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Subject: A career in board game design rss

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Michael Ptak
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Hi all.

I can't think of a better place to post this, except perhaps maybe general discussion, but I think it might have more relevance here and more designers would see this.

It's going to be two years soon since I graduated with my bachelors in Graphic Design and I've been having difficulty trying to get a job -anywhere-. Applications to craigslist go ignored, other applications have requirements I could never meet due to lack of experience, and so on.

Recently my mentor suggested something novel; redesigning my resume into a playable boardgame to pass around at the Game Developer's Conference in San Francisco. That was two weeks ago now, and I've only heard back from one place turning me down.

My passion and hobby is game design, since as a writer I feel games are like novels but without linear plots to guide the readers. I like crafting the framework for players to have the experiences in. I'm aware that it's a kind of fantasy job to have a position of being a game designer in the video game industry since EVERYBODY wants to be one of these, but doesn't have the qualifications to meet it.

After I showed my resume to my best friend he suggested shipping some off to board game companies, and I think the idea had merit. The resume is a functional game that I designed (well, adapted from The Sneak's War for expediency), and I also designed how it would be packaged. Everyone I've shown this too has given me only compliments about it.

I thought I would post here on the geek to ask about how game designers in the board game industry work, what the chances are for being hired, how they operate, and so on. I hear about freelance designers publishing their own stuff as a hobby but If possible I'd like to do this for a career within a company. I mean, I have the passion for it (Prototypes I build approach production quality), the drive and the mindset to be churning over game design....

...but should I tell myself it's useless and be resigned to never wanting to be a game designer or could it be possible for a guy like me to become a successful board game designer?

I have one prototype that I'd like to solicit to a publisher someday but I don't even know where to start. I was thinking of attending Kublaicon, which is a large convention here in the bay area and where I've heard publishers congregate and might be open to submissions from designers. Would this be a good place to 'start'? And what about sending the above Resume Game to board game companies- would it be received, or would it be like the video gaming industry and nobody would be interested because I have no shipped titles?

I'm flustered and frustrated here, I just want to know if I can pursue what I like to do to the full extent. Thanks, everyone.
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Joseph Hines
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Well, this is certainly a good place to post your questions. I don't know that I have many answers for you but I wanted to wish you good luck in your search.

It is my understanding that most board game designers don't bring in regular paychecks working for a company like a software game designer would. Game publishers might be looking to hire someone to help with the layout and publishing of games (might not be your designs but it would be good experience) so you could get your foot in the door that way and once you have the contacts shopping your designs around would be easier.

Going to gaming conventions would certainly be a good way to network as well.

Like I said, best of luck in pursuing your dream. Remember that you might not get your dream job on day one, but if you work in that direction you should be able to get there eventually.

Joe H.
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Michael Ptak
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I'm trying to get my foot in the door anywhere at this point. Having a published game would be impressive on any kind of resume I'd think, even for graphic design. I wanted to explore this option first because it's the one I'm the most passionate about.

Thanks Joe
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Joe Mucchiello
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Companies where you can have a career usually have these things called Human Resources departments where if a resume is not straightforward it goes straight to the trash can unread. And resumes usually are seen by HR before they go anywhere near a hiring manager. Your idea is cute but I don't think it helps your cause.

Similarly, when pitching a game to a publisher, you want it to be as simple to understand as possible. Conflating it with a resume seems counter-intuitive to that simplicity.

Finally a degree in Graphic Design is not readily synonymous with game design. When I hear Graphic Design I expect to receive a portfolio of artwork. Not a game and certainly I would not expect you to be talking about making non-linear novels. That is just the wrong degree for game design whether it is board games or video games.

