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  • Game Careers: The Basics

    - Ed Magnin
  •  Learning Your Trade

    Video game education programs didn't exist when I was in college; neither did video games for that matter. A lot of us early pioneers were self-taught or learned at the hands of other, more experienced people. I taught myself to program the Apple II, and I had the good fortune to work at MicroProse with Sid Meier (of Civilization fame) and got to port (or translate) his early games from the Commodore 64 to the Apple II and later the Apple IIgs. I learned a lot about programming from that exercise, kind of like an apprentice craftsman learning from a more experienced master craftsman.

    Quite a few years ago, I took some students to visit Shiny Entertainment (the creators of Earthworm Jim) and asked one of the lead programmers, "How important is a degree?"

    He held up his hand and touched his forefinger to his thumb to make a zero. "We throw resumes in the trash. If you don't send us a demo that shows what you can do, we don't care where you went to school."

    This important.

    Today, the chance that you'll be able to teach yourself and get a job at a top company is slim. With more and more schools around the country preparing students for careers in the game industry, game companies can choose from a well-qualified applicant pool. Game-specific schools typically require students to create a portfolio of work, a variety of sample games that showcase the student's abilities in a variety of areas.

    Choose your educational path carefully. The best schools for people who want to have a job in the industry straight out of college have close contacts with industry professionals, some of whom serve on their advisory board or teach an occasional course. A good program should balance both theoretical and practical education as well. In addition to studying theory, you should have some hands-on activities where you apply the knowledge you learn in the real world. Look at the game companies in your area or near the school you attend. Does your school offer any kind of placement service for full-time work or internships? Ask good questions before you accept an offer. 

    Your First Job

    Don't assume your first job will be in your home town or state. There are certain areas of the country where game companies have concentrated. Southern California (where I grew up) is a major area, as is the San Francisco Bay Area and greater Seattle. Since I've been in Texas the last four years, I've come to appreciate the thriving game industry in both Dallas and Austin. There are some companies clustered around a few other cities in the U.S. and Canada as well. And large publishers often have multiple studios located all over North America, as well as overseas.

    Early in my career, I moved from Southern California to Baltimore for the opportunity to work for MicroProse. A few years later, I moved back to work for Cinemaware. Moving to Virgin Games and Park Place Productions were reasonably local moves. Once I started my own development studio, I could relocate wherever I wanted. Being near a major school program is a big plus for me, so I can help run an academic program and make sure the next generation of game developers has their chance to succeed.

    Ed Magnin has worked for more than 25 years in the game industry and has taught courses at the college level for the last 10 years. He is currently director of development for Magnin & Associates, an authorized Nintendo DS developer, and is also chair of the Game & Simulation Program, at DeVry University's Dallas-Metro campus.


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