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LESSON #7:
Various Jobs In The Game Biz -- Which Are You Suited For?

NOTE: many of these lessons 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 lesson is subject to changes and improvements; reader comments are welcome.


There are lots of different and interesting jobs in the game business, but they're not necessarily all right for you. To discover what would be the best job for you, you need to:


Personality Types:

It can be enlightening (in a self-revelatory kind of way) to take a personality profile test such as the Myers-Briggs Test and find out what kind of personality type you are. Or to take the MMPI (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory), which is specifically geared to career suitability. Here are some web sites I found in a quick search where you can learn more about this topic:

http://www.personalitypage.com/index.html

http://www.typelogic.com/

See how personality types and jobs go hand in hand at http://www.personalitypage.com/careers.html.

I, for instance, am an INTJ. (I've taken the Myers-Briggs, which is how I know -- I didn't just intuit that I'm an INTJ, although I probably could have, heh). According to the Department of the Interior's list of types / careers, I would be suited for the following jobs (I'm just selecting some that may be appropriate in the game biz, and which appeal to me):

I find this a satisfying list. I've been a designer and inventor; I did do a little programming for a while, although I'm not a programmer. I am very big on strategic planning, am currently offering my services as a management consultant, and I find Law to be very interesting, the more I learn about it. So I think that this personality typing thing is pretty accurate!

You may have a hankering to be a designer, but if your personality profile says you are suited for a career in Sales, it might not work out as you had hoped. Your own proclivities and habits could be your biggest obstacle to obtaining that which you seek. Embrace your youness. Don't fight your natural abilities. I'm not saying you can't learn how to draw if your profile doesn't list "artist" among your suggested occupations. I'm just saying that you'll likely have an easier and more satisfying career (and life) if you do not deny your true nature. I think it was Polonius who said,


Game Biz Jobs:

Here's a quick overview of some selected jobs in the game biz:

Programming -- It takes a lot of programmers to make a game these days. This is the era of specialization. What's your specialty: A.I., 3D, logic, math? The lead programmer is an experienced individual with managerial skills. Not only do game companies need programmers to make games, they also need programmers to make installers, websites, and other reusable technologies. Read Article 15 for more information about the job of game programmer.

Design -- Most games need several designers, focusing on particular aspects of the game. A big game like Civilization requires a lot of people doing research and designing levels. Several aspects of games need design: levels, the user interface, the A.I. The lead designer is an experienced individual with managerial skills. Read Article 14 for more information about the job of game designer. And read Article 69 for information about the job of Level Designer.

Producing -- Someone has to manage the process. The game is usually managed by a Producer, who may have one or more Associate Producers and Production Coordinators helping take on the workload. There may be a Director handling the creative side (and managing the creative personnel) while the Producer creates and maintains the schedule and budget, and coordinates with licensing, marketing, sales, operations, international, and QA. Read Article 42 for more information about the job of game producer.

Graphics -- Not only are graphics needed in the game itself, graphics are also needed for packages, promotional materials, and websites. Read Article 53 for more information about getting a job in game graphics.

Sound -- Games have come a long way since the Atari 2600. Most sound now comes from sound effect libraries and studio recording sessions. The sound engineer has to oversee the recording of voices in international languages, and has to make sure that all sound effects, music, and voice are equalized and delivered to the programming staff in the appropriate formats. Read Article 53 for more information about getting a job in game audio.

Marketing -- Games don't just sell themselves. Have you ever seen those cardboard displays at the software stores? The ads in newspapers, the ads on TV? The contests and promotions and online events? Even the box and the very title of the game have to come from somewhere. That stuff doesn't just happen. That's all marketing.

Licensing & new business -- There's a whole lot of business surrounding a successful game. The other merchandise like strategy guides and toys and soundtrack albums, and bundled CDs with new computers. Licenses to port games to other hardware.

Testing -- Contrary to what you might have heard from certain idiots who put testing down, testing can be an excellent pathway into the game industry for folks who don't have art, marketing, or programming degrees, if it's done the right way. See Lesson 5 for information about the job of QA tester.

Hardware engineer -- Software publishing companies probably don't have a lot of call for hardware engineers, but hardware companies (see below) do. Somebody has to design that stuff and build prototypes, repair the equipment, etc.

Executives -- The people who run the game companies usually rise through the ranks. Some started as programmers or designers. I know one executive who began in the warehouse. What have I said before? Ya just gotta get your foot in the door. Take whatever job you can. The more you learn about how the business works, and the better you apply yourself to it, the better your chances of growing into the top decision-making levels.

