We've all seen those painfully embarrassing commercials. The one that starts with two big dupes sitting on a couch playing some generic looking title with bleeps and bloops pounding in the speakers. They look like they should be working, and when their manager bursts in the room you think they’re busted for sure. But instead of scolding his lazy workforce, he asks, �Are you guys done with that sound check on level 3?� So it turns out that these losers are working on a video game. After that revelation, a logo for whichever college comes up, �And you can work on games for a living too at 'such and such' University of Video Game Design.�
Now, is there more to gaming development then just design? Of course! I attended a panel at ScrewAttack gaming convention (SGC) given by Matthew M. White, head researcher at Pragmatic Gaming Laboratory. According to White, there is far more an individual can do on the development side than what those amateur-looking commercials would have you believe. Key choices he focused on included Researcher, Instructor, Writer and QA analyst/tester.
Research, sounds boring doesn't it? What if I told you that that there was a game demo in development that dealt with human sexuality. And no, I'm not talking about the �Hot Coffee � Mod in Grand Theft Auto: San Andres. It's Lapis the bunny. A sex trainer game, more info at Moboid.com.
If you have a passion for something that can be integrated into gaming, then there is a possibility of making a career out of it. When I asked Mr.White to expand on this aspect concerning researchers, he told me, �Researchers in particular differ from individual to individual. I particularly conduct research at the intersection of play and learning/cognition.
I'm interested in what's happening in people's brains while they're playing video games - this can be valuable to developers particularly because they can use this knowledge to improve their products before they are released.� That right there is enough to make me head hurt, maybe somewhere some researcher had down a paper on that. Some of these positions are government sponsored or professorships usually.
So, where do Researchers go to die? They become Instructors. Instructors are often time, ex-researchers/professors and ex-designers/programmers. These instructors take their practice in digital gaming peddle that skill. It's take what you've learned and pass it along to other trying to enter the field. With the experience learned from years of research and design for various gaming labs or game developers.
Those who possess a degree in English, Journalism or Social Studies can become journalists who cover the video game industry, better known as game journalists. Or if slumming in a deservingly under-appreciated profession for little money isn’t your thing, maybe even a Public Relations person, who are the people that market the games out to news outlets. If you are studying a second language. Then through Localization you can translate foreign titles for American audiences. After all, who hasn't played an imported game where the dialogue just didn't sound right? �All your base are belong to us.� Ring a bell for anyone?
One easily accessible entry level position described was QA beta tester, which is a fancy title for someone who plays games A LOT. If you have an eye for detail and can extended gameplay sessions, this may be for you. If running around an enchanted forest in some MMO looking for bugs sounds enticing, just remember that some people do that anyways whether they realize it or not. Often times, these positions are three or four month internships. But over time enough experience can be accumulated to apply to a higher level job, but nothing is guaranteed.
The main impression I got from the overall lecture was that if you can find a way to intersect your passion and interests with gaming, then there is potential with to make a career out of it. One of the key elements to finding opportunities is to be creative with your own skills and attributes. Also to go to Gaming events like Conventions and Gaming Conferences like GDC. Join game related special interests/research bodies groups (DiGRA, CGSA, EduSIG, Game studies, Gameology.org, IGDA.org ) or create one (IGJA.org. Starting websites to suit your passions are also extremely helpful as well.
A good tip when you are out at events was to have a business card ready. Most people in the gaming industry are easily approachable as Mr. White explained. And by giving them a business card, out of reflex action, they will hand one out in return (I wonder if behavioral analysts helped out with this tip?). Such opportunities though come out of mostly luck, taking a chance, and just finding a way to intersect your interests into the industry. Remember the game industry is still young, and not as badly affected by the current economic crisis as other industries.
Matthew M White's homepage, Matthewwhite.ca.