As for shopping around your idea, search this forum for "what do I do next" kinds of posts. We really need a FAQ with just that one question in it. (Hopefully David will stop by with his flowchart.)
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Joe Wasserman
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I don't think he would like that.
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jmucchiello wrote:
That [graphic design] is just the wrong degree for game design whether it is board games or video games.
If that's the wrong one, what's the right degree for board game design? (Never mind video game, which has a somewhat more straightforward career path.)
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Scott Nelson
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Mymil wrote:
jmucchiello wrote:
That [graphic design] is just the wrong degree for game design whether it is board games or video games.
If that's the wrong one, what's the right degree for board game design? (Never mind video game, which has a somewhat more straightforward career path.)


Math. History. Science. Physics. Programming. Anything wherein your mind is at the forefront. History because most games have a theme pasted on them, and it helps to get your history correct if you go that route - see Martin Wallace. Math Professor - Knizia. Physics to throw some of that math into use. Science because you need to know how things work, how they react, what makes things do stuff.

Art is good for the prototypes and beautiful rules, but making the rules is less art more math. my 2 cents.
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Vince
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Graphic design should be a good basis for success in the field of game design. It dips into issues of balance and interaction on dynamic scale, with the added benefit of grounding in visual arts, which is vital in such an aesthetic field.
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should I tell myself it's useless
Absolutely and beyond a shadow of a doubt, not in a million years of Sundays falling on a blue moon. Of all the forces that can keep you from your goal, your own doubts are the most potent.
I think it is unlikely that anyone has a "steady job" in designing board games, but if you aim for the stars you are likely to determine (or establish) a ceiling.
Once you have learned the skill and discipline required to bring your dreams to fruition, all you require is the passion to see you through the process.
Of course, this is not to say that you shouldn't keep your options open. Do what you must to pay the bills, and when the opportunity arises, favour doing what you love.
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If you did your homework you know this already.
 
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Joe Wasserman
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I don't think he would like that.
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ropearoni4 wrote:
Mymil wrote:
jmucchiello wrote:
That [graphic design] is just the wrong degree for game design whether it is board games or video games.
If that's the wrong one, what's the right degree for board game design? (Never mind video game, which has a somewhat more straightforward career path.)
Math. History. Science. Physics. Programming. Anything wherein your mind is at the forefront.
I think this list suggests that there isn't a right degree for board game designs. That's the position I would take, anyway. There is no degree that leads into such a career. That being said, good game designers might have certain skills or ways of thinking that people who tend to pursue certain kinds of degrees might share.
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Nate K
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ropearoni4 wrote:
Mymil wrote:
jmucchiello wrote:
That [graphic design] is just the wrong degree for game design whether it is board games or video games.
If that's the wrong one, what's the right degree for board game design? (Never mind video game, which has a somewhat more straightforward career path.)


Math. History. Science. Physics. Programming. Anything wherein your mind is at the forefront. History because most games have a theme pasted on them, and it helps to get your history correct if you go that route - see Martin Wallace. Math Professor - Knizia. Physics to throw some of that math into use. Science because you need to know how things work, how they react, what makes things do stuff.

Art is good for the prototypes and beautiful rules, but making the rules is less art more math. my 2 cents.


I would add psychology, sociology, and English (or whatever your native language is) to the list. Game designers can create better games if they understand how other people think, whether individually or as groups, as well as how to communicate with, persuade, influence, or explain concepts to people.
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Nate K
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Michael, a career in game design is tough to acquire. Most game companies hire people to work on specific games or types of games. I know a guy, for example, who was hired by Fantasy Flight Games to work in their RPG department. I know of several others whom I have not met personally who were hired by Wizards of the Coast to work on just Magic: The Gathering. Most game companies don't hire people as "idea men." (Sorry, "idea persons.") They have plenty of game ideas, already, and can get many more from the hundreds of amateur game designers out there that have prototypes they would like to see on store shelves.

This does not mean that your quest is in vain. It simply means that you may have to decide if you're willing to have a job designing and developing a particular kind of game. Could you work for WotC and do nothing but work on Dungeons and Dragons? Would you move to England and design miniatures games for Games Workshop? Are you willing to work exclusively on Euro-type board games?

