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  • Austin GDC 2007: A Game Industry Journeyman

    - staff
  • Transcript from the Game Career Seminar at Austin GDC 2007
    "A Game Industry Journeyman"
    September 7, 2007
    Speaker: Andy Schatz, Pocketwatch Games

    Host: Andy Schatz thank you for speaking.

    Andy Schatz: You're welcome. Good morning everyone. How many of you are actually students. Almost everyone? Not almost everyone? Almost everyone. How many of you are students specifically in game development? Okay, about half the students. And how many people are already working professionally in game development? Okay cool, good.

    My name is Andy Schatz. I am the founder and CEO of Pocketwatch Games . We're an indie studio. You probably have heard the term "indie games" like indie music and indie movies. There is a significant and fairly strong indie game development movement in the world today. I'm going to be talking with you today about how I got here and the road that I took to get here, throughout my career.

    I've worked in a variety of areas within the game development industry and also as a hobbyist. [I'll ask talk about] how I was able to put together my own little studio and how all you can do it, and how I funded it. We put out two games in the last three years on a shoestring budget. You may have read some of this in the bio and description of the session, but anyways let's get started. By the way, feel free to raise your hand if you have any questions. I would like to keep this pretty informal and anyways let's go, let's do this thing.

    The title of the session is "A Game Industry Journeyman: Learn how to break into the industry and how to break back out of it." A lot of you here are students and you're looking to get into the industry as artists or engineers or designers. That [raises] another good question: How many artists do we have in the room? And programmers or engineers? Designers? Okay. There's a pretty good mix of everyone.

    When I talk about the game development industry that you're trying to break into, it's an incredibly exciting field. It's much bigger than probably most of you realize and not just in terms of revenue-in terms of numbers. But in terms of what you can actually do in this industry, and where you can go, and what types of jobs are available, and what types of games are being created. There's way more than you realize. That's a really important thing to realize because all these games across the spectrum are cool. They're fun to work on. Believe me I've worked on everything from adver-games all the way up to big console games, down to games that I programmed myself. I've done it all, and they're all fun to work on-they really are.

    That said, the title [of this talk] should probably not read "A Journeyman," but "A Game Industry Forest Gump." I'm not really that good at anything I do. Throughout my career I've been in the right place and I've been there at the right time. I'm not the best engineer you've ever met, even though I worked in the console industry as a game engineer. I wrote some significant Xbox Live code. I've written a lot of artificial intelligence in my career but, I graduated in the middle of my class. I'm not some stellar super star. But what I am trying to get across here is that every single one of you can do this. Every single one of you can become extremely successful not just in terms of how you rise within the industry, but in terms of your own happiness and your own satisfaction with your jobs.

    So pep talk over ... actually it's not over. That's sort of a lead into [the fact] that I haven't become rich from working in my own company for the last three years. In fact, I haven't taken a salary for three years. But my job is exactly what I want it to be, and I'm happier in my life than I've ever been in my entire life. The reason why is that at Pocketwatch Games, I code the games myself. I design the games myself. I do all the business. I write all the contracts. I hire employees. I get to see my games on the shelf. I get to see my games sold on the internet. I get to interact with my community. I'm my own community manager. Going to the Apple Store or Wal-Mart or Target and seeing your games on the shelves is an incredibly satisfying feeling.

    What I'm trying to get across here is that as you move forward in your career in the game development industry, you shouldn't just be thinking about what game you want to work on or what job you want to have or what you want to get paid, but what makes your life the best. I think that as we're starting out in our careers, we don't think about that much. But really, that's the end goal of your careers. Sorry if I get too preachy here...

    One of the most obnoxious things about starting as an indie is that everyone thinks you're not working. They're all trying to come get you to work as an engineer, maybe an entry-level engineer at EA. "Fuck you." Don't email me unless you have a CEO position open. I always say that and no one ever does.

    I'm a MySpace slut, so if you get really bored during this talk and have your laptop out, feel free to friend me. It's awesome to have lots of friends. I say that it's a little self-serving because the fact of the matter is when you start in your careers, start networking from day one. The reason that I've gotten to where I have is because of friends and mentors that I've worked with in my various jobs.

    My first job in the big console high-budget industry was at Presto Studios in San Diego. They were famous for doing the Journeyman Project. They did Myst III. We did Whacked!, which was the first Xbox Live title. That was a studio of only about 30 people. It was really during the time when small studios were kind of crashing and burning. But the people that worked in that small office were the most talented people I have ever worked with. They're incredible people. They're tech directors at EA now. They're tech directors at Sony, art directors, gosh, there's an art director: Dan Paladin, you may have heard of him. He has become somewhat famous for doing all the animation and art for Alien Hominid and Castle Crashers. There's just an incredible number of people whom I've worked with in these small studios. I started there as an intern.

    Start networking right away. Use Facebook. Use LinkedIn. Use MySpace. Hook me up with some friend requests.


    So why should you listen to me? You're my awesome MySpace friend and we're buddies and you should always listen to your buddies. Like I said, I'm not really the best engineer you've ever met. I'm not the best designer you've ever met. But I definitely have gotten to where I've gotten somehow. Keep your goals in mind and keep your life goals and your career goals in mind. It's really going to help you get there.

