Industry veteran Don Daglow, president of Stormfront Studios (The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers
), started the final session at Toronto's Future Play 2008 event by joking, "I’m gonna be that Uncle Ollie who sees you at the family Christmas party and starts to give you career advice."
Getting a little more serious, Daglow, whose veteran independent Bay Area studio largely closed
earlier this year, pointed out that "in our industry, we often take the view that planning is done for six, 12 or 18 months, if you take the long view."
He continued: "But I want you to feel that you can have a lifelong career in the game industry without having pie-in-the-sky silly dreams, but just by being realistic."
Daglow shared some possible steps for success, based on his own career and history in the industry. The first -- being born at the right time -- is out of one's control, but he felt was critical to success.
He told the audience that "sometimes you are pursuing your dream before you know it's your dream," mentioning that he had designed board games as a child, and 'slow games' as a social studies teacher of 11 year old inner-city youth -- without realizing that he wanted or could have a career in games.
He emphasized that being true to one's own wishes and abilities was key to success, and that no one should pick any career, be it investment banking or games, because their main interest was the money they thought they might make.
He defined the nature of the game industry as one that requires DaVincis -- not in the sense that only geniuses of DaVinci’s caliber can succeed, but that like DaVinci, successes in the industry are people with a diverse group of interests who are constantly working to master and refine their singular core skills.
This was as DaVinci did with painting throughout his life. He also pointed out that DaVinci was not an overnight success, but a man who began his career with years of apprenticeship.
"What is presented to us about games and game designers are little sound bite moments that only talk about went right," said Daglow. The stories of long years in the trenches, like medieval apprentices had, and public fumbles, strikeouts and errors of judgment and moments of doubt like those borne by professional athletes are also part of a long career -- unless, of course, you quit.
"If you quit," Daglow joked, "you won’t have a long career. I can prove that to you mathematically." He also emphasized the need for team skills, and then went on to address some points specifically aimed at the Future Play audience.
To the Canadians in attendance, Daglow emphasized the strength of their bicultural, bilingual traditions. "Americans often think there’s only one way to look at things," he said. "We often have to work with them to be open to different ways of thinking. Canadian culture starts out that way."
Then Daglow spoke to the women in the audience. "This is the best possible time to be a woman interested in a career in games," he told them.
"The big companies have to grow revenue -- easiest way to grow revenue is to grow audience, and that means reaching out to more women and making them players. Hiring a diverse set of workers results in diverse product; I know it, 50 percent of my games had women in significant roles, as producers or otherwise."
Added Daglow, "Will Wright knows it -- that’s why such a high percentage of The Sims
team is female. I want to passionately spread the word that its not heaven yet, but the industry is becoming a very good place for women."
The last group he spoke to was the "experienced" folks in the crowd. "There’s this myth in the industry," Daglow said, "That if you’re a programmer or an engineer, it's as if you are a caterpillar that has to turn into a moth. You have to turn into a gray moth manager because your coding skills... drop away."
Daglow cited the historical roots of this old myth as the shift that engineers went through when the technology moved from analog tubes to digital chips and a high percentage of them couldn’t make the change -- but that the thinking is still prevalent. "The myth of the unsustainable tech career. I’ve heard it said here in the last 3 days." Daglow said.
Last but not least, Daglow dismissed the "end of innovation myth," pointing out that bestselling games in the past two years have been built on non-standard gameplay and non-standard controllers, citing Wii games and the Guitar Hero
series as examples.