My suggestion for you would be to design games. Lots of games. Create prototypes. Demonstrate them at game stores and conventions. Design more games. Get games published, or otherwise noticed by the public. Once you've established yourself as a known quantity, game companies are more likely to approach you. "We like what you did with Game X, would you like to create a similar game geared towards a mass market audience?"

This may, unfortunately, take years. That's why game design is a hobby for many of us--we have to work steady jobs until we become well-known game designers, get rich, and start raking in fat loot. So you may want to take that nine-to-five job until you get your big break. Not all of us can be Mac Martin. (Mac, the lucky bass-catcher, started a highly successful podcast and published several game modules on the Web that got him noticed by Fantasy Flight Games. They hired him just a few months after he graduated from college. That, unfortunately, will not happen to all of us.)
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Joe Mucchiello
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This worked out well. I was hoping someone else would make the big list of "typical" degrees -- provoke some discussion. Great.

To the OP, I wasn't trying to say "Give up. You have the wrong major." I was just saying it is THE degree for being on the art side of game PRODUCTION so it is unusual for the design side. Still, designers come from all walks of life, even the graphic design world.

Nate's post is very good as well and is more explicit about it than my post: there are not a lot of opening for game designers.
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Michael Ptak
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Could you work for WotC and do nothing but work on Dungeons and Dragons? Would you move to England and design miniatures games for Games Workshop? Are you willing to work exclusively on Euro-type board games?


I find myself answering 'yes' to those questions actually, since I figure I would have free time to continue developing other game types and presenting them at conventions, maybe seeking independent publishers if my company allowed me to (or trying to solicit them internally, but if I had a job in games it might not matter if I saw my prototypes enter production anywhere).

Up until recently I had no idea how the game developer side for boardgames works. I knew in video games one needs to have a hand in all areas of creating them (Programming, art direction, design direction) in order to be a qualified game designer. I don't have the time or the money (or perhaps the patience...) to fully understand the coding aspect. So I decided to see if my passion for game design could be fufilled in board game design, since I can actually design and build the packaging for my games in place of programming them into existence.

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where if a resume is not straightforward it goes straight to the trash can unread.


My hope for the Resume Game was that it would make anyone in HR stop and take it apart to wonder what it was about (or anyone for that matter). I've got nothing but compliments and awe when I showed the physical package to people- including designers at the Game Developer's Conference (one was an HR representative). I do see your point though, which is why I'm in the process of making a simpler Graphic-Design only resume for general application to GD positions. My mentor and everyone else thought it was a brilliant idea... kind of a rude surprise to suspect I was only wasting my time and money getting them printed.

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Of all the forces that can keep you from your goal, your own doubts are the most potent.


I was just wondering if this was another instance of being unrealistic about adopting this as a career.

Thanks Nate, and everyone, for the feedback and insight as to what game designers really do. I'd still like to design and produce prototypes and other games, and I'm still hoping to attract a publisher who might pick up on some ideas and prototypes I'm still testing.
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I was just wondering if this was another instance of being unrealistic about adopting this as a career.
If you don't think you can do it, play it safe, but it isn't unrealistic to say that if you know what you're doing, you can make anything pay. There are numerous examples of industries built around people doing what they enjoy most.
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Many pats on the back for Nate. Good post.

I want to add that networking is important. Sometimes, who you know is more important than what you can do. Go out and meet people. Offer your graphic skills to people. Start with beginning designers, so you have a portfolio for actual game companies. Find some way to help people in the game industry. Then they may come back and help you.

Another thing you should be doing is to understand games and the game industry. Being an encyclopedia for games and design seems to be a very useful skill for companies.
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Mike NZ
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Norsehound wrote:
Hi all.
My passion and hobby is game design


Degrees are nice...but passion drives everything & if you are passionate about games & their design then it will keep you going & help in creating games and get you to where u are going!

