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Bring on the Newbs!

Understanding why there is a lack of entry level and junior level positions in the game industry, and why it's important to have these positions available.

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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