a tremendous amount of time
and dedication to get anywhere in this industry. If you don't really
like what you do, you will never persist through those countless,
sleepless nights and years of hard work. I have seen people who
enter game development solely to get a game development job or a
good salary. Work is not just work in this industry, it's a passion.

Don't look too far ahead when you're just starting out. Just as in
developing skills, the same goes for looking ahead to work: do not
look too far ahead or do too many things at once or you can loose
your motivation quickly. If I would have known what a huge pile of
work there was ahead of me, I would have probably given up. I
didn't, because I never knew where I wanted to end up with my skill
and how much there was left to learn. And while that may not be the
ideal way, and perhaps even impossible these days, it does illustrate
the need to focus on the present time and focus on what's important
right now. Patience is the key.

I feel that one of the most important reasons why I have succeeded in
everything I wanted to achieve is that I didn't lose precious time by talking
or thinking about what I was going to make - I simply made it. Talk means
little in this industry - you need to show what you can do. I have seen
dozens of people advertise their upcoming mods or levels on a grand scale,
and in the end they disappear without a trace and nothing got finished, let
alone released. Don't talk, just make it and talk afterwards. Don't sit
passively next to your computer, thinking of how great it would be if you
could make this or that. Simply start on it and see where you end up.
Practice is the only way to learn something valuable, and the only way you
can fill up your portfolio.
Similarly, many people are too critical of themselves and end up finishing
nothing they start because they don’t have the confidence that their current
design is worth the time. This can be very detrimental to one’s career or
personal development. Plenty of beginners never progress because, by the
time they are halfway through development, they start to doubt their own
design, or they get stuck on technical issues. They give up, start a new
project, and that ends up crashing down halfway through as well. This cycle
can continue for years and, in the end, their portfolio is either still empty or
filled with half-finished projects. This certainly is not what a potential
employer likes to see in a portfolio.
Do not expect your work to be perfect right away. You won't be able to
achieve a level of quality similar to professionally made material right from
the start. It's perfectly normal that you can't as a beginner. The
professionals spend years making it to the point where they are now you're not going to beat them to it in just a few month.
Attempt to be realistic about your expectations and allow yourself to
make mistakes. And when you do, accept them! Do not start over again on
each new problem you face. Accept it, learn from it, finish the project, and
move on. I never drop the level I’m working on when I discover a problem.
Either I fix the problem or, if I can't, I simply accept it and learn from my
mistake. The whole issue can be compared to musicians. When a musician

plays out of tune, he or she doesn’t stop the performance because, if they
do, it will only become obvious that they made a mistake. Don't put
attention on your failures. Do not obsess on the problems you encounter –
they’re inevitable, but not the important part of developing yourself. What
counts is what you do right, and what you learn by doing so. And the only
way to show this to potential employers is by finishing the work.

Specialization

Why?
Becoming more specialized in one aspect of the work over others is often
necessary in order to reach a sufficient skill level and then, through that,
find a job in the games industry. The amount of specialization depends on
the exact circumstances.
Game development is incredibly complex. It has taken me years to get to
a skill level where I feel like I truly understand and control my own
specialization; namely Level Design. Years to master just one skill! Imagine
how long it would take to master a wide range of completely different
aspects of Game development! It takes years of practice to truly master a
particular skill. If you try to master too many new skills at once, your time,
effort, and memory will become fragmented between them. It will become
impossible to practice each and every one of them to the necessary extent.
By the time you're ready to go job hunting, you may have the luxury of
looking at a wide variety of job types, but it’s unlikely you’ll have mastered
any of the appropriate skills to the level you would need to actually get any
of the jobs. For any job you apply at, there will likely be someone else who
has spent the last four years trying to master that one single skill, and
therefore, they’re going to be light-years better. And that will cost you the
job.
Without a significant amount of practice you will not be able to stand far
enough out of a crowd to get the job you want. Specialization on one skill
is essential so you can be completely focused because, believe me, you will
need all the development time you can get. Getting a job is harder if you’re
the ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’.
There is another problem to being too well-rounded: namely your own
level of talent. I am strongly convinced that whenever you are not very
good at something you should consider giving up and look for the skill for
which you do have talent. If you don't have ‘it’, then no matter how hard
you try, you will never become a master in that specific skill. By the time
you would achieve an intermediate skill level there's always somebody else
who has already become an expert in the same, or less, amount of time.
Simply because they had ‘it’. It's that person who is going to get the job
you apply for - not you. If you are talented, you will have much easier time
learning a skill than someone who isn't. It's the time that a talented person
saves that will allow them to invest that extra available time back into the
desired skill. The result is a more skilled person.

Programming and art are two drastically different aspects of game design.
Programming is logic and ratio. Art is emotion. Most people are talented in
one of the two, but very few in both. Programmers often lack the sense of
balance and harmony an artist has. Likewise, an artist often lacks the
logical and mathematic insight a programmer has. If you don't have the
talent for it, you won't get very far with it. You could have better spent that
valuable time where your true talent lies; where it would really pay off!
Regardless of what some will try to tell you, without specialization you're
nearly useless in this industry. Most jobs demand a certain amount of
specialization, even if it's just the basic Programmer or Artist separation.
Very few professionals are both good artists and good programmers; even
fewer actually use both skills in their daily profession because it simply isn't
practical for the company to have one person in both types of positions. If a
single developer has to handle too many different tasks they will loose focus
and will run out of time. They will have to rush through everything, at the
cost of quality. Plus, this is not an efficient way for a company to handle
staff skills.
Due to the ever rising complexity of game development, more and more
positions are split up and divided over multiple, highly specialized,
individuals. An example of this is one from my own profession: Level
Design. At first a single developer created the entire level: from the initial
concept, to texturing, to gameplay, to decoration and lighting, to its final
iteration. A few years later a texture artist got involved and started taking
over the texturing tasks of the Level Designer. Some time later, the job of
the Level Designer was split into one person handling the gameplay of the
level, and another handling the environmental art. This progressed to the
point that today there are gameplay designers, scripters, sound composers,
texture and material artists, concept artists, environment modelers, particle
artists, level artists, and so on simply to create just one level. Ten years
ago this used to be handled by one and the same person! The rising
complexity of the gameplay, materials, particles, environment geometry,
and the like, made the original single task so complex that a single
developer would never be able to handle all of it on his or her own anymore.
This process is going to continue and soon there is also going to be
somebody dedicated to just environment physics. Specialization is key if
you want to stand a chance!

There are only two exceptions to the rule of specialization.

Outsource studios and small studios in general often do require a
good amount of ‘renaissance men’. This is the case usually because
they do not have the financial means to hire specialized developers
for every separate task and also because the tasks and projects can
often vary quite widely. It is better for them to have a good number
of people who can handle multiple aspects of development, but this is
often at the cost of quality.

Technical artists and similar positions often require developers with
a broad skillset. Because these jobs overlap several specializations,
such as animation, modeling, materials, gameplay/render
programming and so on, the person must understand a substantial
amount of all of them. On the other hand, technical art is a type of
specialization on itself.

In my experience it is very difficult to find a job without some sort of
specialization. Only large companies require technical artists, and even
when they do, they'll only need a few of them at most. If you do not focus
your time on one aspect a hundred percent, you will not reach a skill level
high enough to stand out from the crowd. You will become the ‘jack of all
trades, master of none’ type of person. You will know a little bit of
everything, but nothing well enough to do professionally.
Pick what you like best and focus on that. Forget everything else. There's
nothing wrong with having a good amount of general knowledge about
other aspects of game development, but it shouldn't go further than that
because it will likely damage your chances in the long run.
If you try to master too many new skills at once you’ll lose your
motivation and all the different, complex subjects will confuse you. Focus at
first, and evolve other skills later when you've sufficiently mastered your
primary specialization. Not only will you learn other skills noticeably faster
since you have a solid foundation to start with, but it will also help you keep
focus on what's important. Take it step by step, and help yourself.

What?
What to master is purely a personal choice. Pick what you like the most,
not what would earn you the highest wage or for that which is in the most
demand. This is about what you are going to do for a good part of your life.
You should enjoy it!
There are a number of widely differing specializations in the games
industry one can pick from. While this is by no means a definitive list - there
are too many sub-specializations and variations within them to list them
completely here - it will give you an idea of the most common
specializations there are and what is generally expected for each of them.
Since most of those reading this book have very likely already made a
choice, the list is kept brief. You can probably skip this section if you've
already found your passion.

General Programmers

Most essential people on the team.

Write most of the game code including: interface, weapon
behavior, and so on.

Requires someone who is good at math, has a strongly logicorientated mind and can work with precision.

Tool Programmer

Not essential to the team.

Increases the team’s efficiency by automating common tasks
and creating new tools.

Usually only larger studios require this kind of person. A very
technical job that requires someone who also has some art and
design experience and can think like an artist.

Network/AI/Physics Programmers

Programmers who have specialized their skills toward
programming how the network traffic of online games is
handled, how the computer opponents react, and how physics
are interpreted by the engine.

Very technical job that requires strong math skills. Usually not
suitable for beginners.

Graphics/Engine Programmers

Essential to the team.

They design and create the engine on which the entire game
runs, including programming complex visual effects such as
water surfaces, or they modify an existing engine.

Requires someone who is very good with math and has some
kind of art experience. This job is usually not suited for
beginners due to its complexity, although exceptions do exist.

Scripters

Creates mostly gameplay-related events in the game such as
story related events and enemy behavior using the scripting
language the engine uses.

Since scripting does not require a huge amount of
programming experience, this job is usually well suited for
beginners.

Game Designers

Essential to the team.

Design everything in the game. The kinds of enemies,
weapons, areas, and how all of those fit into the bigger picture.
It is their job to turn the game into something fun.

This is a “text job” that involves quite a lot of typing and
requires a great deal of experience which beginners usually do
not have.

Level Designers

Design the floor plans, descriptions, and events for the levels
in the game. They are usually also responsible for enemy and
powerup placement. In some studios this person can also play
a large role in implementing graphical content and therefore
also be responsible for making the environment visually
appealing.

Usually this job is well suited for beginners and, depending on
the studio, this job requires either a lot of typing, or a lot of
visual work with architecture, lighting, color, and so on, or
sometimes both.

Interface Designers

Design and create the interface of the game. Both the menus
as well as the heads-up-display in-game.

Relatively easy to get into as a beginner but few open positions
are available. The job is visually orientated and similar to
designing websites.

Writers

Write the game’s story: the characters and anything else
relevant to the virtual world such as its history.

Hard to get into as a beginner since there are often very few
open positions available.

General 2D and 3D Artists

Essential to the team.

Creates just about any asset required for the game. These
artists help wherever they are needed. Varied work.

Easy to get into as a beginner; plenty of jobs are usually
available but there are also many people interested in these
jobs as it is the least specialized.

Technical Artists

The middle men between the Art and Programming
departments. Responsible for art tasks that are very technically
orientated and may require some basic programming.

For those who like to be an artist as well as a bit of a
programmer. This position is hard to get as it usually requires
someone with experience and there are few of these types of
positions available.

Concept Artists

Responsible for the visual design of pretty much everything in
the game. Sketches, draws, and sometimes creates ‘paintovers’ of environmental, weapon, and character concepts as
guidelines for the artists to follow.

Requires a massive amount of drawing and traditional art skills
and usually only medium to large studios require this kind of
artist. Other than that it is relatively easy to get into as a
beginner.

Environment Artists

Creates anything to do with the environment; mostly involving
modeling and texturing the geometry.

Relatively easy to get into as a beginner, and plenty of jobs
available.

Character/Texture/Lighting Artists

Specialized artists who are responsible for modeling characters
or weapons, creating textures, and material setups or lighting
environments.

Relatively easy to get into as a beginner, especially as a
texture or character artist.

FX Artist

Creates special effects such as particles for magical and
weapon effects. May also be responsible for materials and
environment effects such as waterfalls and explosions.

Only larger studios require these artists, there are few fit
candidates and there is a high demand for this job.

Cinematic Artists

Creates or recreates environments and/or characters from the
game, lights and renders them out, and composites the final
result in order to create cutscenes and intro/outro movies for
the game.

Again, only larger studios require these types of developers.
This is also a portion of the game that is often outsourced to
external studios. This position is ideal for artists who don't care
about performance as cinematics are often pre-rendered or not
as heavy on the computer. The result is all that counts.

Animators

Essential member of the team.

Animates characters, weapons, and, optionally, some
environment geometry.

Harder to get into due to the complex subject matter but that
difficulty is offset by the shortage of capable people. Demand
outstrips supply usually.

Sound and Music Composers

Essential developers.

They create the sound and music for the game.

Hard to get into; few jobs available and often outsourced.

Producers/Directors

Essential to the team.

Guides the entire project, or a large part of it, in the right
direction. Retains consistency across the progress of the
project, makes the ‘big’ decisions, and ensures deadlines are
met.

Great for those who have excellent organizational skills but
impossible to get hold of as a beginner. This kind of job
requires a great deal of experience.

Game Development Schools – The Good Side
Every now and then a new game development school pops up. Worldwide there are already dozens, if not hundreds, of universities and schools
that provide some sort of specialized game classes. While, of course, all
these courses vary widely in quality and subjects, nearly all of them share a
number of important and positive aspects.

#1 Social Networking: Who you know can help.
Taking part in a Game development class is a great way to get to
know a lot of like-minded people. Many jobs and opportunities in the
games industry go quickly and never reach the light of day.
Beginning developers often have serious issues getting their foot in
the door because they do not know enough people on the inside.
Befriending dozens of people who will one day (hopefully) all have a
job in the games industry will be very handy when looking for a job
or other interesting opportunities.

#2 Stretching time: Making the most of what time you have.
Becoming skilled in game development requires much practice
which, by its very nature, is very time consuming. Attending a game
development class can be a great way to stretch your available time
and allow yourself a couple of additional years to practice before you
start your career. It gives you more time to grow into a potentially
stronger position.

#3 Education: Is it educational?
Attending a game development class can, of course, teach you a
thing or two about the development of games. Even though it might
not teach you everything (see The Bad Side below), additional
knowledge is never a bad thing. You can't go wrong by knowing too
much. A game development class can teach aspects of the industry in
a more structured way and might go over subjects you might have
never thought about yourself.

#4 Teamwork: Other students.
When you experience problems that you can’t solve by yourself,
you can fall back on your fellow students who are likely struggling
with the same issues. Complex problems can be handled in a group
and you can help each other out; possibly even mentally as well.
They can motivate you and pull you through if you feel like you’re
getting in over your head.

#5 Brand-name education: The school's name.
Attending a well known and respected game development school
will give you the assurance that the quality of the classes will be top
notch, it will look good on your resume, and it can act as additional
insurance for potential employers that you are qualified for a job in
their company.

#6 Focus: For those who need guidance.
While self-study is a great way to acquire new skills it's not a
method that works best for everyone. Some people require a helping
hand to keep them on the right path.
If you have trouble focusing for a long time and if you lack the
discipline to keep something up for months or even years on end if
you're not forced to, then a game development class would probably
be the best idea.

#7 Insurance Policy #1: Grades & Skills.
As mentioned before it will become increasingly difficult to find a
job in the games industry. Having a diploma/degree might increase
the likelihood that you’ll get a game development job. It might help
you stand out of the crowd.
A grade is not essential to successfully getting a job. Skill and
experience are worth a thousand times more. If you are good enough
and you manage to stand out you will find a job regardless, with or
without good grades. However, very few people manage to stand out
by themselves. The chances that you are highly talented and belong
to that top-notch group are rather small and as such, having the
extra confidence and backing from a respected school can help you
stand out.

#8 Insurance Policy #2: Long term.
As mentioned elsewhere in this book, you might want to have a
backup plan in case the games industry does not work out the way
you had hoped. Having some sort of a diploma/degree will help you
find another job more easily. After all, you might be brilliant in what
you do, but in the outside world you are worth less without some sort
of education.

#9 A Visa: Everywhere you want to be.
If you ever plan to work overseas a diploma/degree will help
dramatically in acquiring a visa or work permit for the nation of
choice. Without proper education many governments are not keen to
provide you with a work permit. More on that later on.

The existence of game development schools is also good in terms of
helping the games industry become more mature. Formal education will
help elevate the reputation of a game developer to a higher and, especially,
more serious level and increase public awareness of the profession. This, as
a result, will help convince investors and large companies to fund game
development projects.

Game Development Schools – The Bad Side
Studying for game developer positions in specialized classes is still a
relatively new route that has only managed to become popular in the past
few years and as such, most schools that provide a game development class
are still very new to the subject. Plenty of plans go awry and the quality of
many game development classes is sub-standard. These classes still have a
very long way to go and are, exceptions aside, currently far from good.
Doing plenty of research on any school you might be interested in is almost
a matter of life and death. There are plenty of rotten apples in the basket.

#1 Time: And plenty of it.
Game development degrees often require several years of study.
Three to four years on average. Four years is a hell of a lot of time in
this industry, as with any computer-related industry, and it might
evolve and change drastically in those four years. Besides, having
four years of commercial experience would help you get close to a
senior level position whereas attending four years of game
development courses will only land you a junior position. The amount
of time you put in might not be worth as much as you'd like;
especially if you already developed some skills and are not a
complete beginner.

#2 Inexperienced teachers: The less they have – the less you’ll get.
Many teachers often have little to no games industry experience
themselves. Often they are very new to game development and have
only gotten into it recently. I have heard plenty of stories where the
students actually know more about certain programs than their game
development teachers. Some have also had greater skills, or even
been in situations where the teacher has only been working with
certain programs for just a few months and has never even been in a
game development company. And yet, they stand in front of a
class… This can obviously have grave repercussions on the quality of
the coursework. A good teacher must know the subject extensively
and have plenty of experience to back it up. It’s impossible to
comprehensively teach students about subjects that you, yourself,
have never experienced, or have only just started learning yourself.
Because game development schools are still a relatively new
phenomena and, because there are very few experienced developers
around who are also good teachers, there is currently a very serious
lack of experienced teachers. Attending a game development school
might find you in a class with a teacher who is just as new to the
subject as you are. That’s not exactly an ideal situation.

#3 Point of View: Keeping it current and relative.
The third issue is related to problem #2. Since the schools and
teachers themselves are very inexperienced and often have no field
experience, they therefore also have no idea how the games industry
operates, thinks, and works. They often have unrealistic ideas or
focus on the wrong subjects or workflows. Sometimes they try to
apply the rules of a different industry to the games industry.
Through the misapplication of concepts, this can have grave
consequences for the quality of the courses.
I have heard stories where students have been taught wholly unoptimized methods for building or programming games, have been
taught workflows in the wrong order, or been told that, for example,
having a broad knowledge is key for acquiring a job while the
opposite is true. Other stories I have heard are of students who have
been taught ancient programming languages or development
platforms (Playstation 1 development in 2007?!). While it is important
to know how the industry got to the point where it is now, it is just as
important to keep moving on. This is a fast-moving industry; if you
do not keep up you will eventually fail. Having up-to-date knowledge
of technology and development platforms is the key if you want to
stick around for a long time. Many schools however, do not realize
this.

#4 Unfocused: As wide as the ocean, but as deep as a puddle.
This ties in with problems #2 and #3. Game development schools
simply try to teach students too much for various reasons. Quantity
often is elevated over quality because it enables the school to show
off a wide portfolio of skills. But what use is this if the skills learned
are not covered in enough depth and are rushed through in order to
cover all the other skills that, like the first, are not covered in enough
depth? What’s the point in teaching the students programming,
character modeling, animation, level design, network programming,
and a dozen other skills when, in the end, the students will only, at
best, have a very average grasp of each of them? A single profession
such as network programming or animation takes years and years to
master. A student can never hope to master even one of them if
they’re constantly being shifted from subject to subject. This wide
distribution may be useful in helping the student understand the ‘big
picture’ of game design, but at the same time it also degrades the
overall quality of the coursework.

#5 Don’t believe the…: Overhyped and unnecessary.
Attending a game development school is becoming a hyped up
method to enter the industry. Example: in my own region of the
world, there are almost more game development schools around than
there are companies. Students get tricked into entering schools but,
in the end, they will be left without a job simply because there is not
as much work available as the school would lead one to believe. To
put this in perspective, I'll describe the current situation in my own
region. In the Benelux area (Belgium/Netherlands/Luxembourg) there
are only about eight more or less successful game studios and almost
as many schools that provide either a full-fledged game development
program or include a large portion of game developed in another
curriculum. In a few years time, hundreds of students will graduate
and almost all of them will be forced to look for non-game
development work or move to another country. Simply because the
few studios around here don't have enough open positions available
to provide enough work to all those graduates. Many game
development schools do not make it sufficiently clear that it will not
be easy to find work in this industry or that students might have to
move abroad.

#6 Money: For what it’s worth…
Attending a university or a specialized class often costs money.
Depending on where you live it might even cost a small fortune.
Considering all the bad points and the fact that having a grade itself
simply offers no real assurance of getting a job, you might want to
ask yourself if it's actually worth the price?

The Future

In the future the quality, importance, and influence of a game
development degrees will likely grow. Because of the ever-expanding
industry and the continual maturing process combined with the vast number
of people who want to become game developers, more and more companies
might expect a game development-related diploma from a potential
employee, or at the very least consider it a big plus.
Having gone through a game school might become a very important
factor for a company and therefore there are various reasons why a diploma
might be more desirable in the future.
It will very likely become more difficult for beginners to find a job in the
games industry in the future for a number of reasons.

#1 Increased interest: More People.
In the future there will probably be more people who either have
interest in working in the games industry or already are. There will be
many more people interested and available for the job market. Some
way to stand out from the crowd is therefore essential if one wants a
job.
In the nineties there were very few people who were skilled in
anything related to games. While there were also less companies,
and far fewer open jobs than today the day, those people that did
have the relevant skills were hired quite easily since they were the
only ones available. The employers didn't really have a choice. As an
example, take an ex-colleague of mine: he started in the games
industry as a 14 year-old working from home; freelancing for a
number of game development studios. No one ever asked his age and
no one bothered since there were so few people available to do the
work.
Today, this scenario would be impossible. No company would ever
knowingly hire a 14 year-old because, apart from the legal issues, for
every 14 year-old out there are a hundred adults who are also
interested in the job. And for every interested person out there who
wants to work from home there are a hundred more people who are
more than willing to relocate to get the job.
Soon, there will be so many people in the games industry that it
will become much more difficult to: first, get hired, second, to keep
the job (if there are a hundred people waiting in line, you become
expendable), and third, to set your own requirements. If you ask for
too much, they'll just hire someone who asks for less.

Coming soon, there will be so many interested people that
companies will be forced to structuralize and further define the
applicant requirements in order to quickly filter the applicants.
Experience or a school diploma will be ideal ways to do so. Those who
do not have either might thus expect a nice refusal letter or email in
no time, even if they’re incredibly skilled. This transition is also
related to the issue of who processes the applications. We'll get back
to that problem later on in Going Commercial.

#2 Quality is going up: And so is the demand for it.
Related to this is the rising standard of quality. Let’s again take the
example of the 14 year old again. He was able to negotiate contracts
because there was no one else to compete against, let alone
someone with more skill or experience. These days however, and
especially in the future, there is an ever-growing group of people who
have more skill and experience. While a few years ago a newcomer
was able to find a job relatively easily, in the future, and already, this
is starting to happen, the same beginner will have to compete with
more experienced people for the same jobs. Obviously, it will be rare
that the newcomer lands the job. In such situations diplomas from
respected schools might be enough to tip the scales your way – or at
least draw even with other applicants.

#3 Maturity: Still a drooling baby?
The games industry is still largely in its infancy. It is still growing
and organizing itself. Some aspects of the industry are a mess or
very unprofessional, or both, and this will eventually be resolved but
no one knows when. The industry needs to grow up. A larger
demand for game development school students might very well be
part of that maturing process. In any other industry it is widely
accepted that one requires a matching school diploma if they want to
stand a chance of getting a job. Similarly, one could also expect the
games industry to one day follow the same approach and have
‘formal’ education as standard requirement.

