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What was your first job in the game development industry? Please share your experiences--the good, the bad, the ugly, all of it--with me.

Hello. I am an aspiring Game Designer/Developer who's attending college to get my Bachelor's Degree.

I was just wondering to all the veterans and professionals in the Game Development world, what was your first job title working in the industry? Did you like it? Was it memorable? What game play mechanics are your personal favorites? What would you say was your greatest challenge? Finally, what was your best success?

Please share. Thank you and keep creating! #video-games #computer-games #video-game-design #game-design #game-development #professional-development #challenges #successes

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Kevin’s Answer

My first job in the industry was as a dialogue writer for kid games. The studio did lots of contract work for Disney and Hasbro. I had applied for a game designer position, but they called me back about being a writer because my degree was in film and video production and they hoped I had experience writing scripts and dialogue. I jumped at the chance and within a week I was asked to write a proposal for a game Hasbro was pitching. A week or so later the founder of our studio came to my desk and threw a folder down on it. He said, "It was your idea, you design it." From there, I was lead designer on six titles for that studio.

The experience was great because the studio was small enough to have a flat organization. Anyone could talk to anyone. Everyone contributed. Many of those early games were 2D with animated sprites. The kids chose learning activities from a central hub menu. So I spent much of my time designing activities more than mechanics per se. But I got to work closely with all aspects of the production: programming, art, audio, etc. There is much to be said for working for a small to medium sized studio when you start. In the big boys, you're just a cog in the machine.

Almost 20 years later, I spend more of my creative time working on tabletop games. There, the mechanics are king and the rest is just window dressing. I've been focused on cooperative games that can be played by a family. That way, helping younger players is in your best interest and is built into the structure of the game. My favorite mechanics are randomized boards (so each play is always different), resource management, and, when I'm playing with grown-ups, hidden traitors.

I hope this helps. Remember, you never know which opportunity is going to be the one that breaks the doors down. Be ready for when it happens.


Thank you very much for your thoughtful and insightful reply! I am now currently in my final, final semester before graduating with my bachelor's degree finally, so I found your statements very helpful. I am starting to train my mindset to be more professional rather than in "student mode". Do you typically create tabletop games for personal or for professional usage these days? I've always loved board games, but video games were what drenched me in the gasoline and lit the fire ablaze of my passion toward games. And, if you don't mind my asking, do you still create digital/video games today? I know the industry continues to grow, evolve, and change, so I am grateful to hear from someone who has had decades of experience willing to share their insight with me. Thank you again, Kevin. Patrick K.

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Mark’s Answer

My first job title was Junior Programmer. The company I worked for was located above Skid Row in downtown Seattle. We were a small company making PC games on a shoestring budget. Our back door opened onto an alley where drug deals went down daily. If you worked past 6:00, you had to listen to the blare of street musicians playing over the Harleys dragging the strip, all underpinned by the thundering baseline of the blues band in the restaurant on the first floor. The street reeked of endless bar crawls. Overtime was frequent and unpaid. A couple of our games did OK, but we didn't make any hits.

It was the best time I ever had.

There are thousands of game developers in the States. Think of how many you have ever heard of. A handful, right? The rest of us toil in obscurity. You'll be lucky to work on one modest hit in a 20 year career. But, if you are the right kind of person, that won't matter. Nothing compares to working with your team, sweating blood to get your game out the door, and seeing it on the shelves. Of course you want to make the best game you can, but never underestimate the power of personal taste. No matter what you make, someone, somewhere will think it's great. Strive for quality, but also know that your are reaching people every time you ship a title.

I have come a long way since those early days, but I look back upon them fondly -- and all the years between then and now. If you chose game development because it seemed like a good career choice, you probably won't be happy. The hours are long, the competition is insane, and it will try to take over your life. If you are doing it because you love games and have always dreamed of making them, you won't be disappointed in the crazy, rocket-sled ride.

Thank you for sharing your insight with me, Mark! I'm definitely the latter of the two types you defined, so I look forward to creating future experiences to and for people everywhere, telling meaningful stories with memorable moments, and pushing my abilities to limits I may not have yet been pushed quite to just yet... What you describe actually sounds a bit nerve-wracking, but it also sounds very fun. To say something like "It was the best time I ever had" is a profound statement, you know what I mean? I don't know much about Programming at all. Keep creating! I believe you're right about "never underestimate the power of personal taste... Strive for quality, but also know that you are reaching people every time you ship a title"! Patrick K.

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Andy’s Answer

Hi Patrick,

Great question. It's definitely a great idea to get a sense of how different people have experienced life in your intended industry. I wish you the best of luck getting in.

My first job in the industry was as a concept artist at EA working on a Lord of the Rings game. It was great since I'm a huge fan of the books and movies. It was a great experience getting to work with talented and creative people. But that was also one of the worst moments as we were cancelled after 2 years in development. It was heart-breaking especially since it was my first job in the industry and it was with an intellectual property that I loved. I was able to stay on and work on many other projects at the company and am currently at Zynga.

