Want To Work In The Game Industry? Then You Actually Need To Work!
One of the game production classes I teach is a Concept Workshop. The students enrolled in the course must prepare and deliver an 8-minute PowerPoint presentation describing a game concept to a Greenlight Committee of faculty members and invited guests. The PowerPoint needs to describe the game’s player experience, game mechanics, story, art, audio, staffing and risks, among other things. The Committee then decides which of the projects the students will develop together for their Final Project.
My students this month had been doing fairly well in developing their concepts, except for one student who was struggling to articulate and flesh out his idea. When I went to check on his progress early last week, I asked him, “How are you feeling about delivering your Greenlight Presentation on Friday?”
“I’m scared,” he replied. “I don’t really like talking in front of people. I’m worried they’ll ask questions that I can’t answer.”
“Don’t worry. We’ll do a dress rehearsal on Wednesday. You’ll do fine. But I am worried about the quality of your PowerPoint Presentation. It’s full of spelling and formatting problems.”
“I guess communication is not my thing.”
“Well, I’ll give you some detailed feedback on it so that you can fix it up. I need you to have it ready to deliver by 3:30pm on Friday.”
“Can you email me a reminder?,” he asked. “I’m really bad at remembering deadlines.”
“Tell me again what your career goal is.”
“I want to be a Game Producer.”
Now, this sounds like a joke, because a producer’s job is to be in constant communication with the team and report their progress back in management. The Producer is responsible for guiding the team to meet their delivery deadlines, and making sure the deliverables met the minimum quality standards. But the student was very serious, even though he knew what the responsibilities of a producer were.
In fact, the student had asked the other students if he could have the project management position (another name for the producer position on development teams) if their project were chosen. However, as I delved into the student’s history at school, he showed little aptitude so far for design, art or programming. He had some interest in level design and audio, but wasn’t particularly good at either. I surmised that he, like some other students I’ve had before him, wanted to get into a management role so that they could tell others what to do without doing any real work themselves.
However, game development is very difficult work, no matter what your position. You don’t necessarily have to have the hard skills of a programmer or an artist (although it helps), but you certainly need the soft skills of communication (both written and spoken), teamwork, discipline, and desire to deliver quality work, no matter what the task. There is no room in the game industry for someone who just comes up with the ideas or tell other people what to do without actually contributing to the development. Even a project manager needs to know enough about people’s jobs to break their work down into quantifiable tasks, measure the progress that the team member is making, and understand how everything fits together well enough to determine whether or not the project is going to make its deadlines. It’s a very active role, not one where you can do well by hiding behind a job title.
I worry about this one student. Although the game industry is growing at four times the pace of the overall U.S. economy, there are far more people wanting to get in the game industry than there are positions available. Those who do make will be the ones who came to work, not to play.