Long Term Vision

While a diploma is currently not essential for acquiring a job in the games
industry, it certainly can have long-term ramifications. The games industry
is a very international industry. As mentioned before, one might have to
move to another country or even the other end of the world to get a good
job. To do so one needs a visa or a green card. Visas are hard to arrange
without a proper education. Government officers of the country one wishes
to move to need to be convinced that they are justified in moving a
foreigner into their country specifically for that job. If one does not have
solid education then that might be a sign to those government officials that
the person is not qualified to move over, even though the person might be
the very best in what they do. Foreign nations try to admit only highly
educated people because that group of people gives them the most
insurance that they will be a benefit to their society. They consider a person
with a mediocre or worse educational history to be a risk for the country
and admitting them might end up costing their society money if they were
to loose the job. Thus, they would not be happy to go through all the
trouble for ‘unqualified’ people.
The whole point about the complex visa procedures is that the
governments try to make the companies hire people from their own country
first, before looking outside the borders, so it can benefit their own citizens.
Their thinking is that if a person has not received sufficient schooling then
they are a low-skill worker and thus such a person can also be found within
their own borders. While this logic is completely out of place in relation to
this industry, there is little one person can do about it. Not having a diploma
might make it very hard to move to a foreign country to work; especially in
the post 9/11 United States of America. If you ever want to move out to a
different part of the world then you should really consider getting a good
education.
The same long term vision is true as a backup plan for yourself. As
mentioned before, the games industry can be an incredibly frustrating place
to work in. Some say that the average games industry career only lasts
about five years before people burn out and get out of the industry. If the
only thing you can do is create games, and you have no diploma, then you
won't easily be able to leave the industry and find another, more traditional,
job.
Young people eager to start their careers are often so motivated that they
do not consider quitting a possibility. Game development is their life and
they honestly expect to work on games for the rest of their lives. But
believe me, it is not that simple. Even the most dedicated and motivated
professionals sometimes think about quitting because it really is that
frustrating at times. Do not underestimate the impact of frustration.

Of course, whether you will become frustrated or not also depends largely
on yourself. If you typically can't sleep at night when things aren't going
like you want them to, and when you are very passionate about your
profession then you are more likely to end up frustrated at some point in
time.
This is also true for the workaholics. If you are the type of person who
works 24/7 and who works overtime every day for free, then one day you
will either going to become really frustrated or you will burn out and
become depressed.
Another reason why one might one day choose to step out of the games
industry is stability. Most people getting into the industry are very young
and have not settled down yet. But when those people have ‘settled down’,
perhaps with a wife, kids, a house, and a nice car, then a more stable job
will be very desirable. A twenty year-old might not object moving from one
country to another every few years but a 40 year-old most likely will. Few
people are content moving for their entire life; at some point you will have
to settle down or at least slow down and the games industry in its current
form is not exactly perfect for that.
In all these scenarios a backup plan is at least desirable, and at most,
necessary. The ability to step out of the industry, even if it's just for a few
months, is highly desirable, but without a diploma it’s much harder to pull
off. Getting a job as a teacher at a game development school is, for
example, a very stable and long-term job, but it’s also hard to get without
the proper educational background.

Conclusion
The overall point is that game development schools are not essential but
can make a difference. It's never bad to go to one but in the end it is still
somebody's portfolio, skills, and experience that will land the job. Game
schools should be regarded largely as a way to stretch time. Ask yourself
the question whether you are ready for a job or not. If you are then simply
find a job and start your career because a single year of “field” experience
will teach you more than a decade in school. Any employer will hire a
person with no diploma but with four years of professional experience over
a person who completed a four year game course but who has no
professional experience. Experience matters a lot and is much more
important than any school ever will be.
However, if you do not consider yourself to be ready yet for a career, for
whatever reason, then game development schools are a very good way to
stretch time and allow yourself more time to develop yourself and your
skills. If you have the money and motivation then a game development
school can be a wise decision that can pay off, especially in the long term.
There are a large number of incompetent schools around so do be careful.
The best schools are those who are in close contact with the games industry
itself. Not with just one or two local studios, but with a dozen studios and
industry people. The best teachers are those who have industry experience
and who know what counts in this industry. And the best classes are those
that are up-to-date and relevant to today's games industry. Look for a
school that can offer you such an education, and you will probably be set for
a few years.

Chapter 4

The Mod Community

Art by Romano Molenaar

A Door To The Industry

Mods (user-made modifications to existing games) have been the number
one way to get into the industry for years. It is only lately that game
schools are slowly starting to take over. Mods, however, still are very
important and can be of great use. I personally advise everyone to
experience participating in a mod, or other type of online, community at
least once in their lifetime.
It should also be noted that besides mods, there are two other similar
ways of displaying your talents: indie, or independent, games and the
demoscene.

Indie Games.
Independent and stand alone game projects that are non-profit or
low-budget games are generally built from scratch by enthusiasts.
Unlike mods, these games are not based on any existing game and
they are more likely to go commercial than the average mod.
Indiegamer.com is an example of this kind of community.

Demoscene.
This is the art of creating realtime and non-interactive demos with
the purpose of showcasing art and programming skills. It appeals
primarily to programmers and much less to those who are interested
in gameplay. Scene.org is an example of such community.

Programmers especially are usually interested in indie games and the
demoscene since they allow them to work with some higher end
programming more than mods do. Mods usually require relatively simple
gameplay-related programming and do not often offer an opportunity to
alter the render, network, or AI code of the game it is based on. That's
where indie games and the demoscene differ.
From an artist’s point of view, mods are usually more interesting as
existing games often offer much better tools with more tutorials and
support. It’s easier to get into as a beginner since the support found for
widely-used and very expensive game engines is often much better than
low-budget or homemade engines. The Unreal Engine is an example of this.
Also, existing games provide the user with pre-made game content that can
be used; whereas indie games and the demoscene often offer very little
other content to start with, thus making it harder to get started.
Both of these groups are similar to mods and will thus not be covered
separately. Most of the characteristics that apply to mods are also valid for
indie games and, to a lesser extent, the demoscene.

Why
There are several reasons why being active in mod teams and communities
can greatly benefit yourself and your career. Let's line those up.

#1 Fun!: It is!
Developing games, or extensions for existing games for that
matter, is simply fun. Fun should be the number one reason why
anyone gets into modding. You shouldn't get into it because of the
publicity, or because of the commercial potential of your creations, or
as a way to get into the games industry. The primary reason for
modding should always be for the love of what you are doing, and the
ever-present urge to create and develop.

#2 Liberty: Free to create whatever you want.
As a modder you can breathe life into your wildest dreams. You're
not restricted by publishers or investors who are too afraid of trying
something new and experimenting with their money. Nor do you have
to take time constraints into consideration. If you've got the skills,
you can literally make whatever you want. You can develop your
dream weapon, or gametype, with your rules and your ideas.

#3 Publicity: Be a star.
If you develop a quality mod, you, and/or the team you are part of,
can become quite a star online. The success of a mod will directly
translate to the amount and/or quality of people working on it. You
can earn quite a lot of publicity and respect by your community work,
which in turn could pay off in the long run. Because of your, or your
team's, distinct online presence the right people might notice you and
offer you a job.

#4 Going Commercial: Potential commercial value.
Even though few mods ever go commercial, it is not impossible
either. There are a dozen examples of games that started out as
mods and became so popular and successful that they secured
funding and went commercial. Counterstrike is probably the best
known example of this. Developing a successful mod might be a very
quick way into the games industry, although not the easiest.

#5 Feedback: Learning from others.
Other members of the mod community can give you very valuable
feedback on your work. Unlike friends and relatives who rarely give
valuable feedback on your work, members of a mod community can
do so, and they probably will. Their feedback can help pinpoint
problems, improve your creation, and develop a perspective on what
good quality is. Also, they can also help out with technical issues and
it is also simply fun to chat with likeminded people.

#6 Networking: Developing contacts.
Being active in a mod community is a great way to build up a
network of contacts from all over the world; and not just from a
single region like one would at a game development school. All the
people you get to know might one day end up in game studios and be
working on fabulous projects, which, in the long term, could be have
positive consequences for you. They might help you land a job,
perhaps even a great job. Or they might be able to help out when
you need help with a certain technical problem.

#7 Community: Know your audience.
Professional developers who once started out in a community
generally have a better feel for and contact with the public. They are
also usually more aware of what plays well from an average person's
point of view, what they like and what's important to them. That
connection and knowledge can be vital on the long run. One must
know how the target audience thinks and what it wants if they want
to succeed.
Developers without much experience with or understanding of a
community often design features which end up being badly received
by the community, or simply ignored for being useless and irrelevant.
While, on the other hand, they might not design features that really
do matter. Someone who is well aware of what goes on in the minds
of the audience will make fewer such mistakes. Such a person will be
able to set priorities better and focus on what is truly important for
the audience. Don't be a stranger to your own “world”.

#8 Proof of your passion: It’s in the pudding.
If you have worked on a mod and/or been active in communities, it
shows companies that you are involved with the community and that
you enjoy what you are doing. In the game industry work is still
something of a hobby. Companies don't want people who only
regard work as purely work. A nine-to-five mentality is not desired.
Being active in a mod community will prove to an employer that you
do not regard game development as just another job, but also as a
hobby. It will prove that you enjoy it so much that you are even
willing to spend every bit of free time on it, without any kind of
reward.
As already noted in point #6, it will also prove that you are familiar
with the public and what they hate or love and that too is something
that companies love to see.

Why Not
On the other hand, not everything related to mods is good. There are a
number of negative aspects too.

#1 Value: There might be no reward.
Very, very few mods ever go commercial. Hundreds of mods try,
but very few ever succeed. The chances that you ever get anything
other than experience, portfolio work and fun/satisfaction out of it are
minimal. Other than those, there may well be no reward for all the
hours you put into it. It's free labor.

#2 All for Naught: The mod might never be released.
Most mods never see the light of day. Either they die out quietly
because of diminishing interest or available time of the developers, or
a conflict within the team arises. Whatever the cause, if a mod fails
you can lose thousands of precious hours that you've put into it.

#3 Experience: Inexperienced team members.
This only applies if you're working with a team. Your fellow team
members might be very inexperienced; to the point where things
start to go wrong. While most people in the mod communities are
usually inexperienced, they are in the mod community to develop
their skills in the first place, lack of experience can become a problem
when large mistakes are made because of that inexperience. This is

especially the case with overly complex concepts and designs or how
to best handle certain situations. An experienced modder will design
concepts that are realizable, and they will know how to best handle
the mod: how to start it, what to focus on, and so forth. An
inexperienced modder on the other hand might come up with a
design that, after months of work, proves to be impossible to realize.
They might also focus on the wrong aspects and don't have a clear
enough vision of what makes something good and fun. All the time
you've put into such a mod might turn out to be useless because of
the incompetence of others.

#4 The Haters: Communities can be harsh.
Modding can be very ungrateful. The public is harsh, sometimes too
much so. They don't care at all about how much time you've put into
something, they judge quickly and superficially, and if they don't like
it they will bash your work into a hundred pieces. It is important to
note the difference between criticism and downright abuse of a piece
of work. While criticism is good and should be encouraged, there is
also a lot of meaningless hate speech. If you want to survive in the
community, you often need an elephant's skin.

How
Joining a mod community is fairly easy. All you need to do is pick the game
and technology of your choice, and become active within that game’s
community.
Being active in a mod community usually means following:

Forums. Being an active member of a specialized mod forum to
communicate with likeminded persons.

Chat channels. Similar to forums, specialized IRC (Internet Relay
Chat) channels are a great way to get in touch with others, ask
questions, or simply talk about all kinds of stuff.

Releasing things. By releasing content you either made on your
own, or on a team; you make yourself known to others and you can
gain some degree of satisfaction by seeing how others enjoy your
creations.

Which community to join is purely a personal choice. There are hundreds
of communities out there and usually you do best by simply joining the
community of the game you like most, although there are exceptions. In
some cases it may be more beneficial for you to join one of the larger FPS
(First Person Shooter) communities rather than the smaller and less
populated communities of the strategy games. In general the three major
FPS communities are: Unreal, Quake, and Half-Life (Source). These three
traditionally offer the greatest return on any investment in time and effort
you put in. As the Quake community is declining sharply lately, we are only
going to discuss Unreal and Half-Life.

Unreal
The unreal community is one of the largest and most supported
communities. As the Unreal Engine is one of the most widely used
commercial engines out there, getting up to speed with this
technology would be a wise move.
Epic Games, the company behind the games and the technology,
has traditionally offered quality support to the community - especially
in the first year after a release - and also occasionally organizes huge
modding contests. There are official online tutorials, video tutorials,
and books available to help beginners get up to speed. Right after a
release of an unreal series game there is a huge increase in the
active modding community. Historically, Unreal experiences a strong
peak in community activity the first year after a release and then
slowly declines to almost nothing until the next release.

Unreal thrives on good quality and particularly powerful modding
and development tools. This is one of the reasons why it is popular
among professionals but this also means that a beginner can be
discouraged by the complexity and technical challenges this power
presents.
The most recently released moddable game is Unreal Tournament
3. Other good examples are all previous Unreal games on the PC,
and Gears Of War for the PC.
A good website to investigate first is www.beyondunreal.com. It
tends to be the most significant ‘hub’ for most of the unreal
community.

Half Life
The Half-Life community is sometimes also known as the Source
community, named after the engine it uses. The Source Engine has
had a moderate degree of commercial success and is mainly used for
smaller and lower budget games, although there are exceptions.
Valve, the company behind the games and technology, is known for
being supportive and dedicated to its community and offers official
tutorials, forums, and other help. Of all mod communities, Valve is
best known for buying up successful mods. Counterstrike is the best
example of this practice.
The Half-Life community, traditionally, is a large, very dedicated,
and stable community that survives quite a long time over the life of
various game releases. Usually, years after the release of a game, its
community still maintains a fairly consistent activity level, although of
course, reduced compared to the activity level soon after a release.
The technology is popular among beginning developers because of
its relatively simple and direct approach. Whereas other technology
becomes more complex over the years, Half-Life uses a less powerful
but more ‘oldskool’ approach. This more simplistic approach is slightly
more accessible to beginners than the more modern and more
complex approach of other technology.
Well-known moddable games that belong to this category are,
obviously, both Half-Life games, Counterstrike, and Team Fortress.
Online, collective.valve-erc.com would be a good site to start out of.

Of course, there are many more communities out there than just these.
Examples are Far Cry and Crysis, Supreme Commander, Grand Theft Auto,
Warcraft 3, World of Warcraft, The Elder Scrolls (Oblivion, Morrowind), and
others too numerous to mention. Each of these offer different advantages
and disadvantages and it is up to the modder to decide which game,
technology, and community fits them best.

The Types

If you decide to join a mod community you should note that there are three
primary ways to be active in the mod communities.

#1 Independently.

Be a one man's army. You develop mods all alone.

Smaller projects.

Typical examples are level designers, character artists, and small
mods such as a gametype or a weapon.
Why:

Freedom. If you work alone, you are in control of every single
aspect of the project. You can do and create whatever you
want. You hold no responsibility to anyone and you never have
to defend your decisions, let alone discuss them with others.
You have the potential to create exactly what you dream of,
the way you want to do it, how you want to do it and when you
want to do it. No one expects anything, and no one questions
anything; except the public, of course.

Self reliance. You are not dependent on other people, who
might disappear for a while every now and then, or who might
be incompetent and ruin your work. The mod is not going be
delayed by other people.

Faster. You never have to wait for anyone. You don't have to
worry about a team member who has an exam next week and
can't work on the mod for a week. The only thing you need to
care about is the time you have available yourself, which
hopefully is quite a bit. You also don't waste any time on
recruiting people or leading your team.

More personal publicity. If you are responsible for the entire
mod yourself, it will generate a lot more personal publicity for
you. Wherever the mod gets publicity, your own name will be
next to it, instead of a team's name of which you're just an
anonymous member. People will associate your name with the
mod. It gets your name out there and, since the projects are
usually smaller, you can release new content more often, thus
drawing in even more publicity for every time you release
something new.

Why Not:

Smaller projects. The drawback of working on your own is
that you're all by yourself and thus you can only handle smaller
projects. And the smaller the project, the smaller the potential
and the less the amount of publicity it draws. These projects
can be creatively limiting. You can only create what you
personally can handle, both in terms of skill and time.

Fewer contacts. If you're on your own, you will also have less
interaction with fellow members of the mod community. There
won't be a team to interact with or build up a relationship with.
Without knowing the right people, it might be harder to get
hold of a job in the games industry one day.

Less help. Likewise, if you work independently you will not
have a team to fall back on in case of problems. There won't be
team members to ask questions to or to assist with complex
tasks. The only people that can help you are random people
from across the community.

Hard to get publicity. Getting publicity is far harder for an
independent developer than it is for a team. Besides, the fact
that this also has to do with the smaller nature of an
independent project, there are also more independent modders
around, and therefore the attention is distributed over a wider
area and that possibly leaves you with nothing. In general,
only the more experienced independent modders or the ones
who do something very special, will ever get noticed. If you do
get noticed though, the publicity you get out of it can be many
times greater than the publicity you can get by being part of a
team.

Requires a substantial amount of skill. If you work on your
own, you need to be highly skilled. You will have to do large
parts of the work completely on your own and without the
assistance of a team. This might not be an ideal situation for
beginners who often need some help and guidance to get
started.

#2 Your own team.

Create your own team and be in charge of it.

Larger projects.

Typical examples are new gametypes and any other type of larger
mod.

Why:

Bigger projects. A team will allow you to create larger
projects. A large number of helping hands are a great aid to
complete a large and impressive project which, in its turn,
draws more publicity.

Relatively large amount of freedom. The existence of a
team will allow you to execute larger and more complex
concepts, although, on the other hand, your personal creative
freedom becomes somewhat limited. You will have to discuss
your concepts with your team members, and they might have
a different opinion about it. You don't have complete creative
freedom, but since you're the leader, you do have a big say in
what happens and how the mod will look and play.

More contacts. Because you have your own team, you
obviously interact with them. Your team members can help you
land a job later on, or be of some other use; such as passing
along inside information about whatever.

More help. You're not on your own if you have a team backing
you. Any problem you bump into can be handled by the entire
team. Your fellow team members might know the solution to a
difficult technical problem, or they might have skills that you
don't. All of this allows you to get work done that you
otherwise wouldn't be able to by yourself.

Why not:

Very time consuming. Organizing a team and a mod,
recruiting people, advertising your mod, and so on requires
time. A lot of time. You need to be available to your team as
much as possible, you need to be able to handle their
questions, their problems, and so on, and preferably as fast as
possible. A leader needs to be there for the team. You need to
be online more or less constantly. You can't do that without
investing a lot of time into the project. If you are already
stretched thin, then you'll never be able to lead a team.

Running a team is difficult. It isn’t easy to lead and organize
people. You need to make the right decisions and act in a
mature manner. You must persist in delivering a clear vision of
what you want and how you want it, and you also remain
respectful towards your team members. In addition, you also
need to know your way around the community so you can
recruit new people. Most people fail at this. As the leader you
are supposed to be the one your team members can look up to
and the person they can go to when they have a problem. If
you can't be that person, then you're not fit for leadership.
We'll get back to this when we discuss experience more.

Hard to find members for your team. Every day somebody
somewhere starts a new mod team; most of these teams never
find enough team members to even take off. The amount of
mod teams around with only one or two members are
staggering. There are way too many mods around and way too
few people ready to be recruited. It is very hard to find good
developers to recruit into a team. It is one of the main reasons
why most mod teams never succeed.
There are two important reasons why recruiting is a very
difficult process.

A small target audience. Experienced people will not
join your team because: a) they like to work on their
own or already have a team and/or b) they don't like
working for or with, presumably, less experienced
individuals.
Complete beginners, on the other hand, are generally
too weak to be of any use for a team. Until they've
acquired more skills they too are useless. That leaves
only the intermediate group of developers in between
the beginners and the experienced people. That group
isn't quite as big as you might think it is.

Way too many teams. There are also simply too many
mod teams. The few intermediate candidates there are
have a choice of over hundreds of mod teams who all
want to recruit them. In the end, every team has some
members, but none of the teams have enough to realize
their projects. Many people start their own team without
taking into consideration that they could also join an
existing team and thus the number of one or two
member teams grow.

You're reliant on others. If a member gets sick, starts
slacking, or stays away from their computer for a while, the
mod's future may be jeopardized. All your work may be futile,
no matter how hard you've worked for it yourself. You rely on
the skill and competence, or incompetence for that matter, of
your team members. If you want to get something done you
can't do anything other than ask nicely and have (a lot of)
patience.

Slow. You'll have to wait and adjust your expectations to the
team. It can take quite a while before things get done because
all the members have obligations in the real world. No matter
how hard you work yourself, the mod won't get done any time
sooner without the help of the rest of the team.

Requires a substantial amount of experience. You can't
lead a team if you don't have a good amount of experience
yourself. No one will ever join a team where the leader is a
beginner. People expect to trust and have faith in their leader.
A leader needs to be someone other people can look up to,
who knows how to handle problems or issues, and who knows
the solutions to complex problems. If you don't have this
experience, you shouldn't become a mod leader, yet.

#3 Joining a team.

You join an existing team.

Bigger projects.

Typical examples are any other type of larger mod. Often the mod is
already well established.

Why:

Bigger projects. By joining a team you offer yourself the
chance to join a, possibly, already well-established team and
project. The bigger and more experienced the team, the bigger
the projects can be. The bigger the project, the more
prestigious it is, the more publicity it draws, and the better it
will look on your resume.

More publicity for your work. A big team usually means a
big project. And, as mentioned, the bigger the project, the
more publicity it draws. By working on a large project, your
work might actually get noticed; something that is far harder
to achieve if you work alone. On the other hand, your work
might blur into the rest of the mod. It might not be very clear
to the public what you did, and what your team members did.
See the negative aspects of joining a team.

Big network of contacts. A big team means a lot of
interaction between all the members. The mod might even
have its own fan community you can communicate with. All
these people can be invaluable one day when you are looking
for a job, information, or simply some help on a certain topic.

Lots of help. Big teams with many experienced members are
ideal to refer to when you are facing a problem. They'll be able
to help you when you don't know how to best approach a
situation, and they can teach you valuable new skills and
techniques.

Ideal for beginners. Being part of an established team is an
ideal way of getting into game development. The team will
offer plenty of help and will help you develop your skills. They
will share important know-how and techniques and the contact
with likeminded people can be a source of inspiration for many
newcomers.

Why not:

No control over what happens. You're just a pawn in a
team. The mod is not your concept or design. Even while you
will always have some sort of input over what happens with the
mod, it is the leaders who make the final decisions. You might
have a great idea, but if you can't win support from your fellow
team members or if your idea doesn't fit into the mod, it won’t
go far.

Too reliant on others. If your fellow team members, or
perhaps even the leaders of the mod, are incompetent and
slow, it can significantly impact you. Your work and effort
means nothing if the rest of the team can't guarantee you a
similar level of quality and interest in the project. No matter
how hard you try, you need the rest of the team to get things
done.

Anonymous. Your work is represented by the entire team.
Any publicity and praise your work gets will go, primarily, to
the entire team. You will not build up any name recognition nor
much of a reputation. Since you, specifically, aren’t really in
the spotlight, companies might take less notice of you.

Slow. Similar to what was described when you start your own
team. You are dependent on the rest of the team and the
speed they work at. The amount of time you put into it yourself
is irrelevant if they don't invest a similar amount of time into it.

Advice on joining a team

As with any groups of people, there are many incompetent leaders and
teams around. If you do decide to join a mod team then there are a number
of potential problems to look out for. After all, the last thing you want is to
put in thousands of hours of your valuable time into something that never
sees the light of day. Carefully make your choice or your work might be for
nothing.

#1 The End: Will it ever get released?
One of the most important requirements is that the team has the
potential to actually release the mod. After all, you don't want to join
a team and end up working six months, or even more, on the project,
to then see it canned for whatever reason. Pick a team that you have
the confidence in that they have enough experience and dedication to
finish a project from start to end. The best are those teams that have
successfully released other mods in the past or who already have
released a public or private beta version of their current mod.
If this is not the case, it might also be wise to research the key
members of the mod and figure out what their experience level is?
Have they ever finished anything or are they brand new as well? Also
important to know is if they have anything to show. The more they
have to show, the more likely the mod won't die in the near future.

#2 Over-Ambitious: Unrealistic Ideas.
We will return to this point later in the Commercial part of this book
but in short: does the idea of the mod seem realistic, or is it overly
complex or too grand in scope? If so, it probably is too much for an
amateur team to handle.

#3 Experience: An Inexperienced Leader.
Plenty of mod teams are started each month and most of those are
started by first-timers who have never made a mod before, let alone
led a team. Often they have no genuine experience with any part of
game development and only have a vague idea of what they want
and what they expect other people, like you, to do. Obviously you
should be very wary of these mods and teams. Look for mods whose
leader has a fair amount of experience and is skilled in at least one
element of development themselves as well.

#4 Don’t believe the hype: Don't get sucked in by fancy looks or
smooth talk.
This is very similar to what happens in many professional studios
although mods are even worse in this regard. Many mods first design
a website and then their mod. Don't join a mod simply because its
website looks top-notch. Judge the quality of a mod primarily by the
mod itself and only secondly by extra elements like a website. The
website is irrelevant if the mod itself isn't great. I have seen a many
great mods with crappy sites and vice versa.
This also goes for smooth talk. Ideas may sound great but if those
ideas are too complex or grand to ever be realized they mean little
and will cost you plenty in valuable time and effort. Many leaders talk
up interested candidates with the possibility of going commercial,
getting a split of the money that might be earned one day, and all
kinds of things that sound very promising but mean very little. For
an unreleased mod, and sometimes even after release, they’re
nothing more than the leader's dreams. Dozens of mod leaders make
these promises, but really, how many mod teams have you ever seen
go commercial? Very few. Do not pick a mod solely because the
leader makes fancy promises.

