- Ascolta “The Crystal Habit Podcast: Episode 22“
02 Agosto 2013
Meagan Marie – Community Manager
Rich Briggs – Esperto del settore Videogames
Alex Offerman – Esperto del settore Videogames
Fred Dieckmann – Esperto del settore Videogames
Lindsey McQueeny – Crystal Dynamics Recruiting Lead
[ La trascrizione italiana di questo podcast non è attualmente disponibile. Contiamo d’inserirla prossimamente. Scusandoci per l’attesa, postiamo nel frattempo la trascrizione inglese. Qualora vogliate offrire la vostra collaborazione, vi preghiamo di contattarci via mail; il vostro supporto sarà molto apprezzato.]
Segment 1: Intro
MEAGAN MARIE: Hello everyone. Thank you for tuning in to episode 22 of the Crystal Habit podcast. Like always, I am your host, Meagan Marie. For the next couple of months, we’re going to kick off a special series of podcasts that address one of the most frequently asked question most of us get in the studio, which is how to get your start in the game industry. From here on out, each episode is going to give you tips and advice for a specific vocation – what you should have in your art portfolio versus your animation portfolio, or what you should be submitting if you’re a programmer. To kick off the feature, we’re going to start this episode with an overview of the industry and general advice and best practices from veterans at the studio. We’ll also talk to our recruiting lead about the dos and don’ts of submitting a resume and so forth. I hope you enjoy the episode and find it extra useful. Remember, we’re doing this podcast series for you guys, so if you have any specific questions you want us to tackle in subsequent podcasts, send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Segment 2: Breaking In
MEAGAN MARIE: I have three. Well, Rich, you’ve been on the podcast before. I have two new faces, but really voices, on the podcast in addition to Rich. We have Rich Briggs. Hello, Rich.
RICH BRIGGS: Hello. How is everyone doing?
MEAGAN MARIE: I’m sure that if they could answer you, they would say very well, because they’re excited to hear all this industry advice. We also have Alex Offerman, who is a senior producer here, and Fred Dieckmann, who’s a senior designer. We’ve not had either of you, Fred or Alex, on the show. Thank you for joining us.
ALEX OFFERMAN: You’re quite welcome.
FRED DIECKMANN: You’re welcome.
MEAGAN MARIE: All right. We’re going to start going around our big conference table and have you guys first introduce yourselves, talk a little bit about your position and what it means, what you do here, and then dive just a little bit into your education and how you broke into the industry. That sounds like a lot. It kind of is. But this is the sort of anecdotal stuff that’s really helpful to people. Let’s start with you, Rich.
RICH BRIGGS: Well, hello. My name is Rich Briggs. I am the brand director here at Crystal. That means that I get to manage a very talented group of people, and together we work with Square Enix, our publisher and I guess you’d say almost our owner, our parent company, to pull together the marketing strategy, the PR. We work with them on all the sales promotions. In general, anything that has to do with marketing or creating any of the trailers or other marketing collateral that you would see whenever we launch a game. But we also like to think of ourselves as the stewards of the brand, which means that hopefully we make sure that Lara Croft and Tomb Raider or anything else that we do is being treated with the utmost respect and being presented in the best light at all possible times. In terms of my education, I went to college and got a bachelor’s in marketing. I knew that I wanted to be in the industry, ever since I was a little kid. I started playing games when I was five years old on my Atari 2600. I also knew that I was not very technically oriented. I’m usually the least technically inclined person in any given conversation, so I figured that the best way that I could contribute to the industry and make my mark was to contribute on the marketing side. One thing that I could always do was try and convince people that I was right, or that they should do what I asked them to do. After I got my marketing degree, I actually cold-called Sega. I had always had a lot of respect for them, and I had very fond memories of my Master System, my Genesis, my Sega CD, et cetera. It turned out that they were just about to open up a position in their marketing group for a junior product manager. I was able to convince them to fly me out. I was in D.C. at the time. As many of you know, they were in San Francisco. Based on a few things, which I can talk about later in terms of how to break in and how to set yourself up, I convinced them to give me an interview. It went well. My first day on the job was actually at E3. So I got hired and they said, “Can you fly down to L.A. tomorrow and meet everybody that you’d be working with and do some competitive analysis for us?” So one could say I had possibly the best first day in the industry ever.
MEAGAN MARIE: Yeah. Pretty big deal. So how many years have you been in the industry, and what other positions have you held since then?
RICH BRIGGS: I have been here now. Goodness. It’s going on 15 years. I was at Sega for three and a half. Then I was at Electronic Arts, including the Visceral Games label, for nine and a half years. Then I’ve been here at Crystal almost a year. How’s my math? Is that 14 years?
MEAGAN MARIE: Yeah, I’m seeing fingers being counted.
RICH BRIGGS: Nine and a half plus three and a half, 13, that’s 14. Okay. So 14 years. I’ve actually held a variety of positions. I started off in marketing, as I said, at Sega, and I was always on the marketing side there. But luckily, at EA, I was able to start in marketing, working on franchises like The Sims, Battlefield, a couple little more niche titles like Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath, TimeSplitters, and then I moved over on to the production side. Worked on Dead Space and Dead Space 2. Then I went into the biz dev and third-party marketing side, over at Origin. Now I’m back as marketing. I’ve come full circle here at Crystal. I’ve had a couple of different things that I’ve done in the industry.
MEAGAN MARIE: Great. All right. So next up we have Alex, then. Go!
ALEX OFFERMAN: Hello. My name is Alex Offerman. I’m a senior producer here at Crystal. I’m now lead producer on an unannounced IP. I’ve been here about three years. Most of that time was on Tomb Raider. My job is to run the production staff on a project. The production staff supports all the other teams. We help plan, organize, schedule, and we do anything that needs to get done that no one else wants to do. I think the best producers are people that realize that if they need to take the trash out, because the trash is overflowing, they will. If we need to set up fans to get some air conditioning going in the office on the weekend, if the air conditioning was scheduled to be on, we make sure it happens. Basically, we try to be the grease in the gears and make sure that things are getting done in a productive manner, as much as possible. Then sometimes we have to drive things. Sometimes, when things are falling behind, we have to be the taskmasters and push things forward. Sometimes we have to be the den mothers, when things aren’t going well or we have to deal with issues. It’s pretty much a jack of all trades kind of job.
MEAGAN MARIE: Definitely seems like it. I thought you were using a metaphor when you said “take the trash out,” but no, they actually do mean taking the trash out. Making sure it’s a happy, healthy environment.
ALEX OFFERMAN: The Friday night meal is in the garbage, and on Sunday morning it doesn’t smell very good. It’s time to take the trash out.
MEAGAN MARIE: How about education and previous experience?
ALEX OFFERMAN: My education is a little bit disconnected from what I do. I have a degree in Japanese studies from UC San Diego. I was actually in Japan studying for a year at Sophia University and would, instead of spending money and going out on the town on some nights – because it was very easy to spend a lot of money in Tokyo – I would say, “Okay, I’m gonna stay home tonight and do something on my computer and learn something.” This is back quite a while ago. It was like a Power Mac, 66Mhz or something. I downloaded. This is a true story. I downloaded a 3D HTML file of a chair, and so I was able to render this chair in 3D and fly around it. I was like, “This is the coolest thing. I want to do this.” I’d always been a big gamer. I used to hang out at a gaming company that my friend worked at. So I called that friend. He worked at a small company in San Francisco called PF Magic. I said, “Hey, I have a degree in Japanese studies, or I’m going to have one. What can I do into.” It was kind of called “multimedia” at the time, or video games. He said, “Gimme a little while. I’ll call you back.” He called me back about a week later and said, “Hey, I’ve got my producer on the line. He’d like to talk to you.” I said, “Sure.” This producer got on the line. He said, “Hey, I hear you’re smart and you know about computers and you know about games and you’re good at games.” I’d routinely go to their game company and beat everyone at their games. He said, “Would you like to come here and have a job?” I said, “Sure. I’ll take some time off school and do that.” I took a year off from UC San Diego and worked at this company. This company was known for doing Catz and Dogz, which are now owned by Ubisoft. They were desktop pets. Then we were working on a game that was very much like Tomb Raider, called Velocity, which never came out. It was a PS1 and PC game. When Tomb Raider came out and we looked at it, we said, “We’re not gonna be able to beat this.” The project was cancelled and that’s when I went back to UC San Diego and finished my degree.
MEAGAN MARIE: And little did you know that later on you’d be working on Tomb Raider.
ALEX OFFERMAN: Part of me always wanted to work on Tomb Raider. When the opportunity came up, I was like, “Absolutely. I need to go finish that game I started 16, 17 years ago.”
