Sunday, May 18, 2008

Cry Me a River

I saw this piece of drivel linked from Kotaku a couple minutes ago about some guy who tried to get into the game industry, failed, and is publicly whinging about the fact that he wasn't given a fair shake.

There are a LOT of things about this article that I could go on for pages about, but let's just hit a couple of the big ones:

1.) "Two years ago, I moved from Ohio to Arizona to pursue my dream of becoming a part of the industry. I attended a school that offered the promise that with hard work, the school would provide the education and support I needed to learn skills I had never learned before. I was told that over the course of my studies, a powerful portfolio would be created and my degree would confer confidence to game developers because the school was known and accredited. "

A piece of advice - if you're looking for an education that is relevant to a specific field, rather than looking at the advertising brochures (or worse, the late-night TV commercials), you should figure out whether any of the graduates of a program *actually* move on into the game industry.

I did a quick Google search for game education programs in Arizona, and nothing came up. Frankly, in terms of game education programs, if it wasn't Full Sail, USC's game program or the ETC at Carnegie Mellon, game-specific education is functionally worthless, IMO. If you want to break into the industry as an artist, go to art school and get a well-rounded art education. If you want to break in as a programmer, get a well rounded software engineering education. If you want to break in as a designer... good luck. But the industry is only 30 years old, and is one of the fastest growing, fastest changing industries around.

Game development depends at this point on people of wildly varied educational/experiential backgrounds to bring new perspective to the industry. If your education has been solely focused on game development, and your hobbies/passion are games, what new perspective do you bring?

2.) "I believe the industry needs to allow for outside and inexperienced people to reinvigorate the game development process. I believe that those who have a shipped title on their resumes, while talented and dedicated, perhaps are closer to burning out than an individual out to make his or her mark."

Awfully presumptuous, don't you think, to talk about the people who have shipped games without actually having gone through the process? The people in the game industry are incredibly talented, incredibly energized creative people. There is almost no shortage of ideas, and no shortage of people who want to push the envelope. There are a lot of issues that make that difficult - the business model, the money involved, blah blah blah - that's probably a hundred posts on its own. Fundamentally, though, everything in this paragraph is wrong.

Yes, new people bring fresh perspective that is great - but that's balanced with a naivete about how development actually works. If you want to break the rules, *learn* the rules first. Yeah, maybe you'll be the new face that destroys the paradigm and revolutionizes the genre, but even in those cases, generally the people are smart enough to learn what's going on before flipping the table over and peeing on the floor.

3.) "New studios understandably don't want some inexperienced person with a mixed portfolio and no projects or titles. It's very risky. However, I believe that a new studio should take some risk to recruit hungry and fresh outsiders instead of just looking for people who may already be disaffected by their own careers."

Again, it's infuriating that you're talking about how burned out and wasted developers are when you have NO IDEA WHAT YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT. Yeah, hiring someone with no shipped games with a "mixed" portfolio (whatever that means) is risky. And yet it happens all the time. People find incredibly creative ways to break into the industry. Create a mod. Make a map and get people to play it. Get involved with community sites. Write a Flash game. You're an artist? Make some models while you work another job to pay the bills. Bust your ass and don't give up.

The fact that you've quit - walked away with your tail between your legs is a *sure* sign many companies would *never* hire you. Game development is a tremendous pain in the ass. It's an industry that you're *only* in because you have a ridiculous, overbearing passion for game development. If you wanted it so badly you gave up, you didn't want it badly enough.

4.) "Individuals with base skill sets and true passion are ready and waiting to be given a chance to shine."

And they'll keep waiting until they get off their ass and go grab the opportunity, or they turn those "base" skill sets into extraordinary skill sets. Passion doesn't get you shit. No one gives a flying fuck that you *want* something. You show them you *need* it, and more, that they *need* you, and maybe - just maybe, you'll open those doors yourself. No one's going to give you a chance. You've got to earn it.

5.) "The industry needs to do something to bring in new talent and prevent scores of people from wasting money on schools that won't help them when they're done."

It isn't the industry's responsibility to keep you from making bad decisions. It's not the industry's responsibility to keep you from giving up. Yes, there could probably be better sources of information out there, but did you check the easily discoverable ones, like the IGDA or Gamasutra? Probably not, but that you're putting it on the "industry" shows me where you think the responsibility lies.

6.) ""The game industry needs more women because it needs more games that appeal to women, thus allowing the market to grow further."

Your wisdom is inspiring. None of us have ever thought of this before.

7.) "My own lack of a mind-blowing portfolio and lack of completed projects -- due to many factors both within and beyond my control -- is not the reason I set out to publicly harangue the industry."

Here's where you're mistaken - your lack of a mind-blowing portfolio is your fault, and your fault *alone*. And your public "harangue" of the industry is such an embarrassment that it boggles the mind - it's like those guys on Craigslist who post how nice they are and how much they love and respect women and how those fucking whores never give them a chance.

8.) "I just want the industry to be aware that there are people out there with deep passion and love for this medium who simply want a chance."

Just to make this absolutely clear, the chances you make are the only chances you get. You wanna sit around and wait for someone to hand you a job? Fuck you. Get a job in test. Prove you're passionate and willing to bust ass for the job. Build up your portfolio with amazing work. Persist. Passion and love don't get you shit - show me you're *talented*. Show me you bring something new to the team. Show me why we can't live for one more second without you, and then, when we talk, it's because you made that opportunity happen.

Otherwise, keep waiting.

9.) "I believe the game industry would be pleasantly surprised to find that those on the outside really just want to make appealing games, the same as someone with a Grand Theft Auto title on her resume."