#5 Want to be a…: Wannabes.
A problem that is relatively new to the mod community is that of
‘wannabe’ professionals. Some people run their mod as a company
even though it is non-profit and no one involved has any experience.
The original idea of modding was to alter a favorite game alone or
with a bunch of friends, have a good time together, and enjoy what’s
being done. Today, this is often forgotten as too many people regard
modding solely as a stepping stone to a professional position. If the
key members of a mod have a very high and unnecessarily
“professional” attitude, then the mod is more unstable than a
different, more relaxed, and easy-going team.
There are two serious reasons for this:

‘Wannabe’s are often less mature. If they were more
mature, they would care more about the actual mod than all
the useless side aspects. This increases the chance of a
conflict within the team and thus increases the chance of a
potential break up.

If the sole concern of key members is to get a job in the
game industry, then they are likely to disappear without a
trace once a company hires them. There have been plenty of
mods that simply died out after the leader, or a number of key
members, were hired and then abandoned the mod. The result
is that the mod falls apart, rendering all of your effort useless.

Ways to spot teams who simply try too hard:

They will attempt to be overly official with all kinds of
paperwork like NDA's (Non Disclosure Agreements – not being
allowed to talk about it) and Contracts. None of these are
essential for making a mod; in fact, they are largely useless
and often have little to no legal basis. One can't just write a
document and call it a NDA or a contract. They are often
incomplete or signed by minors rendering them even more
useless. Legal issues aside, even if the contract or NDA is
breached it still wouldn't result in a law suit. Very few
amateurs would travel half-way around the world to begin a
potentially very expensive law suit in a foreign country because
one of their 15 year-old amateur friends has leaked some art
from a non-profit project. It is just not going to happen.
Paperwork for mods is generally useless and only displays the
‘wannabe’ behavior of those in charge.

Overly official and stupid titles are also an indication of trying
too hard. Plenty of mod teams try their best to look
professional and, as such, they give themselves all kinds of
funky names such as Producer, Lead Art, Lead Code, and even
things like Junior AI Programmer. A few simple titles are OK
and sometimes even necessary for the organization of the
mod. Over-the-top titles are just plain useless and childish. For
example, I have seen mods in which everyone in the team was
Lead something. What's the use of being Lead then? Another
example, I once came across a mod whose members had titles
such as Junior Assistant Producer. First, the mod only had ten
members. Second, if there's a Junior Assistant Producer then
there's probably also a Senior Assistant and a real Producer. All
these producers for a ten-person mod? Even a single producer
would be one too many already, because, thirdly, in my
opinion, having a producer for a mod is completely missing the
point; let alone having a Junior Assistant Producer. Such mods
should be avoided at all costs.

Ridiculous requirements and demands are yet another
indication of teams who have forgotten the essence of
modding. I have seen recruitment posts of mods that demand
three years of experience and a school degree from their
candidates. Some demand more of a candidate than an
average commercial studio does for an entry-level position...

#6 Legal issues: Legal Eagles.
Aside from the points already discussed about NDA's and Contracts
there are two other types of legal issues one should look out for.

If the team, or leader, attempts to force you to hand over
the mod’s ‘intellectual property’ – in other words, your work bad weather is on the horizon. No matter what you are told, all
non-commercial work you perform belongs to you. Even if the
work is performed for a mod team you still own part of it; do
not give up that right. If the mod does become successful and
money becomes involved later on, you might not be able to get
a piece of the pie since you've simply given up your work
without any compensation. The entire process of giving up your
rights is also against the principles of modding and it can
indicate that the leader isn't exactly a fair person.

Be wary of mods using someone else’s intellectual property.
An example of this are the countless mods based on comic
books, TV series, movies, or other games. Many companies are
not exactly happy to see a project in development that uses
their concepts, designs or characters and will have their
lawyers send the mod a cease and desist letter as soon as
possible. This, again, renders all your work useless. I have
seen countless Dragon Ball Z mods start up throughout the
years and get canned because the owner of the brand didn't
favor the idea of having mods out there that freely exploit their
intellectual property.

In the end it is not about fancy titles but it is about the quality of the mod
itself. If a team cares more for the titles they are giving themselves than
the actual mod, then there is something wrong.
Never join a mod team solely because you want to score a job in the
games industry. One of the most important aspects of modding is that you
enjoy it and that you are passionate about your own creation. The potential
for a job should only be secondary.

Conclusion

The best thing you can do as a beginner is to join an existing and
established team and grow along with it. If you're more experienced
however, working independently might prove to be worth more; especially if
you like to maintain control on how fast things progress.
In general it is inadvisable to form your own team unless you have a lot
of experience and skill and you already have a bunch of trustworthy and
stable friends who will join your team. If you do start a team, start it with a
couple of friends. If you take on the task all by yourself, the team and its
mod will probably die within weeks simply because you won't be able to find
enough dedicated members. Make sure that your core team is stable and
trustworthy or your project will die in no time.
Even while the prime motivation behind modding should always be the
fun and the experience one gains from it, reaping some benefit and publicity
of it should not be avoided. Be sure to advertise the mod around, a lot, as
soon as it is interesting enough to show. Do not show too many work in
progress pictures or the audience might get bored of it or regard you, or
your team, as a beginner. It is often better to be patient for a while and
only show screenshots of the mod when it is nearly done. Thus, when it
(hopefully) looks impressive, it will garner more interest than at the
beginning. While some might be interested in seeing a mod grow, this
approach just doesn't work well for most people for two reasons:

People just don't know or don't care about why a screenshot looks
bad. People judge what they see, not whether or not it's a screenshot
of a mod in alpha stage or not. If they don't get hooked by it right
away, they'll move on and forget about your mod. Most work in
progress screenshots are not yet impressive enough to grab the
average gamer. Do not release material that does not do justice to
the final result you have in mind.

If people see the mod develop gradually, they'll become used to
how it looks. By the time the mod is finished, they'll either be bored
of the looks already, or they’ll be so used to the aesthetics already
that it won't impress them anymore. It is better to wait a while and
release material when it is nearly done, so it hopefully has the
maximum impact, than to release material all the time and basically
gently introduce the public to what you are trying to achieve.

Advertising your mod will make sure people actually play what you've
made, which is another reason why you've actually made a mod. The public
will help you improve by providing feedback and reviews on your mod, and
that feedback is indispensable if you ever want to evolve into a better
developer.
The public will also put you, or your team's, names out there; again this
is indispensable if you ever want to get noticed by the right people. Those
right people can be people from inside the community through which
building a relationship can later lead to several advantages, or to
professionals who can offer you a job. In other words, building relationships
through word of mouth.
If you ever want to get anywhere, make sure people notice you. I
personally know some extremely talented modders who are so into
developing their mods that they forget about this important step. No one
knows them and they are missing out on many opportunities, which is a
shame. A couple of exceptions aside, attention isn't something that'll come
on its own.
Apart from all that, all you need to do is enjoy it and strive for quality.

Chapter 5

Going ‘Commercial’

Art by Romano Molenaar

Taking The Step

If you are convinced that you are ready for the big leap then there are a
number of considerations you will want to take into account. Among these
are: what type of companies are there? why is freelancing so hard? what to
look out for when applying to studios, what to expect during job interviews,
and much more.
Beginners often have a very difficult time getting into the industry. Every
job requires experience, but one cannot get experience without a job. It can
be an endless circle but not impossible to get out of.
One reason is that most job ads which demand experience do so solely to
scare off beginners. If you are really good with what you do, they'll forget
the fact that you might not have any ‘professional’ experience and give you
a chance anyhow. If a job demands experience it does not necessarily mean
they will not hire a highly skilled person with no experience.
Secondly, being a beginner can sometimes even be an advantage. Hiring
experienced developers can sometimes have several drawbacks. For
example, they can demand more benefits, a higher salary, and, perhaps
most importantly, they may be too opinionated and biased about certain
aspects of development. A young developer usually hasn't grown their own
style or approach yet and thus can be ‘molded’ into the shape that the
company is used to. This can be a reason why a company might choose a
beginner over a more experienced person. The inexperienced will be easier
to mold into what they are looking for and push in the direction they want.
It is easier to transfer a style and approach onto a beginner than it is onto
an experienced developer who might object to the style or try to alter it too
much.
Most people usually manage to get hold of a game development job after
anywhere between two to five years of study, regardless of whether they
studied at a game development school or on their own.

Portfolio

The Goal

The goal of a portfolio is to display the work you’ve completed with,
preferably, a bit of an explanation along with it. Its purpose is to
communicate your talent/skill and provide the proof of it.
Your portfolio is one the most important tools in your job-hunting tool bag
so be sure to devote a good amount of time to it. Although a good resume
and, optionally, good school grades are definitely also important, it is, most
often, the portfolio that eventually lands someone the job.
In the games industry claims of expertise mean nothing if they can’t be
shown. A resume that states how skilled the artist is with Photoshop is
useless if there are no examples that demonstrate the skill. The same
applies for school grades – they don’t mean anything if they’re not
accompanied by actual work.
"Intermediate skill with Maya" means little because "intermediate" is very
open to interpretation. It might mean something quite different from your
interpretation to someone else reading it. Any fool can write down and
assert any claim and since the games industry, as any other industry
actually, is already flooded by devious marketing jargon, it's rarely about
what you write or say but is primarily about what you are capable of.
A person with a great portfolio but no school grade or prior games
industry experience will likely be preferred over a graduate with some sort
of game development degree or an experienced person with a nice resume
but an either non-existent or bad portfolio. A nice resume and cover letter
means little without proof. We’ll return to this subject in the chapter about
game development schools.

The Presentation

The portfolio is meant to give the viewers an idea of your skill level, what
you do, and to convince them that you are good at it. A gallery of your skill,
and thus a good presentation is key.
Many developers present their portfolio in the wrong way. Let's line up
the most common mistakes.

#1 Distracting Graphics: Much too pretty.
The portfolio is a tool to display your work and skillset. It's not
about the portfolio itself, it's about the work contained within it. Many
developers put in more time in making their websites or demo reels
look good than in the actual content. There's nothing wrong with a
good looking portfolio as long as the portfolio itself doesn't distract
from the actual work and does not obstruct the viewer too much.
Most people prefer a very simple but efficient portfolio any time over
a very slow and much too complicated and distracting flash website.
Know where to stop!

#2 Hide & Go Seek: Too much hidden too well.
The important part of the portfolio is your work. The entire
presentation is about your work! Do not hide your work in multiple
submenus and sub pages. If the viewers have to click through
multiple boring pages with just text before they discover the first
image or example code, they might lose interest. A lot of portfolios
have a splash screen, a welcome screen and then another sub page
before the viewers reach some work. If they cannot get a clear idea
about who you are, what you can do, and why you should be hired
within the first 30 seconds of accessing your portfolio, then you may
lose a potential interview – and therefore a job. Recruiters, leads,
and anybody else who is responsible for hiring are often very busy
people who get flooded with job applications. They do not want to
spend time trying to figure out the puzzle you send them. They will
just move on to the next application if your work doesn't manage to
impress them right away.

#3 Overly Complex: Inordinately and exorbitantly circuitous and
abstruse.
Similar to the first issue, many portfolios are also too complex.
Buttons and menus are hidden in graphics or little animated menus
one has to find and navigation is often illogical or simply nonexistent. This is also similar to the second problem: if the viewers can
not find your work quickly enough, they will likely lose interest and
simply leave your portfolio. This is, obviously, not good when
applying for a job.
This also goes for websites or demo reels that require the viewer to
download twenty video and audio codecs or a couple or browser plugins. Few will actually undertake so much trouble, and most will simply
not bother.

By now, the three most common mistakes should already give you a clue
about the must haves of a game industry portfolio:

#1 Clarity: Crystal-clear.
Who you are, what you can/do do, how you can be contacted, what
you are looking for, and why you should be hired. Apart from your
actual work these are the most important questions a potential
employer would like to see answered. Make sure the answers to
these questions are easy to find. If the viewer has to go through four
pages just to find your email address because they would like to
express interest in you, they may never end up doing just that.
Your work might also require additional information. Be sure to
provide it. A potential employer might want to know how long it took
you to create work a or b. They might also want to know what
exactly you did: an environment might have been made by multiple
people. If you were only responsible for the lighting then state this.
Explaining and detailing your work is never a bad idea as long as it
does not hinder the viewing experience.

#2 Through the magnifying glass: Focus on the actual work.
A nice-looking presentation is never bad as long as it doesn't
distract from the actual work, doesn't hinder the experience, and
doesn't look as if the presentation took more time to create than the
actual work displayed within it. If so, you should probably apply for a
website or interface position rather than a game developer job. Your
website must be focused on your work. A basic HTML page with
pictures is better than an utterly complicated, though pretty, flash
website.

Focusing on the actual work also means that, certainly in case of a
website, the focus should really be on finding a job and convincing
potentially interested people. A portfolio site should not have vacation
photos, your favorite music tracks, blogs, your girlfriend, your dog,
your cat, or god knows what else because this will make you look
unprofessional and it's completely irrelevant to finding a job. It will
only distract the viewer from your work. Stick to what's important
and focus on that. Personal and irrelevant information is better fit for
a separate website.

#3 Master of the obvious: In your face.
People have little time. Get them interested immediately! Do not
hide the work on subpages of subpages. Do not use tiny or dark
screenshots. Do not require people to click on text links to open up
images. Do not use thumbnails that only show an obscure vague
detail of the actual model. Show your work with clear intent and
purposeful pictures shown on the first page of your website (of course
programmers and similar are the exceptions to that rule).

#4 Put your best foot forward: Quality over quantity.
Include only the work that represents your current skills. Do not
include the calculator you made in Visual Basic five years ago or the
40 polygon chair that was your first ever 3D model. While it is
important that potential employers can see a progression of your
skill, you don't want to overdo this. If it's too old, too simple, or
simply a mess do not put it on.
On the other hand, putting too little work in your portfolio can do
harm as well. A potential employer might think you've been lazy, or
it may not be enough to be a valid representation of your skill level.
Find the right balance for yourself, but, in general, the rule is quality
over quantity.

Also of note is the inclusion of game art/programming tests in a portfolio.
When a person applies to a position, the studio might issue him or her with
a little test project. In general it is best not to include these in a portfolio!
Besides any legal issues, art or programming tests in a portfolio also mean
you failed to secure the previous job you applied for. Why place emphasis
on a failure by including it in a portfolio? It might put off potential
employers.

Internships and Junior Positions

Internships and junior positions are often the only way an inexperienced
game developer can get into the industry. They are great opportunities but
do be careful.
Some companies use interns and juniors as cheap labor and keep
promising their interns that if they do well, they'll be hired, while exploiting
them.
It is normal that an intern or junior does not get paid much, if at all, but it
becomes a problem when a substantial number of the development team is
made up of interns or juniors. If there are too many beginners on the team
then it means A) the team as a whole is inexperienced thus potentially
harming the production quality and B) the company is neglecting to either
hire expensive but experienced people or promoting hard working
beginners. In either situation it's an unhealthy solution.
Also be aware that one will potentially be micromanaged and/or checked
up on much more often as an intern or junior developer. Such a person will
have much less swing with the senior people and they will be more critical
towards you, possibly lowering your confidence and causing frustration. In
general it is hard to try out new techniques or push your own ideas if you
are not in a senior position. Often one is told what to do and to stick to it
thus leaving little to no room for your own creativity or a chance to improve
one's skill.
This can be very frustrating but if you keep it up long enough then one
day you can be in a position to control all of it. And that's when it really
becomes fun. Entry-level positions are sometimes a necessary evil. Struggle
through and you will shine.
Often beginners are very eager to look for internships abroad. Don't
underestimate how difficult this may prove to be. Very few studios will
relocate a person for an internship or a junior position. Usually it is only
possible to get into the industry through an internship if you already live
near the studio. Interns and juniors take a lot of time to educate and they
are quite a risky investment as it is impossible to know how the person will
evolve over time. Few studios are going to put in even more effort and
money, and take even more risk, by relocating someone far away. Not only
does this require more money and effort, but someone who used to live far
away is also more likely to get homesick after a while, or simply get bored,
and thus leave the area again since they have no emotional bond. This is
also true for testers; which is the next subject we will touch on.

Testers

A good way into the industry is to start as a game tester at a local game
developer. As a tester, you can become familiar with how a game studio
operates, become an insider, and gently role into a production position.
There are plenty of developers who've started as a tester first, and later on
moved on to become a programmer or similar.
The requirements to be a tester are quite low and, with a bit of luck,
getting a job as a tester should be possible for most. Companies expect
following from a tester:

Live close by. Testers aren't essential. No company is going to
spend time and money relocating someone from far away just for a
testing job. The closer you live, the bigger the chance that you will
get the job.

Eye for detail. A tester needs to notice even the smallest
discrepancies; a sharp eye for detail is required.

A good writer. Testers need to write a lot. Anything that has been
tested needs to be documented. The better you are at writing, the
better the chance of getting the job.

Dedicated. A game tester will have to play the same level a million
times over. Without dedication it will not be possible to keep up with
this tiresome task.

A passionate gamer. Perhaps most important of all, a tester needs
to be an avid and passionate gamer who has played a billion games.
Familiarity with the genre, controls, visuals, and gameplay are all
crucial.

A basic knowledge of game development. Having a basic
understanding of how games are developed, and the issues that can
influence the outcome of a game - system performance, deadlines,
money, and so on - will be a huge asset to anyone who wishes to be
a game tester.

Getting into the industry by becoming a tester has several advantages
and disadvantages. Let's line those up as well.

Why

#1 An open door: A way into the industry.
As already mentioned, it is an ideal way to ease into the industry.
One will see the inner workings of a company, become an insider,
and then move up from there. A tester will be in touch with the
developers who can help the tester land a job. After all, most jobs in
the games industry are never announced. It’s the insiders who either
get the job themselves or recommend someone they know.

#2 Simple: Relatively Easy.
Testing is pretty easy and requires no specialized skills other than a
sharp eye and dedication. Thus, it is ideal for newcomers whose
development skills aren't up to what they should be yet. Being a
tester will allow you to work on your development skills while already
being in the industry.

Why Not

#1 Repetition: Testing is boring.
Unlike what some people may think, testing a game is not fun,
well, not after the first few times. It involves playing a, usually very,
unfinished game that lacks much of the content and features and
where the gameplay is unbalanced. It may crash every fifteen
minutes, and if you play a game every single minute of every single
month it can become incredibly repetitive. Testing also involves
writing detailed comments on all types of issues, which again, can be
quite boring.

#2 Cheap Thrills: It does not pay well.
A testing position has one of the lowest salaries of anyone actively
involved in the games industry. You can live off it, but you won’t have
much spending money.

#3 No room at the inn: Few open positions.
Because it doesn't require much skill it's therefore one of the
easiest jobs in the industry. Dozens may apply for the position,
lowering your own chances significantly. Also, typically only large
companies, such as publishers or large developers, require
permanent testers. Testing is typically something that is handled by
the publisher and as such, of the very few game studios in your area,
even fewer might actually have the need for a bunch of in-house
testers.

#4 Gratifying? Hardly.
It is one of the jobs at the bottom of the development ladder. Apart
from reporting bugs, a tester has little to no impact on the game.
Often most bugs that the testers report are never fixed because the
developers may not agree or there's simply not enough time to fix all
the bugs - only the most critical issues.

Freelance

Many newcomers think that a good way to get into the industry is by
freelancing: short, often off-site contracts. But beware the freelance work;
it is not easy at all.
While it depends heavily on one's skill, it is generally very hard to get a
foot in the door by freelancing. The only skills that can be used relatively
easily for freelancing are concept art and sound/music. All the other
industry professions are very hard to pull off remotely. There are many
reasons why freelancing is not the easiest career path and we'll get back to
those after the positive points.
Also note that there are two types of freelancing. On one hand, there is
specialized freelancing; often performed by individuals who are highly
skilled in one area like concept art, level design, music composing and so
on. Companies have a demand for specialized freelancing to fill specific gaps
in their teams. Tasks are often quite complex and there's a substantial
amount of creative freedom available. As a specialized freelancer you are,
after all, the expert.
On the other hand there is the factory freelancing, often performed by
groups of people/companies and often, although not by definition, located in
a developing country such as China or Eastern Europe. These groups
freelance by contract and perform various tasks for other games; for
example, modeling trees for another company's RPG. Factory freelancing is
a mass production of often simple and boring tasks which the company
behind the game doesn't feel like doing themselves; and because it would
be cheaper to have a room full of low-cost labor do the work.
We will focus on specialized freelancing as it is the better choice of the
two. Factory freelancing is hard to get into as an individual and is often lowpaid, boring work.

Why

#1 Variation: Varied Work.
As a freelancer you have the chance to work on a number of
projects in a relatively short amount of time, and the chances are
that all of the projects are different. The work you do is varied and,
unlike on-site work, you are very unlikely to be stuck on the same
game and art style (if you're an artist at least) for years on end. If
you are the type of person who needs frequent change to keep
yourself interested, this might be what you're looking for.

#2 Self-Employed: You're the boss.
You decide how you work, what you do, and when you do it. You're
the boss and no one will complain that you got out of bed at 11 am
as long as the work gets done. You work at your own pace, when you
want, and under the conditions you want. Whether this is in your
underwear at 4 AM or in a suit at 2 PM is up to you.
It also gives you greater autonomy and control. You're expected to
be able to work on your own without having a superior looking over
your shoulder every five minutes. If you can handle the responsibility
and dedication then this kind of relaxed and self-controlled work
environment is a blessing for you.

#3 Broadens your experience: Expands your portfolio and resume.
Due to the often short-term nature of contracts as a freelancer you
have the ability to work on a number of different projects in a
relatively short amount of time, thus greatly enhancing your portfolio
and resume in no time. As a freelancer, you may even be able to
combine two or more contracts at the same time.

#4 Stability: No need to move.
If you live remotely, or in an area where there are few game
development companies, work is available. Being able to freelance is
a great way to make a living in your area of choice, in the comfort of
your own house!

Why Not

#1 Not much to choose from: There simply are not many contract
jobs available.
The more centralized a position is, the more eager a company will
be to have a person on-site in the team, on a permanent basis.
Centralized positions are, for example, programmers, animators,
level designers, or general 3D artists. Any position that requires a lot
of input and communication is not outsourced easily.
The few exceptions are the very specialized programmers and
artists; for example, a weapon artist. But then again, the stronger
one's specialization, the smaller the potential market will be. Thus,
there is less of a chance for a successful freelance career.

#2 Who you know: No success without a solid network of contacts.
The games industry is one that relies heavily on one's network of
contacts. Contract jobs especially are rarely advertised on job sites
and thus, without inside contacts, one won't even be able to apply for
such positions. Most contract jobs are given to people with whom the
company, or certain people in the company, are already familiar with.
If one does not know right people or has enough previous clients,
they might very well be out of luck.
Contract work can also be quite dangerous for a company. They
have no way to verify what the contracted person is doing, if they use
their time well, or whether or not the work will be done in time and is
of solid quality. It also increases the chance of content getting
leaked.
For all these reasons, companies are not very eager to contract a
random Joe, they rather contract a person of whom they are sure
completes work in a timely manner, and can be trusted.

#3 Need experience to market experience: No success without prior
experience.
Closely connected to the previous point is the fact that without
prior experience and a solid portfolio one is much less likely to get a
contract job. Because it is such a risky venture for companies, they
want as much insurance as possible. A person with a small portfolio
and no previous clients does not instill much confidence for the
company. That’s the problem: beginners almost never have
extensive, high-quality portfolios, much experience, or previous
clients.

#4 Specialization: For contract jobs you need to be special.
The reason why companies might contract outside people is that,
one way or another, it can benefit them. You cannot be of benefit to
a company if you’re only average. There must be a compelling reason
why a company would spend money on an outside person rather than
on an on-site person who is easier to manage. The less special it is
what you are doing, the less likely a company is to contract you.
After all, if you only perform average work they can just hire another
average person who, unlike you, can perform work on-site.
You must be an increased value to the company. Offer something
that they can't find anywhere else. That extra value could be
anything: experience, quality, speed, lower pay and so on.

#5 A cost to you: It is expensive.
If you want to do it by the books, a freelancer will need to purchase
very expensive licenses for developer programs such as Maya or
Photoshop. You’ll also need to frequently buy expensive, powerful
hardware to be able to work on upcoming generations of games since
they tend to be very demanding.
Even if you deducts all software and hardware costs, then after a
possible United States Dollar and Euro or Pound conversion, and after
your home country’s taxes, you might find that there is little left to
live off.