MEAGAN MARIE: Awesome. And so, any other positions along the way, I would assume?
ALEX OFFERMAN: [laughs] So I started as an assistant producer. I did some localization at that first company. Then I just supported the teams. After I graduated from college, I went to Mattel, where the lead designer from that team went to work. We did Hot Wheels games. I did the first Hot Wheels game there. I even did a Barbie game, I will admit. Then, after that, I went to Treyarch, which got bought by Activision. After that I went to Midway Games in Chicago and did a game called Psi-Ops and a game called Stranglehold. Then I came back to San Francisco and went to work at Ubisoft for a couple of years. I guess the most notable game I did there was TMNT Smash-Up. Then I came here to Crystal Dynamics. It’s been about 16 years.
MEAGAN MARIE: Wow. I told you we were getting bets. This is awesome. Great. How about you, Fred?
FRED DIECKMANN: Hi, I’m Fred Dieckmann. I’m a senior designer on the same project that Alex is on. That’s kind of fun. I’ve been in the industry for. This is gonna sound old. 18 years now. Winner.
MEAGAN MARIE: He wins.
FRED DIECKMANN: Number one! Let’s see. I get to design all the stuff that everybody gets to play with. That’s fun. I can’t say enough about it. It’s a lot of fun. It’s also really hard, because half the stuff you do, everybody hates the first time they see it. All they do is complain. The best part is that when everybody is quiet, you know you’ve done your job.
MEAGAN MARIE: When it falls into place.
FRED DIECKMANN: Yeah. When it falls into place, no one else is complaining about it, you’re like, “Sweet. It’s done.”
MEAGAN MARIE: All right. So how about education and how you got your start in the industry?
FRED DIECKMANN: Education-wise, I was actually an administration of justice major. I was going into the police academy training when I broke my ankle the week before I was supposed to go in. So I had to get a summer job because I couldn’t do anything. Turned out Electronic Arts was hiring, so I got my start there. I started at the bottom of the bottom. I started on the phones doing tech support. I worked my way up from there. But I’ve always had an interest in games. I wrote my first game on a TRS-80 when I was in fifth grade. Did my first actual graphical adventure game the next year, on the same TRS-80. Then I started writing games on the Apple IIe. Ever since then, I’ve always had a really big interest in games.
MEAGAN MARIE: So you had a portfolio at like age 10. You could go pitch yourself to companies.
FRED DIECKMANN: Yeah, pretty much. I was the kid in fifth grade who would come with a printout of my game. I was trying to debug it at lunchtime. I’d sit there and go, “Oh, here’s the bug.” I used to do that, which. I look back and I’m surprised I never got beat up.
MEAGAN MARIE: Now you’d be the coolest kid on the block, if you came to school and you’d been designing your own games in elementary school.
FRED DIECKMANN: I’d say the best story I have is. I remember when I was 16 and still playing a lot of games. My uncle told me one day, “You’re never gonna do anything with games.” At the time, there was no schooling or education for it. The best was when my sister got married, he came into the bay area and his grandson came with him. Got to come to my house. He walked in and I said, “Yeah, by the way, this is the house video games bought. Don’t ever listen to anything he says.” Suddenly I became the coolest uncle ever.
MEAGAN MARIE: So how about the road in between there and here, then? Some different companies you worked at?
FRED DIECKMANN: Actually, I worked at EA for 16 and a half years. I did everything from. I did the phones, QA, testing. I was an assistant producer, associate producer, a designer. I was a technical artist and then a designer again. I’ve worked on everything from. I worked on The Sims. I worked with Rich on The Sims for console. Racing games. Boxing games. Golf games. RPGs. Third-person action games. You name it, I’ve done it all. I’m a jack of all trades, master of none.
MEAGAN MARIE: Well, you guys have a lot of combined experience. I like this.
RICH BRIGGS: I think you’re a master of all trades, Dieckmann.
MEAGAN MARIE: Yeah. You’re underselling yourself. So Alex, really quickly, this is something that I wanted to break down for our listeners, so they have a little bit of a better understanding of how studios are structured. Would you mind a quick top-down approach about how studios in general are run?
ALEX OFFERMAN: Sure. I’ll describe Crystal to some degree, but it’s been like this at a lot of the studios I’ve worked at. This is the dev side, so it doesn’t include the brand stuff like Rich, which in this particular studio, they work here. They’re really close to us. Studios generally have a studio head. Sometimes he’s a general manager. Sometimes he’s called the studio head. Generally under him are executive producers. The run a team or multiple teams in the studio. Under the executive producers, there’s usually senior producers or producers. People report into them. The leads often report in to those producers. You’ll have an art lead, a design lead, a programming lead. Sometimes those leads are called directors. It depends on the size of the team. As the teams get larger, you have those higher-level roles. If it’s a smaller team, you’ll just have a lead. Where were we? General manager/studio head, executive producer, producer, directors/leads, and then under those you might have senior artists reporting to a lead artist, for instance. You’ll have senior designers, senior animators, senior programmers. Then regular-level programmers or mid-level programmers, and then junior guys. Often, within a studio structure, there’s also an internal QA group. You’ll have a QA manager or QA lead, and then maybe sub-leads under them. Then, depending on the number of QA people, there will be people reporting in to those sub-leads. There’s always an IT group, because you have the backbone of a studio in IT and facilities. People that make sure the lights are on and the garbage gets taken out when the producers aren’t doing it. Sometimes food in the fridge. We have a lot of snacks here at Crystal. Then you’ll have other support staff that do a lot of general activities, from organizing field trips or barbecues.
MEAGAN MARIE: We have one tomorrow. We’re excited about that.
ALEX OFFERMAN: Yeah. We have the company barbecue. But it’s fairly hierarchical. Some studios, and actually on the Tomb Raider team for instance, the leads of the team report directly to the executive producers and the producers are there on the same level as leads. They just support the leads and the team. But generally it’s hierarchical. Generally the teams are led by experts in their fields. Even though it’s hierarchical, a lot of studios – most studios now – try to have people a little bit outside of that. What I mean is, one of the mistakes a lot of teams make is that they take their best programmer and they make him a lead. But sometimes the best programmer is not necessarily a good manager or lead. So we have principals. Within this structure, there’s a principal designer. This is someone who’s really good at design, but maybe someone that doesn’t want to lead, that doesn’t have those skills to be a lead or a manager. Within that structure and sort of outside that structure, we have principals. We have principal artists. They’re just the best artists. We have principal programmers, principal designers, principal animators. There’s not just that one career path for people. If you want to become an expert in your field, you don’t necessarily have to become a lead.
MEAGAN MARIE: Right. Because eventually that takes you away from the thing that you love, because you’re managing. Great. I think that provides a good framework for people to understand what we’re going to discuss over the coming months. Now we’re going to start again with Rich. We’re going to ask some general questions. What is the best aspect of working in the video game industry, and what is the most challenging aspect? Even though you work on video games, it is not all fun and games, correct?
RICH BRIGGS: Well, it’s all games. But it’s not always fun and games. For me, I think that the best is sometimes also the worst, which is that. As I said, I’m working in an industry that I’ve wanted to work in since I was five years old. I’ve been very passionate about it since I was five years old. The most amazing thing, to me, is that every day, when I wake up, I’m working on making a game, or figuring out how to best position that game, or how to best communicate what’s awesome about that game to all the different fans. That’s a really exciting thing, because I get to live my passion every single day. But at the same time, that can also be challenging, because I take my job very seriously and very personally. It’s not like I work on something that I don’t care about, and so when I walk out the door, I turn it off and I shut down and can just unplug and enjoy something else. I literally am always thinking about my job. I’m always thinking about games. If I’m playing a game, I’m comparing it in my head. If I see an advertisement, I’m thinking about, “Oh, what do they do well? What do they not do so well?” That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that my brain is just hard wired to be always on. Which, at times, can be a little bit difficult. There was one time recently, after we shipped Tomb Raider. I took my first two-week vacation in several years. I remember it was about a week in, and I realized that I had finally just decompressed enough that I wasn’t thinking about gaming. I was like, “Holy cow. Is that what people’s brains are normally like on the weekend?” Again, I absolutely love thinking about games all the time. I love working on something that I’m so passionate about. But it can also be. When you have those little setbacks, or when you’re doing something all the time and you take it so personally. It’s kind of like you’re a star athlete, right? When you lose that big game, you take it really seriously. That’s kind of how I and a lot of people at Crystal feel about our roles here.
MEAGAN MARIE: I hear this a lot. It’s not just a job. It’s more of a lifestyle, working in this industry. So how about for you, Alex?
