Friday, November 11, 2011

Question #3: How do indie games help a portfolio?


My friend and I in college are starting a studio to develop indie games while we are in school. We are likely going to start in the mobile market and hope to get a game or two published onto the Xbox Live Arcade for our portfolios. From your personal experience, do these actions benefit a resume in the industry? How do you personally view indie games and small teams when you are looking for future employers?

My response:

It kind of depends on what you want to do, but really I think that any game development experience is very valuable when it comes to looking for a job in the industry. Creating an indie game on your own or with others shows that you are ambitious and motivated, and will give you a chance to show what you can do (writing code, thinking up good gameplay ideas, etc).

If your goal is to become a software engineer and are programming the games yourself, the games you make will show off your programming skills and will allow you to create a portfolio. If your goal is to be a game designer for mobile and/or indie games, then these games be will extremely relevant to your portfolio.

However, if your goal is to become a game designer making AAA console games, those developers will want to see level design and/or scripting using a relevant engine. Mobile games will probably not tell them what they need to know about your game design skills. Same goes for 3D art and animation. The indie and mobile games are great additions for any portfolio, but if you want to be an artist you may need to create more sophisticated art pieces in order to get noticed by employers.

Regardless, all game development experience is beneficial and will give you something to show and talk about with potential employers. Good luck with your games!

Question #2: Choosing Between Opportunities

The job titles and locations have been changed to protect the reader's identity, but the changes don't affect the subject matter.

Question 2:

I wanted to get your professional feedback on a potential situation I may face, in the next month or two. Recently two companies called about interviewing me for a temporary contract QA-related position in Los Angeles and a Production-related position in San Francisco. I was offered the position in Los Angeles today and accepted to start two weeks from this upcoming Monday. However, The San Francisco interviews were supposed to have begun by now, but they were delayed. So hypothetically if in a month or so, the other company in San Francisco offers me the job, with equivalent money to Los Angeles and a job in Production, how should I approach that?

Personally, I would say move to Los Angeles, start working and see how things go with the San Francisco interviews. And if they offered me a better opportunity and position, put in my two weeks and go from there. Then again, I am not sure if that is proper etiquette as a professional within the gaming industry and if it would look bad on me for future positions.

My response:

That's kind of a sticky situation, but since you already accepted the Los Angeles position, it makes sense to honor it. If you do get a job offer from the company in San Francisco, you'll need to weigh your options very carefully. For instance, you may be required to pay back any relocation costs to the Los Angeles company if you leave before your contract is up. Also, if it is truly a contracted position and not just temporary employment, you may not be able to get out at all. At that point you might have to seek legal advice from an attorney. Read your job offer and paperwork carefully and make sure you know what you are getting into.

If you do leave a position long before its end date, you absolutely risk burning bridges permanently. They may be the type of people who will be super understanding of your desire for more stable employment and a loftier title. They may even say, go for it. Or, they may not be empathetic to that at all. They may be left in a bind if you go, there may have been other people they could have hired who have now accepted other jobs, they may lose money that they invested in you in terms of your relocation and any flights for interviews, etc.

But at the end of the day, it's your life! If you do get an offer from the San Francisco company and it's an opportunity that you can't pass up, that is your decision to make. Just make sure that you understand how binding your contract is. If you are tied to it, you may have to see it all the way through, and hopefully the other company will consider you for opportunities once your contract is up. 

Q and A #1: Marketing a Marketer

This week I'll be posting some of the questions I've received and answered, in hopes that some of you out there may be in similar situations and might find these Q and As helpful.

Question 1:

I have a great dilemma and I think you might be able to answer some of my questions or point me into the right direction. In order for you to get an idea of my current situation, I feel I should give you a brief background about myself.
I’ve been an avid gamer all my life and my dream has been to work in the gaming industry since I can remember. Knowing how hard it is to get a job in the industry, I decided to get an MBA degree with an emphasis in marketing to improve my chances of landing a business related job for a gaming company. I have had no luck so far and I think I know exactly why. None of my past jobs are related to gaming, although they have all been technology related within the IT industry. I know this results in my resume not being attractive to gaming companies, which is my main problem.

That being said, I know in my heart I should be working for a gaming company. I’m always up to date with latest games, trends and culture. I research and study games and the gaming industry every day and I feel that I know what factors make a great game and what consumers want. I know that if given the opportunity to work for gaming company I can make very significant contributions to developing a great game. I just need to get my foot in the door and show what I can do.

Not being successful in obtaining a job in the gaming industry has not discouraged me. I decided to start my own company about year ago. We are a small team that develops games for mobile platforms and our first game will be released before the end of the year. I’ve been hands on with every aspect of our game development and learned a great deal during this process. I’m even more eager than ever to land a video game related job and continue learning with industry professionals.

My question to you is what can I do to effectively communicate my passion and eagerness to work for a gaming company and the best way to get my foot in the door? All the factors that I feel make me a good candidate don’t really fit well on my resume, except our gaming company, which I feel companies won’t take as seriously because I’m the founder. I know you’re extremely busy but any advice or help you can provide would be highly appreciated. Again, I thank you for your time and I’m really looking forward to hearing back from you!

My response:
First of all, congrats on the MBA and on starting your own company! Both are big accomplishments. But I do understand your frustration. Although it's a tough industry to break into and having previous experience does help, everyone who currently has industry experience started with none. Here are the best tips I can think of sharing given your current situation.

- You may already be doing this, but be sure to explain your passion for games and talk about your games company in your cover letter (just like you did in your email to me). Tailor it to the company you are applying to and talk about the ways in which their marketing strategies have impressed you, and/or how you think you could fill in some obvious gaps, etc.
- Make sure you are covering the bases in your job search. Publishers are more likely to have marketing opportunities than developers.
- Be open to working at small companies to start. Even if the first game you work on isn't a big blockbuster, you'll be in a good place. Games that don't already have a name for themselves depend heavily on good marketing, and you'll be able to showcase how you tackled those challenges in your resume and talk about them in interviews.

- Get to know people who are already working in the industry. Attend industry events, do informational interviews, etc. A good portion of hires are referrals.

- Since you don't have previous experience marketing games, why not put together a portfolio that shows what you can do? Create a mock marketing strategy for a fictional game, or a game that the company you are applying to is shipping in the near future. What sort of grass roots and/or social networking strategies would you use? What have you noticed that the company you are applying to is missing in their strategies? What are some big, creative ideas that might be appropriate? Anything original or untapped? On the business end, in what ways has your previous experience prepared you for coming up with big budget or tight budget marketing strategies? How in depth is your current knowledge regarding how to forecast game sales? Etc. These are questions you can tackle in a portfolio.

- Be open to working elsewhere in the entertainment industry for the time being. Film, music, and other media can have similar corporate cultures and marketing strategies, and relevant entertainment industry experience will be attractive to games companies.

If you don't find a job right away, don't be heartbroken and don't give up. At the end of the day, wherever you are, you're still marketing a product. Enjoy the fact that you can use your creativity and smarts to market any sort of product, even if it's not one you come home to and spend hours with every night. I love working in games, but HR at a games studio isn't worlds different than HR somewhere else. Try to get the best experience you can and continue to enjoy games and stay in touch with industry news and trends. I hope that is somewhat helpful. Best of luck to you with your job hunt!