You know who wants to make awesome games? EVERYONE. The reason you go with the guy with GTA on his/her resume is that they've busted their ass on a crazily ambitious project and finished it. You know they've got the passion, the drive, and you can see their talent in their work. What do *you* have to show?

10.) "I am now pursuing my "plan B" and have no doubt I can lead a productive and happy life outside the game industry. All I want is for those with base skills and the deep desire to make a difference get a fair shake, too."

Good luck on Plan B. Seriously. Game development is clearly not for you - you have *no idea* what it's like. I'm not sure what you think happens, exactly - that there's some inner circle that conspires against n00bs or what - but the game industry is one place where a lot of the entry level positions are genuine meritocracies. In most cases there are so many extraordinarily talented, driven people vying for the same jobs that it's *easy* to give the job to the best of the best, and completely ignore everyone else. You're not in that 99th percentile with a portfolio that'll blow everyone's mind?

Cry me a fucking river.


Seppo said...

A comment on game-centric education programs: There are arguments to be made about getting an engineering degree from a game-centric school - you learn the state-of-the-art tools that are often not taught elsewhere, for instance. Same with the art paths at those schools - your education will undoubtedly be very focused on the specfic tools required to make cutting edge games.

But *for the most part*, personally, I'd rather look at someone who's gotten a traditional CS degree and has a ludicrous passion for games, or someone who's gotten a well-rounded art education that took their own time to learn the tools. The tools change on a yearly basis - the fundamentals do not.

For a *designer*, I would essentially *never* look at someone with only a game-centric education. I've worked with some people who went through these programs and they're great people - as passionate and hard-working as one could imagine. For level designers, it's not a terrible path to take.

But for a lead designer, or a *game* designer, I don't think that it's suitable. The distinction between a "game" designer and a "level" designer is that for the most part, the "game" designers design the underlying systems and the framework within which they all fit, and the "level" designers build the game world, laying out the geometry, dealing with creating the pacing and the actual moment-to-moment experience.

I believe I'm offending everyone who's gotten a game-centric education, and it's not meant to be personal - but the problem is that you absolutely *need* other interests to inform the design process. For me, this is a strong interest in film (a popular "hobby" among game developers), experience with mechanical design, and some experience creating both music and drawing/painting.

All of these other interests radically influence how I approach the game design process, particularly the background in mechanical design/engineering. The *best* other designers I've worked with have had interests in literature, art, writing - frankly, almost anything else that you're passionately devoted to helps, because it gives you perspective that you can bring to a still-fledgling medium.

When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. We have enough people who know what videogames *are*. We need more people who can see what *else* they could be.

Seppo said...

For the record, someone on Kotaku found this guy's online portfolio/resume. If this is the end product of his years of schooling, he should demand a refund.

The contents of his portfolio look like they would have been state-of-the-art in 1996, and given that he's using much more modern tools, that doesn't speak highly of his skills. There are things in his portfolio that are *instantly* recognizable as lazy, half-assed work. Worse, he's got stuff that looks literally like the kind of thing an elementary school kid could do in MS Paint.

If that's your resume, it's no wonder you've never been called for a phone interview. I can guarantee that at *best*, your resume/portfolio was simply tossed in the trash without a second look. At worst... well, people can be pretty mean about this sort of thing.

The poor guy's expectations of what kind of skills are necessary to create games today are way, way off. While I think he's a bit of a shit in his letter, after seeing his portfolio, I almost feel bad for the guy - the education he paid for was a sham, and he's now left with an undoubtedly huge bill for an utterly worthless skillset.

I'm not kidding - I have no doubt that given an online tutorial and a copy of Max, I would wipe the floor with this guy in less than a week.

That he can look at the current state-of-the-art (Gears of War, Uncharted, etc.) and think that the things he's creating are even remotely acceptable is baffling to me.

dr-tectonic said...

It sounds to me like this guy was seriously overprotected throughout most of his life, and is now having to deal with failure for the first time. This is what helicopter parenting does: you get people who have no idea how to cope with obstacles, because the way has always been smoothed by parental involvement.

I may be wrong, of course, but I'm picking up a distinct vibe of "but I tried really hard, isn't that enough?" from his writing, and I think that's a hallmark of the attitude of entitlement that results from being too afraid to ever let anything bad happen to your kids.

hapacheese said...

So, seppo... tell us how you *really* feel? ;)

In all seriousness, I completely agree with you. While I happen to be one of the lucky few that had an industry job fall in his lap, once I had it, I busted my ass off to keep it and move up. And in my years here, I've learned that you can pretty much instantly tell who are the people who will succeed, and who will move onto other things.

And like anyone else in the industry, I get people asking me all the time what they need to do to have a break. And I always tell them the same things - basically the sorts of things you said (build mods, build a portfolio, start in QA, get a marketing degree, etc), but it seems like most people want to know what they can do *right now* to get into the industry, as if they were waiting for me to just say, "Well, glad you mentioned it because we've been looking for someone exactly like you for ages!"

s said...

Good article and 100% true. I had to man up, do a good amount of work on my own, and email resumes for 6 months before I got my shot. And even then I had to pay my way out to interview...

I would include Digipen in the list of good schools...

Asking around about the RB drum color order, the answer is what I was thinking. It had to do with good mapping for controller flow. It felt good having select (green) and back (red) where they are.

Seppo said...

Good to know re: drum order. Still, it's strange, 'cause I'd think the snare (red) would be the "primary" pad and the hi-hat/ride would be "secondary", which would make them green and red, respectively.

Admittedly, that'd only make sense if the physical drumpad had a layout that made that more obvious. As it is, I can understand why they did what they did... it's just weird. :D