ALEX OFFERMAN: I think for me, the best part of working in the industry is the people that you work with. My background, I’m a big geek. I played D&D. I don’t look like it anymore, but I played D&D and collected comics. I feel right at home at Comic-Con and E3. These are my peeps. I’m with those people every day, so they share a lot of the same interests and hobbies and philosophies. I’ve ended up. I started in the industry working with some of my best friends, and they’re still my best friends, and I’ve made a bunch more best friends at every company I’ve worked at. I think that’s the best part for me. It’s the people I get to hang out with and work with. It can be tough, because I’m in a management position, so I can’t always connect with everyone. But it’s definitely. We’re here a lot. We work very hard. If I didn’t like the people I worked with, then it would be much, much more difficult. You’re on a team. It’s like playing on a team with a bunch of other athletes that you really like, to use Rich’s analogy. Expanding on that analogy, that’s also one of the more difficult parts of the industry. It is really competitive. You are competing against other games. If you’re really trying to make the best game out there, you’re competing at an Olympic level, an all-star level. That is really tough, because you can never rest on your laurels. You’re always pushing it to be better. When we ship a game, we’re never happy with it. There’s always a ton of things we wish we could have improved and made better. Bugs that we wish we could fix. Little things. That’s true of artists. They look at it and they say, “Oh, it’s really hard.” It’s true of the designers, programmers, everyone looks at their own game and says, “Oh, I can’t believe we didn’t fix this or tweak that or improve that.”
MEAGAN MARIE: Perfectionists, basically.
RN: Perfectionists. It’s hard. The top athletes always push themselves as hard as they can. They push themselves to the breaking point. It’s the ones that survive and keep going that win. It’s challenging.
MEAGAN MARIE: And now, how about for you, Fred?
FRED DIECKMANN: I agree with him. The people are a lot of fun to work with. But I will specify my answer toward my role. I think one of the best things, honestly, is when the team can see the vision, and everybody comes together, and it finally comes alive. You realize that you have a game. That’s one of the best things. You can feel it. You feel like, “Okay, it’s going. It’s moving forward.” Some of the best games I’ve ever played – and I’ve talked to the people who made them – come from the hardest challenges. The games that feel kinda “meh,” usually the people making them felt like that the whole time. The ones where people just push harder and harder – Tomb Raider is one of them – you feel it at the end. When you play it, you can feel the joy of everybody on the team. “We did it. We got it through.” That right there is when you’ve finally finished that game. It feels good, and it’s exactly how everybody wanted it to happen. That’s an awesome feeling.
MEAGAN MARIE: And how about the biggest challenge?
FRED DIECKMANN: Um, everything we do? [laughs] My favorite saying — I’ve been saying it to a lot of the designers I work with – is that one of the biggest challenges, it’s really easy to get complicated. It’s very complicated to become easy. What that means is, usually when you’re designing something, it is so simple to make this design get so big and complicated, just convoluted, no one gets it, it doesn’t work. Getting to that simple, “Oh, it should be this,” when you finally hit that point, you’re like. Everybody looks at each other and says, “Oh, yeah. That’s what we should be doing.” The a-ha moment is incredibly hard to get to. If anybody could do it right off the bat, they would be probably the best designer in the entire universe. I’ve yet to meet someone who can do that.
MEAGAN MARIE: Next up, then. Rich. What skills do you think can not be taught in. We’ll dive deeper into the experience versus education issue in the community comments. But what skills do you think can’t be taught, necessarily, in a curriculum that you find really important to working in this industry, or even your specific job?
RICH BRIGGS: I think it depends on what position you’re going for. Obviously there are some things that you just pick up along the way. There are some things that you may have a natural talent for that would actually make you well-suited for a certain role. But in general, regardless of how many classes you take. I know there are even classes that are dedicated to this. But I think working together with people and collaborating is something that you usually either have in you, or at least a propensity to do that, or you don’t. You can absolutely develop it, but making a game is a team effort. Yeah, there are superstars in the industry that may get a little bit more of the spotlight, and you might attribute the success of a game to their vision, and that may in fact be the case, but regardless of what your role is and how much vision you have, nobody builds a game by themselves. Just being able to listen, to be open to other people’s ideas, being able to communicate your own ideas, being able to argue for your ideas, knowing when your ideas maybe aren’t the best ones, being able to try new things with people. Whatever it is, I think it all comes down to, being successful as a team means you have a bunch of individuals that know how to work together well.
MEAGAN MARIE: So even if you are a superstar at a specific thing, whether it’s art or animation, you should make sure that you’re out there and collaborating and working with others to ensure that you have that in your repertoire.
RICH BRIGGS: Absolutely.
MEAGAN MARIE: How about you, Alex?
ALEX OFFERMAN: I’ll give a very similar answer, and I’ll kind of expand upon it, since I keep doing that with Rich’s answers. I totally agree. It’s that ability to work with other people. It’s really important. We are teams now. It used to be, when I started, there were much smaller teams. Now they’ve grown to 40, 80, 100, 300. You have to be able to work together. You have to be able to work as a team. So I’ll just go into a production. One of the things we look for on production is, you do have superstars. You have people who are extremely talented. They may be someone who’s an amazing character artist or an amazing concept artist. But if they have to work on a team, they need to be the type of people who can at least collaborate. That often comes down to how positive they are. I’ll say that one of the things you can’t get from a curriculum is the ability to be positive. Someone who’s negative, someone who has a bad attitude and doesn’t work well with others, is poison on a team. They become the weak link. They become someone that brings everyone around them down. If you’re the type of person who doesn’t get along with others.
MEAGAN MARIE: Fred’s pointing to himself. I have a feeling that’s not true.
ALEX OFFERMAN: That’s not true. If you’re the type of person who likes to collaborate and you have the talent, then this is a good industry, because you’re going to be working on a team. It’s important that you stay positive. There’s a lot of times on a project where things are hard. Like Fred was saying, there’s a lot of times you build something, you spend a lot of time working on something, and it gets put in front of people – whether it’s people on the team, people outside of the team, user research – and they just say, “You know, this isn’t very good. I don’t like this.” You have to be able to take that feedback, go back, and start over or rebuild what you were doing and stay positive, because if you get negative, you’re only going to hurt yourself.
MEAGAN MARIE: So your ability to take criticism is also very important.
ALEX OFFERMAN: Yeah, absolutely. You almost never get it right the first time. It’s often collaborative and iterative.
RICH BRIGGS: I think both of those things. What you were saying made me think of one other element. Both of those stem from passion, I think. If you love what you’re doing, and you feel like you are. I mentioned earlier, I feel like I’m living my dream. I think it makes it a lot easier to work with other people, because you can find that shared passion. You can take negativity and be positive and say, “Okay, this person isn’t rejecting my idea because they think I’m stupid or because they think they’re better than me.” Most of the time. [laughs] With Dieckmann you never know. Just saying the truth. [big laughs] Call ‘em like I see ‘em, partner. But you think, “Okay, they’re actually doing this because they’re just as passionate about what they’re doing as I am. And so if we can find a way to harness both of our passions and meet in the middle, or maybe I argue my point, or maybe he argues his, and we agree – I can see your point, or you can see mine – whatever it is, if it’s coming from a place of, we’re just working to try and make this the best possible thing that we can — whether it’s a trailer or a game feature or whatever it is – if you’ve got that passion in you, then I think, to your point Alex, you can be passionate. You can be positive. You can see the people around you, whether you’re a superstar or whether you’re just getting your start, you can see them as sharing that passion and working together on a team. I would say that, in addition to that idea of wanting to work together with people, don’t jump in if you don’t really love it. Don’t try and join the industry just because you think it’s your ticket to being cool. There’s a lot of people that are in the industry right now, and it’s that passion and that positivity that’s going to actually let you be a success.
MEAGAN MARIE: Great. How about you, Fred?
FRED DIECKMANN: I’m going to go against the team right now and give a different answer. No. Actually, I was going to say something very similar, but because they both reiterated, I don’t need to do that now. My main thing that I think is important, really, is critical thinking and understanding what the issues are. It’s easy for people to say, “This sucks.” You can’t fix that. You have to be able to, articulate what is bad, but that means seeing beyond what’s just on the screen. What is it that’s actually wrong? Understanding that and being able to get to that quickly. That’s a skill that they really can’t teach. I’ve seen people come out of school. It takes them a long time to understand. You’ll sit with them and say, “No, no. Here’s what’s actually wrong. You have to understand how the game works.” All that to figure out, “Oh, here’s what’s wrong.” That comes back to what Alex was saying. It also happens in the feedback you get. Sometimes someone will say, “This is bad.” You have to take it for a second and read between the lines. “Oh, no, what they’re really reacting to is this thing. They just don’t realize that’s what’s wrong.” That’s a skill that either you have, or you have to spend a lot of time developing it and learning it. What does this actually mean? Getting to the simple little thing that’s actually wrong takes a long time to learn.