#6 Is it really for you? Not meant for everyone.
Not all people are fit to be a freelancer. One needs plenty of
dedication and strong self-discipline to work as a freelancer. Some
people get distracted very easily or can't say no to some friends
asking them out or to that new, cool show on TV. If you get
distracted easily and need a person to check up on you every now
and then, you are likely not fit for freelancing.
Fortunately, most people in the games industry are dedicated,
disciplined people; after all, most people working in the industry got
into it because of their own dedication. But it is true that some
contracted artists or programmers just can't stick to their schedules
and fail to finish content within the set timeframe. Don't be one of
them.

#7 Gentler learning curve: More time to learn, but less resources to
do so.
Generally, a freelancer will learn more slowly than a person on-site
because a person who works on-site will get constant feedback from
the team members. They will be able to solve technical or artistic
problems much faster because of the direct feedback given to them.
That feedback is harder to give to a person who sits on the other side
of the world.

A side note regarding that last point: in addition to learning less, a
freelancer is also less involved with the team and therefore won't
experience the typical team spirit since they work so far away from the
team. This can be a serious drawback. You will never really be part of the
team and you will never have a large impact on the game.
The bottom line is that freelancing is not a valid option for most beginners
but it can be a viable career path later on.
While that may sound very negative, and in fact is, it is also the truth. I,
myself, am an established artist and designer. I have worked off-site for a
number of companies, including some high-profile ones on equally highprofile titles. I attract quite a lot of attention with my community activities
and I have a very extensive and accessible portfolio. Yet I cannot find
enough contract work to freelance full-time! It is not easy at all, let alone if
you are only a beginner. It is certainly not the easiest career path one can
take.
On the other hand, it is not completely impossible either. As will be
described near the end of this book it is not just about experience and skill
but often also about luck, as sad as that may be. Sometimes you just need
to be on the right place at the right time, and one may have more luck with
that than another.
The best way to become a freelancer is to perform freelance work only
occasionally while also holding a permanent position. After a couple of years
one might then have built up enough clients and contacts to try to work
freelance full-time.
Also, a word of advice if you do get into freelancing: remember that you
are the company, and the studio you are contracted with is the client, even
if they are a far bigger company than you. You are paid to provide them
with a quality service, and you have to keep them happy, not necessarily
the other way around!

The people with great ideas

Having a great idea alone won't get you anywhere in this industry. The
games industry is plagued by people who claim they have the greatest idea
ever. If you have a great idea you can do two things.

Start up an amateur team. Develop your idea either as a mod or as
a low-budget game and try to make it the best possible project you
can. The mod or game will probably never become a huge success,
but it will help you put your name out and gain valuable experience.

Get hold of a regular game development job and gain valuable
experience first. After a few years you'll have enough experience and
a network of contacts that is large enough to either start up your own
project or to persuade the company you are employed by to follow
through with your game idea. It is much easier to push your idea
from the inside, rather than if you simply contact the company as an
outsider.

Contacting random companies about your idea is useless and, in fact,
even hopeless. Don't bother because no company is ever going to respond
to your inquiry for several reasons:

Legal. Who would own the intellectual rights to the concept? What if
the company was already working on a similar concept long before
you send your idea in? You might think they've stolen your idea when
they release the game and then you might sue them. Even though
the company would probably win any court case, few companies want
to get into that kind of trouble.

Inexperience. People with no industry experience often design
games or ideas that are impossible to ever implement or produce.
One common example is a design document that involves rebuilding
large and complex portions of the real world. Current, and possibly
near-future, hardware can’t handle it. The project would require a
huge budget, a huge team, and years to create. No company is going
to build something like that any time soon. A good concept is not just
about the coolness factor, it's also about the budget, the timeframe,
the team, and how well the concept utilizes the company's skill and
expertise. Also, a good concept should not require ten

supercomputers just to boot up; it should be realistic about hardware
expectations. Few beginners truly understand how complex a good
design really is. It's more than just having a great idea.

Vagueness. Most people with great ideas usually only have a vague
idea of what they want and usually have written nothing down. A
good concept is written down in a design document that’s usually at
least ten pages long. The document explains everything that is
somewhat important in detail including the target audience, similar
games, the goal of the game, the key points of the game, and it
describes exactly what would make the game fun and how the player
will experience it. Optionally, it also can provide a rough
‘walkthrough’ of the first fifteen minutes of the game and everything
the players have to do and how they would accomplish it. Most
designs fail miserably in this aspect.

No Need. Every game development studio has at least a dozen cool
game ideas in the refrigerator. They've got plenty of ideas and
concepts themselves already, more so than they can ever handle.
Why would they want to hear about yet another cool idea?

Chapter 6

Companies And Games

Art by Romano Molenaar

Types Of Games

Apart from the obvious differences such as whether it's a sports game or
a MMORPG, there are also differences in terms of budget, development
time, target audience, and so on, and it are these aspects that are often the
most important from a developer's point of view.
Although not every game can be categorized as easily, the distinctions
between the most common types are usually quite clear. Depending on
personal expectations, and the type of company you prefer (see below) you
may want to make a specific choice what type of game you would like to
work on. I am only going to list the more special types: the average game
is too standard to be worth mentioning.

#1 The AAA Game

Also called a Triple-A game or a blockbuster.

The biggest of them all.

Marketing budget might be bigger than the actual development
budget.
Why

Well paid. Triple-A games require huge budgets and are thus
well-funded. Of all games, working on a Triple-A game will
usually guarantee you the best salary and other benefits.

Stability. Any successful blockbuster will be turned into a
sequel at one point or another. This means you will be pretty
much guaranteed of having a job for the next few years. Also,
blockbusters are usually a great boon to a studio's financial
reserves and reputation. Both are beneficial on the long term.
Bigger financial reserves will allow a studio to cope with
difficult times more easily and a better reputation will help the
studio increase their chances of getting interesting deals and
projects.

Something to be proud of. Working on a Triple-A game is
usually very motivating and will provide the developers with a
high degree of satisfaction. The game will be known by almost
any gamer, anywhere on the planet. It might also have a huge
marketing campaign, including ads on television and
sometimes in the movie theaters, and it will probably be

featured in just about any magazine and games-related
website on the planet. Millions will play it, and a huge fanbase
might develop; all for the work you and your team have put
into it.

Great for your career and resume. Big names open up
doors and a couple of those on your resume can get you into
any studio.

Why not

Long development cycle. The development of blockbusters
can take a very long time, sometimes up to three to four years
or even longer. If you like varied work, this is not for you.

There might be little creative freedom. Either because the
game might be a sequel, and thus the basic design and look
and feel of the game is already set in stone, or because large
projects are usually organized well and utilize large teams in
which every developer has his or her personal specialization.
There might be little room for variation or personal input.

Could be over-hyped. As with any massively marketed
project, it may not fulfill the perhaps impossible expectations
of the public once it is released. It could even turn out to be an
awful game as a big marketing budget is in no way a
guarantee of quality. Several dreadful, but massively
marketed, games have been the proof of this in the past.
Putting a huge amount of time into a project that will never be
able to fulfill all public promises may not be the best option. In
the end you could lose a huge amount of time and still end up
with a mediocre game at best. Over-ambition usually doesn't
work out well; especially not if the studio has not proven
before that it really can realize the expectations.

#2 The Independent Game

Small in size and potential.

No marketing.

Might be distributed online only.

Likely a start-up company would build this kind of game.

Why

Artistic Freedom. Small teams in which most developers
perform at least a few different jobs means there is usually
quite a bit of artistic freedom; both in terms of varied work,
and also being in charge of a number of aspects.

Easy to get into as a newcomer. These types of projects are
ideal for newcomers. The companies behind this kind of project
are usually especially interested in beginners who are quite
cheap but could prove to have great skill.

Why not

Low salary. Small budgets and start-up companies usually
mean low salaries and possibly no benefits. These kinds of
projects won't make you rich.

It will probably never be a great success. Partly because
of the lower budgets, it usually also means a lower game
because it’s hard to attract experienced developers without
paying them competitively. Independent games are also
unlikely to receive much publicity due to small marketing
budgets. If few people know about the game, it can't become a
blockbuster success.

No stability. There is no guarantee the game will do well and
there are even less guarantees that there will ever be a sequel.
Since it are usually small and new studios who work on
independent games, they likely have few financial reserves to
help them through the bad times. If the game does badly, the
studio is likely to bankrupt soon after. It all depends on a
single product.

The organization might be a disaster. Independent games
are usually the first project of a studio and have small budgets.
This usually means there's no one in the studio with much
experience and it is the first time the team is working together.
All of this could result in an organizational mess.

#3 The Local Game

Small in size.

No marketing or local marketing only.

Might be given away for free.

Why

Easy to get into for beginners. For three reasons: One,
because the studio is probably located close to you which
increases the chances of getting into it. Two, because young,
and especially cheap, professionals are ideal for these studios.
And three, these kinds of projects are usually a little outdated,
technology-wise, and are thus simpler than international
games. These aspects are great for newcomers who usually
perform better when there are less steep expectations.

Varied work. Smaller and simpler games mean shorter
development times. You won't be stuck for years on the same
game.

Why not

Not your type of game. Examples of local games can be a
free game that accompanies a pack of cookies or a game for a
local kids show. Most serious developers try to stay far away
from these kinds of projects.

No satisfaction and boring. As mentioned, these types of
games may target children and they always target a very small
and local market. Anyone of outside your region will not
recognize the game, and its name will not open any doors to
new opportunities. It will also not receive much press attention
and there is likely never going to be a fanbase.

Outdated. The technology a local game uses is often outdated
and simpler than the current standard of bigger international
games. By working on local games you might become out of
touch with the latest technology, engines, and expectations of
international games. This could harm your career in the short
term.

#4 The Casual Or Mobile Game

Really small games but huge markets.

No marketing.

Why

Stability. The casual and mobile games market is absolutely
huge. Its audience is larger than those of the more serious and
hardcore games. In addition, the production costs for these
kinds of games are low, thus maximizing the profit.

Very short development times. A casual or mobile game
doesn't take very long to create; especially not when compared
to the years of development Triple-A games require.

Variation. Due to the short development times, you get to
work on a number of different games in just a year's time. The
work you are doing varies often.

Why not

Not your cup of tea. If you are a serious hardcore gamer,
these types of projects are probably not meant for you. They
feature a completely different target audience, and if you are
not familiar with the target audience, you can't develop for it...

Boring. This, of course, depends on your personal
expectations, but most developers prefer a cool 3D action or
adventure game over the newest variant of Tetris. Simple
games usually aren't really interesting to work on, especially if
you are an artist. The simplicity and limitations of old
computers and the mobile platforms can be a source of
frustration to those who try to create art.

Little satisfaction. No one will know about the games you've
worked on and the game will not be featured in any magazine,
website, or receive any type of other publicity. And if it does, it
won't be much.

Not so good for your resume and portfolio. Working on a
casual or mobile game is like going back ten years in the
history of game development. Simple games will not impress
anyone and they will not keep you up to date with the latest
industry and technology developments. If you get into casual
or mobile gaming, it may be very hard to go back to the more
serious games one day. Your skill and experience may not be
up to what is expected anymore.

In addition to the above, there are also “Average” and “Educational”
games. Average games are characterized by widely varying differences and
are thus hard to categorize. Average games are the biggest group of games
and usually have a little bit of everything just described. Their development
times are especially worth noting. They usually range between eight months
to two years which is about perfect for most developers. It is just enough
time to really dig into the project while at the same time it is short enough
to avoid boredom.
Educational games are pretty much comparable to the characteristics of
Local Games: short development cycles, small markets, and often not up to
date with the latest developments. Also, these sorts of games are usually
only interesting for artists or programmers as there is rarely any need for
complex gameplay design in an educational game.

Different Company Types

Choosing the right company to dedicate part of you life to can be a hard
choice, and if you end up making the wrong choice, it can also have
devastating consequences.
I have tried to categorize the most common types of companies. The
details can obviously vary per company and not every company can be this
simply categorized but it will give you an idea of what to expect. Read this
carefully and pick a company that you think suits your needs and
expectations. This might be difficult to do as a beginner because of blinding
enthusiasm and, often, little other choice, but do try. Start off in the wrong
type of company and you might be put off working in the games industry
and therefore lose the enthusiasm and satisfaction you used to get from
game development. Combine the definition of the type of games with these
types of companies to figure out what you are looking for.

#1 The Corporate Company

Large or very large. Often near a hundred developers, or more.

Often owned by even larger companies such as a publisher.

Wealthy and they are happy to show this.

Why

Well paid. The bigger the company, the more money they
have in general and this will, hopefully, translate to the salaries
of their employees.

Very secure job. Large corporate companies won't go
bankrupt overnight and have enough money and assets
available to overcome problems. If you're somebody who hates
insecurity or you want to try to settle down, then you'll love
this.

Specialized work. Large corporate companies have the
money to hire people for highly specialized jobs. If you are
highly specialized in what you do, then these kinds of
companies might be some of the few places that can offer you
what you are looking for.

Guaranteed rewards. Large companies have the money and
security at their disposal to guarantee their employees rewards
like a guaranteed salary raise every year, bonuses when
milestones are reached, and so on. You know what you'll get
when you work hard; it is written in stone.

Extra benefits. Similar to the previous point are the extra
benefits a large stable company can offer. Such benefits as
health care, dental care, pension, travel cost refunds,
relocation assistance, temporarily housing, and so on are
usually available to the employees.

Often large projects. Unlike smaller companies, a large and
established studio often has the ability, and especially the
money, to develop large projects. The ability to work on large
projects can be a great motivator for a developer. After all,
who wants to work on some random, local market race game
when they could instead work on a world-wide multi-million
dollar project? The larger the project, the more motivating it is
to work on it since the rewards and brand recognition of the
project are of a significant importance for your resume and
portfolio. And, of course, the bigger the project, the bigger the
fanbase, which can be an extra incentive itself.

Why not

Slow. Corporate companies are, much like any other big
company, incredibly slow and it takes a lot of time to get
certain things done or bring about significant change. Large
companies don't change overnight.

Often owned by a publisher or other much bigger
company. If the publisher is hit by losses they might shut
down the company or ‘downsize’ a bunch of developers out of
the blue. The company does not control itself.

Long development times and a fear of new
ideas/concepts. These companies are often very afraid of
trying something new and, in relation to the first issue, can
generally be simply boring to work at. You may end up working
for years on end on the same type of games, or even on the
same intellectual property. Just to name one of hundreds of
examples: Battlefield. The game might be nice but do you
really want to spend the next ten years of your life on that one
single iteration of gameplay? Aside from becoming boring it
could also slow down your personal learning curve because you
could end up stagnating in the genre. This can be disastrous
for your further career.

Developers often get stuck on a more personal level.
There's little room for varied work in a corporate environment.
For every single task there is a specialized developer or even a
whole team working on just that portion. If you don't want to
do the exact same thing every day over and over again, and if
you like to experience variety in your work every now and
then, a corporate environment might be frustrating and boring
for you.

Impersonal and not enough space to grow on a personal
level. It is often hard to stand out and be promoted simply
because there are so many people working in the company.
You run into the danger of becoming nothing more than a
number; one employee out of a hundred, possibly even in a
cubicle. If you prefer a more personal work environment you
might want to look for another job.

Strict and far from relaxed. While the games industry is
known for its casual work environment, large corporate
companies often seem to forget this. They often have rules
that state when to eat, where to eat, when to come in, when to
leave, how to dress, more severe computer usage restrictions,
and so on. If you do not like being told what to do regarding
completely irrelevant things, look for another, more casual
place to work. Artists especially often have trouble with this
whereas programmers, most of the time, enjoy the more
organized environment.

Beginners won't get in easily. These companies have the
means to attract the best. They won't bother hiring a beginner,
except possibly as an intern – which usually pays very little if
at all. It can prove to be very hard getting in these companies
without prior experience, although plenty of exceptions exist.

#2 The Hobbyist-gone-pro Company

Often a bunch of friends who have started their own company.

Small to Medium size. Twenty to fifty employees is typical, although
larger is possible.

Usually quite ambitious.

Likely privately owned.

Why

Friendly atmosphere. The atmosphere is often relaxed and
friendly, and the atmosphere of the original “bunch of friends”
vibe can still be felt. The leaders can often be contacted easily
and show their face on the office floor regularly.

Ambitious. As mentioned, these companies are usually quite
ambitious in their project scope and the fact that the friends
who've started the company have gotten this far is the proof of
this. Ambition usually turns out positively and means that the
company wants to move on and work on larger projects in the
future, which will earn more. This is obviously positive for
anyone working with them.

Varied work. Because there's no specialized developer for
every single task, the staff is often expected to work on
multiple aspects of the project at the same time. People with a
wider range of skills and those looking for varied work will fit in
well here.

Personal. Developers often know everyone in the team on a
pretty personal level, even the management. Cubicles are rare
and personal input is usually appreciated.

Casual and plenty of freedom. The management will likely
care most about what you do - not about when you eat, where
you eat, and how you dress. There are fewer rules and the
atmosphere is friendlier. Developers are expected to use their
common sense to figure out what they can do and what they
can't.

Room for personal development. An ambitious company is
likely to grow in the future, and when it does, it will hire new
developers and promote its old employees. A blitz career can
be possible in this type of company and, because everything is
on a more personal level, the hard work you put into it will also
be noticed sooner.

Why not

Not as secure. While still secure, relatively, a hobbyist
company won't be able to offer the same type of security a
corporate company can.

Less rewards. The same can be said for the rewards offered.
Bonuses and guaranteed salary rises might be less likely in a
hobbyist company although they might still be a possibility.

Lower salary. Although they likely offer a salary that will pay
your rent nicely, it won't make you rich. The pay is average.

Fewer benefits. The basics will be there as well as some
assistance with relocation and housing, but don't expect much
else.

Relatively hard for a beginner to be accepted for a job.
Because of the ambitious nature of these companies they will
only hire the best newcomers they can find and ignore all
others.

#3 The Outsource Company

Both new and older companies.

Privately owned.

Does not do any projects on its own.

Rents itself out to other companies.

Small to medium in size. Five to thirty employees.

Why

Long term variation. Have the chance to work on a number
of different, and often quite high budget, games in a relatively
short amount of time.

Future perspective. Chances are that an outsource company
will one day attempt to create a game on its own, and when it
does, you can roll into a more powerful position.

Personal. Teams are small, everyone knows everyone and the
boss is very easy to contact.

Ideal for a beginner. Due to the often simple and repetitive
nature of the work that has to be performed, newcomers to the
industry may be able to get into this kind of company relatively
easy.

People with diverse skill sets will feel at home. Due to the
often widely varying projects the company is contracted for the
developer's tasks will change constantly. The tasks are varied.

Why not

Simple and repetitive. The work is often simple and
repetitive. You'll be performing the dirty work the company in
charge of outsourcing didn't feel like wasting time on.

No creativity. The company in charge will determine the style
and how, what, and when things must be made. You have no
choice but to obey their wishes. You will have no direct
influence on the game.

Unrewarding. Both in terms of finance, and in terms of
personal satisfaction, the work is somewhat unrewarding. Since
it's someone else's game you won't receive bonuses when the
game is released, your name likely won't be in the credits, and,
generally, it's a job that's at the bottom of the development
ladder.

Stressful. The company in charge sets the deadlines. Since
you're not in charge of the production it is very hard to push
back deadlines; they simply must be met, one way or another.
Also, the outsourcing company makes a living from the
contracts it pulls in. The more contracts it pulls in and the
shorter the gap between contracts the better for the company.
There will be times when work must be performed on a number
of projects at the same time and often there will be little to no
free time between two projects. On the other hand, if there
are long gaps between projects you may start wondering about
your job security.

#4 The Start-up Company

New company.

Privately owned.

Usually a first project, small in size.

Small. Five to thirty employees.

Why

Plenty of room to grow. A developer working at this kind of
company can quickly grow into a leading position when the
company becomes successful. A blitz career is more than
possible.

Help shape the company. Your opinion matters and can help
shape the company. You could try to push it in the direction
you envision and you could watch the genesis of something
great.

Relaxed and extremely personal. Teams are small,
everyone knows everyone and the boss is very easy to contact.
Friendly atmosphere.

Ideal for a beginner. Newcomers will be able to get hired
easily in this type of company because the company is pressed
for developers, especially if those developers are quite cheap –
like interns and beginners.

Diversely skilled people will feel at home. Due to the small
nature of the company the developers working at it will need to
work on a widely varying number of tasks. The work is varied.

Why not

Small projects. The company will likely start a small project
to try and make ends meet. This project may not exactly be
the most interesting or at the forefront of the day’s technology.
It could even be just plain boring. A larger project elsewhere
might help develop your skill better.

Low salary. A start-up usually doesn't have a whole lot of
money. The salary could be low; very low. You might struggle
to get through the month.

Complete insecurity. The company could fail any moment. It
could run out of money, unable to finish a game within the
time limits, or the game could be butchered by the public once
it's released.

Inexperienced. The team has never worked together before
and the management is often new to the games industry, as
are about ninety percent of the developers. This can cause
things to go seriously wrong.

Few rewards. Don't expect bonuses or frequent salary raises.

No benefits. It’s very likely that you'll have to relocate on
your own and arrange everything else yourself as well.

No idea what to expect. If the company is new there is no
way to know if they are nice to their employees and if their
production quality is up to date.

#5 The Casual Company

Focuses on a completely different market than the first four types of
companies, such as web or mobile games.

Small and often simple projects and games.

Can be any size, usually not incredibly large though. Five to thirty.

Why

Secure. Since these companies aim at a quite large market,
they can be stable and secure, thus ensuring your job.

Varied. Many different games and other projects in a short
amount of time.

Ideal for beginners. Beginners living near by are ideal for
these companies as they don't often assist with relocation and
they are not focused internationally, so newcomers will have
less international competition when applying for a job.

Why not

Boring projects. Small, local, and often small budget projects
are far from interesting to work on for most serious
developers. They pose little challenge, are often quite
restrictive, and tight on budget.

Not so serious and too local. Developing the next
generation of children’s games may be great fun for some, but
most developers shudder at the thought of it. Working on small
and local games is generally not motivating. There will likely
not be a fanbase, and you won't be able to be very proud of
what you've made, especially true if you are an artist.

Little ambition. These companies are unlikely to ever make
the transition to more serious gaming projects. You might be
stuck for years on end on the same types of small-time
projects. Of all types described, this one is the least ambitious.

No space to develop your personal skill. Restrictive and
simple games will not allow you to develop your personal skills
well or keep up with the latest developments. If you get stuck
in this corner of the fast moving industry, you're out.

In general, larger companies hire only you for what you can do and don't
care much about your personal opinion or creativity. That is, unless you
apply for a top position, of course. Large companies have large and
specialized teams that have a distinct hierarchy. There is often little room to
experiment or voice your personal opinion, point of view, or insert much of
your own creativity. The consequences of this will depend heavily on what
you personally expect from it. No matter what happens, though, game
development is still a creative profession; it will always require at least a
little personal creativity but don't expect to get much as a new hire,
especially not in larger companies. Designers, programmers, and more
technically-minded developers often experience this the least; artists
experience this the most and therefore may become frustrated quickly.
The bottom line is that large corporate companies will offer you the most
job security and the highest salary but you pay for it in terms of personal
development and freedom.
Smaller companies, on the other hand, may offer you more possibilities,
but they are also less secure. A large corporate company is a slow, but
guaranteed path to success. Anything smaller is more of a gamble. A small
company can rocket your career higher in a shorter amount of time, but
only if you're lucky. If you really have to make a choice, which would you
pick: Stability and money but a slow and guaranteed path to success? Or
more creativity and a possible quick, but risky, path to success?
The best place to work for most developers is a hybrid between the
corporate entity and the hobbyist company. Well known examples of this
type are iD (Quake/Doom) and Epic (Unreal/Gears Of War). They have the
larger projects, financial stability, security, and benefits of a large corporate
company. Yet they have maintained their more friendly, personal, and
highly ambitious atmosphere. Perhaps most importantly, they are still
privately owned and control everything that happens themselves.

Good Qualities

A company can make or break your career. Making the right choice may
very well be essential for your future career. When job hunting there are
several good qualities in a company you want to look for although, as with
everything, these points are in no way the same for every person or
company. Regard these as mere guidelines.

#1 A cool project!
Do you like the game the company is working on? After all, you
might be spending years of your life on this project. Are you willing to
put in all that time, blood, and effort into that project? Do you like
the concept so much that you don't mind working on it for years on
end? And do you believe in the project? You can't work on something
you don't believe in yourself. Do you think that the game will be a
success or does it play so horribly that you can't imagine anyone
wanting to ever play it?
Even though newcomers often do not have the luxury of being able
to pick a project, it is important to ask yourself the question whether
or not the project will ever succeed. There's nothing worse than
wasting months of your life, or even years, on something that will
never be released. Or perhaps plays so badly that no one will ever
play it. Not only is it a waste of your talent and time, it also isn't
great for your resume. Bottom lime, the more successful you envision
the game to be, and the more it suits you, the better.