    By the way, we're going to get to the Pocketwatch stuff in the second half of what I want to talk about. The second two-thirds of what I really want to talk about is actually Pocketwatch Games and how I built it and how you guys can do that as well. I'm just going to go through the beginning stuff first and then we'll get there.

    "Are you really sure about this?"-that's the next question you've got to ask yourself. Do you really want this to be your job? You all love playing games, but do you love making them? There are plenty of good jobs out there for all of you outside the game development industry, and yes you'll take a pay cut going into the game development industry, compared to what you could make elsewhere. Yes, you will probably be working longer hours. There are studios where that's not true, but they are few and far between. The game industry is always changing but there's one thing that always remains the same: you're going to work your ass off. Every single one of you loves the idea of making games: you love art, you love engineering, and you love design. So you are competing against the best of the best. Everyone here loves it, and so they are all willing to sacrifice to do it.

    That leads into working conditions. I don't know if you guys have been paying attention about three or four years ago when the whole EA_Spouse debacle about working conditions at EA [broke]. That was really rampant throughout the industry. At the time, I was actually working at a place called TKO Software and we were contracting for Electronic Arts. We were finishing up the horrid Golden Eye title. Previous to that, we were working on Medal of Honor: Breakthrough, which was an expansion pack, which is already a sacrifice, working on an expansion pack. Twice they pulled us from our homes in Santa Cruz down to LA to live in hotel for four months, pulling all-nighters like once a week, in order to get this game done. This really is how some of the game industry is. EA would like to say that they are changing but they're not changing that much. This really is how the game industry is. So be prepared for it.

    Part of the problem is that the culture of how these places work is that if you want to succeed there and if you want to rise to the top of these places, you kind of do have to do that. You will learn some great things. You will learn work ethic, if you are pulling all-nighters, absolutely. I highly recommend that you actually go and do this for a little while. But I don't recommend doing it for your entire life if you don't want to.

    I think the most important thing for you to do at the beginning of your career is be aware of the business issues that create poor work environments. The business issues are different for every portion of the industry. So when you're talking about Electronic Arts, a big first-party publisher, it's going to be different than a small developer that's working for a publisher. It's going to be different from working in marketing, or if you're doing work for hire on smaller games or independent games, or working on games intended for Xbox Live Arcade, or Steam, or the downloadable market versus the retail market. You really need to be aware of the business issues beyond your job in order to successfully create the career that you want in this industry. That's one of the things I want to talk about little further.

    This is me [showing photographs] at age eight playing something. I was a happy kid because I was playing games. There's a little Might and Magic back there. It was awesome. A little earlier than that, my mom had given me a book that was like a type-in-transcribe this code into the game and you have a little ASCII character that you can slalom down the mountain between flags. So I became a game developer, and slowly overtime, I turned into this. I was a cute kid, right?

    How did that happen? I started coding. It will happen to every single one of you, well, at least the programmers. It really didn't get any better from there. There's me at age 13 with my sister. That's pretty cool. That's a cool picture. There is some history in it. There's Monkey Island and Civilization over there.

    I was full-fledged coding at this time, making games on my own as a hobbyist. Which, if you haven't started making games on your own outside of school and you're not already in the industry, start now. Go home today and start making a game and finish it. The very first game I ever did was a little single screen thing where you could WSD around a little character and run away from a skeleton. You could play with another friend. I actually finished it. That was awesome because it was very small in scope. It was scoped within stuff that I could do.

    By the time I was [this age in the photograph], I was scoping things really, really, really big, which all of you probably also want to do. I actually did manage to complete my second game, which was called Servants of Darkness, and it was this huge strategy game as a Warlords clone, and I actually finished it. But I was pulling all-nighters at the age of 13 to get this done. So this is a lesson to be learned for even hobbyists, that we all want to scope games big and we all want to compete with what's out there. If there's one thing that the casual game market has shown us recently, it's that you don't have to scope games big, not only to be successful, but to make fun, cool, and interesting games.

    "Who am I?" Again, let me get back to this; gosh, this sounds so egotistical now. I am just talking about myself this whole time and then preaching and you guys are loving it.

    Like I said, I haven't had a paycheck in three years. My first title sold 70,000 copies, which is awesome. It outsold Grim Fandango, which I think is really freaking cool. But at the same time, I'm not a rich guy. I keep hoping that this next one is going to allow me to put on three full-time employees and we are going go out and compete with Zoo Tycoon, which sold 5 million units in the last five years.

    The fact of the matter is, [selling a lot of games is] not necessarily what's going to make you happy in your career. Certainly, what I found is it's not for me. This comes back to the word indie. Does everyone pretty much know what indie games are? Is there anyone that doesn't have a feeling for what that is? I assume everyone does. Yeah? Okay, so just briefly. It's really just the idea of people making games without significant investment into the games you're making. Generally, people are working for free. Generally, they are being paid based upon the number of sales that they get, and quite often the games are distributed online or are starting to break into other spaces like Xbox Live Arcade and stuff.

    But really, indie gaming today is what game development was 15 years ago, or even 20 years ago. Back when X-COM was written by one guy in his garage-that was an indie game. Again, I've worked in marketing, label design, engineering, art direction, production, and business.

    This is the real question that you are trying to answer with your career. It's not about how much money you are making. It is about the games you are putting out. It is not about how much money you're making or what your position is. It's about what you're doing on a day-to-day basis, what you're doing when you're not at work on a day-to-day basis, and the impact you're making on the world and in our industry.


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