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Bring on the Newbs!
by Josh Green on 12/07/12 11:55:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

After a good number of years trying hard to find a job that would launch my game industry career, I've found that there is a noticable lack of junior level and entry level jobs for game designers and producers. Especially if one happened to graduate school a year or two before graduate-level positions opened up in either of those roles (like me!). However I do not want to opine over how difficult it is to get into this industry. Everyone knows it's tough. And it should be. Games are hard work. Not everyone can make them. And let's face it, game developers are expensive. A new game developer who turns out to be an absolute failure can be a financial (not to mention project-halting) catastrophe.

That said, I'd like to make the argument for taking that risk.

A Failed Economy

Five years ago when I graduated with my MFA in interactive media, the game industry was already going through a decline. While some of the largest publishers were making record profits, raising the industry's overall economic output, studios were closing or being closed left and right. It is said that the US economy failed in 2008. But really it was in the midst of failing in late 2006 through 2007 as most products were being bought using overleveraged credit. And what's first to go when a family decides they're spending too much on credit? Entertainment. This actually began a trend of larger publishers making large amounts of money on a couple of major AAA titles while most of the rest of the industry floundered. So long story short, the market started getting flooded with experienced people. What's a new grad to do?

Fast forward to today, and the economy is still stagnant.  Instead of people buying stuff they can't afford with credit they shouldn't have had, people are now holding off on buying things in general and instead are electing to pay down their debts. This newfound financial responsbility means that only the most anticipated of AAA games are being bought (with the noted exception of Free To Play and select mobile and indie titles). AAA games are incredibly expensive. And given the high end budget, every single person who is hired to work on such a title must have his or her role justified up and down the chain from low-level managers to the penny counters at the corporate level. Given this environment, it's little wonder there's virtually no junior level or entry level positions available at the larger companies.

And for the companies that are making smaller budgeted games, it's not any better for them either. When it's questionable from project to project that the studio can keep its lights on thanks to this economy, there's simply not enough room in the budget to hire at the entry and junior levels.

Immediate Need

But what happens when the economy finally gets better? What happens when consumers decide to start buying more products beyond just the blockbuster AAA titles of the year? Are game companies going to start adding new young people to their rosters? My fear is that they probably won't. It seems to be that the game industry is hyper-focused on filling rolls immediately from one project to the next. This isn't a bad thing and it makes perfect economic sense. Why would anyone want to waste money on a position that currently isn't in need?

There is a problem with this logic however. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics' Employment Projections: 2010-2020 (published this year): "Occupations that typically need some type of postsecondary education for entry are projected to grow the fastest during the 2010-20 decade. Occupations classified as needing a master’s degree are projected to grow by 21.7 percent, followed by doctoral or professional degree occupations at 19.9 percent, and associate’s degree occupations at 18.0 percent." What this means is that we're going to quickly go through the huge number of currently unemployed experienced people when the economy picks up steam. And there's likely not going to be enough educated people to fill the demand for such positions.  Wouldn't it make sense to start hiring some new people in junior and entry level roles each year so that your company is ahead of the curve when the need arises?

Traditional Reason to Hire New People

And lastly, doesn't it make sense to bring in new people just to refresh the industry? Not everyone who starts out makes it by developing his/her own indie title. Most people start out by getting that first junior or entry level job. And as a part of your organization, that newbie has that "new car smell" of new visions, new ideas, new technologies, and new production methodologies.  Of course these fresh new people don't come up with these things right away. But give them time and a little apprenticeship, and they'll blossom.


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Comments


Josh Kohn
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Such a great article Josh and right on the money. As someone who is trying to start a career in gaming, I completely agree with what you wrote here. I hope it eventually becomes easier to join this industry. Great work.

Adam Alexander
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This is a really great read, Josh. As an up and coming artist myself, it can be difficult to not to be discouraged when looking for a job in the game industry. I think perhaps one of the best things we can do at this time is to look for peripheral careers and work hard at our talents as developers. I took a job with a company that makes educational software as an animator and illustrator, and have since had opportunities to develop my skills in UI and 3D. In addition to this, I found some like-minded young people in the same position as myself (looking for work in games, unable to find it) and we have created a rag-tag game studio, and are coming close to releasing our first Flash game. It is a small, practical title, something to let us have a creative outlet and to gain a little experience. Its been wonderful to have it, and a reliable art job at the same time, even if it isn't what I ultimately want to do.

I wish you and everyone else out there in this position the best of luck, and hope everyone is creating games, whether its for jobs or not.

Mathieu MarquisBolduc
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"entry level jobs for game designers and producers".

Well, a lot of junior game designers positions are filled internally from other areas such as QA and artists. And Producer isnt an entry-level position to begin with.

Frank DAngelo
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I agree that a revolution in hiring junior talent really needs to happen, and I also think game studios are staffing in the wrong ways. I'm seeing many high level studios over managing, filling themselves up to the brim with producers, project managers, marketing, and analysts, when some of their creative departments are running bare bone. Another thing to consider is the high risk of hiring junior talent, at least on paper that is. Like you said, developing games is a huge financial risk, and on paper, those studios are going to want to hire the most experienced of professionals. I would argue that junior talent can outperform senior talent because of their drive, passion and motivation that a lot of senior employees tend to lose over the years. Not to forget that a junior employee offers a fresh look into workflow and they will always be in wonder and awe at everything instead of jaded and cynical. However, that's just an argument, and goes nowhere when trying to build a successful team. Years of experience, past projects worked on, it's all tangible values that studios will build their teams upon.