#2 Well established and somewhat mature company.
Established companies that have been around for a couple of years
offer much more security than new companies. Established
companies have usually already proven that they can successfully run
themselves, and can produce cool and successful games. An
established company usually doesn't fail easily and has the power
and the money to offer more stability to their employees.

#3 Big names are involved.
Although there are several exceptions to this rule, if there are wellknown names attached to the project it usually means that it’s quite
well funded and thus quite stable.
There are two types of “big names”.

Backing of large companies and trademarks. Projects with
large names behind them may not always be very original, and
they may have stressful deadlines, but they are also usually
quite secure and stable. The party that backs the project is
likely experienced with the material and/or has a truckload of
money and/or is very determined to finish the game. The best
examples of this are film studios. The game must be finished
before the movie hits the theaters, no matter what happens.
No movie will ever be delayed because its game wasn't
completely finished yet. Film studios have money and they will
not just pull the plug on the project because they have no time
to lose. The game must be done on time. Another good
example of this are large publishers. A big publisher has the
experience and the money to lift a project to the next level and
if they are involved with the studio, or perhaps even run the
studio themselves, that usually means they trust the studio's
expertise.

Backing of well known individuals. Well known individuals
usually have a huge amount of experience and have proven
before that they can make great games. Also, if a well-known
and thus experienced developer believes in the project, it must
be good! On the other hand there are also plenty of stories of
well known developers who've just lost it and crashed a game,
one way or another...

#4 Well equipped office.
While a great office may not be the most important aspect, it does
prove that the company is successful and healthy. An office does not
have to be a palace, but it does need to show a certain level of
organization and wherewithal. After all, if a company is unable to
accommodate itself sufficiently with equipment and housing, how
would they ever be able to offer a financially stable environment to
their employees?

#5 People in charge have experience.
The more experience the key members of the development team
have, the more likely the game is to succeed. Experienced people
know how to prioritize and schedule tasks efficiently, they know what
kind of issues to look for and they generally do not overestimate
tasks and work quickly. Inexperienced developers are bound to make
a few of the mistakes that inexperienced people make at some point,
and their inexperience will negatively influence both you and the
entire game.
In a similar way, this also goes for the management. If the people
in charge of the company have game developing experience, they are
more likely to set more realistic demands. Managers who have never
done any real developer work may set unrealistic milestones or
prioritize completely irrelevant things. Only inside people can truly
understand the problems and difficulties you, as a developer, may
face; and what you hold dear. Far too many times projects are run by
people who have even less game development experience than the
average beginner, and this usually, exceptions aside, negatively
impacts the project!
One way or another, try to find out who holds the key positions in
the company. See if they've ever done an interview or have had a
resume or portfolio up somewhere on the Internet. Try to determine
if these people are qualified to be in the position they’re in.

#6 Open atmosphere and low turn-over rate.
If the company is healthy and respects its employees, it will have a
low turn-over rate and people will come to work with a smile. Again,
one way or another, attempt to find out if many people have left
recently, or what the average length of employment is. Figure out if
the atmosphere in the office is open or if the people in charge are
arrogant, dominant micromanagers who do not respect their
employees, their ideas, and their opinions.

#7 Projects are released on time.
Were the previous projects of the company finished on time or
were the release dates moved several times? If so, the company
might be facing all kinds of issues. The issues could reside in the
management, the organization, or the scheduling, or somewhere
else. Either way, you are better off working for a place that has a firm
grip on itself than one who doesn’t. If they can't even keep control of
the development of their product, how would they ever be able to
offer you a great job?

Dangerous Qualities
Whether a company is healthy and stable or not can be quite difficult to
determine but try to find out regardless. After all, you don't want to lose
your job after just a few months time, or having to work overtime for
months on end and getting severely frustrated.
Of course, it can be very hard to discover these qualities if one does not
know the company. And even more so for a beginner who may be blinded
by either their enthusiasm, lack of experience, or the stressful situation of
having to find a job soon. Regardless, try to do your best at it because it
can make or break the next few years in your career. The more experienced
you become, the better you will be at seeing the symptoms of these issues.

#1 No publisher or other stable funder.
If the game does not have a publisher yet and the company isn't
very well known, this might become an issue in the future. If the
game can't be sold to a publisher or the money runs out before the
game has reached a state in which it can be showcased, the project
will probably be in grave trouble.
This situation is different when it is a well known or well
experienced company. They often have much more experience,
money in reserve, and the necessary contacts to raise their chances.
New or small companies, however, do not and are thus potentially in
danger. The bottom line is: small studios with unfunded projects
should be avoided unless you have no other option. Large studios
with unfunded projects might be worth a chance as they are
experienced enough to probably push through their project and
succeed regardless.
The games industry is quite risky. It is not a stable industry at all
and there are plenty of examples of small companies who did
manage to find a publisher for their game late in the development
cycle. On the other hand there are also plenty of developers who
went broke because of this. In the end, it depends on each different
situation and your own judgment of the game itself. Is what you see,
the concept and the ideas, good enough to survive or do you doubt
its chances?

#2 Too much marketing talk but no action.
Very similar to what was described in the modding section, don't let
yourself be fooled by empty marketing talk. Any manager will sell the
game and studio as a “high profile studio with industry veterans
working on Triple-A game”. Dozens of studios advertise themselves
as the best and brightest studio in the world and the best place to
work at. While this practice is not uncommon, don't be fooled by
hollow promises.
Judge a game and a studio by what you see - not by what you are
told by a person who's trained to sell things. Nice words and promises
are fine but only if they are actually true or become the truth in the
near future. It’s much different when promises never come true and
all promises continue to be promises and never get realized: ‘Much
ado about nothing’. Unfortunately this occurs more often than one
would think in this industry.
And again, similar to mods, it is about the team and the actual
project and not about a great looking building, a fitness space, a
salad bar, and the most breathtaking promises you've ever heard.
These are all nice but they are little more than extras. If a good team
and a good project aren't there, anything else is irrelevant. If the
deadlines are so stressful it burns you out or the salaries are so low
that every day is a struggle then having an in-house gym or a goodlooking office will do little to ease the pain.

#3 The company is new.
A new company will obviously be able to offer you a less secure job
than one which has been around for years and has a proven track
record. New companies have not yet proven that their management
and organization is up to the task, nor that they are skilled enough to
pull off what they promise. On the other hand, getting into a start-up
company at the right time will allow you to grow along with the
company; helping you get a position you might otherwise not be able
to get into quite as quickly. Whatever the case, it is a bigger risk and
it often goes wrong.
A new studio becomes even less desirable when it's first project
can't seem to meet it's deadlines. As a new studio, it is likely to have
little financial reserve, any setback for it's first and sole project is
likely to seriously endanger the studio.
Find out what the key people of the company have worked on before
starting the new studio. If they don't happen to have any real
experience, forget it. It can take many years before those people are
up to speed; you better spend that time elsewhere.

#4 Many people seem to have left recently.
If there appears to be a huge hole in the development team it
might mean a lot of people have left the company recently and that
might be an indication of hidden problems. Try to find out how the
(ex)developers feel about the place and why they left or are about to
do so. By reading between the lines you can often find out about
quite a few issues and then it is up to you to decide if you will be able
to handle the problems or not.
Another way to find out is to figure out how new the leads are. For
example: if the studio already went through four different Lead
Programmers in little over a year time, I'd have very little faith in
project and the team.

#5 Salary discussions are taboo.
If they do not want to discuss your salary things might be seriously
messed up. I have seen companies who tell solicitors that salaries
cannot be discussed because the job is “not about the money”. And
while that is true, it is not a justification for exploiting their
employees, because that is what such companies are very likely to
do. It should always be possible to discuss salaries. Even if the
company is relatively poor it is still not a justification for putting
forward such arrogant statements. Avoid these companies at all
costs!

#6 An insanely large or complex concept.
Objectively judge the concept of the game the company is working
on. Don't get overly enthusiastic like a lot of beginning developers do
but look at the game from a distance and decide for yourself if you
really think this project can be successful or not. A good concept is
never solely a dream but also a design that is technically possible. If
the company fails to see so, dark clouds might be on the horizon;
especially if it's a start-up company.
Typical examples of this are incredibly complex and extended ideas
involving a large number of different environments, themes, and a
huge number of game mechanics. For example, a game like Grand
Theft Auto or Oblivion. These kinds of games are hard to make
because of their sheer size and complexity. Small teams are very
unlikely to ever be able to finish these types of games successfully.
Even if they succeed in finishing the project the quality will likely be
sub par because the team and the available time had to be stretched
tremendously to finish the game. There would be no or little time left
to polish the game and that would ultimately negatively affect the
quality.
Note how many hugely successful games all have a really simple

concept that has simply been polished to death. A huge or complex
game is in no way a guarantee for success, and can even mean the
death of the project and the company behind it.

#7 Impossible deadlines and overtime/overwork.
This is related to #6. If the deadlines seem impossible to you, it
could be an indication that overwork is rife in the company and
embedded in the company's culture. While overwork is bound to
happen in every company one way or another, it is wrong when it
becomes an every day situation rather than an exception. Also, it will
put tremendous amount of stress on the employees, drain their
energy, and is very often an indication of bad management. This, in
turn, is usually an indication of even greater problems.

In addition to these individual points, there are also two types of companies
you should be careful with in general.

#1 False start-ups.
Of note are the “false start-ups”. There are literally hundreds of
these companies floating around on the Internet. They are typically
characterized by being solely virtual companies (no real offices), who
are in permanent pursue of a publisher and funder for their
project(s). These “companies”, because often they legally aren't even
companies, can be quite dangerous. Very few of these actually do get
a publishing deal, and even if they do, it's often a very small deal or
one with a small and unknown publisher. The royalties they promise
their team members are often not enough to be worth the time, or
they will never get handed out.
Most of these so called companies are started by inexperienced
developers. The more experience the key members of the team have,
the more likely it is to succeed. If they have no experience
whatsoever however, I would strongly advise not to do any work for
them because your effort will likely come to naught. Most of these
“companies” are no better than most MOD teams, the same rules of
MOD teams thus also apply to these. Regardless, do not let yourself
be talked into a game that’s not worth your time by marketing talk
such as “we've just sent a copy to a publisher” or “we are about to
sign a deal with a publisher” or even better “we'll make the best
game ever”. Until the publishing contract is actually signed and until
there is money, it doesn’t truly have any value and it is not a proper
business. It may sound harsh but the last thing you want to do is
waste a year of your precious life on someone else's impossible
dream.

#2 Family business.
While family businesses may make up a significant portion of
society, they should usually be avoided in the games industry. While
of course there are exceptions to this rule, as with any rule, these
companies are usually managed quite badly for many reasons.
The biggest reason is that the people in charge usually have little to
no relevant experience. They are often beginners who have no idea
how to handle a team of developers, let alone the development of a
game. The only reason they are in charge is often because they, or
someone in their family, happened to have a lot of cash available to
pour into a hobby.
The problem only worsens when the one in charge “hires” a couple
of family members or friends to help them with management. Again,
these people often also have little to no experience with the very
complex matter of game development, with all kinds of grave
consequences. These types of companies are often seriously
mismanaged.

Success And Luck

Unfortunately luck is usually a decisive factor of success. However unfair
it may be, luck is often more important than skill. Being the right person in
the right place at the right time can make a huge difference, even if
someone else is a better fit for the position. Being the best may not always
mean you'll find success. Likewise, being terrible in what you do can still
bring you success. I know developers who are absolutely terrible at what
they do, yet end up very well in the end. Similarly I also know developers
that are incredibly talented but just can't seem to lift their career off the
ground.
Examples will better illustrate how much luck can matter.

#1 The wrong place.
Person A is very talented and has put four years of his life into
mastering game development. The only problem is, he happens to
live in Russia. Person B is a mediocre guy who has only spent a year
on mastering game development and happens to be a citizen of the
United States. Both apply to the same studio which is working on an
awesome new game, and as with many studios, it is an American
studio. Person B will likely be hired over person A even though A is
more skilled and experienced, and has spent years on what is truly
his passion. The company may interpret the situation as that the
expense of bringing person B’s skills up to that of person A, is less
expensive and difficult, than paying to bring person A over to the US,
which includes visa wrangling, dealing with governmental law,
expensive relocation expenses, and so on. Replace Russia with
almost any other country if you like and the example will still stand.

#2 The wrong contacts.
Person C is also very talented and lives for his hobby and passion.
Person D does so much less and has only an average skill level. Both
apply to the same studio but person D happens to know the lead of
the studio quite well. Person D will likely be hired because of the
contact. The company will argue they picked person D because they
knew him better and thus were more certain of his qualities and
personality. This may be partially true but nonetheless it is frustrating
to hear that person C was not given a chance to prove himself.

#3 The wrong time.
Person E has a good deal of experience and is simply a great
programmer/artist/designer. Person F however is not as good, yet
Person F was hired at the studio because he happened to have
applied a month before Person E. By the time Person E noticed the
job opening and contacted the studio, a lesser experienced person
had taken the position already.

I even heard a story once of somebody who was hired by accident
because he shared the same surname with another much more experienced
applicant. The applications were mixed up and he got the other person's
job.
The whole situation is often quite frustrating. Especially when you're
unemployed or you need a new, or your first, job urgently. Seeing other,
less skilled or experienced, people get the jobs you dream of, simply
because they happen to know the right person in the studio or are living
nearby, can be cause of a great deal of irritation and frustration.

Chapter 7

The Application, Interview,
And Contract

Art by Romano Molenaar

Applying

When you've finally found an interesting studio, you will need to apply to
it if you want to have any chance on getting a job. Studios rarely contact
people themselves, and certainly not if you're unknown. Contacting them is
the best thing you can do. Don't sit around passively; act actively.

The How
There are several ways to get in touch with a studio.

#1 Recruiters.
Recruiters and headhunters are usually independent parties who
search the Internet on the look out for talented individuals. Recruiters
usually recruit developers for various companies and are nothing
more than an intermediary between the candidate and the company.
Once someone is hired, they have nothing left to do with the recruiter
anymore.
Recruiters can be quite expensive for the company that uses their
services. If they land somebody a job, they claim a bonus from the
company the person will be employed at. Because of this, usually
only large and well established companies make use of their services.
The only way to get in touch with a recruiter is to find one
somewhere on the Internet, or to get in touch through a mutual
friend, or via anonymous job websites (see #2).

#2 Job sites.
The games industry has several specialized job sites with hundreds
of game-related jobs. Most of these sites only focus on a specific
region in the world.

Gamasutra.com

Gamesindustry.biz

GameJobs.com

GamesRecruit.co.uk

HighEndCarreers.com

Gamedev.net

Jobs.CGSociety.org

Of course there are more than just these, and plenty of mod and
game development communities also have commercial job forums.
boards.Polycount.net and Mapcore.net are examples of this.
There are a few aspects of job sites that you should be aware of.
First of all there are two types: the anonymous job ads and the direct
job ads.

Direct: The site simply lists both the jobs, and the companies
the positions are with. The listing is purely informational and
applicants can directly contact the company themselves.
Gamasutra uses this method, as do all forums with job listings.

Anonymous: The site lists the jobs but never the companies
behind them. These are posted by job agencies and recruiters
who represent the studio. In order to apply you first need to
contact the agency or the recruiter, who then may or may not
pass your application through to the company behind the job
you applied for. The site and agency acts as an intermediary
between the applicant and the company and occasionally filters
out applications that don't stand a chance so the company
doesn't get flooded by unnecessary applications. One positive
point is that they help the applicants looking for a job that
would suit their needs. This is basically similar to what a
recruiter does. Gamesindustry.biz is an example of this
practice.

Also important to be aware of is that both these types (with the
exception of forums) usually charge the studios a fee for every job ad
they send to the site. Because of this, usually only larger companies
use these kinds of services since only they have the money to afford
it. That means that the jobs listed on these sites are far from all the
available jobs in that region, it's just a fraction of what's out there.
The best example of this is Gamasutra. The few dozen jobs they
feature are obviously far from all the open positions on the entire
Northern American continent. Also, nearly all of the jobs they list are
at well established and wealthy companies. Again, this does not
represent the actual industry. If you're looking for smaller studios
you're best bet is to either focus on forums, or fall back on your
network of contacts and studio websites.

#3 Studio websites.
Contacting a studio directly is one of the best ways to approach a
studio. It gives you a chance to bypass all the extra steps like
recruiters and job sites, and directly contact the studio. Visit the
website of a studio you are interested in and see if you can find a
way to contact them. Gamasutra.com and Gamedevmap.com are two
sites that list companies per region. They are perfect to get a list of
the websites of all companies near you.
Also of note is that if the website does not feature a job section it
doesn't necessarily mean you can't email them. There is nothing
wrong with sending an open application letter even if they don't have
any open position. For three reasons:

Most companies just don't update their website frequently. It
often happens that the open positions stated on their websites
are already filled or that there are new ones available they
haven't put up yet. The only way to find out is to contact them.

Even if the company really has no open positions it still isn't
a bad idea to get in touch with them. It puts you in the
spotlight; they will notice you and hopefully remember you.
When, in the future, they have a new open position, they might
remember you and contact you again.

If you are interesting enough, the company will always have
interest in you. If you are really interesting, the company
might be interested in hiring you regardless. Even if they
weren't specifically looking for a person like you.

#4 Conventions.
Conventions are the ideal place to quickly get in touch with a large
number of different studios. Also, since you can chat face to face to
representatives of the studio, it is often also a more personal
approach than simply sending an email.
Large studios often organize special recruitment events and mass
interviews in their convention booth. This is especially true for
Northern American and British conventions while Europe seems to lag
behind at this time.
Attending a convention isn't easy, however. Usually they take place
far from where you're living and not everyone is given entry.

#5 Friends and contacts.
Knowing someone inside a studio can help a great deal, provided
you have the right friends and contacts. Most jobs are never
announced but given to people who were recommended by friends
who are already working at the company. Knowing the right person
can help you get in touch directly with the leads so your email
doesn't get lost in dozens of other application emails in the human
resources manager's mailbox.
Also, a company wants to be absolutely sure they hire the right
person for the job. The more guarantees and proof they have, the
more likely they are to hire you. It's very hard for a company to
determine the true person and personality behind the applicant. No
matter how much they interview someone, it's always a bit of a
gamble for them. Having a friend put in a good word for you will
invariably increase your chances.
In addition, especially at bigger studios, most employees get a
healthy one time recruitment bonus every time they land somebody a
job at their studio. Because of this, most people you know should be
more than happy to get you in touch with their leads or whoever's in
charge.

Friends and contacts usually do best in getting you a job. Whatever way
you choose, remember that making direct contact is always better than
indirect contact. Recruiters and anonymous job sites are indirect ways of
contacting a company. All communication will happen through, often biased,
intermediaries and that can obstruct the recruitment for several reasons.

Impersonal. Your resume and application is one out of a dozen
potential candidates they forwarded to the studio that contracted
them. You do not stand out, Your application will be just yet another
email in their inbox.

Slow. All communication first has to go through a middle party. This
extra step can delay all communication by days, or even weeks in
some rare cases. Sometimes, by the time the invitation for an
interview comes through, you might have already found a job
elsewhere.

Miscommunication. The intermediary may not pass on all
information correctly. Every time information gets passed through an
extra channel, information becomes deformed or gets lost. It is not
much different with recruiters or job sites.

Persuasion. Since recruiters and job sites are paid a commission for
every person they land a job, their prime motivation is to do so for as
many people as they can. In general, there are of course exceptions,
but they care more about how many they can land a job rather than

whether or not it is the right job for the applicant. They might
become persuasive towards the applicants and try to talk them into a
job that may not be entirely what they looking for.
On the other hand, intermediaries can also offer some benefits.

Questions and Answers. Intermediaries basically work for you. You
are a customer. If you've got questions about anything related to the
games industry, no matter how stupid it is, you can ask them. They
are professionals who are paid to help you: use that service
whenever it suits you.

Apply to many studios in one click. Intermediaries send your
application to a large number of studios at the same time. This
usually allows you to contact far more studios in a very short period
of time – especially compared to how long it would take to email each
of them individually.

Organization. Intermediaries organize interviews and other means
of contact for you so you can save valuable time that you can better
invested in something more valuable.

One thing to remember regarding intermediaries is that you should
preferably either stick to just one intermediary, or communicate it clearly to
all intermediaries that they should first ask for your permission before
applying to a position. If five recruiters all spread your application around it
might seriously increase your chances of getting noticed, but if a studio gets
the same application from five different recruiters, they will have to pay a
bonus to each recruiter. The studio cannot determine who really was
responsible for landing you the job so all the recruiters must be paid. Paying
a bonus five times may be too much for the studio and, as a result, they
might decline your application and move on to the next person.
In general, do not phone companies and do not show up in person if you
do not have an appointment. While some companies do accept telephone
calls, dropping in unannounced is usually extremely unappreciated and you
will very likely be sent home. The same goes for telephone calls. They will
likely tell you to email them or send them a letter and end the call.
The worst thing you could do is to sneak in. A funny anecdote: At a studio
I was once working we had someone who was so desperate to get hired
that, one way or another, he regularly sneaked into the office, past all the
locked doors, and into the office of the person in charge of recruitment.
Somehow, he always knew how to reach the recruitment office even though
it was located quite deep into a busy section. We obviously never hired him.

One thing you should know about the hiring process of game
development companies is that it is slow. Not just slow: really slow. Of
course some companies are an exception to this rule but it can take a
couple of weeks before a company answers your application, if they even
do...
Applications are usually reviewed by a person handling recruitment first.
That person filters out the serious applications and sends them to the
corresponding department where the leads review all of them and send
their thoughts back to the recruitment manager, who then contacts the
remaining applicants. By the time your application has gone through this
whole process, weeks may have passed.
The company may also withhold from answering the application until they
have received more applications so they have a broader choice. This could
take months.
Personally I have never been able to determine if there is a relationship
between the time it takes them to reply and whether or not I get invited for
an interview. Several times I have applied to positions and only got a reply
back four or five months later with an invitation to an interview, or a denial
of my application. There is no need to panic if a company doesn't answer
your application within a week, or even within a few weeks. It doesn't
necessarily mean they are turning down your application.
On the other hand some companies simply never reply, which is quite
rude if you ask me. If it takes a long time and you are still very interested
in getting a job with that particular company, a simple update request
might be a good idea. After all, you never know whether or not your first
communication actually arrived, maybe it got lost in the post, or in a spam
filter. Do you want to risk a potential job for such a stupid reason?
Spamming a company should never be done but there is nothing wrong
with a second and polite email to ask for an update on the status of your
application.

The What
Before you apply at a studio do some research. If you don't know the
company you're applying at, you also can't know if the job and the studio
would suit your personality and ambition. At the very least you should know
what games they have made in the past.
The best way to do this is to look up all companies that you might want to
work for, compile a list, and sort it depending on how badly you want to
work for each company on the list. Then extensively research the top five
companies on your list and put some extra effort in your application to
them. If the first five don't work out, move on to the next five.
How a studio prefers to be contacted often varies greatly. Some content
themselves with just an email and an online portfolio. Others like to have
the portfolio on a CD or expect a demo reel. In general an email is usually
preferred and by far simpler, but a paper application can get much more
attention. An email can easily be overlooked or get stuck in a spam filter;
which is not true of a paper application.
Regardless of the way the studio likes to be contacted, either through
email or snail mail, one should always include a cover letter. Since the
games industry is quite easygoing, cover letters don't have to be overly
official, although this does depend on what type of company one applies to.
In general, the smaller a studio is, the more casual a cover letter can be.

Whatever the style of the letter is, it should always touch on a number of
key points.

#1 Rough sketch of yourself.
Who you are, how old you are, and where you live. Don't go into
details; that's what the resume and the interview is for. Stick to the
key points of who you are. Describe yourself in less than five
sentences.
One note is that in the US there are laws about discriminately
hiring based on age. For American companies, it is customary to
never talk about age; and the only time it is revealed is generally on
the actual hiring paperwork you fill out after you’ve accepted the
position. In fact, in the US, it’s illegal to ask an applicant their age
before hiring them.

#2 What are you looking for.
Applying to a job is pointless if it's unclear which job opening you're
responding to. Be very clear about what kind of position you are
looking for.

#3 Rough outline of your skills and experience.
Again, don't go into too much detail because, after all, that's why
you have a portfolio and a resume. You need to give the reader a
quick walkthrough of what you've already accomplished and what you
are good at. Get them interested in what you can do. It's especially
important to put extra emphasis on the skills and experience relevant
for the specific job opening you’re applying to. For example, if you
are both a modeler and a texture artist but you are applying as a
texture artist, then only mention your modeling skills as a side note.
Spend most of the time explaining what kind of work you have done
as a texture artist and why you are so good at it. Mention anything
that can be important for the job, and write down anything else as
extra information that isn’t important, but can still make you look
good.

