Few industries demand the passion, energy and even fanaticism of the games industry.
Employers seeking game designers, developers and artists don't just seek competent, capable workers. They want people who live and breathe games. If that doesn't describe you, then this industry isn't for you.
"Passion is a given," says Jon Jones, art production manager at NCsoft Austin. "You have to love making games or you will never make it."
But the rewards of making it include working in a fun, creative environment with others who are just as enthusiastic about the ever-evolving world of games for PCs, cell phones, consoles and the Web.
The Game Plan
The route into the field typically follows this course: You try a computer game as a kid. You love it. You're hooked on it to the point of obsession. And soon enough, you want to make your own game, or participate in the process.
That's just what happened with Noel Llopis, now the founder of a small game development company, Power of Two Games. "Getting paid for doing what I'd do for fun is really a dream come true," he says.
Anyone seeking to work in the field needs to think through the possible roles -- not everyone in the industry writes code. "Once you decide specifically what you want to do, it's a much easier target to hit both in terms of focusing your goals as well as in marketing yourself," says Jones.
The International Game Developers Association breaks the field down into audio, design, production, programming, visual arts and business. Within those areas, job roles include the following titles, among others:
- 3D artist.
- art director.
- artificial intelligence programmer.
- audio engineer.
- lead designer.
- special effects programmer.
Make a Demo Game of Your Passion
Degrees matter less in the games industry than other industries hiring IT workers. Industry professionals advise would-be developers and others to participate in game projects on their own as a way to demonstrate their talents. And you must play games, of course, in order to be conversant in the field.
"Part of the reason the game industry is this popular is because if it ever comes down to choosing a candidate based on his degree or his level of passion, passion wins," says Jones. "Passion shows itself through the quality of your work and your attitude, and games are a great way of bringing that out of people."
Stay on the Waves of Change in Gaming
That's not to say you will love working in the industry, no matter how much you love games.
Every techie knows the pace of change within the information technology field can wreak havoc on careers. Game industry workers have to rethink their skill set on a regular basis and cope with the vagaries of working in a unique patch of the global entertainment economy. Not only do trends in the games themselves change, but so do consumers' preferences for various devices. That means the industry can seem like a chaotic environment as companies -- and industry workers -- scramble to keep up with shifting consumer tastes.
"Game developers often switch companies every two to three years," says Jones. "It's very much a survival of the fittest type of environment. Studios open, studios close and the industry moves at a nearly breakneck pace. You have to adapt constantly and be willing to ride the waves of change or you'll get left behind."
The industry is known for chaotic schedules and workweeks extending to 70 or 80 hours, or even longer. If you don't want to suffer from burnout, seek out companies known for trying to create a sane, balanced environment.
Just don't expect to be a loner. "Gone are the days of lonely bedroom coders," says Llopis. "Most top games are made by teams of 100-plus people -- some as high as 350 -- over two to three years. Thriving in a team environment is crucial."
For those who can thrive in this environment, the experience can be like nothing else. "If you can find the right company and the right team, you will be in heaven," says Jones. "Awesome coworkers, good money, company outings, practical jokes, free video games, beer Fridays, Nerf fights, no dress code, and a totally fun, lighthearted environment you can be completely relaxed in."