Writers -- Game design documents are created by designers and technical writers. The voice dialogue and onscreen scripts need to be written by someone with creative writing skills. Writing instruction manuals requires a special kind of writer. And there's the copy for packages and ads. Read Article 32 for more information about writing for games.


Types of game companies

Software developers -- Companies that make software under contract for publishers. Software developers get paid for making games -- they don't have to risk the huge bucks to get the games distributed, pay for advertising, stuff like that. But those things are still part of the overall equation (it comes out in the royalties).

Software publishers -- Many software publishers have in-house development; some do everything in-house and some do everything outside. The type of jobs available in software publishers varies accordingly.

Test labs -- Increasingly, Q.A. is being outsourced to companies that specialize in game testing. These companies aren't as desirable to work at as a publisher or developer would be, if you have hopes of moving up into, say, game design. Read FAQ 5 for more about that.

Hardware manufacturers - console games -- Sony, Nintendo, Microsoft. These companies do make games for their systems, but because they're hardware manufacturers, there are a lot of types of jobs available. Nintendo and Microsoft are in the Seattle area. Sony has offices in Northern and Southern California.

Hardware manufacturers - arcade games -- This industry has shrunk with the maturation of the home console industry. But there's still a business here. Most companies are in Chicago, Texas, California, Japan.

Hardware manufacturers - gambling machines -- The machines they use in Las Vegas are looking more and more like videogames. The gaming business* has opportunities for programmers, math-oriented designers, graphic designers, and hardware engineers.
* That's right, the gambling industry is called the "gaming" industry. So please don't use that term in regard to video games and computer games. The word "game" or "games" should be used instead. [retroactive rant][/retroactive rant]

Hardware manufacturers - dedicated handhelds -- Companies like Tiger, for instance. My first game design was for a dedicated handheld (the Game Time watch) when I worked for Western Technologies (a company which no longer exists). Oftentimes, the design is created internally but the programming is done at the manufacturing facility (or the chip provider's facility) in the Orient.

Hardware developers/inventors -- Arcade companies and gambling machine companies and toy manufacturers don't develop everything in-house. Developers/inventors who provide services for such companies have jobs for programmers, designers, artists, and hardware engineers.

Toy & board game manufacturers -- I wish I could tell you about what kind of jobs these companies have, but I'd be stabbing in the dark. Varies from company to company, depending on what extent they do in-house development. Bit of a different kettle of fish from the other kinds of companies I've mentioned.

Lone Wolves, Lone Gunmen, Independents -- If you are going to be your own boss and do everything yourself, well, you have to be able to do it all -- programming, design, marketing, finance, legal... You'll probably have to outsource the legal, graphics, and audio, maybe even hire programmers to do the bits you can't do yourself.


Wrapping Things Up

Not everybody gets to be Shigeru Miyamoto or Sid Meier. But you can get a satisfying job in the game biz if you know yourself, know what's available, and know how things work.

  • Careers in video games are pretty awesome.
  • Get your GAME CAREER GUIDE right now at http://www.gamecareerguide.com.
  • For pretty much every job in the game industry, you need a college degree. QA may be an exception (you also don't necessarily need a degree to work in the mailroom or mopping the bathrooms). Yet another reason to go to college before getting that game biz job... they say a college degree adds a lot of money to your lifetime income. I even heard this on a TV show, so it must be true! Check out "Degree Dollars: Four Years of Higher Education Can Pay Off for a Lifetime" at [broken link deleted - try Googling it].
  • Want the latest word on salaries in the games biz? I'd just post a link to the latest one, but they have a new survey every year, so you have to do a smart search. The survey is published yearly in Game Developer magazine, but it isn't posted on the gdmag website, it's posted online through GameCareerGuide. So go to gamecareerguide.com and type "salary survey" in the site's Search box. You may see several choices pop up. Don't get your panties in a bunch worrying that the one you look at isn't reliable enough -- it is. It's reliable enough for your present purposes. In late 2008, GameCareerGuide put together the 2007 salary survey with past entry-level figures, just for wannabes' benefit, at http://www.gamecareerguide.com/features/617/the_paycheck_how_much_to_expect_.php. So it's a few years old, there's still good info in there.
  • For even MORE helpful info about the various types of jobs in the game biz, see the Career Paths pages on the IGDA website - at http://archives.igda.org/breakingin/.


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