#4 Get the reader interested.
If your skills and experience from point #3 are impressive enough,
you'll have little trouble getting the reader interested and you might
as well move on to point five right away. If they aren't however, and
this is the problem most beginners and intermediates face, you'll
have to relay on your marketing skills to sell yourself. Large
companies often receive many applications daily. The person handling
them might get bored by all the letters and/or emails. It's your job to
wake them up, and keep them reading. Make them want to get in
touch with you because you're so incredibly interesting. State good
personality characteristics and achievements in a powerful, and to
the point way, although obviously without lying!
There are three other tips to keep in mind if you want to keep the
reader interested.

Be concise. Don't write long, drawn-out letters/email. Stick to
the points but be sure you don't forget anything important.
People reading long explanations become unfocused; they will
skip parts of the information. Short but powerful text is often
more efficient than long paragraphs that explain every single
thing you've done in your life. If you have a lot to say, it might
be a good list the key points of all your achievements in a
bulleted list. Key points are easier to summarize, and to read,
especially if the reader reads fast and skips over parts. Half a
page of text should suffice for most applications.

Stick to the point. No one cares where your father is working
or what kind of utterly boring things you might have done at
high school. Stick to what is important to the job you're
applying for. Anything else will just clutter the text, keep the
focus away from your application, and lengthen the letter way
too much.

Simplicity. Use well-known names and keep it simple. You
need to remember, especially with larger studios, that usually
an office manager or a human resources manager will be the
first person to review your application. These kinds of people
have little to no clue about game development. They might not
understand various technical terms and programming
languages, and it won't impress them. Keep the cover letter
simple and add buzzwords that they will surely recognize no
matter how new to the industry they are, while at the same
time, keep in mind that at one point or another, the real
developers will probably read the same letter. Find the middle
road between extreme simplicity and extreme complexity.

#5 Convince the reader!
What is your motivation? Why should you be hired? What makes
you so good? What qualities do you have that they should know
about? Are you dedicated, driven, enthusiastic, or very talented? If
so, make sure they notice! Ensure your message come across.
It is important to portray yourself correctly. A very experienced
person will likely portray himself as a very professional and highly
experienced developer the studio must have. A beginner on the other
hand can do well if they portray themselves as someone eager to
start, eager to learn, and very docile. What newcomers must keep in
mind is that they are one of the many. Large studios have dozens of
beginners apply for jobs each month. Most of those applications don't
stand a chance because of their incredibly low quality. Why are you
different? When a studio receives yet another application from an
inexperienced developer they can be prejudiced and believe they are
dealing with yet another untalented person. Make it clear that you
are different. Make it clear to them that you are really are serious,
dedicated, and that a career in the games industry is your life. Stand
out of the crowd of hobbyists and amateurs and be the bright star
that really has what it takes to become an exceptionally talented
professional. If you get that message across, you're halfway in.
The problem with many beginners’ applications is that they portray
the applicant as incredibly desperate and as if they are just
contacting every studio in the world. Stand out and make the studio
feel special - you really love them!

#6 Be positive!
Never mention your weaknesses! Not on your portfolio and resume,
and certainly not on your opening letter. Let’s use the texture artist
example again: let's say you are a texture artist and you are very
good with realistic textures but weak with a fantasy style. Never
mention that you're no good with fantasy. Stick to what you can do
well, like realistic textures. The same goes for other things. If you'll
have trouble relocating, do not mention this yet because chances are
they'll just dump your application straight into the recycling bin. The
opening letter's purpose is to get the studio interested in you and
undertake further action. Negative points do not get any one
interested. Once the interest is there, they might be better prepared
to try to overcome issues and any weaknesses you might have.

#7 Be serious!
Applying for a job is a serious business. Don't joke in your cover
letter. It will either make you look immature or the other party might
not get the joke and misunderstand you. Don't try to come across as
the funniest person around because no one takes such a person
seriously when dealing with business matters. They may be a real
joy to share a room with, but in a professional environment such a
person will only distract colleagues.
Likewise, do not come across as frightening either. There's nothing
wrong with being different, but don't try too hard. You will not
increase your chances by mentioning your hobby of visiting
graveyards at night. There is nothing wrong with strange hobbies –
they are more common in this industry than in others - but there is
little need to place emphasis on them. Keep that for later.

Additionally, it’s never a bad idea to state how you came across the studio
and how much you like their games.
Most studios prefer a fairly simple cover letter, a resume document
attached, and a link to an online gallery of the applicant’s work. I personally
never attach a document but simply refer the studio to my portfolio site that
holds both my portfolio and my resume. The industry is far from strict.
There are no definitive guidelines as to what to send and how to send it.
The only thing that is truly important is that what you send gets the
message across and gets them interested in what you can do. Whether you
do this by attaching the resume, or simply putting it on your website,
doesn't really matter in the end as long as the information is easy to access.

The Interview
Types
When you've finally found a studio who is interested in you, they will
invite you for an interview to discuss your skills and the job either on the
phone, or face to face; depending on the type of interview. In general there
are three types of interview; some studios use all of them, others just one.

#1 The phone interview.

Remote interview, they will phone you.

Usually done when the candidate lives far away, when the
studio is not entirely convinced yet of your qualifications, or
simply as a first step.

Usually the first step, and rarely the last step. If the call goes
well, they will probably invite you over for an on-site interview,
although there are exceptions. There is a slight chance they
will hire you straight away based on your telephone interview.
This is especially the case when they are already convinced of
your skill or very stressed for employees, but it can also be an
indication that the studio is too poor to pay for an interview
trip. It can also mean that they rush through the recruitment
process and don't take hiring people very seriously. This can
have negative consequences such as a badly assembled team
or quick to fire/lay off policy on the other end. It could be
either or even both. I highly advise you to visit a studio before
accepting a position. We’ll get back to this later on in the
chapter.

#2 The mass interview.

Takes place at some kind of key location such as a booth at a
convention, a university, or a rented conference hall in some
big city.

Company interviews many candidates at the same time. This
kind of interview is quite impersonal as you are just one of the
many.

Also usually just the first step. The mass interview is a way to
quickly filter out the good and the bad from a large mass of
applicants. If you are interesting enough to them, they'll likely
invite you back over later for a more personal interview.

Only large and wealthy companies have the resources and the
opportunity to hold these types of interview sessions.

#3 The on-site interview.

Takes place on-site in the studio itself.

Personal, the interview has been set up especially for you.

Likely the last step before they make a decision.

We will return to what to expect from an on-site interview
further down below.

How many interviews you have to go through all depends on the type of
company and where the company is located. If you live nearby, they will
probably invite you over right away. If they are located far away on the
other hand, they will probably phone you first, after which they invite you
over if the phone call went well.
Apart from the phone interview and with an exception for some very large
companies, people are usually hired after just one interview. Being invited
to an interview also pretty much means you will likely get the job;
especially if you live far away. In general the rule is the farther away you
live, and the poorer the company, the more likely an invitation for an
interview means a contract. Unless there are problems that come up during
the interview, of course.
A well-mannered and financially healthy studio will refund your interview
travel costs and, if necessary, arrange transport and a place to spend the
night for you. All of this costs them time and money. If they are not
genuinely interested in you they won't go through so much trouble. The
more it costs them to bring you in for an interview, the more likely it is that
you will get the job.
Of course for everything there is an exception. No matter how much it
costs them and how enthusiastic they are, without the contract in your
hands anything can still happen and they could still choose someone else.
The managers you may speak to are trained to be enthusiastic. They are
simply doing their job and a good conversation doesn't necessarily mean
the manager likes you much. Keep your feet on the ground. We will return
to this later on.
One thing you certainly shouldn't do is inform everyone about your
interview and the job you think you are about to get. I have seen plenty of
people who update their site or make a post on a big forum to announce
they will be hired by some studio. Not only is doing this highly
unprofessional, you will also make a big fool of yourself when it turns out
you do not get the job after all. If you do not have the signed contract in
your possession, don't do foolish things because anything can still happen.

What To Expect
Of course every studio has its own way of doing things and there is no
real road map as to how an interview goes but the following will give you an
indication of some of the things that may come up.
When they invite you in (or phone you), usually just one or two key
developers will ask you the usual questions such as who you are, what you
do, what you did, and what you are looking for. They will ask specific things
that are important for the position they have open. For example,
experience with this software, or that application. These sorts of questions
are usually quite relaxed and friendly and basically, in terms of atmosphere,
it's similar to sitting around a table and discussing your work with a bunch
of likeminded people. Relax and just talk about what you've done, when you
did it, why you made something, why you made certain choices, how it
works, how long it took you, and so on.
Also, make sure that you have something legitimately valuable to say
about your work. There is nothing more boring than an applicant who
describes every screenshot as “this is a piece of my work and it represents
a soldier/gun/tree/whatever!”. Usually, the developers can determine what
it is by themselves, and it is pretty obvious that it’s yours (It better be!).
What they really would like to hear however, is how you made it, what
steps you went through to get to the end result, why you chose to do it that
way, what your intention was, what you value most about it yourself, and
so on.
Before, after, or during the interview they will show you around the
studio, or at least the department where you would be employed. They will
likely show you the project you would work on and you might have a chance
to talk to some developers.
After that they either send you home or they'll conduct another interview.
Sometimes they’ll even call you back in for a second interview later on. This
is especially a possibility in a larger studio who don't mind the extra costs
associated with another trip or if you live nearby.

Their Questions
So, what kind of questions can you expect? Here is a list of frequently asked
questions.

Who are you? Can you describe yourself briefly?

What have you worked on and made in the past?

Why should we hire you?

What kind of addition would you be to our team?

Why are you interested? Why did you apply to our company and not
some other random company?

What kind of tasks do you like most?

What tasks do you dislike most?

What do you consider your greatest success and why?

What was the most fun project you worked on up to now and why?

Can you handle criticism well? How do you do so?

What's your best quality?

What's your worst?

How would others describe you?

Where and how do you see yourself in five years time? How do you
think you’ll get there?

What motivates you?

Are you comfortable working with deadlines and time constraints?

What do you expect from the office? Any special requirements?

Are you applying elsewhere as well?

Would you be interested in extra schooling?

What kind of games do you like or dislike and why?

Can you handle working full-time 40 hours a week on a project
without getting bored?

Can you handle relocating without running into emotional trouble?

While you usually don't get asked typical questions like “describe yourself
in three words” in games industry interviews, some do ask these types of
questions. Even though it is unlikely you will be asked these questions, it
won’t hurt to prepare for them; especially if you’re interviewed by a larger
studio.
The best way to prepare for questions is often to try and guess what
questions you will be asked prior to the interview and think about what you
would answer. Basically come up with all the possible questions and the
respective answers to them and then learn them roughly by heart. You will
be able to answer the questions much quicker if they are asked, and that
will make you look more confident and like a quick thinker. However, don’t
answer all the questions as soon as they’re asked – sometimes a small
deliberate pause while you appear to be thinking can indicate that you don’t
rush your decisions, which is also a trait that employers like to see.

Your Questions
A job interview does not just exist for the company. It also exist so you,
as the interviewee, you can ask them questions and figure out whether or
not you even want to work at their company. You are interviewing them
while they interview you.
Apart from the obvious questions (what they are working on/how big is
the team/what tools do they use/and so on), which you probably already
know the answer to after their introduction, there are several other
questions you can ask them on a job interview.

What is the ambition of the company? What does it want to achieve
in the next five to ten years?

What do you hope to achieve with the current game/project?

Can you describe the organization and the scheduling? What kind of
steps do you take to minimize the need to work overtime? (a very
justified yet dangerous question as it can make you come across as
lazy.)

What exactly will my tasks include and what will you expect of me?

How much creative freedom will I have?

What are the most important house rules? (working hours/eating
behind the desk/and so on)

Will you help me relocate?

Is the company privately owned? And how is the project funded?

What do you like most about your company? And what do you like
least? (This can be asked both to the hiring staff you meet with, and
to the other developers you happen to meet as well.)

If you get the chance, also try to have a chat with a couple of regular
developers and see if you can figure out if they are happy and how long
they've been employed by the company. If most people have only been
hired recently, and it is not a start-up studio, it can mean that a lot of
developers have left recently, for whatever reason.

Additional information
Apart from being asked all kinds of questions on an interview, I have also
heard of people who have been asked to play a random game and then
comment on what they see, like, and don't like.
It may also occur that interviewees are asked to perform a test during or
after their interview. This may especially be a possibility if you apply for a
job that can allow a quick test. These tests are usually for level designers,
concept artists, or programmers. They may even ask you to quickly draw a
rough level floor plan or sketch a new character to determine whether or
not you can, and whether you can work well under stress.
There is also a possibility that initially you may not be interviewed by
developers at all, but by a recruitment manager. This usually only happens
when you are interviewed by large studios. Recruitment managers can give
you quite some trouble because, unlike the developers themselves, they
often know little of the job you are applying for. You may be the best
programmer or artist, but if the person viewing your work has no clue what
to look for or is unfamiliar with all the styles and techniques, it will take
much more effort to impress that person. Recruitment managers are trained
to deal with applicants, they might ask more difficult and/or unrelated
questions and relay more on traditional material, such as a proper school
grade, to determine whether or not you're qualified for the job.
If you happen to be faced with a recruitment manager, explain what you
do in a simple way, for example by using buzzwords that are instantly
recognizable instead of technical terms only insiders know about. And
demonstrate these concepts to them – don’t just talk about them because
they may not understand all the technical babble, but try to visualize or
demonstrate what it is that you are good at. After all, a picture is worth a

thousand words. In short sell yourself by speaking well and fluently about
your passion as if it's your grandmother you are talking to, who has no clue
about all the technical jargon.
Studios are unlikely to offer you a contract right away when you're there
on site. Often they will send you home and contact you a few days later and
either turn your application down or, more likely, offer you a contract. More
on the contract later on.

Do's and Don’ts
Beginners often don't really know how to handle an interview. A few
exceptions aside, the regular solicitation rules apply for the games industry
as well. Be confident, talk about your work with passion, ask plenty of
questions to appear interested, place your hands and lower arms on the
table – not under it - and so on. The typical solicitation rules can be found
on a thousand sites online and since this is not a solicitation book, we'll
focus on the aspects that are different for the games industry.
Do's

#1 Research their games.
Play the studio's previous games, even if it's just a demo. Know
what they've made in the past and research some background
information on the company. Not only will this help you decide if this
is the kind of studio you want to work at, you will also appear more
serious and genuinely interested in the eyes of your interviewers.
After all, you could be one of those people who mass e-mail twenty
studios and hope one of them answers your application. And perhaps
you are, but they don’t need to know that.
This is especially true when you know that the studio is working on
the next iteration of their previous game. Familiarity with their most
recent game and, more importantly, the style, especially if you're an
artist, will be a huge plus for you.

#2 Ask questions.
As mentioned before, asking questions will make you appear
interested. Ask questions even if you already know the answers! It is
not always only about the answer, it can also be about the gesture
and a symbol of interest. Although you should obviously refrain from
asking about the basics or it will seem as though you have no idea
what you're doing. Find the middle road. The more you notice - stay
positive and fair in your comments - and the more you ask, the
better, usually. In general, just speak fluently about their project.

#3 Take some of your work with you.
This applies mostly to artists and designers, although programmers
can also benefit from this. Try to bring some of your work with you
on a DVD or in the form of a nice paper presentation. Even though it
may not be used in the actual interview, it won't hurt to have it with
you; ‘Just in case’.
Take your best work with you, and if you've built a mod or level for
a specific game, take the game and certainly the MOD itself with you
too. While chances are that the developers have the game installed
themselves, especially if it's a well known game, if they don’t – well,
you happen to have a copy with you, now isn’t that handy?

#4 Decide if you want to work there.
Perhaps the most important point of all, do you feel at home there?
Can you see yourself as an employee at the company? Or does the
atmosphere feel awkward and are the developers not your type of
people? A job interview does not only exist for the company, it's also
there for the applicant so they can decide if this job and company is
what they are looking for.
The developers who interview you are likely also the people you will
be working with. They'll be your leads, the people right above, and
sometimes beside, you. They are the people you’ll go to if you have a
problem or need help. Is cooperation possible between the two or
three of you? Can you imagine working with them?

#5 Be passionate!
It is especially important that you come across as a passionate
person who loves games. If you don't play games, you do not belong
in this industry. The interviewer will try to figure out just how much
you like games and whether or not you are “faking” your passion just
to get the job.

#6 Stand out from the masses.
The company might have twenty applicants: what do you offer that
the others don't? Why should they hire you and not one of the other
twenty applicants? Be unique, do something special and stand out.
Be what they are looking for.

Don’ts

#1 A suit.
While it's better to overdress than to under dress, there's little
reason to do so in the games industry. It's a casual industry. I have
personally never worn a suit on an interview and except for a single
manager, none of my interviewers ever wore one. Very few game
developers ever wear a suit. Dress nicely and clean, but casual. Dress
one step down from a suit, but one step up from your most casual
clothes; somewhere between a business suit and a t-shirt and shorts.
If they did expect you to come in a suit and don't hire you because
of it, then that's a good thing. After all, you wouldn't want to work for
an employer who cares more for your clothes than your skills. I
wouldn't want to anyway.

#2 Asking about your salary.
The salary is always a sensitive subject and usually it is best not to
ask about it on the first (part of the) interview. Salary discussions are
usually reserved until after the company has indicated they may want
to hire you. This puts you in a much better position too because the
company has already expressed that they are interested in you, thus
you can demand more. Also, the developers who interview you might
have nothing to do with the salaries. Discussing salaries too early
might have the question end up with the wrong persons anyhow.
There are exceptions of course, and whether or not it's wise to
discuss the salary right away depends on many aspects such as how
strong your negotiation position is. In general, beginners or ‘entry
level’ people do not have much of one, and if they do, it's a weak
one. You don't want to sound greedy. The emphasis should be on
your passion and why you want to transform your hobby into a job.
It’s not about how much money you want to see. More experienced
people often can negotiate their salary right away quite well because
they are in the position to do so, and it is expected that they will
‘cost’ more than a beginner. If a newcomer poses too much trouble
or the motives appear questionable however, they might just move
on to the next applicant. This is quite a dangerous position to be in as

it opens up a way to be exploited. Find the middle road: don't sound
greedy or questionable but don't give them the idea that you can be
exploited either. We'll get back to this more extensively in the next
part about the contract.
However, it does sometimes occur that in the first or second
conversation, and sometimes on the application, you are asked about
your salary at your most recent job. This is a tool that employers
sometimes use to find out what they might offer you later on. In the
end, it is your decision whether or not you provide the information
but in generally you weaken your position if you answer this
question, especially if you are after a substantial salary rise. If you
decide not to, you could always try to delay and request to hold off
on answering until salaries are discussed more in depth. Just try to
be diplomatic about it.

The Contract

Once you get your hands on the contract read through it carefully. A
contract in this industry can be especially difficult to understand because
chances are it is written in another language than yours, especially when
you apply abroad. Legal text is quite complicated and one has to master a
language quite well before being fully capable of understanding what the
contract states. If you're having trouble with the language, or some of the
laws the contract refers to, ask your future employer. They should be more
than happy to help you and go over the contract with you to explain
whatever you don't understand.
While you should certainly read the entire contract, most of it will be
somewhat standard and can be read over quickly. In general there are only
a couple of critical areas in a standard game development contract that you
will want to devote extra attention to.

#1 Restraint of trade – During employment: The ‘Non-Compete’
Clause
Most contracts prohibit working on other projects during
employment. It's up to you whether you agree with this or not. With
such a clause included in the contract you may not be able to
freelance anymore in the evening and on weekends. Some contracts
even go so far as to state that even non-commercial projects are also
prohibited and claim that any work you either create or design during
the course of employment automatically belongs to them. This can
include anything you do after your work hours. It's especially
important to watch for this last type as it's much too harsh to prohibit
employees from not doing anything else anymore at all. It's your
hobby, after all, and I personally wouldn't want to work for a studio
that would try to make a claim on my creativity. A company that
employs you only rents your skills. They don't own you, nor your
creativity, nor your hobbies.
These clauses are usually aimed at keeping the employees focused
on the studio's project. If you can prove to them that your afterhours project is no threat to attention and dedication in the office,
most studios will have no trouble with what you do after hours. And if
you’re not sure, you can always ask.

#2 Restraint of trade – After employment: The other half of the ‘NonCompete’ Clause.
In almost every contract there's a clause included that imposes
restrictions on what you can do after your employment at the
company has ended. Usually these restrictions are quite meaningless
and self-explanatory. Most contracts will prohibit you from working
for an affiliated party during the first few months or years after the
contract has ended. This is usually done to prevent partners from
backstabbing each other and stealing employees from each other. A
clause like this is very unlikely to ever bother you. The chances that
you would ever move to a partner business is near zero. And if it
does happen, it will likely be a friendly transfer and the parties
involved will just disregard the clause.
The worse kind are those that impose industry-wide limitations. For
example, they may demand that you not work on a similar or
concurrent title in the next twelve months. If you want to make a
career move and quit your current job and move over to another
company that also happens to be working on a specific type of action
game, this clause might prohibit you from doing so. Likewise, if there
are only two companies in your region, and both of them happen to
be making an action game, you may not be allowed to move to the
other and you may end up having to move to another region to work
on a racing game, which you may not be a great fan of. Great!
Usually a company will simply give you permission to start a
contract at a different company, but they are not forced to do so,
they may just as well object to it; especially when they aren't happy
with your departure.
While the decision of your former employer can always be fought in
court, it is obviously brings in a lot of unnecessary hassle and stress.
I personally don't sign contracts that include a too strict restraint of
trade clause in an attempt to prevent future conflicts.

#3 Salary and other benefits.
Without a doubt the most interesting clause in a contract will be
how much you will be paid, how often, and what other benefits you
may be eligible to receive such as milestone bonuses, travel expense
refunding, health care, and so on.
Before you have a salary discussion do some research. Most likely
you’ll be asked to throw out a number first. If this is your first job in
the industry as, for example, a level designer, and you ask for a
$100,000 USD a year salary – you will see some odd expressions
travel across the face of the person who asked the question.
Gamasutra.com, for example, has been posting salary surveys online
for the past few years. Depending on the job type, the region, your
skill and experience level, and averages from other people in the
industry, try to formulate a ‘reasonable’ number. Then add just a
little on top of that. That way, if they offer you a slightly lower
amount, you’ll get what you were hoping for. And if they give you
what you asked for, then all the better.
If you don't feel confident about asking for a certain amount, ask
them how much they would offer someone with similar skills to yours
and see whether or not you agree with it. Inverting a salary question
is not considered rude.
The salary offered will be the gross amount. Be sure to ask how
much there will be left after taxes are subtracted (unless you’re in the
US where you will fill out the W4 tax form to determine this). The
income tax rate can vary wildly depending on the country - anywhere
from zero to fifty percent or more. The same goes for any additional
taxes and living expenses. A few thousand may seem like a lot, but
when all the taxes are subtracted, an expensive health plan, other
insurances, and ridiculously expensive housing is paid, the salary may
suddenly look much less attractive. On the other hand, housing may
be incredibly cheap in that area, and therefore a low salary might
suddenly become much more attractive. Be sure to do some research
on the area and the country before accepting any salary!
If you are unsatisfied by the proposed salary it is important to tell
them why you want more, just asking for more will come across as
greedy or unreasonable. Explain why you feel you deserve more.
Convince the other person - don't just demand more. Back up your
claim and sell yourself again. Sometimes, it could help to present
them with a list of your expected living expenses so they can see for
themselves that the salary they propose wouldn't offer you a
comfortable life. Also, you could play it harder and tell them that
you’re in touch with other studios, or even that another studio has
already offered you X amount more than they have. Just be
prepared to back up these claims – and honestly, too.

#4 Freelance contracts.
There are studios out there that may try to make you sign a
freelance contract, as opposed to a contract as a regular employee. If
your intention is to become a regular employee with the studio, do
not sign a freelance contract as it will strip you of many of your
rights! As a freelancer the studio does not have to care for you, they
won't pay for healthcare, or any other benefits, and they will not pay
taxes on your salary. Of the salary you'd receive, you will have to pay
taxes yourself (and possibly much higher than usual), thus
considerably lowering whatever amount you get.
Usually only smaller studios and startups try to enforce freelance
contracts on clueless beginners in order to save money on taxes,
healthcare, and to allow them to more easily fire and abuse their
employees. Beware of this! If a studio tries to pull this kind of trick on
you, it is advisable to decline any offer they make, even if they do
offer a proper contract later on.