MEAGAN MARIE: Really good advice. Great. So the last couple of questions we have from my Q&A are, any networking tips? And the biggest piece of advice you have for someone entering the industry. I know a lot of people stress how important networking is – getting out, meeting people, shaking hands, and so on. So we’ll pair those two questions together and start with Rich.
RICH BRIGGS: Well, in the interconnected interweb world in which we live, it’s easier than ever to network with people, which is great. Whether you’re following someone’s Twitter account or jumping on their Facebook page – I’m not condoning stalking, but. I think developers are a lot more open these days. They’re a lot more accessible. If you see someone who gives a great interview at an E3, it’s more often than not pretty easy to track them down and figure out how you could get in touch with them and just ping them. I think that’s one way you can go at it. There are other things like going to. There are actually game dev drink-ups that happen in some cities. You can go there and meet people. Or maybe even go to a Gamasutra event, or to the forums for a game. There’s lots of different ways, depending on what your style is – do you want to meet face to face, or would you rather contribute in a forum and get noticed that way? Would you rather follow someone’s Twitter account? There’s a lot of different ways that you can meet the developers of titles that you’re interested in and companies that you want to follow. Now, in terms of advice on how to break in to the industry. I will admit that when I first joined, it was a lot easier, because the gaming industry was still seen as this sort of garage-oriented bunch of geeks in a closet rolling dice to figure out how to do a saving throw. It wasn’t sexy or cool yet. I was lucky enough that cold-calling was a good way to get a foot in the door. Now there are entire college courses dedicated to it. There are internship programs that feed into the different positions. It’s a lot more competitive. But one of the things that I did was, since I knew that I wanted to work in the industry and I didn’t have any experience. That’s something that’s always tough, right? How do you get that first job when everybody wants you to have experience? Again, I knew I wasn’t technically minded. I said, “Okay, what is it that I can do?” I played games and I knew how to describe them, I knew how to write about them, so I actually just started working, unpaid, just doing reviews on different game sites. I called them up and I started getting myself out there, so I had a portfolio of published game reviews. I had all these people saying, “Yeah, these reviews are helpful.” They started asking me to do more and more. In addition to all the other research I did and the marketing experience that I had, when I called Sega I was able to say, “Look, here’s how passionate I am about doing this. Here’s where I went above and beyond. For the last six months I’ve been working to show that I actually can do this thing that maybe not everybody else can.” I’m not saying everybody needs to be published online or be a game reviewer in order to get a position in the industry, but I think the point here is, figure out what it is you want to do, and then figure out a way that you can stand out. That might be building a mod. That might be organizing a gaming club. That might be making a fake commercial using Legos. Whatever it is, when you think about the industry and how competitive it is and how many people are going to probably offer a similar skill set to yours, how do you stand out, and how do you show that you have that passion and that creativity? Figure out what it is, and go above and beyond. It shows, “Look, I’m dedicated enough and serious enough to do X,” whatever that X might be, “and that’s why you should take a look at me.”
MEAGAN MARIE: Great. Alex?
ALEX OFFERMAN: I will give a similar answer again. I apologize.
RICH BRIGGS: You don’t like the fact that I’m going first, do you? [laughs]
ALEX OFFERMAN: I have a slight variation on what you were saying. I was worried you were going to go further and go this far.
RICH BRIGGS: No, but I’m about to. What were you about to say?
ALEX OFFERMAN: Networking. In this day and age, there are a lot of tools out there that people who aspire to work in games can get, going back to Unreal Tournament 2004. There’s a whole mod community. There’s all the tools there for you to build your own games. Even if you’re a producer, for instance, you can produce a game. You can produce an independent game with a group of people that you network with. So go online, find people who are also passionate about making games, get together, form a little mini-company, and in your spare time, make a game. Find an artist. Find a designer. Find an animator. Find a programmer. Use the tools that are out there. I’ve said this to a lot of people. I work with QA a lot. There’s often people in QA who are already technically in the industry, but they want to break out of QA and get into game development. They want to be designers. And I’m like, “Well, the best thing to do is go and design something. Go build it and show that you’re passionate enough that, in your spare time, you’re going to go build something.” Then you have your own portfolio. If you’re breaking into the industry, if you can show up with that and get your foot in the door and have an interview or talk to someone at a game developers’ conference or a game dev drink-up – and we do have those here in San Francisco.
RICH BRIGGS: We’re having one right now at this table. [laughs]
ALEX OFFERMAN: I think there’s one tonight, or it’s every Thursday night or something. As an artist, I would actually argue that it’s somewhat easier, because you can say, “Here’s my portfolio of art. It’s awesome.” The person who sees it, if they like it, will immediately say, “Wow.” But for other positions – designers, producers, animators – you have to. Well, animators, you can also show great animation. But showing it in a game is a huge step. There’s no reason why you can’t go out and, for free, get these tools and start building your own games. Maybe you’ll get lucky. Maybe you’ll design an independent game that gets bought up by a publisher and they put it out and you’ve broken into the industry on your own. But either way, if you can show up at an interview and pull it up on there. We have video screens and computers in our offices here where we interview people. We’ve had people come in and they literally bring up videos. “This is a game I built in college. This is a game I built after college. This is the game I’m building right now.” I cannot tell you how important that is, for someone who doesn’t have any experience to be able to show how passionate they are. If they’re that passionate, that they’re going to go build games on their own, you know that when they come to the studio, they’re going to build games because they want to.
MEAGAN MARIE: I think some people are afraid to start that, because they think they have to do that on their own. What you were saying is important. You don’t have to do everything to make a game. Like you said, put the call out. Find other people who are looking to collaborate on something. You don’t have to be the artist and the sound designer and the programmer and design everything. It’s important to collaborate early on.
ALEX OFFERMAN: Yes. That’s part of networking. If you can find people that are also passionate, you can network with them and build something really cool.
MEAGAN MARIE: And Fred! Surprise us with something new again. You’re on a roll.
FRED DIECKMANN: I will say it with a southern accent. [laughter] They kinda covered it, really. It’s just getting out there. I’d say, also, one thing that kind of turns off the networking is when someone talks to you, and then you quickly realize they don’t know what they’re talking about. That will crush your networking skills immediately. So my advice for networking is, if you are interested in art or animation or production, make sure you have some knowledge. You’ve looked it up. You’ve done some research. If you don’t know, it’s okay to ask questions. That’s where some people really fail. They think they should know a bunch of stuff, and if you’re starting in the industry, you really don’t know anything. It’s okay to go, “Hey, tell me about this.” Ask those questions when you go to these events. Honestly, if we’re there, we’ll usually tell all the dirty secrets.
MEAGAN MARIE: You’ll walk away richer, with more information than if you had just guessed at stuff. Great.
RICH BRIGGS: Absolutely. And show up in full cosplay. That would be my last thing. Come as your favorite gaming character. Just dressed up to the hilt.
MEAGAN MARIE: Hey. That is a way to showcase passion. It’s all I’m saying.
RICH BRIGGS: Some people wear a suit to an interview. Some people wear a suit of armor. You know?
FRED DIECKMANN: Suits are always creepy, for some reason.
RICH BRIGGS: Everybody here freaks out when we see someone in a suit and tie.
MEAGAN MARIE: There’s another piece of advice. You don’t have to wear a suit. On to some community questions. These are where people get very specific, and they were all, I must say, very excited to get the opportunity to bounce some stuff off of you guys, so I appreciate that. The first one – we touched on this briefly – goes, “Where do you guys fall on education versus experience?” Rich, you touched on this a little bit, because there didn’t used to be curricula for this sort of things. When it comes to community questions, I’ll let you guys jump in if you think you have something to share. But do you think education and a degree is imperative, or is it more about the portfolio?
ALEX OFFERMAN: It really depends on the discipline you’re in. I think some disciplines, it’s probably less education and more portfolio, but some of them require a general education. I think in marketing and in production, it’s very hard to break in without some education, because they want to make sure you know how to read and write and have some collaborative skills. [laughs]
RICH BRIGGS: Is that the bar? We want to make sure you know how to read and write? [cracking up]
ALEX OFFERMAN: I always say the education is learning how to learn. If you have a good education, you’ve proven that you’ve learned how to learn. When you come into this industry, there’s a lot to learn, and it’s always changing. You have to show that you’ve learned how to learn. But for someone like a programmer, it used to be that a great programmer – when I started, almost none of them had ever graduated. They all were tinkerers and self-taught. That’s actually changed over the years, because now programming is such a team effort. It used to be a single person could do so much in the engine. Now it’s such a team effort that in the education people get at the university level and at different trade schools, they learn how to collaborate with other people and write code in a way that’s collaborative and object-oriented.