However, don't think that I'm defending only hiring senior talent. I'm new into the game industry as well, and finding a job has been one of the most difficult things I've done in my life. I have almost 3 years of experience working as an audio design contractor for different game projects, (AAA, Indie, and even those in between), but despite my never ending job search, I'm still looking for my goal of a full time audio design position. As an audio professional, I probably have the toughest area to break into. Almost all postings I see want a minimum of 3 years of experience for "associate" level positions, and I'm seeing that minimum increase to 5 years. I would absolutely love for more entry level positions to open up, especially since audio teams are already usually extremely small, but I'm just not sure it will happen. I hope though that it does, and that teams become better staffed, and we see more focus on the design rather than the marketing and hitting some cash in deadline.

I also think that right now the game industry has become a bit over-saturated. I also wanted to work in games since I first started playing them as a little kid. At that time, and while I was growing up and in my teens, game development was still a fairly niche field. The people working in games were people that chose and truly wanted to make games. What am I trying to say? The game industry exploded in popularity about 9-10 years ago. Profits for other entertainment like movies, books, and tv was rapidly dropping as consumers were turning to games because of their value and enjoyment. This resulted in many people switching fields to join the game industry. Everyone all of a sudden wanted to be a part of game development. Artists and Audio Designers from film and tv wanted in. Designers wanted in. Business oriented professionals wanted in for the flexible work environment and they got to lose the suit and tie in favor of jeans and a t-shirt. I know more than enough people working in games now that just don't really "love" games, even though professionally they are qualified for the position. All and all, what I'm trying to say, is everyone is trying to get into games, regardless of whether they "really" love games or not.

One last thing to consider about a lack of junior positions is the possibility that many of these positions are not posted. We all know networking goes a long way in the game industry, and I would not be surprised if there are more entry level positions than it seems to the motivated job seeker. Hiring friends and acquaintances happens quite often for junior positions. Filling junior roles with internal promotions of QA or temp employees also happens often. These type of dealings would severely limit the "observed" amount of opportunities simply because these positions get filled in the blink of an eye. There's no need to post them. To further back this up, I personally know people that simply got full-time jobs because they were friends of a lead, supervisor, hiring manager, director at the studio. They were also severely under-qualified, but... they got the job. One person on this list simply started small talk and then shared lunch with some employees at last year's GDC. He got offered a position just a few months later despite his lack of experience or credentials. So all and all, networking and knowing people is a huge factor in why there seems to be a lack of junior positions.

But sorry to ramble on... as someone that is still trying to break fully into the industry after almost three years of trying, I agree with the gist of this article, and I sincerely hope we see people that are so passionate about making games being able to find work doing what they love.

Sagar Patel
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I think this is great for the smaller pool of passionate, driven, and dedicated new blood out there. I myself am still young in this industry but find it difficult to accept that people should be let in because they're eager and willing to work (most likely for less perks).

While a newbie can be less costly and have more potential long-term than a veteran, he/she can also hurt the studio with lack of organization, unrefined skill, and attitudes that do not promote the best studio culture. The current view of Interns in our industry can also add to the negative affect by not stressing accountability. When the expectation of an Entry Level person is not set high, that person can find themselves slipping by without refining themselves. If this goes on long enough without being addressed, that person can be harder to shape, deal with, or get rid of later on (not that I favor the later).

I like and promote what you say since all I needed was one opportunity to show my promise; I hope for others to have that same opportunity. Having observed different studios for some time or another, I just wanted to note how this can be detrimental to a studio that doesn't have the resources or personnel to manage/train/guide an onslaught of new people that MUST be relied on.

Best to all who are not only eager, but also passionate, driven, and dedicated.

Kevin Salaba
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I think most people in the industry thing excatly as Sagar Patel said,

"While a newbie can be less costly and have more potential long-term than a veteran, he/she can also hurt the studio with lack of organization, unrefined skill, and attitudes that do not promote the best studio culture. The current view of Interns in our industry can also add to the negative affect by not stressing accountability. When the expectation of an Entry Level person is not set high, that person can find themselves slipping by without refining themselves. If this goes on long enough without being addressed, that person can be harder to shape, deal with, or get rid of later on (not that I favor the later)."

This thinking that hiring less expereinced will hurt the studio. That somehow bringing in new inexpereinced somehow hurt the project more by having to educate them what to do. All this really needs to go. An entry level position should be just that, a position to give you experience! So many entry level positions in the game industry are actually asking for mid-expereinced workers (3+ year exp.) and calling it an entry level position.

I understand that as a company you want the best employee, but this miss labeling only creates a system that provents anyone new from getting their foot in the door ouside of networking. An entry level employee should do entry level things to gain experience, not hire a mid-experence employee simply to gain entry at a company with a lower pay grade.


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