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"Be Nerdier" and Other Tips for Working in Gaming

By Bridget Quigg

The gaming industry tends to attract highly intelligent, creative and fun-loving people. Who wouldn’t want to work in “interactive entertainment”? But, how do you get started in the industry and what is it really like to work on a game? Two industry veterans, and PayScale.com, weigh in with some advice and stats.

From a Tester

We’ll start with input from a former game tester, Karla, who became a test lead at Microsoft, working on Xbox and other products.

1. Get into the industry – anywhere. Karla suggests that there are a lot of good entry-level jobs as a tester. You can get the gig with almost no experience. She recommends that you start at the bottom and then network, network, network to move up.

2. Read blogs. You need to know what’s happening in the industry. Read gaming blogs of all kinds. “If you come into an interview and can’t tell what the top 10 titles are right now, you are not going to catch someone’s eye,” says Karla.

3. Play games. In order to know what’s out there, you have to play all kinds games.

4. Be “nerdier.” “There is always somebody nerdier than you and willing to work more for less,” says Karla. Become an expert.

5. Start small. You may not make as much money working on casual games, but they are a great place to start building your skills. “Everybody wants to work on an Xbox shooter,” says Karla. But, she encourages you to work on casual games to gain experience before you “work for the big guys.”

6. Don’t get too niche. It’s great to be aware of what you love best, but keeping your knowledge base broad will open up new opportunities for you more quickly.

7. Beware the tedium. Testing games isn’t always glamorous. Karla says, “When you play the same level over and over for 80 hours, you kind of want to kill yourself.”

8. Make your own games. If you want to be a developer, it’s good practice to create and build some of your own games. There are instructions online on how to write your own smartphone applications or small games.

9. Say “goodbye” to your favorite hobby. They say that if you want to still like games, don’t work in the industry. You get burnt out. “After six years of being out of the gaming industry, I am finally playing my first game again,” says Karla.

10. It’s not all about you. “People would be surprised at how little say they get in the game they are working on, especially when they’re just starting out,” says Karla. You have a small group of decision makers at the top and the game is treated like all other businesses. Typically, you are executing a plan and the goal is to make money.

From an Artist

Scott is a lead artist who designs characters for on of the hottest games in the industry. He says that he applied for 60 jobs when he first started out, went to conferences to network and eventually landed a gig as an interface designer, before moving on to character design.

Here is Scott’s advice from his lofty post atop in the gaming hierarchy.

11. Location, location, location. The West Coast is definitely the best-paid area for the gaming industry.

12. Balanced approach to the product. As an artist in this industry, Scott focuses on both the aesthetics and the technical side of every endeavor. He has to make sure that what he and his team create looks awesome, works within the constraints of the engine and meets the game designers’ goals.

13. Creativity and collaboration. Almost no aspect of a game comes from one person alone. Characters, settings, rules, user experience and more come from the combination of a lot of input. “I love being able to create characters and see their evolution as other teams put their creativity and life into them. It’s all pretty amazing,” says Scott.

14. “…So little time." Being full of creative ideas feels great. Watching only a few of them come to life can be tough. Scott says that he always has more ideas than he has the time or resources to produce.

15. Good enough. Rather than having the luxury to pour over a decision and try out a variety of options, choices must be made quickly. Scott says he rarely has the time he needs to get the product quite as perfect as he wants.

Paid to Play

We’ll finish with a list of common jobs in their industry and their median, annual salaries, according to online salary database, PayScale.com.

 Job Title

Median Total Cash Compensation

Technical Director

$96,500

Video Game Producer

$83,100

Software Developer, Games

$82,900

Interaction Designer

$79,700

Software Quality Assurance (SQA) Lead

$79,100

Sales Representative, Software

$78,000

Video Game Designer

$68,100

Marketing Manager

$68,000

Associate Producer, Computer Game Applications

$67,600

Associate Video Game Producer

$62,500

Animator, 3D

$59,900

Art Director

$56,200

3D Artist

$55,800

Writer

$49,600

Audio Engineer

$42,300


Source: Salary data is provided by PayScale.com. Salaries listed are median, annual salaries for workers with 5-10 years of experience and include any bonuses, profit sharing, tips, or commissions.

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