FRED DIECKMANN: I’ll chime in on that one. I actually had a team at EA that was made up of a mix. It was half self-taught and half school-taught. Probably the best team I ever worked on, because each. It was amazing how each person came at it in a different way. They came up with a very unique way of approaching problems. The self-taught guys would come at it one way that the school guys hadn’t, and vice versa. We wound up getting a very interesting solution to problems that probably neither side would have come up with alone. It’s an interesting middle ground. But you do need school now.
MEAGAN MARIE: Yeah. Some sort of education, whether it’s formal or.
RICH BRIGGS: At least reading and writing, apparently.
ALEX OFFERMAN: Stay in school, kids.
RICH BRIGGS: Only if you want to work in marketing, right? Thanks guys.
ALEX OFFERMAN: I said marketing and production, for the record. You’ve done both. [laughter]
FRED DIECKMANN: Being able to identify colors. That helps too. I won’t go on with that.
RICH BRIGGS: I totally agree, though. Now it’s my turn to agree with you guys. I think, number one, it’s changed. The bar has gone up again as the industry gets “sexier” and more competitive. More and more people go and get a degree. What used to be the case, where if I have a degree, that’s what makes me stand out amongst the other job applicants, now that’s not longer the case. In some ways it might be just the cost of entry. But I also agree that it depends on the role. Certain ones can place more importance on that education versus being able to, as Alex and Dieckmann said, come and say, “Here’s my portfolio. Here’s what I’ve already done.” I think what you could probably do is look at it as. If you’re in high school and you’re thinking, “Okay, maybe I want to go to college. Maybe I don’t,” do the things now that you’re passionate about. Get yourself in a position where you could showcase either a game or something that you’ve done. But in the back of your head, don’t write off college, because you may find that either what you’ve done isn’t quite enough just yet, or that it’s a prerequisite to get the role that you want. There’s no harm in trying, but I think for the most part, you should expect that you need at least some kind of formal training before you’re going to be able to get your foot in the door in most cases.
MEAGAN MARIE: This next question comes from somebody I actually know. She wanted to know, “How do you get experience in the industry when every job requires prior experience?” This is something I see a lot of people struggling with. I feel like some of the discussion points that you guys touched on, such as taking initiative and doing stuff, not waiting, are important, but is there anything else you can expand on with that?
FRED DIECKMANN: Internships.
MEAGAN MARIE: Internships, great, look for internships.
ALEX OFFERMAN: Work in QA. Often you can, if you show that you love games, you can come and work in QA, and then when someone. Especially if you’re in dev QA, someone will be walking around saying, “Hey, I need someone to do this thing.” If you can volunteer, maybe you’ll get your foot in the door that way and get a little bit of experience on the team.
MEAGAN MARIE: It’ll also give you some insight into how studios work and run.
ALEX OFFERMAN: Absolutely.
MEAGAN MARIE: Make sure you know that you’re signing up for what you want to do later.
ALEX OFFERMAN: And if you can survive QA, you can survive anything.
FRED DIECKMANN: Yeah. That’s true.
RICH BRIGGS: I think it really would go back to some of the points we made earlier. Obviously education helps. But doing your research, showing your passion, taking that initiative, that, to me, would actually stand out more against. If I’m evaluating two candidates and one of them has some experience and one of them doesn’t, if the one who doesn’t can say, “Hey, look, here’s what I’ve done to demonstrate how passionate I am, how much I want to work in the industry. Here’s something that I’ve made or something that I thought up, reviews that I’ve written, a club that I created, a team that I worked on to make a game.” Something like that, in addition to saying, “Hey, you know what? I do read the gaming news. I am up to speed on what’s going on in the industry. I am on all the websites. I do subscribe to these magazines. I do play games to see what’s out there. I live and breathe this industry.” That, to me, would in many ways. Obviously there are some exceptions, but in many ways I think that can also be just as good as experience, because to our earlier points, you can teach a lot of technical things, but you can’t teach passion. You can’t teach drive. You can’t teach that spark and that willingness to do whatever it takes.
MEAGAN MARIE: Yeah. That’s something that I stress, too. I have a lot of people that ask me similar questions, and I say that throughout college, I did my coursework and I checked all my boxes, but then in my sculpture class, I made a chocobo-Mog sculpture and a Nintendo warp tube sculpture. Then, in my senior ethics class, I wrote my paper on video game legislation. You can check your boxes and make sure you’re training yourself well, but then also having those things that showcase your passion. Making opportunities for yourself, rather than waiting for them, is huge. I have a girlfriend who actually wanted to write for a video game magazine, and she wasn’t having any luck with any openings because it’s kind of a narrow field at the moment. So she literally made her own gaming magazine. She printed it and everything, and had people do subscriptions. It was a small magazine, but it was very impressive. She designed it and everything. So making your own opportunities is huge.
FRED DIECKMANN: Absolutely, yeah.
MEAGAN MARIE: All right, so we’ll move on to the next question, which is. “What’s more important – being good at a lot of different specialties, or being really good in a few?” This particular person says he wants to work in art, but he wants to know if he should have a basic understanding of programming or a secondary focus, or should you just focus in on one area?
FRED DIECKMANN: Yes. What I mean by “yes” is, if you’re just a specialist in one area, you tend to really limit yourself. On top of that, let’s say you do not have a basic understanding of how games or made or how it’s all done, and you only know one thing. You’re really going to limit yourself even more. Having a broader. A lot of the artists who come in to work here also understand how memory works, how the game is done, how all that stuff gets put in. Those people are great to work with, because you don’t have to sit there and hold their hands every single time. I have worked with a couple of people, 10 years ago, who were great painters, great artists, and had no concept of implementation and stuff. After one project with them, you’re like, “Thank you very much. I can’t work with you anymore.”
MEAGAN MARIE: Yeah. Do you have anything to feed back in?
ALEX OFFERMAN: I agree with that. At the same time, I think the word “split” is a strong word. I think if you’re an artist and you want to be an artist, it’s good to get an understanding of the other fields, the other types of people and what they do. But you really do want to focus on what your skill is. Someone who’s half good at art and half good at programming? It’s going to be harder to get a job, because someone’s going to hire you as an artist or they’re going to hire you as a programmer or an animator or a designer. But I totally agree with Fred. Having a deeper understanding of how that fits into the overall team. We keep talking about how this is a team. If you understand. If you took a programming class or two, that’s awesome, because you’re going to have a much better understanding of what they’re doing and how things work. If you’re doing half programming, half art, it’s probably too much. But I agree.
FRED DIECKMANN: One thing you need to realize is that. When every game starts, the team is small. You’re not just doing your one job. In fact, you’ll wind up doing three or four until the team builds up. If you have somebody who can’t do anything else, you tend not to want them on your team. It makes it harder on everybody else.
RICH BRIGGS: Yeah, I definitely defer to these guys. From my perspective, sometimes, for example, on the PR or marketing or branding side, being a specialist is absolutely fine. You don’t have to know how everything else works necessarily. But what I do think you need is an understanding of how your discipline relates to those other disciplines. I think that would pertain to the production side as well, or the development side. I agree with Alex and I agree with Dieckmann as well, but from what Alex was saying about. Focus on what you want to do, what you’re passionate about, what you want to be good at. Don’t feel like you have to build up your knowledge in every other area, because you don’t want to gamble wrong, right? Maybe they don’t need an artist/programmer. They need an artist/UI guy. But if you understand art, and then you understand just a little bit about how art interfaces with programming, just a little bit about how it interfaces with UI, just a little bit about how it interfaces with audio. If you can understand where you sit in the gaming ecosystem, I think that’s really important. Again, I think that works on the brand side as well. What do I do? I do want to be a master at my trade. But I also want to be a little bit familiar with everything else. Unless you want to be a producer, which these guys all know.
FRED DIECKMANN: Then you don’t have to know anything. [laughter]
FRED DIECKMANN: Yeah. We’ve all been producers. Well, you don’t have to know everything about everything, but you need to know something about everything.
ALEX OFFERMAN: You just have to act like you know everything.
MEAGAN MARIE: You don’t actually have to be a double major — focus on your specialty, what you want to do – but do some reading up, talk to people, understand how you fit in the bigger picture. Very important. Great. This is a funny one that I actually get asked a lot. “Is it common to work on a game you don’t like? How do you deal with that?”
RICH BRIGGS: Yes.
MEAGAN MARIE: I feel totally spoiled. My first game out of journalism I ended up on Tomb Raider.
