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Hey, that title looks like our slogan! This started as a comment to Derek’s post, but I decided I would kick it up a notch and give you all some Golden Jew advice on the gaming industry, if you actually want in. Matt is probably a better source than I, since he’s active in the industry and it’s been a decade since I was, but being Jewish, I know a little something about business (and about dodging Nazis).

Although the matriculation rate of QA peon to game designer is low in an institutional setting (EA, Maxis, Bioware, etc…shit… those are all the same company now!), it’s comparable to most other popular industries. Examples of “popular industries” include sports teams (going from bitch peon to normal peon), video games (QA peon to developer peon), and the movie industry (production assistant peon to producer peon). All of these are considered “hip” jobs and therefore are flooded with lots of people who want to do something “cool” and therefore are willing to flood their respective job markets with oodles of cheap, generally talentless labor and make entry level an absolute bitch. Having interned in 2/3 of these industries, I can attest to how horrible breaking in is, which is why I decided to keep my leisure activities, not my job, and instead go work in an intellectually challenging, higher paying, but non “cool” industry.

Zombie want brains… and entry level QA position at EA.

But if like so many of your peers you REALLY think that video gaming is for you and YOU, here’s what you need to do. Skip working for a big corporate QA gig, and instead go find yourself a small shitty gaming company and work QA for them. If you need help looking for candidates, go look at the terrible licensed games that are produced (and not even the mainstream terrible licensed games based on movies–look a notch lower). You’ll want to work somewhere with 20-40 people–maybe 50, tops.

You’ll still get paid near the same terrible salary, but the big difference is you’ll be in a small company environment. In a small company environment, especially one that has to struggle to feed itself, the environment tends to be very close and very tight knit. Your lead artist, lead programmer, and executive producer will be very close to you (down the hall, not in another building), and most likely be very accessible for shooting the shit and teaching. You’ll therefore get exposure to every aspect of the game design process, and in many cases even sit in game design meetings and possibly even contribute, especially in companies close to the 20 person size. Although it’s not quite the same as making Spore (because small companies can’t afford to delay their overhyped games for four years–is Spore getting an undergraduate degree, or PhD?), the same process is used, and you get to see the different departments operate and fight turf battles.

What you’ll also find is that there will be a few people in the company who are industry stars in the making. Small companies can’t survive, even ones that do crappy stuff, for a few years without at least one or two talented managers who can keep the place afloat (and that’s another criterion–to alleviate risk, don’t pick anyone brand new, unless they have substantial venture capital funding, but chances are then they wouldn’t be struggling and therefore would be picky enough to not hire your useless ass). These people tend to be brilliant, sometimes independently wealthy, and often awesome individuals (at the gaming company I worked for, which was acquired by EA after I left, our VP was literally a former rocket scientist who ran a MUD out of his basement before saying fuck it and starting the game company.) Attach yourself to these people, because they are often well connected–even for the small guys, the gaming industry is surprisingly interconnected, and if they end up going somewhere and think you are talented, they may bring you along. You might even get lucky and see your company obtain financing and release a good game that puts the company on the map, which will lead to better titles or possible acquisition. If your company gets acquired by EA like most game companies with at least one successful franchise, your rock star mentor may go on to do major projects and bring you along for that ride.

Is it a guaranteed path of success? Of course not. You’ll probably have some missed paychecks (which will never happen at a big company), but you’ll get to be part of a family, as opposed to a soulless corporate machine, and you’ll get to see how games, even if they’re bad ones, are made. In my mind, that’s light years better than working in a warehouse of evil EA corporate overlords with my fellow QA peons who would cut my throat for a chance to become a designer.

8 Comments

  1. Christian said on April 25, 2008:

    I think I’m the only writer on this website who hasn’t done anything in the “industry” or gone to E3 or something.

    And yet I write so much…

    Fuck the I’m the official VL manchild postulating game nerd!

    But I did get out of the house.

  2. jay said on April 25, 2008:

    Yes, having been to E3 makes me an industry insider. I’m also in the movie biz because I have a Blockbuster card.

  3. pat said on April 25, 2008:

    dont worry christian, your ability to program puts you light years closer to the gaming industry than i am. the only contact i have with video games is in the playing (and reading. and very rarely writing).

  4. chris said on April 25, 2008:

    I haven’t done anything in the industry either. My extent of trying was applying to a few programming positions once and having my resume summarily ignored.

    I don’t know if I want to join the industry, though. Making a freeware/independent game, maybe… but joining anything other than what GJ suggests here is like a ticket to 60+hr/week hell with very little good to offset it.

  5. Shota said on April 25, 2008:

    ok, people lets all calm down and stop passive aggressively stroking our egos because we are all ‘outsiders.’ We are all cool weather we are getting paid for this or not, and the pack of cigarettes rolled up in the sleeve of my T-shirt proves it.

  6. Christian said on April 25, 2008:

    Shota – would you share a light with me?

  7. Matt said on April 25, 2008:

    You basically described how I got into the biz, goldie. Small company, worked as QA for 6 months, and then worked my way into design. Which is one of the main reasons why I haven’t been writing as much, as I’m fucking massively busy these days. The only real problem I’m having is the absence of any type of mentor. I’m shooting most of this stuff from the hip, and blindly at that, with surprisingly few misses. I guess that’s what happens when you have no real life and play and think about video games all day. You’re bound to get a few things right:) Still wish there was one co-worker I could confide in and learn from.

    The only thing I don’t like about working in a small company is that too many people have their own opinions on the project. At some times I would rather tell my producer that this one thing should be done, and not deal with someone else’s opinion on the matter, like an artist or programmer. I’m the one paid to think about how a player plays and perceives a game, and as I said, I do that shit all day long. Randomly spitting out an idea you assumed sounded cool is quite possibly the most annoying thing I experience with day to day life. In a big company, that issue may be reduced. But, I’m sure there’s a multitude of other problems that arise with big companies, so I guess I shouldn’t complain too much.

  8. Stefan said on April 29, 2008:

    I refuse to miss out on the cool outsiderness trend, so I have to announce that I also have neither worked for a video game company nor been to E3. I did study graphics programming in undergrad, and had to write a realtime 3D engine at one point, but I swear I never actually got a job doing that :-)

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