If the contract involves relocation, be sure to ask about it before you sign
the contract. Ask if they will help you with relocation or if they perhaps even
provide temporary housing. If they don't, the salary might become much
less attractive quickly. Spending thousands of dollars on a move to the
other side of the world will drastically drain whatever budget or savings you
have. It is an investment that may prove to be a waste if the job does not
turn out to be as good as you thought it would be. Only pay for your own
relocation if you are completely convinced it is a great opportunity and that
they can provide you with job security!

The Necessity Of The Contract

All this aside, the most important point to remember about a contract is
to actually have it in your possession, signed by both parties! This may
sound completely obvious, but many people do not take this seriously
enough!
Without a contract, nothing is certain. They may have vocally given you
the job a million times, but without the signed paper, it is not a contract yet
and thus gives you absolutely no guarantees. Be sure to have the contract
ready before you work on anything!
The best way to explain how serious the consequences can be are to relate
three examples based on true stories:

#1 Deportation.
A person was hired by a company overseas and made his “final”
trip to the other country. However, he did not have a copy of his
contract yet and upon his arrival in the other country he was stopped
by the border police who did not believe his story. Since the company
was out of reach and he had no copy of the contract on him to prove
his story, the person was deported as an illegal immigrant on the
next flight home.

#2 Premature Application.
Another person was hired by a company overseas but only received
verbal confirmation of his appointment. He arranged and financed his
relocation and gave up his old job and apartment. However, shortly
before he was to start at his new job, they suddenly canceled his
appointment for unknown reasons. He lost his job, his apartment,
and sent his all his belongings to another part of the world for
nothing.

#3 No salary: Workin’ for the man – for free…
Another person was hired by a company nearby and started
working for them without having the contract in hand. He received
verbal confirmation that he was hired, and that he could start without
the contract for the time being. Since he was very enthusiastic he
accepted the offer and started shortly after. Two weeks later the
company made up its mind and canceled the appointment. The
person was fired without even having been hired yet, and therefore
wasn't paid any kind of salary for the two weeks of work he put in.

All of these examples emphasize the importance of actually being in
possession of the signed contract. Before you undertake any serious steps,
be sure to have the contract in your hands!

Chapter 8

Once You're Hired...

Art by Romano Molenaar

Moving

Because of the international nature of this industry, you may have to
move after you've been hired somewhere; perhaps to a completely different
country, or even more drastic, another culture. While moving to the other
side of the planet may sound like a fun adventure, it isn't always great.
Again, let’s look at a summary of the Why's and Why Nots.

Why

#1 Adventure!
Making (hopefully) great games with big budgets on the other side
of the world is a big adventure. You get to see the world and do
things a regular gamer could only dream of. You get to make what
millions will play (or at the very least a few tens of thousands...).

#2 Get paid to see the world.
Basically, you get paid to see the world. What's better than that?
Young people usually want to travel, and the games industry offers
them that possibility. It affords you unique opportunities to work in a
number of different cultures and countries in a relatively short
amount of time. If you ever wondered what it would be like to live
and work in Europe, or in the USA/Asia/etc., the games industry can
give you the opportunity to do so. And if you don't like it, you can
still move somewhere else after a year or two.

#3 The grass is always greener on the other side.
If you think that the other side of the world, or of your country, is a
better place to live and work than where you are now, there's only
one way to find out! This, of course, does depend on your personal
preferences and where you are currently located. A person living in a
developing country will value a move to a more developed country
much more. In such cases, the grass really would be greener on the
other side. If you're stuck in, or completely bored by, your current
region, the games industry might be able to help you get out.

Why Not

#1 It is not a vacation.
Most people who move abroad experience the first few weeks as if
they are on a vacation, followed by a (sometimes) hefty culture
shock. Moving abroad is not the equivalent of a vacation. The primary
reason you are moving is to work. It’s completely different than
traveling for a vacation and to relax and amuse yourself. Also, as a
tourist you generally only see a small portion of the region/country
you’re staying in, and it’s usually only the best bit. What wouldn’t
bother you about the place, may become quite irritating after dealing
with it day after day. After all, on a vacation, it's only for a week or
perhaps two. As a resident you'll see everything, including the notso-nice bits and it could become frustrating. A tourist might not like
the subway, the traffic, or the rude people but they won't care too
much about it since the they will shortly leave again anyway. You
however, as a resident, will become bothered by it – whatever it will
turn out to be. You're there permanently and it will cause you to look
at life through different glasses, up to a point where you might even
start to hate everything about the new region or country. The further
away from home you go, and the larger the cultural differences, the
worse it can be. The classic ‘nice to visit but wouldn’t want to live
there’ syndrome.

#2 Some are not suited for it.
Some people, and this is related to several other points, are just
not fit for a life abroad. The combination of isolation, homesickness,
insecurity, instability, different culture, and perhaps even a different
climate will make it very hard for certain personality types to adapt to
it.

#3 If anything goes wrong, you'll be a long way from home.
What if someone in your family becomes ill or is involved in an
accident? What will you do? You might not be able to take the next
flight home. A flight home could cost half your monthly salary, it
might take days before you finally reach whoever is in trouble, and
you might end up with terrible jet lag. You are completely isolated
from everything you've left behind.
Likewise, if anything happens to you, you'll either be in a hospital
or unemployed a (very) long way from home. Family and friends
might not be able to support you so far away.

In general, the larger the distance, the more it will multiply any
problem. Whatever happens will suddenly become two to three times
worse simply because of the distance. Losing your job might be
annoying at home. It will become a very serious problem when
losing your job also means having to relocate back home. Relocating
is very troublesome and expensive. The last thing you want to do is
assume extra expenses when you've just lost your income.

#4 Emotional bonds and homesickness.
Moving abroad may look easy, but when things finally come
together and the time is right to truly move out into the wide open
world, it might be harder than you thought. Everyone has an
emotional bond with the people around them and with the region
they grew up in. Leaving all that behind is usually harder than you
may think. Once you've moved, you'll be all on your own and
everything will be different; the people, the landscape, the weather,
the food, and so on. You won't have any friends or family to whom
you can turn to in case of problems. This is a more difficult situation
than most people think.

#5 Trouble adapting.
For some, adapting to another culture and language can be a
serious challenge. Wherever you end up might be freezing cold or
baking hot, and you might not understand anyone or anything. There
probably won’t be anything on television you can even remotely
understand, all the movies in the theater might be dubbed, and you
might have to guess about what, exactly, is the food you buy. It can
take years to adapt to a new language, climate, and culture.

#6 Expensive and troublesome.
Relocating is expensive and very troublesome. Even though some
companies wholly or partially refund the relocation expenses and try
to ease the burden by providing temporarily housing, no matter what
they do, it will always require a plenty of effort on your side. You
might have to sell your car and moving your furniture can be a big
hassle. You might have to organize international transport, again
expensive and troublesome, or you might have to sell your furniture,
which again, requires quite a bit of effort. You'll have to cancel any
insurance or utilities you have at your old place, and set up new ones
for the new place. You'll have to apply for a visa, or some other sort
of legal documentation, and you’ll need to find a place to live,
perhaps, on the other side of the world. You might need to rent a
house before you've ever even visited it.
If you have a girlfriend/wife (or a boyfriend/husband for that

matter), they too will need to have the right documents if they are
even allowed into the other country. If you are not married, it might
not be easy to acquire the proper legal documents for your partner. I
personally know of more than one example where a developer didn’t
leave his home country either because his wife wasn’t qualified for a
visa for country X or where a developer quit the job after a couple of
months to return to his home country because setting up a visa for
his partner proved to be too much of a hassle.

#7 You will live for your job.
There is usually little more than your job. You probably won't know
anyone else except your colleagues, and you won't know many other
places besides the office. You will basically live for your job and there
won't be much else in your life anymore - at least not for the first few
months or so. If you are a very social person, who values interaction
and social activities, you might find yourself quite isolated. Apart
from some occasional outdoor activities with your office colleagues,
you may very well be all on your own, every evening, and every
weekend.

#8 Impossible to build a life.
While as a teenager you might not really care yet, it is almost
impossible to build a life and a family if your job requires you to
move every few years. Since few people can be nomads for their
entire life, sooner or later this will cause problems and you will have
to settle down somewhere and satisfy yourself with the jobs available
in that region, however exciting or boring they may be.

#9 The grass is not always greener on the other side.
To the contrary of what was described earlier, the grass may not
always be greener on the other side of the world. Wherever you go,
and whatever you do, you can't really run away from your problems
or feelings of unhappiness. You may be able to bury them for a while
by moving abroad, but they will never truly leave until you do
something about them. If you're unhappy in your current region, you
are not likely to solve your problems by moving abroad because,
sooner or later, the same unhappy feeling will come back.

The Expectations

Once you've been hired, both sides will have several expectations towards
each other.

Their Expectations

Overestimation. Don't promise more than you can handle to your
leads. No one expects you to work as well as their experienced
developers yet. You are even expected to work more slowly and are
usually given a month or so to get into the project and up to speed.
By overestimating yourself, you damage your credibility. Instead,
underestimate your capabilities. If you need a week to finish a
particular task, tell your lead you need a week and a half and then
finish it in a week as you originally intended. It will make you look
like a fast worker while you've done nothing special. Perception is
everything. It will also give you extra time in case you run into a
problem you didn’t foresee. You’ll be able to deal with the problem,
and still make the deadline.

Learn the workflow, and work efficiently. Learn, and adhere to,
their rules, guidelines, conventions, filenames, and so on. Arrive on
time and finish your work properly. Don’t rush through it and work
efficiently. It is better to spend a little longer on something and
present your lead with a result properly achieved, than to rush
through it and finish it early, but with messy results. Your lead will
likely prefer properly done but slower work to quickly done, but
sloppy work.

If something is unclear, ask! Do not hesitate and do not mess
about for days on end because you don't dare to contact your leads
and tell them that you’re stuck on something. As a beginner, you are
expected to ask about things. It is better to ask a hundred questions
than to make a dozen mistakes.

Be excited! While this shouldn't be a problem for most people,
appear motivated. Show how much you enjoy the job, and the
project!

Don't be too critical. Try to keep a somewhat low profile for the first
few weeks. Try to shine and prove yourself worthy, but at the same
time appear willing to learn new things and don't provide too much
critique on what others do or propose. Even if you truly believe your
ideas are better. Your colleagues will not want to work with a
newcomer who wants to do everything differently. That is annoying
at best.

What You Can Expect

Speed! You will learn much quicker than ever before. The
interaction – not just contact – with skilled and experienced people is
invaluable and allows you to become much better with what you do in
a short amount of time.

More motivation. To most, the team spirit and the contact with
those who are equally motivated is a catalyst and will drive them,
and you, further than ever before.

Mentoring. While you are expected to learn standard programs
(Maya or 3DSMax for example) and procedures yourself using
tutorials, they will very likely be able to guide you through anything
else. This is especially true concerning complex actions or in-house
tools which are seldom sufficiently described in tutorials. Don't be
afraid you'll know too little; you are expected to know little, and the
little you know is sufficient. If it isn’t, then the studio wouldn't have
hired you in the first place.

Mentoring – the flip side. While good mentoring can greatly aid to
your skill, it is also likely to mean that you are checked up on more
than a regular developer. As a brand-new person in the industry, the
established developers will keep a much closer eye on you, and
possibly be more critical towards whatever you do, than on a regular
developer. Don't let this lower your confidence though; they are only
trying to help you.

Plenty of time to get up to speed. It is important to remember that
no one expects you to already know everything and be as fast as
their experienced developers. You are expected to be slower, know
less, and ask more - so don't be too shy and too afraid! Most studios
will give an entry-level developer two to four times more time for a
task than usual, and most studios only expect a starting developer to
be fully up to speed after several months.

Respect – a warning. While it is normal for a beginner not to
receive the same amount of respect and credibility as a veteran, it is
not a reason to be disrespected and mistreated. The company you
are working for has to treat you with respect and fairness. If you
always have to work overtime and are constantly being commanded
– not asked – then you might want to look for another job. No matter
what your leads or management might tell you, this type of behavior
is not typical in this industry. Exploitation is exploitation no matter
what industry it takes place in, and no matter what position one
holds. Make sure things stay fair, or leave.

The Community

Most developers give up their personal projects and community activities
once they get into the industry. A lack of free time, reduced creativity, and
being tired when they get home are usually the most cited reasons. While I
personally find it strange that people give up a hobby when they are hired
somewhere, the lack of time and possibly mentally draining days are
something to keep in mind. Any mod or team project you are involved in
might have to do without you and you should prepare your teammates for
that possibility.
Most developers forget about the community once they are hired, which is
a shame. The community is your audience and public. If you do not know
your target audience, you can't make a game, or any other product, for
them either. Know who you work for, what they want, and how they
perceive games. I have seen countless designers and marketing managers
come up with something that may look great on paper but that will get shot
down into a million pieces by the communities. The problem is that they
don't recognize this because they have no clue what their community thinks
or desires anymore. Don't make the same mistake.

Retaining your activity in online communities also has several other
advantages.

Expands your network of contacts. Just like you, others will also
land themselves jobs and become professionals. An extensive
network of community contacts will one day evolve into a network of
professional contacts which can be very handy in the long run.
Especially when you're on the hunt for a new job. It could also help
when the company you're employed by is looking for new talent and,
because of your community connections, you might know just the
right person for the job. You might even earn a nice bonus if that
person ends up getting hired.

Keeps you up to date with techniques, technology, and skills. By
browsing through community and personal work often you can stay
up to date with new techniques, skills, and styles. You may be
inspired by someone's personal project or a new approach to a
difficult problem.

Access to problems and solutions. By being active on help forums
and chat channels one can become more familiar with all types of
bugs and problems in the programs and platforms they work with.
When, one day, you, or colleague, face the same problem you will
immediately recognize it and know the solution, or at least you’ll
know where to go to find the answer. It will benefit you and the
company that employs you.

Potential jobs. By keeping yourself visible you might be noticed by
another developer and find another, better, job or maybe even
freelance work.

And finally, the community has likely helped you land the job. You found
inspiration, solutions to problems, likeminded people, and who knows what
else in the community. Don't turn your back on them when you don't need
them anymore. Use your knowledge to help others, just like they've helped
you in the past.

Your Career

The future of games is bright. The market is still steadily growing every
year. It is not expected to slow down any time soon, and the rising
technology standards will make games look better than ever. New doors
open every day, and new ideas are ready to be pioneered. Game
development studios will need ever more developers in the future and, in
the mean time, the industry will stabilize and grow in maturity. Work
conditions will improve, salaries will go up, and this whole process will be
driven by the ever larger number of experienced developers and employers.
The more financially healthy employers there are, the more choices
developers will have, and the more the employers will have to prove
themselves worthy instead of the other way around. Those who pay low
salaries, set impossible deadlines, and disrespect their employees will
eventually lose out. Why would anybody want to work for such company
when the next city over has a fair and honest developer who is also on the
lookout for developers?
The rising experience within the industry as a whole will likely also further
streamline the development process and overcome some of the growing
pains the industry currently faces, such as organizational problems.
However, this does not mean that this will become the perfect industry
either. Perfection doesn't exist, and there is no reason to think that the
games industry will ever achieve it. There is no guarantee that this industry
will ever become truly mature and stable. And the number of developers
who do not envision themselves working much longer in the games industry
are staggering. Having a backup plan and a way to get out might not be a
bad idea.
If you ever do wish to step out of the games industry, there are some
escape routes...

Casual games. The casual games market is huge, and the success
of the Nintendo Wii is just another verification of this. It should be
easy for an experienced game developer to transition smoothly into
the world of casual gaming. The deadlines are less stressful and the
work is more varied. Perfect for when you are looking to settle down.

Educational games. The market for educational games is always
growing. More and more people and organizations are starting to
understand the potential benefits of gaming. Just like casual gaming,
any experienced game developer should have no problem entering
the educational game market. It is varied work that actually matters.

Game development teacher. Use your skill and experience to help
students polish theirs. A job as a teacher is more stable, pays quite
well, and “matters”. You really can make an impact.

The film industry. This mainly applies to artists, although there are
some exceptions. The film industry is an incredibly creative and
interesting industry. Who wouldn't want to create the character
models for a brand new fantasy movie? With the ever increasing
complexity of games sooner or later games will catch up with realism.
It will be easier and easier to transfer from game development to film
production in the future. For some though, the job may vary too little
compared to the games industry.

Advertising. Again, this mainly applies to artists. While the
advertising industry used to be one of the primary suppliers of new
game developers, it can also be done the other way around. A job in
the advertising industry can offer a refreshing and creative take on
graphics.

Architectural and industrial visualization. Yet again, this applies
mainly to the artists among us. A job in the world of visualization is
well paid and fairly stable. Rendering out lobbies, office spaces, cars,
chairs, and sometimes even whole buildings may be the ideal job for
some artists when they settle down.

Simulations. Whenever something is too complex or expensive to
test or teach, simulations can be a great way to assist the
visualization. With the ever-increasing computer power, the market
of simulations too will grow. It is well paid and stable work that can
help improve our world. Help bus drivers navigate through difficult
situations or simulate a river breaching a levee and make a
difference!

The Conclusion

The games industry can be a great place to work in. Your work can be
seen by millions, it doesn't pay too badly, the possibilities are endless, and
it can allow you to see the world. The industry is still growing steadily every
year and if you are good at what you do, work is practically assured. It is a
very international and satisfying industry. What's cooler than seeing your
work on the front page of every gaming magazine and website in the world?
What's cooler than being at the beginning of what millions will eventually
play, and what, perhaps, may influence an entire generation? You get to be
a kid for a living, all life long!
A job in the games industry is the type of job that you can be proud of even brag about if you like. And it’s a job that most people, who get stuck
in regular jobs and regular life, are jealous of.
On the other hand, the games industry is a very young and volatile
industry. Plenty of studios just don't make it at the end of their fiscal year,
and a large number of mistakes are made at every level due to the
immaturity of the industry. If you are unlucky, you will be either exploited
or the games and projects you work on are never finished, or if they are, no
one may care about them. Also, the quality of life standards are not always
what they should be in this industry.
A thing to remember about this industry is that it can be a very
frustrating business. It is not a question of if you will be frustrated by this
job, it is, rather, a question of when and by how much. You must consider
how well you will deal with it, and how long you will tolerate it.
In the end, a job in the games industry is still a job, and there will still be
days when you just don't feel like going to the office. No matter how much
you love what you are doing, it still is your job and there will be unfortunate
days or times when the work is simply boring and uninteresting. This too is
part of the job, but of all the jobs in the world, besides being a lottery
winner, a job as game developer might be the best option one has. It is not
a perfect job, but if you truly enjoy what you are doing and with a bit of
luck, it will come close.

Appendix A

Interviews

Art by Romano Molenaar

Name: Andrew Ladenberger
Location: Washington - USA
Profession: Programmer
Experience: Currently at Zombie Studios, previously Handheld Games.

How did you start out in the games industry?

With a strong high school background in math and physics, and a love of
gaming, I knew I had to look into the games industry. I got my start with a
Bachelors of Science in Real-Time Interactive Simulation from DigiPen.

What do you like most about the games industry?

The two things I like most are working with talented and passionate people
to creating great games I can be proud of as well as the flexible, casual and
creative environment the games industry offers me.

Likewise, what are the things you dislike most?

Often time and money will dictate the quality of life and work of a
developer. Many companies often have underdeveloped structure and are
constantly fighting to break even with low budget games.
Developers don't usually get enough research & development time to better
themselves by learning new tricks and technologies, yet those skills are
important in keeping up with and creating innovative technology.

Name: Philip Klevestav
Location: Stockholm - Sweden
Profession: Texture Artist
Experience: Currently working at Grin on games as Bionic Commando,
Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 1 and 2. Previously a freelancer on Day
Of Defeat .

How did you start out in the games industry?

I’ve always had a big interest in games and ever since I first tried out some
level design for Quake and Duke 3D I’ve been struck with game
development pretty much.
The path to my texture artist position begun with spending some time
working on specific content for a portfolio and using material I had made
previously for game modification projects. I sent all of it off to Grin and
started out as a level designer not long after. Even though my main goal
was to create graphics I went ahead with level design as the studio was in
more need of that at the time. After the first project was completed I
switched over to a Texture Artist position.

What do you like most about the games industry?

Beside working with something I feel very passionate about it is also a very
creative job. The freedom is also a very important part when it comes to
maintaining a motivated and creative employee.
I would have to say to work with others who share your interest is also
something that boosts your ability to get better and gain new skills.

Likewise, what are the things you dislike most?

The often late hours before deadlines. Of course this varies from project to
project and between different companies. But if you are looking for a job in
the industry you should know that you may need to work quite late hours
sometimes.
As this is a relatively new industry it can also be a pretty uncertain place to
work at if you are unlucky.

Name: Péloille Geoffroy
Location: France
Profession: Level Designer
Experience: Nevrax and Wanadoo-Editions on the MMORPG The Saga of
Ryzom. I have also worked on a number of Half Life mods and various other
amateur projects.

How did you start out in the games industry?

I started as a tester for Wanadoo-edition on the MMORPG The Saga of
Ryzom by coming across an announcement on some major French MMORPG
forum. It was a small five month contract, with the lowest salary possible.
As it was totally impossible for me to rent a flat in Paris I had to travel from
my home town to Paris every day - about 500Km a day during the whole
period of my contract. It was pretty hard, but I don't regret it at all; they
gave me the chance to enter this industry and that's all I ever wanted!

What do you like most about the games industry?

I like the fact that all my co-workers have a real passion and enthusiasm for
their work. Also, most people in the games industry are rather young, and I
appreciate this a lot. It's way better than working in, for example, a boring
administrative bank with colleagues of 55 years or older, who are
depressing and who always think about retiring as soon as possible. All in
all, when I get up the morning, I never think “damn, I have to go to work”
and that is priceless!
On a more creative side, I also love to create a universe and see people
having fun within it. Again, totally priceless!

Likewise, what are the things you dislike most?

There's nothing I really dislike in video game industry. Of course, it is
sometimes annoying and stressful just like any other job, especially when
you have a close deadline and that something goes wrong with your
level/script/whatever, which temporarily kills your private life but it's the
price to pay if you want to work in this industry. We all know it and we all
accept it...so it's OK!

Name: Matthew A. Farber
Location: Florida - USA
Profession: Lead Network Programmer
Experience: Currently at Artificial Studios where I worked on Monster
Madness. Previously a tester at Electronic Arts and also founder and
programmer of the Unreal Tournament 2004 MakeSomethingUnreal hit mod
Frag.Ops

How did you start out in the games industry?

After having spend two years on creating mods, I started out at the bottom
of the ladder as a tester. It was my first professional job in the industry. I
spent a year as a tester, but was unsatisfied with my position. Later I was
hired by Artificial Studios to be the Lead Network Programmer on an Unreal
Engine 3 game called Monster Madness.

What do you like most about the games industry?

Well, the games, of course! Being able to implement and see your ideas
play out in a visceral way is very satisfying, something that application
engineering doesn't really deliver for me. My current programming position
has also allowed me quite a bit of authority on technical design, which I also
really enjoy.

Likewise, what are the things you dislike most?

I think the biggest problem with the industry is a lack of overall job/pay
security. Working on a milestone schedule means that you don't get paid
until you deliver your next milestone, so this leads to ridiculously long hours
and a lot of unnecessary strain. While many larger developers don't have
this problem, working in a smaller company puts you at the mercy of the
publisher. That, combined with having no guarantee as to keeping your job
for the next project, causes many professionals to ditch the games industry
in favor of a more secure position. I once heard that the average career
span of a game developer is only somewhere around five years. To me, that
signifies a major problem; something I hope to see changed in the future.

Name: Julian De Puma
Location: Washington - USA
Profession: Lead Character Artist
Experience: Zombie Studios, Liquid Development, and freelancer since
2001.

How did you start out in the games industry?

I had a film background from college and had always been heavily into art. I
spent some time after school playing with animation programs, then
managed to land a job doing architectural visualization. After a few years of
that I entered a character in a competition. It didn’t win, but the response
was good. That was enough for me to leave the architects and pursue
games. My first few gigs came to me by word of mouth.

What do you like most about the games industry?

I love seeing all these pieces coming together. I’m currently working on a
game in-house (this is a first for me) and it’s been great seeing how this
happens. On one level, specifically with characters; first, the mesh, the
high- and low-poly models, the unwrapping, the normal maps, then all the
other textures, the rigging, seeing it animate for the first time, setting up
blood and gore effects… it’s awesome how it all unfolds. On another level
you see the whole game going up the same way- a section here, a chunk
there, a new functionality over there. It’s extremely gratifying.

Likewise, what are the things you dislike most?

Crunch? I’ll let someone else cover that. I’m hoping that more companies
will embrace the virtual office. I waste a lot of my life commuting and I
think I’d be a happier employee if I could work from home more.