FRED DIECKMANN: I’ll just speak from my experience. I would say that 85 percent of the time, when you first start in the industry, and probably for your first couple of years, you will be working on games you do not want to work on. If you can get through that, you’re going to be awesome.
MEAGAN MARIE: So don’t turn down opportunities, because you need that experience. You’re probably not going to end up with your dream game at first.
ALEX OFFERMAN: The studios making your dream game have a lot of people knocking on their doors. If you’re trying to break in, it’s unlikely that you’re going to get into one of those top-tier developers. You’re going to be doing a port or doing a licensed game. Maybe a kids’ game. Which actually. One of the ways I’ve managed to. I can really get into whatever game I’m doing. You find the cool part of whatever game you’re doing. You figure out who your audience is. If you’re making a kids’ game, for instance, maybe it’s not a game you want to play, but if you’ve ever watched kids do the playtests, when they’re playing your game and they like it, they freak out. They’re so excited. They jump up and down. Super enthusiastic. That can be really fun to see and get into. Almost any game you’re making, you’re making something that’s supposed to be fun, so you can usually find a way to get excited about it and get into it. Then, if you’re breaking into the industry, you may be doing a game that isn’t what you would normally play, but if you can get into it and make a good game, then eventually you’ll work your way up into a game area you want to be in.
RICH BRIGGS: I’m really glad you said that, Alex, because I was going to say almost the exact same thing. I seriously was worried that it was going to come across as the marketing-ey, PC answer. But one of the things that I have enjoyed is that you literally do have to find that nugget – what is that center? What is that great thing about whatever it is you’re working on? Because nobody — regardless of whether they’re working on a port or a licensed game or a tenth iteration or a new IP, whatever it is — nobody who is really passionate about working in the industry starts off by saying, “All right, I just want to build a crappy game and go home.” Everyone is doing something that they think is important. You need to find that. If you’re getting your start in the industry, be excited about that. Just right off the bat, you are working on a video game. That’s enough to be excited in the industry and in your day to day life. When I have a stressful day, and I go home and I’m like, “Oh, god, that was not a great day.” But I was having not a great day making video games. Okay. I can deal with that. Nobody died on my operating table, right? So, I think, find that thing that you really can take pride in and take pleasure in and enjoy. Just about every game has it, whether it’s – to Alex’s point – just watching the audience’s reaction to it, or whether it’s saying, “Hey, I’m working on a port, but I’m going to find a way to make this a port that really stands out.” That’s when you can get over that little bit of, “Okay, maybe this isn’t necessarily the first project I would have chosen.”
ALEX OFFERMAN: The cool thing is, I’ve been doing this for a while, and a lot of times you’re working on a game that isn’t that great. You know it’s not great. But you’re making it as good as you can. Then you’ll be surprised, because you’ll talk to someone else in the industry – someone who’s maybe way more experienced than you, worked on way better games – and they’re like, “Yeah, I played your game. I really liked this one thing about it. That was really cool.” The physics in your game or this one fighting move or this one level. And you’re like, “Yeah, that was the thing I worked on. I really put my heart and soul into it.” You’ll be surprised. A lot of people, especially experienced people in the industry, have worked on those games. It’s not a badge of dishonor. People realize, you don’t always get to pick and choose what you’re going to work on. You make the best of it. So does everyone else, usually.
FRED DIECKMANN: One thing you’ll also never know is, the little nugget of information you’ll pick up from working on that. It goes back to the education thing. I’ve worked on some games that I didn’t like, but I picked up two or three things that, if I had never worked on that game, I never would have understood them. You can use that on something else you build.
MEAGAN MARIE: It’s a continuing education.
FRED DIECKMANN: It is. You go, “Oh, yeah, we can just do this,” and people are like, “Oh, that’s a great idea.” “Yeah, I’m glad I did that.”
RICH BRIGGS: And you know what? Just about everybody, with the exception of a few very lucky people.
MEAGAN MARIE: Sorry. [laughter]
RICH BRIGGS: You know. She’s one for one so far. Wait until she works on you guys’ new IP. Then she’ll be like, “Oh, now I’m only batting .500.” I’m joking. Your IP is awesome. [more laughs] But everybody in the industry has that story, right? That’s what it becomes. In some ways, some of my best stories that I tell at the game dev drink-ups come from some of the most frustrating games that I worked on. You know the one I’m thinking of.
FRED DIECKMANN: Yeah, yeah. [laughs]
RICH BRIGGS: Everybody’s had it, so nobody’s going to judge you. Nobody’s going to look at you and say, “Oh, you came from that team?” They’re going to be like, “Yeah, I been there.”
FRED DIECKMANN: Actually, they say, “What was it like?”
MEAGAN MARIE: Yeah. They want to hear the war stories. We have two more questions to go from the community. “What are the best cities to work in when it comes to the game industry?” I think we should trade “best” for “hubs,” places that people are going to want to look at. Chances are you’re going to have to move, if you want to work in the game industry. There are more studios popping up all over, and you also have the opportunities working indie, finding something local, or working remotely. But where do you guys find some of the bigger places, hubs to work at?
RICH BRIGGS: I think actually, given the way that the industry is moving and how so much is digital and people can telecommute, you may not have to move. You may be able to get a contract position or you may be able to work at a studio that’s close. I actually originally thought that there weren’t that many gaming studios, unless you were in New York, L.A., San Francisco, but they’re all over the place.
ALEX OFFERMAN: New York?
RICH BRIGGS: Did I say New York?
ALEX OFFERMAN: You said New York. Are there a lot of.? Eh, Rockstar. [laughs]
MEAGAN MARIE: You’ve also got Austin, Boston, Santa Monica.
ALEX OFFERMAN: Almost any city you look at has some. But the big ones are San Francisco, Seattle, Montreal
RICH BRIGGS: The big ones are on the coasts, absolutely. I think you have to figure out. You can also say. You have to figure out what’s important to you. If you want to work in a rural area, there may be a studio, or you may be able to work out of your home. But definitely, if you’re looking at some of the more established, bigger ones, you’re going to have to look at a major city, and more often than not you’re looking at the coasts.
MEAGAN MARIE: Yeah. There was not much in Minnesota. There was Activision Value. That was it, I think. I made up my mind early that I’d end up having to move somewhere. But yeah, those are some the big hubs. Montreal is definitely becoming a huge hot spot for gaming. Almost every person in the city is somehow tied to one of the big game publishers up there.
ALEX OFFERMAN: There’s an ebb and flow. Some cities like San Diego will seem like, “Oh, there’s a lot of studios.” Then a lot of them will die off, and then they’ll come back. Austin is definitely. There’s a lot of talent there, and studios will rise and fall. San Francisco, Seattle, Vancouver also is one that’s had some ebb and flow recently. But yeah. Montreal is huge. Some of the biggest studios in the world are there. But also overseas – Tokyo, Paris, the U.K. has a bunch of cities with places. All over Europe.
MEAGAN MARIE: There’s a bunch of big studios in parts of Germany, too. They have lots of big publishers.
ALEX OFFERMAN: Brazil has a bunch of studios.
MEAGAN MARIE: Cool.
RICH BRIGGS: So is our answer basically “anywhere in the world”?
ALEX OFFERMAN: Yeah, that will work.
MEAGAN MARIE: Actually, I should link to it in the notes. There’s a website that has game dev hubs, and it shows the size and scale and the mount of studios in different places. So that’s something worth looking at, especially if you’re looking and you want to eventually end up at one of the bigger dev houses.
ALEX OFFERMAN: Starting out. I think this is sort of angled towards that. If you’re starting out, it’s probably a good idea to be willing to move.
MEAGAN MARIE: Yeah.
ALEX OFFERMAN: I’ve had to move. I’ve lived in San Diego and Los Angeles and Chicago and San Francisco. A lot of different places.
MEAGAN MARIE: All around. All different types of weather. Okay. So, final question. This is kind of like looking forward, a bit speculative. “What fields do you see becoming more important in the future?” This was a question that was asked by a couple of people who are in high school or maybe just starting their college career. They want to know if there’s some sort of specialty or something upcoming that they should keep their eyes on, and maybe they could be ahead of the curve.
RICH BRIGGS: 5D technology. Seriously. It’s gonna be huge. [laughter]
MEAGAN MARIE: He’s just sitting here smiling at all of us.
RICH BRIGGS: I’m just joking. I have no idea what 5D technology is.
MEAGAN MARIE: Neither did we. That’s why we’re all staring at you.
