career advice column from sister web site GameCareerGuide.com is written by guest columnist Coray Seifert of THQ’s Kaos Studios in New York. Seifert answers a question about studying two fields of game development simultaneously, and whether that will hurt or help a job candidate.
Gamasutra.com is also running this exclusive career advice column – for more beginner information about the game industry, visit GameCareerGuide.com’s “Getting Started”
I live in New Jersey and attend Bloomfield College. The majors that I've chosen are game design with a concentration in game art, and computer information systems with a concentration in programming. My minor is game programming.
My professors told me it would be hard for me to find a job in game development because I will be specialized in more than one area, but of those professors, one said that I can become a technical artist. He also said that being a technical artist would make me a valuable candidate because a lot of studios like to look for employees who know the artistic side and the programming side -- but that they are really hard to find.
The reason I chose both game programming and art is because all my life, I loved to draw and work with computers. I am 21 and feel kind of lost. Can you give me some insight or feed back about my majors and job placement, being that I live in New Jersey?
The game industry is a funny place. You need to have an extremely polished skill set to succeed as a game developer, but at the same time, you must also be versatile enough to take on new challenges as they arise. It’s quite a quandary indeed!
On one hand, you need a portfolio of pieces that will show off your excellent core skills. If your portfolio is missing a “phenomenal walk cycle of infinite repeating” or a “code sample of great iteration +1,” for example, you could have a hard time getting noticed. If a potential employer is reviewing your portfolio against another applicant who has focused more on his given subject, your wide-ranging versatility, unfortunately, may not show through, and odds are likely that you’ll be passed up.
That said, if you’re too focused on any one subject, you limit yourself to a very small subset of jobs. My own career path greatly benefited from a broad-based film education at a liberal arts school (TCNJ represent!). I started as a level designer for military contractors, moved to production and management for casual games, and finally arrived at my original goal: being a game designer and writer for big-budget first-person shooters. That diverse path would not have been possible had I not had a wide-ranging education and a deep interest in all areas of game development.
Likewise, if you’re interviewing for a position against someone with an equally excellent portfolio, your wide-ranging background could be the thing that pushes you over the top. Startups and smaller studios also place a high value on generalists who can contribute to a number of different areas, as they may not have dedicated resources for all the myriad elements of game development.
It Pays to be an Oxymoron
In your case, I would advise that you definitely continue your study of both programming and animation, but focus on becoming what Scrum and Agile folks refer to as a specialized generalist.
In your circumstances, a specialized generalist would be an expert at either programming or animation, with uberskills that would impress any potential employer, who also has a portfolio that makes fellow game developers slack jaw in admiration, and has a resume of classes, projects, and extracurricular study that make HR managers swoon in your presence -- but also has valuable skills in other areas, thus making you a wholly irresistible candidate.
It’s a tall order.
Animation vs. Programming
Now, there is the second question of which discipline to focus on. Given your options, animation versus programming, I would suggest you focus on programming, but also keep your animation skills sharp, in case the right opportunity comes along. The reason: Not all studios have dedicated animation resources – some don’t have animators at all! However, programmers form the backbone of the game industry. Every studio needs them. It’s rare to find a studio that is not looking for a great C++ programmer at any given time. If you have rare skills like networking, graphics engine coding, or advanced AI, all the better.
In fact, if you do have networking or AI skills, you should definitely email me, like, right now.
Specifically regarding living in New Jersey and wanting to work in the game industry, I can tell you from personal experience that it is possible, although it’s not easy. There are a number of outstanding studios in New York and New Jersey, developing and publishing everything from mobile to casual to console games. It’s one of the few places in the world where there is a legitimate concentration of game studios as well as a very active game development community, driven by two well-established chapters of the International Game Developers Association.
However, it can take some time to break in, as the area does not have the industry density of a city like Austin, Montreal, or the San Francisco Bay area, and thus new jobs become available much less frequently. While there are fewer local candidates to compete for these positions, it will likely take you some time to get your first opportunity in the industry. It took me a solid two years to break into my first full-time job in game development.
No matter what path you choose, it sounds like you have the love of games required to be successful and the ambition to try to do something exceptional with your career. Make sure that you never lose track of that passion and excitement, as it will guide you well on your path to game development greatness.
Coray Seifert is a game designer at THQ's Kaos Studios (Frontlines: Fuel of War). The youngest member of the IGDA’s Board of Directors, Seifert has also served as the principle coordinator of the IGDA's New Jersey chapter since 2002. He has developed games as a writer, designer, and producer. He also teaches game design at Bloomfield College and the New Jersey Institute of Technology. When he isn't distributing high-fives and D&D jokes, he lives in Morristown, NJ, with his amazing wife Katie and their two highly eccentric cats.
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