August 1, 2010
It takes more than a love of gaming for a career as a video-game designer
Special to NWjobs
While growing up in Modesto, Calif., Josh Stanger couldn’t get enough of video games. “I’ve been playing games ever since [Sega’s] Genesis,” he says, which translates to about the early 1990s in nongamer-speak.
It was only logical that he wanted to turn his love of video games into a career, so he enrolled in Redmond’s DigiPen Institute of Technology in 2005. When he was in his fourth year of the five-year game-design program, Stanger started job hunting. Last summer, through a posting he saw at DigiPen, he landed a paid internship at Seattle’s Zombie Studios.
Tips for the job-hunt game
Play the games. “We give a high rating to candidates that have heavily researched what Big Fish Games does,” recruiter Aulabaugh says. “We like to see those who have tried some of our games, or at least looked at our website.”
Get to know people. Stanger has a friend who is an animator at Zombie Studios, which improved his chances of getting hired, he says. “You have to get to know people as friends first,” Stanger says. “People can tell if you’re trying to be friendly with them just so you can slide in the business card.”
Focus on what you love. “Some people say [not to] bring anything generic to an interview, like sketches of a bunch of futuristic soldiers,” Stanger says. “But that was work that I really liked doing, so that’s what I brought in my portfolio, and that’s what they were most interested in.”
Today, a year after starting the character-artist internship, Stanger is a full-time animation artist and modeler for Zombie Studios. He recently completed work on one of the company’s newest titles, “Blacklight: Tango Down,” for Microsoft’s Xbox 360.
Stanger’s story might sound like a dream come true to eager gamers who would give up all of their bonus lives to take his place. But the path to gaming success in this region is hardly a joyride.
“We’re seeing just as many people who’ve been terminated as have been hired,” says Tom Buscaglia, a lawyer who specializes in the gaming industry and is president of the Dev-Biz consulting firm. “This is not a business for the faint of heart.”
“I’ve got a lot of out-of-work buddies out there,” Stanger says. “Some get jobs as game testers, working for minimum wage at startups.”
The problem is not a lack of growth in the local industry, which boasts such companies as Xbox, RealNetworks, Nintendo of America, Valve, Bungie and dozens of smaller developers. According to a report by the economic-development organization enterpriseSeattle, the Puget Sound-area video-game sector grew by 33 percent over the past two years. More than half of the gaming companies in the survey said they were hiring.
Nor has there been a lack of technically qualified candidates. “As long as companies like Amazon and Microsoft are here, there will always be a large pool of technical talent,” says Audra Aulabaugh, head of recruiting at Seattle’s Big Fish Games. “But finding good people is always challenging, whatever economy you face.”
The main issue for hiring managers has been finding people to fill positions that require more than technical prowess.
“We’re looking for not just game lovers but for people who are able to work in teams,” says Jenny Broome, global senior HR generalist for PopCap Games in Seattle. “You have to be understanding, flexible and diplomatic in this job.”
For those looking to break into the business, Stanger recommends either game testing or “environmental modeling,” which produces backgrounds and scenery for games.
“I know people who are holding out for the perfect character-development job,” Stanger says. “But you can learn so much just being in a company, working in a different department and working your way up.”
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