RICH BRIGGS: Time travel! Again, I think it depends on what sort of discipline you want to get into. I think, on the brand side – I’ll let these guys handle the dev side – but on the brand side, it is definitely a lot more about how interconnected you can be. So yeah, you may want to specialize in PR or marketing, but you definitely have to have a very good understanding of social trends and user-generated content and community-building and maintenance. I think it all actually just comes down to understanding how people are going to engage with your content, how they’re going to take it and make it their own. And then how they’re going to share it. How can you encourage them to do that? Learning how to create evangelists, learning how to let go of your brand and let other people have fun with it. It’s not really a field. But I think more and more, marketing is going to need to feel like it’s one to one. It’s going to need to feel like it’s you giving gamers what kind of messages they want, when they want it, and in the medium that they want it. Really learning to understand those kinds of things, I think, is going to be critical.
MEAGAN MARIE: Yeah. It’s really interesting, starting to see the social media management and community management curricula popping up. It’s funny. People say, the last couple of years, you’re not a social media expert. There is no such thing. Now they’re starting to get to the point where there are those established best practices and teachings and so on. That’s definitely something to look at also.
RICH BRIGGS: And 5D technology.
MEAGAN MARIE: And 5D technology. In four years you’ll understand what it is. [laughter] How about you two?
FRED DIECKMANN: That’s a really tough one.
MEAGAN MARIE: These are for the really proactive people, the ones that want to anticipate something that will help them stand out.
FRED DIECKMANN: I would say, keep a watch on where the technology and trends are going. Don’t lock on to any type of bubble. In this industry, we’ve seen too many of these bubbles pop. “This is the answer!” Then people spend all their time in it and the thing blows up and it’s gone. I would say there’s probably no one really good thing, but watch out. Keep your eye on – I don’t want to say everything, but if you have a certain area, be it console gaming or social media or whatever like that, watch the current trends, but also watch the other trends that are kind of creeping in. There are certain things where people think, “Oh, that’s never going to catch on.” Then it blows up. Or something could be really hot now, and then your parents discover it and everybody goes, “Oh my God, I’ll never touch this again.” It’s just being aware. We all have to do that here on a yearly basis. We’re always looking at what’s new, what everybody’s going for.
MEAGAN MARIE: You look like you’re thinking really hard, Alex.
ALEX OFFERMAN: This is a tough one. I’ll throw some ideas out. I know that we always have a hard time finding really – this has been my entire career – finding really good effects artists. People who are good at generating special effects. We have people on the team who do that as their full time job, doing effects. They know how to handle particle effects and do all sorts of. It’s like a tech artist meets an artist, and they have special effects abilities. I know that’s one that we never have enough of. I don’t see that ever going away. It’s like movies. You always need special effects. We used to always have a hard time getting really good animators. I don’t know if that’s as true anymore, because there’s a lot of animation.
FRED DIECKMANN: UI. We have one?
ALEX OFFERMAN: It’s very hard to find solid UI artists who are also very technical. UI is a big part of a lot of games. Understanding usability is part of that. There are people who are good artists, but they don’t necessarily know how to design or lay out UI in a good, user-friendly way. There was one other that I was. Oh, cameras.
RICH BRIGGS: You’re basically making this a job rec. [laughs]
ALEX OFFERMAN: No, I’m serious. Camera, camera specialists. There’s people in the traditional film industry who really understand cameras. We have — especially on Tomb Raider, where camera is so important – they were really important to establishing the mood and the feel of so many of the moments in the game. Games are. There’s always going to be games about storytelling, and so understanding camera and the technology behind camera, how to use camera, it’s way bigger than just pointing a camera at something. There’s a whole bunch of details to camera master.
MEAGAN MARIE: That nuance is going to become more important.
ALEX OFFERMAN: I think so. I think if you are a big film buff, but you also love video games, and you think you could learn how to use cameras, that could be something you could specialize in and get your foot in the door, because I know studios are often looking for that.
RICH BRIGGS: I’m gonna throw one thing out here. Let me know. I think this kind of builds on what you were saying about the camera, Alex. As technology continues to improve, I think it becomes less and less of a revolution and more of an evolution. You eventually reach the pinnacle of the graphical fidelity and the AI and the size of the world. We could have an entire podcast of gaming as an artform. Some people say yea, some people say nay. I say yea, just for the record.
ALEX OFFERMAN: I think we’re all gonna say yea.
RICH BRIGGS: I think we will, yeah. But I think that. People who don’t just understand camera and framing, but understand interactive storytelling, that’s a huge thing. It’s so difficult. If I go to the movies, I see a one-way experience that represents someone’s vision, and right now at least I can’t really interact with it or engage with it. But being able to tell a story in a way where I can actually influence what’s happening, I think it’s critical. I just finished playing The Last of Us a little while ago. I’m getting ready to jump back in and play it. Literally, I consider that one of the best-written gaming experiences that I’ve ever had. You see a lot in the industry where they go out and get a writer from the movies or from a TV show. We bring that talent in. We get comic book writers, right? We bring that talent in because we’re desperately trying to figure out, how do we take an interactive art form and make it a compelling story? I think if you could actually get to the point where you could write for a video game – not necessarily be a person who writes great movies, so you’re trying to take that talent and turn video games into a movie-like experience, but if you actually have that understanding of, here’s how you write interactive stories, interactive fiction.
MEAGAN MARIE: Where you’re giving some of that agency to the player and they get to.
RICH BRIGGS: Just in general, understanding how interactive storytelling works and how to craft a great story when it’s not in your control 100 percent of the time. I think that’s key.
FRED DIECKMANN: I think that’s the first thing we say. We were in a couple of design meetings early on in this game. Someone would say, “And then this happens, the player watches this,” and the first thing all the designers said was, “Why can’t we just play that?” Then we built a rough mock-up and realized, “Oh, I guess we can play this.” It’s understanding that. It’s how you make a story that you can tell by playing, not by watching. That would be nice, to see more of that.
ALEX OFFERMAN: I’ve worked on games where we bring Hollywood people out, and they’re like, “All right, in this scene, this person dies. Then the person takes their jacket off and puts it over.” They have no idea how hard that is, to have a character take a jacket off, all the cloth sim, and lay it over. If you’re doing it all in-game, you just can’t do that. I’ve worked with a couple of really good writers in the industry, like a guy who does all the writing for Splinter Cell. They just have a very different understanding of what writing for games is. I don’t know if there’s a lot of. I don’t think there’s any curriculum for that. Maybe there is?
RICH BRIGGS: There’s, and that’s why I’m saying that I think, right now, it’s all about, how can you be the master of pushing graphics or the master of pushing AI? I could be wrong, but I’m saying that as those things. Not hit a ceiling, but as each leap forward becomes less of a leap and more of a step, I think that the next logical area where people are going to say, “Here’s how we can make a difference,” it would be in that space.
FRED DIECKMANN: My favorite games now are all storytelling games.
RICH BRIGGS: Yeah.
MEAGAN MARIE: All right. I think that is some fantastic advice. We will, like always, have this transcribed in case you guys want to listen or revisit at a later date. But thank you, all three of you, for being here. I appreciate your advice. Hopefully we’ll be able to have you guys back on at a later date, when we go into the specialties. Thank you so much!
Segment 1: Intro
MEAGAN MARIE: All right, so we’re going to close out the podcast, as promised, with speaking to LINDSEY McQueeney. We have not had you on the podcast before. You are our lead recruiter. Thank you for being here.
LINDSEY MCQUEENEY: Thank you for having me.
MEAGAN MARIE: We figure it’s important, in a podcast about getting a job in the game industry, to talk to some of the specifics, things that are good to look for on your resume and so forth. But first, do you want to just share a tiny bit about what you do here?
LINDSEY MCQUEENEY: Sure. I’m the lead recruiter at Crystal Dynamics, which means I basically run the recruitment team. Anything from university relations, to setting up internships when we have those, to looking for full time employees, all that good stuff. I visit a lot of schools and I go to a lot of conferences. I speak at different events.
MEAGAN MARIE: You get out there and try to get people in to Crystal.
LINDSEY MCQUEENEY: That’s right.
MEAGAN MARIE: Awesome. So we’ll start with some of the basics. What are the first things that you notice about a resume? You can kind of go into the dos and don’ts if you like.
LINDSEY MCQUEENEY: That is a good question. I would say the first thing I look for, actually, isn’t what’s on a person’s resume, but whether they have a portfolio and what’s in there. The most important thing to remember when you’re applying for a job in the games industry is that it’s what you can show, and not tell. What you can actually do. Anybody can say that they’re a designer or that they have good ideas. But it’s only what you can actually prove out that would be useful to us at a company. That’s probably the first thing that I notice. As far as dos and don’ts go, I’ve done multiple conferences regarding this. I could probably talk for hours about it. But there’s a couple of key things that seem simple enough, but people always seem to forget. One is, do your homework. Proofread your resume. Make sure you’re not applying to the wrong company. That happens all the time.