Name: Jos Hendriks
Location: Sheffield – UK – Originally from The Netherlands
Profession: Game Designer
Experience: Currently at Chemistry (formerly Kuju). Previously at Acony
Games and worked on the UCMP Unreal Tournament 2004 map packs.

How did you start out in the games industry?

I started out working for Acony Games in Germany in 2006 after applying to
dozens of companies and having had many interviews and several design
tests for Acony Games. I had the luck that I somehow got in touch with
someone who worked there at the time who was also active in the Unreal
community. In the end the work I had done in the community and with
teams like UCMP proved to be the deciding factor.

What do you like most about the games industry?

There’s a few things which I really like about the games industry. The
people who are passionate about creating games and being creative, being
able to actually work on creating games and experience a project you’re
working on to slowly develop and blossom into a full- fledged product, those
things are all incredible to me.

Likewise, what are the things you dislike most?

Though there are a few things that I dislike as well, one of these things
stands out most. Job security at this point is one of the most annoying
things in this industry. It’s not normal (yet) for a studio to have a bigger
chance of ‘surviving’ than the chance it has to go belly up; thus adding a lot
of stress and tension to the people working for these companies. If anything
needed to change for me personally, I’d change the amount of job security
people have in this industry.

Name: Sebastiano Mandala
Location: The Netherlands – Originally from Italy.
Profession: Game/3D Programmer
Experience: Currently working for Spellborn on The Chronicles of
Spellborn. Previously worked in my own studio The Fish Files on Game Boy
Advance and Color titles.

How did you start out in the games industry?

The old school way, starting with a self-funded and garage styled office,
with friends sharing the same passion. Later, we finally had the chance to
work in a real software house as a group after which we decided to open
our company, 7th Sense, with the idea to grow up step by step. Two years
ago I decided to leave my company to make room for some experience
abroad and now I'm here at Spellborn.

What do you like most about the games industry?

It's not a matter about what I like, but I can say this is what I was made for
since I was 12 and I got my first Commodore 128. I like to think that video
games could give me the chance to communicate with the people in the
same way a painting or a book can. This is also the reason why I think there
is still a lot of room to improve in this form of entertainment.

Likewise, what are the things you dislike most?

The fact that this industry, except for some special cases, still doesn't know
how to learn from its mistakes. The turnover rate is really high and this
doesn't help the business health. Moreover, sometimes one can have the
impression that the industry doesn't give the appropriate importance to the
loss of know-how that this phenomenon causes. Again the field is still too
immature, but it also looks like it is hard to find the right path.

Name: Michael 'Zacker' Schmidt
Location: Copenhagen - Denmark
Profession: Trainee Level Designer
Experience: Currently at IO Interactive. Previously active in the mod
community as Lead Level Designer and Game Director on Sands of War
(Half Life 1 and Source) which won several prizes.

How did you start out in the games industry?

I started out by doing custom levels for Half-Life and Counter-Strike and
later on I progressed into making levels for mods where I ended up as a
Lead Level Designer and Game Director. After having finished high school
and four years of modding I applied for a job at IO Interactive and got hired
as Trainee Level Designer.

What do you like most about the games industry?

I totally love to work on games and level design and in this industry I am
being paid to do exactly that. The working structure also seems to be a lot
less strict than usual, which fits me well. Furthermore, the games industry
also provides a good opportunity to progress to a lead position relatively
quickly, which is definitely something I am aiming for.

Likewise, what are the things you dislike most?

People with financial and marketing backgrounds overruling decisions from
game studios because they believe they are better game designers.
Most positions are very specialized today, which means that people like me
who like to do very different tasks also have to pick a direction.

Name: Muhammad ‘MozI’ Ahmed
Location: New York - US
Profession: Junior Game Designer/Level Designer
Experience: Currently at Vicarious Visions. Previously active in the Unreal
community.

How did you start out in the games industry?

I got started in the industry by luck to be honest. Since high school and
through most of college I did a lot level design work in my spare time. With
time and practice I got better at making levels.
As I got better with level design it hit me that I should do this as living. But
to my despair I could not find a gaming job, got turned down quite often on
the grounds that “You don’t have game industry experience” which
strangely enough, you can't get hold of without first getting a job... A
common paradox within the games industry it seems.
After many rejections I finally gave up. I started looking for a more
“regular” job. Until one day there was voice mail from a game company up
in New York. I called back and got a phone interview scheduled. I passed
that interview and was brought on-site for a second interview. I passed that
as well and was given an offer and I took it without hesitation.

What do you like most about the games industry?

Let’s see, I guess the first thing is that I get paid a decent amount to play
and work on video games.
The work environment is great - not too uptight as with most normal jobs.
And the people I work with all have great personalities and similar interests
in terms of games, movies, and to some extent, music.
The thing I like the most is the fact that working in the games industry is
quite rewarding. For me, when I see one of the games I worked on on store
shelves and watch people buy it, it instantly gives me a feeling of success
and satisfaction towards the many months of hard work that the entire
team put into getting the game functional and complete.

Likewise, what are the things you dislike most?

There’s not much I dislike. Perhaps the only things I can say that I dislike
are when there are empty pots of coffee in the morning and when there is
little or no swag given for the product the team worked on.

Name: Michael Perdieus
Location: Belgium
Profession: Lead Animator
Experience: Currently employed by Khaeon Games. Previously employed
by Imagination in Motion, Djungo, and Playlogic. Worked on titles as The
Chronicles Of Spellborn (PC), Cyclone Circus (PS1), Xyanide (Xbox), and
Alpha Black Zero (PC).

How did you start out in the games industry?

I started out by doing animation and modeling for commercials, video clips
and small series. Due to internal problems one of the producers teamed up
with some Dutch investors to start a game development studio and asked
me to join. Initially I was the only animator so I basically had to start by
giving myself a crash course in game animation. Not an easy job if you
know how different game animation is from full motion video or prerendered animation.

What do you like most about the games industry?

The most satisfying thing about my job here is seeing all different
disciplines such as art, game design, modeling, animation, coding come
together to create a believable interactive ’’universe’’ which, hopefully,
players will find fun and exiting to explore.

Likewise, what are the things you dislike most?

It may be a fun job and all but in the end it’s still a job. Take away all the
pretty pictures and nice colors and you ’re working in a big merciless multimillion dollar industry. Some people seem to forget this fact and like to
think that creating games is all about fun and creativity. Many of them drop
out when the harsh reality kicks in that there will always be periods in a
production when the work will be less rewarding and tedious, leaving it up
to others to finish the job. This can be very frustrating at times. It’s a job,
NOT a hobby.

Name: Josh Singh
Location: Massachusetts - United States
Profession: Character Artist.
Experience: 38 Studios and Sony Online Entertainment. Freelance to
Various AAA Developers such as Harmonix, Flagship Studios, and Day 1
Studios.

How did you start out in the games industry?

Around 2001, I was just married and had a baby on the way, I had no idea
what I wanted to do as a career other than something to do with “art”. I
was attending a small tech school, learning graphic design using programs
like Photoshop , Illustrator, and Quark Xpress. I thought graphic design
would be fun, until I landed my first gig. I was making menu's for
restaurants, junk mail ads and little league rosters, and that all didn't really
fit in with my idea of art. After the company folded and I got laid off, I was
introduced to the Maya Personal Learning Edition, and eventually 3DS Max
4.
During my down time after the layoff, my wife was at work and I was at
home playing Metal Gear Solid and I remember thinking "Who makes this
stuff? There has to be some sort of videogames artist who makes these
awesome characters and environments!" Shortly after I went to the library
and searched for "video game artists". I came across sites like "Polycount"
"CgChat" "CgTalk" and "Conceptart.org" and my mind was just blown away.
I wanted to rub shoulders with these guys, join them in what they were
doing.
I started reading tutorials, books anything I could get my hands on to help
me build my first demo reel. Those were hard times. I would work at a used
car lot nine hours a day, then go home and work on 3d for 5 hours a night.
My wife was very supportive and knew it was something I wanted.
A few months later I had something I felt I could show ( if I look back on it
now, I cringe!) so I looked up all the game studios in the Salt Lake area. I
was knocking on every door I could find like a newbie, trying to get my
demo to the Lead Artists and Art Directors.
Two months passed after my first applications, and then a small indie
(independent) company called "Wahoo Studios" gave me a call. They had a
contract open for a couple of little PS1 and PS2 budget games and wanted
to know If I wanted to come on board. I quit my job that day and since then
officially got my foot in the door of the game industry. The rest is on my
resume.

What do you like most about the games industry?

What I like most about the industry is the satisfaction of it all. I love making
cool characters and creatures and what I love even more is seeing them run
around in a world I helped create with my buddies. What I love even more
is spotting the box at a store and pointing to my wife, saying “I made that.”
It’s all very satisfying and rewarding.
I love the camaraderie and passion that emerges while working on a single
project. It’s great to work with people who like the same things you do. It's
really a great time going in to work.

Likewise, what are the things you dislike most?

There are only a few things that bug me in this industry, one of them being
exploitation of passion for games. I have seen so many scenarios of young
talented artists and designers getting paid far less than they are worth
simply because the company they work for thinks that “Hey you’re making
games! That’s reward in of itself!”
The other thing that bugs the hell out of me is when marketing screws you
over in one fell swoop. You put in 2 years of your life into making what you
think is an awesome game. Then your publisher hires his brother in law who
is the artist in the family to do the box cover art. Or marketing overlooks
your game altogether because they don’t get it.
Thankfully I’m at a studio now that doesn’t have these problems.

Name: Ken Van Hoeylandt
Location: Amsterdam - The Netherlands
Profession: Programmer (gameplay)
Experience: Currently at Sony's Guerrilla Games working on the Killzone
games, worked on lots of personal projects in the past.

How did you start out in the games industry?

By working on some hobby projects and getting advice from the author of
this book to start looking for a job in the games industry. He told me to try
to get a job at Guerrilla Games (one of his former employers), I did so and
they hired me.

What do you like most about the games industry?

I like working with the different groups of interesting people (programmers,
artists, designers, etc.) with each their own specific skills, ideas, and
insights. Because I’m a gameplay programmer, I get to work with almost all
of my colleagues. Sometimes I’m implementing something sound-related,
thus I have to work with game designers and sound artists. When I work on
the HUD, I work with game designers and 2D graphics artists, and so on.
I also like the diversity of the job itself. By being a gameplay programmer I
can cover a lot of different aspects in the game; including sound,
animations, HUD, weapons, and so on.

Likewise, what are the things you dislike most?

The fact that designers sometimes change their minds a bit too much. I
don’t really like to have to remake a certain feature three times or more.
Luckily that doesn’t happen too much.

Name: Matthew Bromley
Location: New Jersey - USA
Profession: Level Designer
Experience: Currently at Kaos Studios, previously at n-Fusion Interactive
on the FPS Hour of Victory, various online community work including the
UCMP Mappacks.

How did you start out in the games industry?

I started by learning first UT2004, and then by learning its editor. Thanks
to the internet, and video tutorials on the UT2004 DVD, I was able to slowly
learn more about the software, and the theory behind level design. As I
became more involved in the Unreal community online, my skills increased
more and more. After completing a few levels individually, and then
completing a few more with the UCMP, I felt comfortable enough to begin
applying to places. A little less than two years after I began, I got an email
from a developer asking if I was willing and available to work. And I was.
And I am. And I will continue to be.

What do you like most about the games industry?

What I enjoy the most is the constant change. New games, new twists in
gameplay and/or plot, new tools, new techniques, new places to explore,
new technology to learn, and new people to learn from are at my fingertips
all day, every day. Being in a profession that promotes, encourages, and
thrives on change is challenging, but also, in the end, rewarding.

Likewise, what are the things you dislike most?

What I do not enjoy the most is, ironically, change. As soon as one finally
comes to terms with a concept, or a process, there’s suddenly a new way to
do it, or a change in perspective. Perhaps even the game design changes,
or the schedule, or features are added or removed. Sometimes it seems
like there just isn’t enough time to sit down and dig really deep into
something at a leisurely pace before it all changes again.
Sometimes I feel like change is the biggest blessing and yet the biggest
curse to working in this industry. But I’m enjoying working in this industry
more than in any other I’ve been a part of.

Name: Gavin Goulden
Location: Vancouver - Canada
Profession: Character Artist
Experience: Currently at Piranha Games.

How did you start out in the games industry?

I actually started in the games industry as a QA tester for Nokia N-Gage
games. I was part of a certification team that tested certain games against
Nokia’s set requirements. After this I moved onto a development position
for a casual games company, Magellan Interactive, as a general 3D artist
for mobile games. Feeling a bit antsy I left that job to take on some
freelance contracts and work on personal projects that were more geared
towards what I wanted to do; next generation characters. For a few
months I plugged away on characters when, almost out of nowhere, I was
offered a job at Piranha Games as a character artist.

What do you like most about the games industry?

Personally, I always want to be learning, progressing as an artist and being
able to watch myself improve. As technology advances, artists are required
to adapt. New techniques are always being discovered, the bar is always
being raised. Because of this, there’s a balance between creativity and
technical challenges that I find rewarding. I can’t imagine ever wanting a
job where Monday to Friday, 9 – 5, you sit in a stuffy office and just follow a
routine. There are so many different paths you can follow in the industry, it
always makes the job interesting. If you create characters and eventually
feel tapped out, you can always learn how to animate, write shaders, create
props, and so on.

Likewise, what are the things you dislike most?

The first thing that comes to mind is the general misconception about the
industry. I think far too many people who enter either form an opinion
about games or the games industry without being properly educated about
the subject. Schools rake in as many people as they can, almost promising
jobs, only to send out armies of misinformed students onto the job market.
You see so many commercials pushing a job in the games industry as if it’s
more or less playing games all day and incredibly easy to land a job. “Do
you love playing video games? You could be making the next great game!”
Really, it’s not that easy...

Name: Filip Hautekeete
Location: Belgium
Profession: Lead Programmer
Experience: Currently active in my own studio Miracle Designs, worked on
such games as Atari Karts (Atari Jaguar), Merlin Racing (NUON), Hooters
Road Trip (PC & PS1), Rascal Racers (PS1), Miracle Space Race (PS1), ATV
Racers (PS1), XS Airboat Racing (PS1), Taxi 3 (GBC), Crazy Chicken
X/Moorhuhn X (PS2), and Best Friends: Cats & Dogs (PC).

How did you start out in the games industry?

I had been doing hobbiest programming for almost 10 years (started at the
age of 12 on a Schneider CPC) until one day in 1994 I met a “Commodore
Amiga” friend who had just set up his own games company. While visiting
their development site I realized I wanted to get into professional games
programming too. I teamed up with my friend Peter who was attending the
same (at the time boring) computer science class at university, and just a
month later we visited the Atari booth at ECTS and we got hold of a Jaguar
development kit. Miracle Designs was born…

What do you like most about the games industry?

It is fun to invent and work on a game knowing people worldwide will be
playing it later on. The game industry itself is actually a pretty small world
because you keep bumping into the same people at any trade show you go
to. Working on games is a creative process and it is cool to know that your
input is valued and actually contributes to the project. You can pursue your
own ideas and get instant and constructive feedback from your team.

Likewise, what are the things you dislike most?

Everything about the game industry is in transition. New systems enter the
marketplace every few years. Although this way it never gets boring there
is always a learning curve involved. Publishers like to introduce time
pressure. Any project I have been working on there was deadline to hit and
unfortunately project tasks to give in to.

Name: Eric Boltjes
Location: Amsterdam - The Netherlands
Profession: Senior Game Designer
Experience: Currently working for Sony's Guerrilla Games on the Killzone
games. Previously as freelancer for Lionhead Studios, Epic Games and
Sunstorm Interactive.

How did you start out in the games industry?

I started out when a game called Duke Nukem 3D was released, which had
its own game creation tools in 1996. These tools allowed people to create
their own content for every aspect of the game, which was something I was
really interested in. After a year or two of just ‘playing around’ and
releasing my home-made game levels onto the internet, I got noted and
approached by a company who made commercial add-on packs for Shadow
Warrior and they asked if I wanted to make a level for their new product.
After that, word of mouth about my work got around and I got more and
more offers. I was hired full-time at Guerrilla Games when I was 19 by a
guy who I had previously done freelance work for.

What do you like most about the games industry?

For me it is the knowledge that if you do a really good job, if you give it
your best, there is a possibility that millions of people are going to enjoy
your creation. Having a creative outlet that has the possibility of reaching so
many people is very rare and is a huge drive for me.

Likewise, what are the things you dislike most?

The industry has grown exponentially over the past 10 years; games cost
tens of millions of dollars and take years to be created by teams of 150
strong, where in the past it would take 9 months for a team of 15. This
growth has taken away a fair bit of the individual creativity that used to
make the Games Industry so great and is making it very hard for the
‘simple man’ to come up with a fun game idea and make it see the light of
day.

Name: Carson “Dregs” Smith
Location: USA
Profession: Freelance 3D Artist
Experience: Currently for outsource studio Liquid Development for who'm I
produced content for games as Mass Effect, Aliens, Warmonger, Bourne
Conspiracy, Damnation, and Rock Band.

How did you start out in the games industry?

I had worked with a group of online friends on the Unreal Tournament
mappacks UCMP since November 2004 in UCMP and one those friends
happened to work at Liquid Development. When, one day, I sent him workin-progress picture of a wall deco for a level I was making, an Art Manager
happened to walk by and saw my work. Five minutes later, I was signing
contracts.

What do you like most about the games industry?

Working with a team of extremely talented artists… and I mean “off-thehook” extremely talented guys and girls that really make you push yourself
beyond your current capabilities to do better.

Likewise, what are the things you dislike most?

Two things. First of all a nasty four letter word: TIME. Some tasks will take
longer than usual however milestones must still be met. It’s not uncommon
that we have to put in many days of obscenely long hours to complete the
work at hand.
Secondly: poor concept art. As a freelancer it is nothing more than a mind
game to me if all the client supplies me with are vague raw pencil sketches
or verbal descriptions. Get ready to do your work more than one time….
And still get your feet held to the fire to finish it on time!

Name: Ben Burkart
Location: Texas - USA
Profession: Level Designer
Experience: Currently at GearBox Software, and an active level designer in
the Unreal community.

How did you start out in the games industry?

When the original Unreal Tournament came out I was instantly more
hooked on the Editor than I was on the game itself. I have always been
interested in making levels for strategy games like Warcraft and Command
And Conquer but never got serious about it until I found out what I could do
with the Unreal Editor. The Unreal Editor pretty much opened the door for
me and it was definitely the deciding factor in what I wanted to do with my
life.

What do you like most about the games industry?

I love being able to make something that has the capability of reaching
millions. I love being able to not only create dreams, but also to live the
dream that many people wish to live. Having an extremely flexible work
schedule (crunch time aside) is a huge plus, and other than doing
something I love, it's at the top of my list.

Likewise, what are the things you dislike most?

The long work hours can often take away from any personal life you have
and you're seldomly given anything in return for any extra effort you put
into it.

Name: Chris Harding
Location: Washington - USA
Profession: Associate Producer
Experience: Currently at Zombie Studios.

How did you start out in the games industry?

I was hired as the Office Manager, which involved basically answering
phones and making sure the office ran smoothly. I took on as many jobs as
possible having to do with active projects, and in three months was
promoted to Associate Producer. I have all the usual AP jobs – taking
notes, documentation, and self-flagellation – but also an opportunity to
exercise my training by helping write content for our current project.

What do you like most about the games industry?

Everyone here wants to be here. I don’t know if this is exclusive to Zombie
Studios, but nobody here just shows up for a paycheck. Also, everyone in
the industry seems to know each other – a guy I worked with at EB in high
school is now a Lead Designer. It’s weird.

Likewise, what are the things you dislike most?

The same thing you’re going to hear from most people – the hours. Since
this industry doesn’t really have a uniform managerial system, development
styles vary greatly from company to company, project to project. Little
things, like how many characters are in your game or how the graphics are
presented, can have a major impact on the makeup of a team and therefore
the development pipeline. Departments have complex dependencies among
each other and it’s sometimes impossible to work in parallel, so to
implement a system takes extra hours. And even if you have a
development style that you know will work, it also needs to mesh with
publisher’s needs. Then again, we also work extra hours because we have
cool ideas that we want to see put into the game.

Name: Rachel Cordone
Location: Oregon - USA
Profession: Designer and Scripter
Experience: Currently at Pipeworks Software on Godzilla Unleashed,
previously Columbia College Chicago, Blue Planet Software, Epic Games,
Lucky Chicken Games, CSRIC, InMotion Simulation, Do2Learn, Secret Level.

How did you start out in the games industry?

After I released CTF-Catherine, my first job offer came from the America’s
Army team. I couldn’t take it at the time because I was still in the Navy. I
continued to work on levels and started getting into UnrealScript, and after
I got out of the Navy I submitted one of my levels to CliffyB’s Ownage. The
level didn’t make it, but Cliff Bleszinski referred me to Secret Level. I had
an interview with them a week later, and started doing remote contract
work for them soon after. After a few months of that, they hired me on full
time and I moved to San Francisco.

What do you like most about the games industry?

I love being able to do something I love for a living, and not dreading
waking up in the morning and going to work. I remember someone once
saying to me, “If you find a job you love you’ll never work a day in your
life.” It’s very true. I also love the talented people I get to work with that
have the same passion for games.

Likewise, what are the things you dislike most?

I don’t like the long hours and working weekends. It doesn’t happen all the
time, but I’m a big fan of getting your work done and leaving whenever it’s
done.
While working freelance, I didn’t like the fact that everyone wanted inhouse employees, making it difficult to find work.

Name: Matthew Florianz
Location: The Netherlands
Profession: Audio Director / Sound Design Lead
Experience: Currently at Khaeon Games working on The Chronicles Of
Spellborn. Previously, Alpha Black Zero and Eurocops.

How did you start out in the games industry?

I always had a fascination for games, which extended beyond playing them.
When I was around 11 years old, I got my first home computer (a sharp
MZ-800) which unfortunately had only very limited software. So I bought a
book about the basics with which it came, and started making everything
myself. Games were also made and, although my programming interest
vanished with my first 386 PC, I did still create levels for popular games.
Years later, while I was working with two friends selling websites, we
managed to go commercial with a mod we were developing in our free time.
We became game developers overnight and kicked off our game
development career with the title Alpha Black Zero.

What do you like most about the games industry?

The fact you're working with people who have exceedingly different
backgrounds, interests, and personalities. It's very much like the first year
in high school where you know no-one and then you walk into a group of
people who like the same music you like. In development it's pretty much
the same. It's safe to say that it takes a certain personality to work in an
industry that underpays, overworks, and never quite appreciates what you
do as an individual.

Likewise, what are the things you dislike most?

It's an immature industry which means the people lowest on the totem pole
(the developers) are treated like an expendable workforce. Management,
and certainly investors, do not understand that it's not a bunch of random
people that create games, but that it requires skill and experience.
It's a terrible risk of course, and one that management/the money often
doesn't know how to handle. But to make good games, the kind of games
that people buy and play, that journalists like, you need long term
investments in teams and it seems this is becoming more of a rarity as cost
rises.
There are also not enough people with experience in middle management to
balance the pros and cons of development.

Name: Garth “Zombie” Hendy
Location: Stockholm - Sweden
Profession: Level Designer
Experience: Currently working for Grin on Bionic Commando. Previously
worked for Splash Damage on Quake Wars.

How did you start out in the games industry?

I started out as a level designer working on mods and levels for Doom 3. I
also had this urge to move overseas, which led to me to keep pestering
Splash Damage for a level designer position. After about a year or so of
developing my level design skills they hired me in 2005 to work on Enemy
Territory: Quake Wars.

What do you like most about the games industry?

You get to meet some wonderful, skilled, and interesting people while
working with some amazing technology. With graphical capabilities and
hardware pushing new boundaries, it’s quite an exciting time to be in the
industry.

Likewise, what are the things you dislike most?

I would say the worst part about the industry would be crunching without
rewards, which can really ruin motivation and encourage stress at times.
Working with bad management is also a big no-no that seems to be a
frequent thing throughout the industry as well.

Special Thanks
Matt Bromley – Proofreading and general advice
Romano Molenaar – Illustrations
Ben Burkart – Proofreading
Cédric Danneels - Proofreading
Frank Bakker – Website coding
Katrien Anthonissen
“Ivanpxxx”
Wikipedia
And all of my interviewees!

Copyright
This book, “The Hows and Whys of the Games Industry”, is copyright 2007,
by Sjoerd "Hourences" De Jong. Illustrations are copyright 2007 by Romano
Molenaar. Cover character by “Ivanpxxx”.
All trademarks and trade names are properties of their respective owners.

You may not reprint, republish, alter, translate or reproduce this book
or any part of it in any way and in any language without my explicit
permission.

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You must request my authorization if you would like to use parts of
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