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  • 42 Pro Tips for Leveling Up

    - Game Developer Magazine Staff
  • Getting your start in game development isn't easy. That's why we consulted with Game Developer magazine's long-time columnists for some real ProTips on making your entrance to the industry as painless as possible.

    Getting to business (David Edery, Spry Fox)

    1. Educate yourself. You are going to be told repeatedly that a business degree (undergrad or grad) is useless in the game industry. Ignore the people who are telling you this. They are misinformed at best and you should not let them deter you. These same people will probably tell you "just get a job in QA and after a few years, maybe you'll have a shot at an assistant producer job." That's certainly a viable path that many people have followed, but it is often an exhausting (and poorly compensated) path, and it is *not* the only path.

    2. Network your butt off-for years, if necessary. There are many more people like you than there are jobs to be had. Go to GDC and any other legit conference you can think of; if you can't afford a pass, many conferences accept volunteer labor in exchange for a conference pass. When networking, your goal is to meet and connect with people who might, for whatever the reason, feel some kinship with you; it will most likely be fellow business folks who remember the troubles they once had breaking into the industry. Empathy is a powerful thing. Try not to corner and annoy these people; listen to whatever drips of wisdom they feel like sharing with you, and if they are willing, indulge them with some information about the interesting game-related projects you're working on (and anything else that makes you seem interesting.)

    3. You are working on game-related side projects, right? If not, why the hell not? Not knowing programming is no excuse. Make friends with an engineer, or teach yourself programming. Make friends with an artist, or find free art on the Internet. There is no excuse nowadays not to have created and launched a game to the public. Do it on the web and/or mobile devices. Do it multiple times, if possible. You'll learn a ton, hopefully have fun, and make yourself more employable in the process.

    4. Analyze the analytics. Nowadays, the one thing many game companies are realizing that they need is an analytics specialist. That's someone who understands how to do an AB test, how to do a regression, and ideally how to query the database where more detailed game information is stored. If you haven't graduated yet, don't miss the chance to take a course in statistics and/or a quantitative marketing course. It might help you get a job down the line.

    5. Get an internship in a business role (production, marketing, etc). Work for free if you have to during that internship. Again, anything that gives you real world experience and distinguishes you from the people around you is a plus. Big companies (Microsoft, EA, Sony, and so on) are typically the best places to get such an internship for a variety of reasons; they usually pay reasonably well, they have established internship programs that increase the likelihood that your internship will actually result in something useful for the company and for you, and they are more likely to have business internships available in general.

    6. Most importantly: Be honest with yourself. Is your interest in working in the game industry a passing fancy? Do you love playing games and therefore think you might like making them, but haven't tested that assumption at all? Breaking into this industry can be a brutal process, and getting to the point where you're doing what you actually want to be doing can take years of effort. If that realization dampens your enthusiasm, you might want to consider another industry. You will almost certainly earn a better salary in the short-to-medium term (and perhaps long-term as well). If, on the other hand, you really cannot imagine anything else you'd rather do... don't let anyone stop you.

    The art of production (Matthew Burns, Shadegrown Games)

    7. Know your stuff. Educate yourself broadly on all aspects of game development. Learn about art, design, engineering, audio, and testing. Otherwise, you won't understand what the people on the teams you produce actually do, and you'll be at a disadvantage when trying to help them.

    8. Be well-read. Educate yourself broadly, period. Learn about group dynamics, cognitive biases, sociology, the arts-anything you can get your hands on that looks interesting. There are a lot of domains applicable to the everyday choices of game development.

    9. Production isn't about giving orders. Realize that being a producer doesn't mean you tell the team what to do. A good producer is someone who and helps the team overcome obstacles from both within and without.

    10. Find a mentor. It doesn't have to be formal; just talk with people who have more experience than you do.

    11. Don't look at your own experiences as a way to confirm your assumptions or biases. Be open-minded, learn, challenge your understanding of things.

    12. Learn how to detach yourself from your own ideas. As a producer, your role isn't to make the creative decisions; it's to make sure your team has what it needs to properly make those decisions.

    13. Stay calm. If your game development project is proceeding like normal, there is likely to be someone panicking or getting angry. It's especially bad if that person is the producer. Be the rock of stability in a roiling sea.


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