MEAGAN MARIE: We get that a lot. We get the, “Dear Blizzard Entertainment, I have wanted to work with you all my life.”
LINDSEY MCQUEENEY: Yeah. And then I’ll send them a response saying, “Well, good luck at Blizzard. I hope that works out for you.” When you’re applying to a company that. This is your first impression that you’re going to give to them. It might be the only impression that you get to show them. So make sure that your portfolio is as complete as it could be, your resume is proofread, all your links work, you’re sending samples every time. The problem these days is that a lot of companies use automatic tracking tools for their candidates. Once they hit that reject button, you’re in the system as rejected the entire time. This is not to say that you would never get a chance, but just make sure that your first chance is the best chance.
MEAGAN MARIE: What about cover letters? Are cover letters still standard, or is it mostly jut the resume and the portfolio at this point?
LINDSEY MCQUEENEY: You know, that is probably up for debate between different recruiters. I personally think that cover letters are fantastic. Somebody is going to look at that cover letter, whether it’s me or the hiring manager or a lead or whoever. That’s you chance to really talk about what makes you special, beyond your resume. A lot of people will have the same skills, if they’ve gone to the same schools or whatever or are looking to the same discipline. Your cover letter is where you say, “This is what I bring to the table that’s different than everybody else. This is why I’m interested in your company. This is why it’s the best fit for me.” That’s your chance to say what you always wanted to say.
MEAGAN MARIE: To be personable.
LINDSEY MCQUEENEY: Right. That’s where your personality comes through, too. It’s definitely not in your resume. That’s just a resume.
MEAGAN MARIE: This is one that I think people may be in fear of, but it’s a good thing to know. Are there any instant disqualifiers? Things you just look at and think, “This is not going to be a good fit”?
LINDSEY MCQUEENEY: There’s a few, yes. One big one is probably applying for the wrong position, or multiple positions. It’s important to understand what your level is, what you’re capable of. It’s important to know what you want to do, also, have a good idea of that. You can apply to more than one job if you want to, but people are looking for specialists in a particular area, rather than someone who just wants to be whatever they can be. I’d say the other big things are. Again, show, don’t tell. If you’re applying for an art position and you don’t provide me with any art samples, most of the time I’m not going to spend the time to ask you to send those. I’m just gonna say, “No portfolio. Moving on.” And then also, again, proofread. If you’re applying to Blizzard and not to Crystal Dynamics, then I’m assuming you’re applying to Blizzard and I’m going to pass right over that one.
MEAGAN MARIE: Okay, great. This is something that I know is talked about a bit on the web. Do you do social media research on the candidates? Are there things that you need to look out for?
LINDSEY MCQUEENEY: There are things that you need to look out for. I personally believe that people’s personal social media sites like Facebook are their own, and what you do in your free time is your own. I don’t care. I’m not going to look you up. But again, the reality is that that’s just me. A lot of other companies look into that stuff. A lot of people who just want to work with you and are nosy about your background might check you out. The thing to remember is that anything you put out on the web, no matter how hard you try to protect it, it’s out there for public consumption now. Anybody can find it. Whenever you put anything out, just make sure that that’s how you want yourself to be represented. If your mother found it or your boss found it, think about these things before you put stuff out there.
MEAGAN MARIE: What would grandma think about this post? Just keep her in mind.
LINDSEY MCQUEENEY: Exactly.
MEAGAN MARIE: After you’ve submitted your resume and your cover letter and so on, and you’ve scored an interview, what do you think are the tips for a good interview, here or just generally across the industry?
LINDSEY MCQUEENEY: These are just tips for any time you apply for a job, but. The first thing you’d want to do is be prepared. Do your research on the company that you’re applying for. Have a good understanding of the position. Research the person that you’re speaking to. Find out what excites you about that person or what you can learn from them. Then just keep practicing. Practice a lot before you have your interview. Especially for people who are new to the industry. Not everybody gets the chance to receive some training or tips on that. Interview with your friends. Have them ask you questions. It’s always good to ask somebody. “Is there anything I need to be prepared for for the interview?” Send a quick e-mail to someone out there in the industry that you respect and say, “I know you don’t have a lot of time, but if you could, could you check on my portfolio?” Just ask questions and practice.
MEAGAN MARIE: Do you expect most of these interviews to be mostly a one-way conversation, with you asking the questions, or do you want applicants to be asking questions also?
LINDSEY MCQUEENEY: Oh, you should always be prepared to ask questions too. That shows that you’re genuinely interested in the company. I know sometimes it can be hard to come up with questions on the spot, but that’s another reason why you should be prepared. What is it about the company that you need to know that would sell you?
MEAGAN MARIE: And to make sure that they’re a good fit also.
LINDSEY MCQUEENEY: Right. It’s a two-way street. I’m interested in what you can bring to us, but you should also be interested in how good of a fit this is for you. Not every job is the right fit for every person.
MEAGAN MARIE: You actually mentioned a word that is dangerous. Or not dangerous, but everyone wants to know. Do we have internships at Crystal Dynamics? I get e-mails about that all the time, and I would love to give them an answer.
LINDSEY MCQUEENEY: Fantastic question. I will say, we’re working on it. We do have positions right now that are more entry level, and they’re temp to perm positions, meaning that our expectation is that this person would come in on a temporary basis, work with us, and then if they’re a good fit we would transition them to full time. That’s probably the closest thing we have to internships. But those are usually reserved for people who are already graduated. We are working on an internship program. As soon as I have it up, it’ll be right on the website for people to apply to. But those take time.
MEAGAN MARIE: I will make sure to shout that from the blog and the Twitter and so on, because I know that many of you listening are very interested in potential internships. So other than internships, what sort of positions do we have open at Crystal right now that you’d like to highlight for people out there?
LINDSEY MCQUEENEY: All kinds. First, going back to internships, it’s always okay to ask, even if I don’t have anything up. I could maybe give you some insight if we’re getting closer to it, so feel free to ask those questions. Regarding our full time positions, we have a pretty wide range right now. A lot of leadership positions in the areas of production and art. For the more entry level folks, we also have those temp to perm positions that I mentioned in design and in art. There’s a lot of availability. Engineering. We need pretty much everything. We have two projects now, and they’re early on, so we need people.
MEAGAN MARIE: I have a couple of questions from our listeners. One of them was asking about an age minimum. Now, I assume we would like adults. 18 year olds at a minimum. But are there any sort of restrictions on age as long as the talent and the qualifications are there? If you have someone right out of high school who has a portfolio and they’ve been programming since they were five, is that a concern?
LINDSEY MCQUEENEY: Yes, I would say so. Mostly because of the content that we produce. Our games are rated Mature, so that we would expect the people making them would be the same age or older. That said, depending on the type of internship, it’s totally feasible that a rockstar high school student could get one, if we had one available. But in general, anything that’s producing content for the games would be 18 and older.
MEAGAN MARIE: Our second question was, are there any sort of special limits or requirements for people that are coming from abroad? If someone’s interested in applying for a position here in regards to visas or English tests, mandatory degrees, and so on.
LINDSEY MCQUEENEY: We’re lucky enough to be a part of Square Enix, which is a large corporation, and they can support us in the area of visa sponsorship. That’s something we’re certainly open to for the right candidates. Usually the limitations aren’t ones that we impose on people, but the ones that the government imposes. Depending on where you’re coming from and what type of visa you’re applying for or what time of year it is, these are all bullet points that we’ll have to check before we can consider it. It’s sort of a case by case basis. But for the most part, every visa requires a degree, typically, and in the area of the position you’re applying for. The more experience you have, the more likely you would be able to get a visa.
MEAGAN MARIE: Great. Well, that wraps up my questions. Anything else you want to share with people that are interested in applying? Any other tips or advice?
LINDSEY MCQUEENEY: Just keep your chin up. Think positively. The industry, once you get into it, is very small, so make sure that the friends you’re making out there and the people you’re making mods with or the team members you have at school. These are going to be your best resources for getting a job in the industry. I’d say the number one way to get yourself noticed is through networking. Your portfolio can be fantastic, but if it’s one of 500, who knows how long it’ll take to get there? If you have that one friend who can pass it along to the recruiter and say, “This person is awesome,” that’s really where it’s at. The jobs are there. Keep at it and learn from your mistakes. Even rejections are a good opportunity to learn. So ask questions.
MEAGAN MARIE: Thank you so much for your time, Lindsey!
LINDSEY MCQUEENEY: Thanks for having me. I’ll be back.
MEAGAN MARIE: Thanks for tuning in, everyone. I hope you found the podcast useful and that now you’re armed with extra advice for getting your start in the game industry. Remember, you can submit your own questions email@example.com. Until next time!