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  • Ask the Experts: Location, Location, Location!: Part I

    - Jill Duffy
  •  Dear Experts,
    I live on the southeast coast of the U.S. and I have heard of maybe one company that's over this way. My question is, are there any good companies based here near south Tennessee that I could maybe commute to?

    Dear Experts,
    I'm from India and I'm a business communications final year student who wishes to be a game producer. I've done a lot of research on the internet in this regard, and I think I'm best suited for a role as an associate producer. If I start working at an Indian game studio as a tester or some other position, after gaining experience, can I expect to get a job abroad, preferably in the U.S.A.?

    Dear Experts,
    The gaming industry seems to be predominantly composed of people from Western nations, with the exception of the several Japanese game development houses and publishers which are composed of Japanese. Would these game development companies be willing to hire foreigners and go through the trouble of arranging working visas?

    Dear Experts,
    I was wondering about the particular difficulties non-U.S. residents have breaking into the game industry. I live in Australia, which doesn't exactly have a huge game industry, so when I finish my degree, I will probably have to look for a job in the U.S. or U.K. ...

    Dear Experts,
    I'm a Brazilian student of engineering. In Brazil, it's almost impossible to get a job in game development because there are no big companies ...

    Dear Experts,
    I'm currently living and studying in Singapore ...

    Dear Experts,
    I am an engineering graduate from India interested in a career in game development ...

    Dear foreigners, expats, and kids from the sticks,

    I've been hearing from many readers abroad as well as in rural areas of North America lately who are extremely concerned that there are no game development jobs to be had where they live. For some, I'm sorry to say, they're right.

    The question of finding a job in the game industry while considering location -- and relocation, and nationality, and visa status, and so on -- is too huge a topic to tackle all at once. In this week's column, I'm going to focus on explaining where game jobs do exist, and some of the places may come as quite a surprise. Next week in Part II, I'll tell you who can stay put, who has to move, and why.

    The Map

    I'm going to share with you one of my favorite web sites. I think I've mentioned it in this column before, and I've definitely sent it to a few of you who have emailed me with location-specific questions:

    GameDevMap is an interactive map that points to hundreds of cities and regions where game developers, publishers, and other related companies have offices. How cool is that? Go ahead and open a new window or tab on your web browser so you can toggle between reading this and looking at the map.

    Clicking on a red square brings up a list of entities in that particular area, which are then color-coded according to their category, either developer, publisher, developer and publisher, organization (primarily comprising IGDA chapters), mobile or handheld game makers, or online developers.

    This geographical site is a wonderful resource for people who are a little misinformed about the existence of the game industry in their location. For example...

    Anything for Aussies?

    I've heard more than once the myth that Australia has no game industry. On the contrary, Melbourne and Brisbane have a thriving industry, and there are more companies scattered along the southern coast of the country as well. Australia is home to some pretty big players, too, including Pandemic and a sizable THQ studio.

    Additionally, there has been a major professional conference in Australia for game developers every year since 2002, not to mention a few smaller ones as well. There just happens to be a low-cost event coming up on August 18 called Free Play , for independent games. So all you Australians out there: If you're able to get to Melbourne in mid August, I couldn't think of a better way to spend $20 -- you'll be granted access to working game industry professionals, whom you can speak to about how the industry has been growing in Australia over the last few years.

    The Hotbeds

    What GameDevMap doesn't show visually (until you click on a specific city) is how many developers or publishers are clustered in a certain area. Luckily, Dave Perry (founder of Shiny Entertainment) has a site called Game Industry Map powered by Google Maps that does show developer density. Unfortunately, Perry's site is still a little slow loading (I'll give the man a break since the map is still in beta), but it's useful if you're patient.

    To summarize what you might find on Game Industry Map, within the U.S. and Canada, there are a few cities, listed below, that are well known for being hotbeds of game development. An interesting side note for anyone looking for a higher education institution is that many game-specific schools crop up around these hotbeds; but traditional schools in these areas, including community colleges, tend to have a passing understanding of the game industry as well. A great example is Austin Community College, which knows all about the online development community there. But the biggest development regions in the U.S. and Canada are as follows:

     California, Northern and Southern. California is the largest by far, with its industry clustered around two major cities: San Francisco and Los Angeles. Because both of these cities have a high cost of living as well as a high cost for office space, the lower-cost surrounding areas are quite strong, too. Redwood City, for example, is a good 25 or 30 miles south of San Francisco proper, but it's home to EA's massive headquarters. Likewise, San Diego is in a completely different county than LA, but it's near enough to the City of Angels to have sprung off a sister game community. In fact, Raph Koster's (known for his work on Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies) new company Areae is in San Diego.

    Austin. The capital city of Texas is home to a unique game development presence that specializes in online games, particularly massively multiplayer online games. The big names there are Sony Online Entertainment, NCsoft, Midway, and Bioware, with some new and more experimental companies, like Trion World Network.

    Seattle (and Bellevue, Redmond, and Kirkland). Microsoft headquarters are in the greater Seattle area, so it's no big surprise that Bungie Studios and Microsoft Game Studios are there. Valve calls nearby Bellevue its home, as does Sierra Entertainment and Vivendi's Sierra Online. A few companies that specialize in sub sectors of the industry live in Washington state too, like PopCap Games, which makes casual or mini games.

    Montreal. Ubisoft is probably the largest developer in Montreal, but there's a strong grouping of smaller companies in this francophone city as well. Nearby Quebec City has some game developers, too, but Montreal definitely has the lion's share.

    Vancouver. Developers I've talked to who live in Vancouver rave about two things: the wonderful quality of life in the city and the nearness of Seattle, which is only about 150 miles to the south, for doing business.

    There are certainly other places where game development is taking hold in the U.S. and Canada, such as Toronto, Massachusetts, New York, and North Carolina, but those listed above are the major ones where an inexperienced developer will maximize his or her options for finding work.

    Internationally, a few more countries quickly come to mind for having a sizable game presence: Japan, Australia, the U.K., France, Germany, Korea and in particular Seoul, and Singapore.

    Other countries have game development in the form of outsourced or "offshore" companies, meaning people who do some specific part of the job for the company (for example, testing or making some art assets). The ones I hear about most are in Eastern Europe, Russia, and India. I'm sure more outsourced companies exist far and wide, but we hear about them less frequently and in less detail because they perform behind the scenes work and are often not credited on released games -- even more so than in-house game developers!

    What's in Part II?
    In the next column, we'll continue this discussion by talking a little bit about relocation. If you're still wondering, "Do I have to move from where I live now to work in the game industry?" you won't want to miss Part II! I'll also talk about why some companies have relocation bonuses, and the benefits of living in a hotbed.


    Upcoming Events In the Game Industry Around the World

    Games Convention
    August 23-26
    Price: about 29.50 euros for a 4-day pass, or 12 euros for the day

    GC Asia Conference (GCAC)
    Suntec Singapore International Convention & Exhibition Center
    September 6-7
    Price: 25SGD-200SGD

    Game Career Seminar at Austin GDC
    September 7
    Price: $99

    London Game Career Fair
    October 23-24, 2007
    Price: not yet announced

    Jill Duffy is a contributing editor of and senior contributing editor of Game Developer , the U.S. trade magazine for professional video game developers. On the topic of location, she feels your pain -- she's lived in six apartments in as many years and is about to move again. Email your question about the game industry to [email protected] .


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