A new 'Ask the Experts,'
the biweekly advice column on GameCareerGuide.com, answers a reader's question about how to get a more creative role in the game industry, once you've already put one foot in the door.
We're running this career-related series on Gamasutra.com as well. Please consult GameCareerGuide.com's Getting Started section
for more educational and career-related advice.
I currently work in a game a studio, but I want to start getting my foot into other areas. I really want to be part of a development team on games. I am not good with code nor am I a good illustrator. I am 30 years old and just getting into this industry after trying for years. I want to be someone who helps in the creation portion (thinking of ideas and the like, not necessarily having to do with the artistic side).
What's your advice on how to approach this? Thanks!
Dear Creative Tinker,
Congratulations on getting that first job with a studio. Although you haven't specified what role you've been hired for, I'm assuming it's an entry-level position or support position such as QA where you are not working on the game project directly (since you still have your eye set on getting into the creative side).
The first thing you should do now is take advantage of the fact that you are inside the studio. Look around and observe. Where are the creative ideas coming from currently? Does the studio mostly develop licensed titles (in which case there is a need for a different kind of creativity) or does the company thrive on original IP? Take stock of the creativity that does exist, and then figure out the people who are attached to it, either because they are sourcing and managing it or developing it.
As you identify those people, make it know to them and your manager that you have an interest in what they do. Ask if you can sit in on a meeting so that you can learn a bit more about what goes on. Ask if you can be assigned a mentor. Introduce yourself to those people and ask if they'd like to talk over lunch about how they got into their positions and what exactly they do on a day-to-day basis.
At any rate, tell your manager and co-workers -- and anybody else you meet in the game industry -- about your career goals. Good managers will respond by asking you about your long-term career goals, as well as your strengths and weaknesses as an individual. For example, if they come to see that you are not strong with code but are a whiz at scheduling and project management, they might be able to help you train to become a producer. On the other hand, if they find out you have a knack for writing, they might alter your job to allow you to continue in your present role while spending 25 percent of your time helping the writers and designers polish up storyboards and scripts.
It's common at small companies for everyone on the team, from the office assistant to the lead programmer, to have a say in the creative life of the game. Team members are invited to bring up ideas at meetings as well as around the water cooler. Just bear in mind that there are appropriate and inappropriate times to reveal all your new fangled ideas. Pull out all your big guns when projects are still in preproduction. But after the game is in full-swing production, only bring up ideas that are relevant changes to the existing concept or features (or else bear the brunt of the being the "feature creeper" who threw the entire project off course with great ideas that blew the budget and lost the publisher's confidence).
At large companies, it's not always the case that all team members help brainstorm new game ideas. I know a guy at Sony Online who once told me that once or twice a year, every person in the company receives an email asking for original IP ideas. In other words, your opportunity to participate in the creative process might be a little more formalized at a large company.
If you take all these steps and nothing happens right away, just hang tight. Make it a point to bring up your career goals with your manager and your human resources representative at your year-end review -- and you don't have to wait 12 months to do this! You can always request a mid-year review to assess these kinds of issues and go over your potential growth within the company! Be clear, be confident, and come to the table with specific suggestions for how you might contribute to the creative team. Managers can (and often will) take action if you bring up specific points. However, if you just say, "I want to do something more creative," that doesn't give them enough to take action. Make it easy for them to help you by being specific about how you think you can contribute!
Jill Duffy is editor of GameCareerGuide.com and writes this biweekly advice column for people who are new to the video game development industry. Send your question about breaking into the game industry to [email protected] The more specific and relevant your question is to other GameCareerGuide.com readers, the more likely you are to see it answered here!