One of my biggest successes was working at Zynga. I was able to take the reins and do a majority of the character style exploration and design for CityVille and so when it became a hit it was amazing. We had advertising up in Times Square, there was additional merchandising from a monopoly-style board game through a deal with Hasbro to cross promotional marketing with Frito-Lay. It was an incredible experience to work on a project with such huge success and scope.

Some of my favorite gameplay mechanics revolve around 3rd person action/adventure games. Completing missions and solving puzzles, especially cooperatively with friends is amazing. The group heists in GTA online, the cooperative puzzles in the Tomb Raider Temple of Osiris are so much fun with friends.

I know that I'm not in game design like you, but I hope that this little view into the game making world was helpful to you.

Thank you very much for your response, Andy! What was the reason for the cancellation? Whose choice is it to make that call, if you know the answer to any of these questions? And... Wow. Monopoly's actually a favorite ol' game of mine! Ha ha. Must've been a proud moment indeed, I'd bet. What do you do at Zynga now? Besides those mechanics you listed… what do you think? In our modern times, we are so overloaded with apps and information from so many different sources, is there such a thing as a balance between this chaos with a peace? Sometimes, one game title is profound to one player while, elsewhere, another player thinks it’s boring and couldn't bear to play through half of it, you know what I mean? Do you have a tendency towards buying games because of their familiarity or what is it? Patrick K.

I'm sure the reasons for the cancellation were complicated and not quite disseminated to us. From what I understood it was that the films would have been out of theaters for at least 3 years by then and they weren't sure that it'd be as marketable. At Zynga I still work as a concept artist. I'm in a senior position now; my official title is principal concept artist. Andy Wang

There is definitely a lot of room for many different types of mechanics. I'm not a particular fan of MOBAs or competitive shooters but they certainly do well. That's one of the great things about this industry. There's room for all kinds of gamers and something for everyone. I doubt that you'll find one mechanic that'll hit the sweet spot for everyone. I often buy games based on the pedigree of the developers and based on reviews. I'll occasionally take a chance on some games. Some hits, some misses. Andy Wang

Thanks again for the insight, Andy. Did you always want to be a concept artist or have a title like principal concept artist? Congratulations for making it that far, too!! I know many may never get a chance to reach that high, especially given the competitive nature of business. Would you like to stay at Zynga long-term or is there somewhere else that your dream job lies? (If you don't mind my asking.) Patrick K.

I actually have a "time capsule" that I made in 6th grade and the career that I wanted then was to make art for video games. So the desire was definitely there. I've actually gone through varied and branching paths to get here; from getting my undergraduate degree in biology to working in IT while earning my MFA degree in illustration. For a time I was trying to work in the comic book industry but I've come full circle and found a really great career in video games. I've certainly been very fortunate in my life and career. Andy Wang

Zynga has been a great work experience for me and I would love to stay for as long as they'll have me. Being involved in the inception of a game to working on a live game has given me a great breadth of experience. I've worked on various types of games here as well and look forward to our future endeavors here. That being said I've also been exploring writing in my free time. I'd love to one day have a successful secondary career as a novelist. Creating compelling stories and universes has always been a desire of mine. And while working with a team to make video games has been great, the desire to be solely responsible for the creation of a fictional universe is quite compelling as well. Andy Wang

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Ed’s Answer

I was a Senior Programmer, probably because I was older than most of the other programmers...

Hello, Ed! As a Senior Programmer, did you work much with other (I guess I'd call 'em) departments? For example, did you see many Game Designers or Sound Designers or even did the whole Game Development Team work together in one place with each other? Were you pretty much left working solo on dealing with the technical, Programming side and dealing with those aspects during the game development cycle? Patrick K.

As a producer I work with other departments more often. As a senior programmer I programmed what they wanted me to. I worked solo a lot but had to know where to find the answer, if I didn't already know it. Ed Magnin

Thank you, Ed! May I ask what is a producer's main (or many) role(s) and/or, also, what do producers do with the other departments? Did you like working solo? Would you also happen to know if most game designers work solo or are they more in a team/department setting? Patrick K.

Good questions Patrick. The best answer I heard was from a producer in Austin, who said her job was 1) to make sure her team had everything they needed, and 2) to manage her boss' expectations. If he was expecting a game by a certain date, she'd have to keep him appraised of anything that might challenge their deadline. The producer would work with the artist or programmer, or in larger projects, the lead artist and lead programmer. The only way a game designer could work solo would be to sell his game design to someone else and then not care to supervise it. Very often the designer would be the producer, there are lots of examples where they just want to design and work on programming or graphics and leave the day-to-day management to someone else. Ed Magnin