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F.A.Q. #41:
CAREER SWITCHING

The Applicability of Non-Game Degrees & Experience

July, 2004

NOTE: these FAQs are primarily aimed at aspiring game designers, but many of the concepts described herein also apply to those who aspire to other types of jobs in the game industry. This FAQ is subject to changes and improvements; reader comments are welcome.




Most of these FAQs are targeted to students - those game industry aspirants who have not yet finished their schooling, and are focusing on career preparation. Lately, though, I've noticed numerous questions from guys (and even one gal) who've already gotten degrees -- and already started working in some other industry -- and now want to switch over into games. The usual question: "How do I break in?"

There's good news and there's bad news.

The Good News: your work experience is good creds. It shows that you're not a starry-eyed kid* who doesn't know how to work. Your resume and your references establish that you understand how to comport yourself in a work environment. You understand the importance of punctuality and teamwork, not to mention basic hygiene, manners, and appropriate dress. You ain't no dumb fresh grad who thinks a job is "like college only you get paid."

The Bad News: your experience wasn't in games. You don't know anything about the game biz. You have it over the dumb fresh grads by dint of being older and wiser, but other guys your age who have already been in the biz know a lot about the game biz that you don't have a clue about. Not only that, but you gotta be paid more than a dumb fresh grad.*

It's a truism that the points in your favor are invariably outweighed (in an employer's eyes) by the points that go against you. You can point to your applicable experience, your degree, your being seasoned all you want (I'm not saying you shouldn't). It's the other stuff you have to address with extreme prejudice.

SHOW ME

Provide tangible evidence that you're passionate about games and know something about the business - that you're somebody who should be hired.


INSIDE THE EGG SHELL

The game industry is like an egg. There's a liquid inside with a thin but hard shell. You're outside the egg right now, and you want to get inside. The trick is getting through that shell.

It doesn't matter where you penetrate the shell. Once you get inside, you can move around to other positions more easily than you can break through in the first place. If you want to be a game designer, but your experience only lets you break in as an artist, fine. Take the artist job. You can become a game designer later, after you've proven your talents and skills to the company. Get my drift?

Note: the "egg chart" above is not meant to be accurate or scientific. It's only to make a point.

IT CAN BE DONE

Your experience has value. Leverage it as much as you can. But you gotta show that, regardless of the fact that your degree and experience were in non-game arenas, you are somebody they need on their team. Do your research on the company and their games. Tailor your demo or portfolio for the company (you already knew that). Leverage your experience to find an applicable position within the target company. Once inside, you can migrate to the position that is right for your talents and abilities.


* I fully expect that some readers will be offended at being called "starry-eyed kids" and "dumb fresh grads." I am not characterizing not-yet-employed college/university graduates as starry-eyed or dumb - I am merely opening your eyes to the way you might come across to an employer.

** I fully expect to raise some hackles with this talk about marketing. I've met some really great marketing folks who came up to speed on the biz and accomplished good things. But I've also seen an awful lot of those other kinds too. Don't make me tell you the stories. Just don't. NOTE: I mean it. Don't.


Name = Scott Bonds
Age-Ed-Occ = producer with EA
Date = 7-10-04
Comments = >Hey Tom,
> Great article on switching into the industry! I recently made the switch and I'd like to mention a couple resources that your readers might find useful. First, I recorded how I went from software consultant to producer at EA in my blog: [URL no longer valid]. It's just one example of how someone has actually done it. Second, the QoL [Quality of Life] whitepaper by the IGDA discusses some of the challenges faced by people making the switch--it's over here: http://www.igda.org/qol/whitepaper.php.
> Thanks again for offering an *excellent* resource to people interested in learning about the industry. I read your articles extensively when I was trying to figure out how to get into games and I refer emailer after emailer to your pages for advice.
> sb


Update: I talked on this topic at E For All's Game Career Seminar in the summer of 2007. The talk was entitled "Switching It Up: Changing Career Paths" and you can download the slides at http://www.gamecareerseminar.com/.

And I've written on this topic a few times in my IGDA column, "The Games Game," at http://www.igda.org/games-game/.

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© 2004 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved. May not be re-published without written permission of the author.