By Zack Tan
Don’t you wish you could make your imagination of a game into a reality? Don’t you wish how a certain game can be done differently?
If your answer is “yes”, a career in the games industry might be ideal for you!
Currently, I am an undergraduate serving my internship in game development. But just a few months back, I was really lost on my career decision. If you are like me – a dreamer who is passionate about games and gaming culture, let me help you by sharing my thoughts about my recent experiences. Through this article, I hope to give some of the indecisive readers some confidence in pursuing their aspirations and get started on a life-changing adventure.
I was a lost child…
In just one more year, I will be graduating from my college with a major in Information Systems. Just like every insecure undergraduate, I thought long and hard about what I really want to do. What are my passions? Is it financially wise? Is it too risky? I have a lot of doubts. I mean, money is constantly an issue since housing and marriage is very expensive in Singapore (or at least for a guy like me with a humble background).
It became clear to me that I want a career in the games industry when a big-name company (not mentioning names… you know… *cough* that French company that has produced a lot of *cough* honorable titles…) came over to my school to give an information session. Their intention was to search for potential recruits. I was nervous since I do not know how to behave, what to say, and I was afraid I would say the wrong thing and make them put me in the blacklist for employment. Fortunately, they brought an alumnus to the session, and after a long chat with her, I realized, ‘Hey, you do not really need a games-related formal education to get into the industry!’ And that was when I seriously considered being a games developer.
I was hooked…
I am fascinated with games. If you are born in the late 20th Century, you’ve probably heard of, and played the games Ragnarok Online, Gunbound, and Maplestory (they were really popular back when I was a little cub). I still remember the days that they gave out Ragnarok Online CDs at Popular Bookstores to customers.
Ragnarok Online – Merchant players vending in the capital town
I was addicted to them. I could not think of any other things other than playing those games. There were even some nights when I lied that I had showered just to get a little more playtime. I was often scolded for playing games till late at night, and you know for a kid, sleeping past midnight is a huge deal!
And it’s not just the popular ones. I played many other games like Pristontale, Knight Online, Survival Project, A3, and many more.
Pristontale – Look at those shiny weapons!
Then again, I am not saying you should be addicted to games to get into the industry. It is by no means healthy and you should seek professional help should you have your games disrupting your life too much. It took me some pain and determination to pull myself away from it (the truth is my computer broke down and my parents couldn’t afford another computer). But I think being deeply passionate would be beneficial to enjoy making games. It would be weird otherwise, wouldn’t it?
Confirm your conviction
Remember the information session I mentioned earlier? Of course, I was not the only one who went. To be honest, there were some awkward moments in that session. My college has trained students well for formal interviews and to take potential employers very seriously. But because of that, some students were generally too uptight and said some things which didn’t reflect too well to the employers . From that, I have learnt a few lessons.
Firstly, you should truthfully ask yourself, do you really want to be in this industry? Playing games and making games are two very different things. Think of games as a software application – it can be on any platforms (mobile, browser, PC, console, etc). It takes a different skillset to use an application as compared to making an application. Similar to an application, you generally need an engineer, a designer, and an artist to make a game. It would be helpful to have a chat with someone in the industry and get an idea of what the daily activities are going to be like.
Secondly, you have to do some deep research. I don’t exactly mean jumping straight into learning programming or how to animate characters, but it will be tremendously useful to communicate in the language the people in the industry uses. There are many interesting platforms to learn from such as websites like Gamasutra (http://www.gamasutra.com/) and YouTube channels like Extra Credits (https://www.youtube.com/user/ExtraCreditz).
Thirdly, it’s okay NOT to know everything! It takes people years to master just one aspect of making games. It’s pretentious for an undergraduate like me to claim to know everything. Besides, there are people with great potential out there who do not know much about the industry. The employers know this and they don’t expect you to be all-knowing! So, do not berate yourself too much, just go in with a learning attitude, and you will be fine!
As some wise person said, “Life is a learning journey”. In this day and age, when you can conveniently go online, or go down to libraries or bookstores to educate yourself, it is important you do so continuously. Because there are so many things to learn, you should prioritize your learning. Let me give you an example. Due to my discipline, I am required to know some programming. So, I decided to capitalize on that and attempt to enter the industry as a game-play programmer. Though ultimately, I would like to be a game designer and even make games myself. There are some nice courses in sites like Udemy and Coursera (and YouTube) that you can start with. If you are also a programmer, I suggest getting started with beginner-friendly game engines such as Unity and try creating a 2D game. Get familiar with the components and the scripting (language used).
Of course, not everyone wants to be a programmer. There are many other roles in a game development team. There are veterans in the industry suggesting online that starting out as a QA Tester might be a good start since from a technical perspective, the barriers to entry as a QA Tester is lower. “QA” stands for “Quality Assurance” and what they do are playing the game repeatedly to find out bugs and problems in the game. These problems that they find have to be documented properly (search “bug report”) so that game developers can improve on the design of the game and fix the bugs as well. For starters, you can practice by volunteering for developers of early access games on platforms such as Steam and offer to be a QA Tester. After all, these games are released early to help the developers improve and develop their products.
Having explained all these, it is debatable whether entering as a QA Tester is suitable for beginners. Personally, I feel that you should work towards what you want to be and acquire the necessary skills, not avoid learning them. Make sure you find out about the different roles available within a game development team and decide on what you want to be (realistically) and work on that!
In my opinion, I feel that regardless of the role, it is essential to have some basic knowledge of game design considerations. I recommend “Art of Game Design” by Jesse Schell and “Theory of Fun” by Raph Koster. Don’t be intimidated with the number of pages, if you are really passionate about games, you will breeze through those pages, trust me on this! I really enjoyed reading them a lot.
And… Don’t give up! The magic of Law of Averages
You have already thought things through, and you spent your free time learning things and leveling up yourself. Don’t give up after the first wave of rejection! I was initially depressed and felt that my dreams of making games is crushed after the first 11 local studios/companies rejected my application for internship. I did not give up and continue to send cold emails to (almost all) local studios, with each email being carefully crafted after researching on each studio. I believed in the Law of Averages and I am grateful it worked its magic on me.
Watch this (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D_pGQBdX55Y)
Also, it is important to know what you have done before entering an interview. The interviewers will be interested to know why you did things a certain way. Explain clearly on your considerations, the pros and cons, and present it nicely, preferably with some form of evidence such as a demo, or some screenshots. Rehearse if you have to! In fact, do rehearse. I know it is scary to go into an interview and try to promote yourself while knowing you are just a newbie. I understand. I held on tightly to my courage and was honest with my lack of knowledge and it somehow got me the internship.
Finally, don’t be dejected with a rejection after an interview. Listen to what the interviewers say. They often give advice on what you can work on or what you should say. Listen to it carefully and then work on it and try again! Remember, the law of averages.