You will get noticed & you will get there. Just start & keep going with your goal in mind.

Personally I would suggest u start your own company & just go for it!

BTW I noticed u have no icons under your BGG name-maybe u are new to BGG? If not get some to help those to see what u are into/game designer etc.

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Joe Wasserman
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I don't think he would like that.
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pmigas wrote:
I want to add that networking is important.
This. So very seriously. I was planning on writing to you more about it, but now is the perfect time. Try to do informational interviews with people in the industry. Some good questions for you to ask them are: what they like/dislike about their job, how they got where they are today, what experience/qualifications they think is valuable in the field, what they think somebody in your position should do to get involved in the field, what companies they think you should research, and if there is anybody else they can recommend you talk to. Informational interviews are not job interviews, and you should shy away from asking whether they're hiring. The purpose is multiple: to learn about the industry, companies, and individuals working in it; to get people to see your face and learn your name; and to make a good impression. So come prepared with knowledge about them and their company to ask well-informed questions and follow-ups. And briefly tie in your experience and skills at relevant points in the interview.

After the interview, mail them a hand-written thank you note thanking them, mentioning one specific thing that you found interesting/helpful, and saying one thing that they suggested you do that you will do/follow up on. And email them intermittently thereafter (after 1 month, and every 2 months thereafter, say) to update them on what you've been learning and doing.

So although it might not lead directly to a job, informational interviews (and networking in general) can get you known. It can get you opportunities or positions that were never publicized (unlike those Craigslist ads you've been applying for). And if you follow up with them, your name will stay top of mind with them, so when their company (or another that they know of) has an opening that they think you might be a good fit for, hopefully they'll contact you before publicizing that position.

This process is how I got my current full-time job related to my undergraduate degree 8 months after graduating from college, as well as a temporary part-time consulting gig before that. And since then, I've gotten a part-time job offer, a full-time job offer, and a temporary internship position offered to me, all from the people with whom I networked. And one of the people I met is good friends with Matt Leacock (of Pandemic fame) and offered to set me up an interview with him. I declined because I wasn't interested, but you never know who somebody else might know! Unfortunately, I don't know him well enough to make that introduction for you. But this process really can work.

If your undergraduate institution has an alumni network, you can start by looking there to see if your school has any alumni working in the field. If you know anybody, or anybody you knows can refer you to somebody, that's good, too. The more people you talk to, the more people will introduce you to others to talk to. So your network will grow exponentially.

Let me know if you have any questions on how to do this kind of stuff. I've done many many informational interviews! Best of luck, Michael.
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Joe Mucchiello
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Norsehound wrote:
I find myself answering 'yes' to those questions actually, since I figure I would have free time to continue developing other game types and presenting them at conventions, maybe seeking independent publishers if my company allowed me to (or trying to solicit them internally, but if I had a job in games it might not matter if I saw my prototypes enter production anywhere).

Most creative industries sign your mind up to the company. A car engineer at Toyota can't sell designs to Honda on his lunch hour.

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where if a resume is not straightforward it goes straight to the trash can unread.

My hope for the Resume Game was that it would make anyone in HR stop and take it apart to wonder what it was about

There is no reason to assume an HR rep at a game company is any more interested in games than the HR rep at an oil company. Some HR person might be so intrigued that he or she would investigate the Resume Game. But the average person doesn't care about games or puzzles and would just ditch it rather than exercise some brain power to figure it out. Think of a topic that bores you to death, basket weaving? Fast food preparation? Would you give the latest carburetor innovation more than a passing glance?

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My mentor and everyone else thought it was a brilliant idea... kind of a rude surprise to suspect I was only wasting my time and money getting them printed.

I don't know your mentor, nor anyone else involved, but how much hiring experience do they have in game companies? Would you go to these people exclusively for medical issues as well? Or have them fix your car?

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Of all the forces that can keep you from your goal, your own doubts are the most potent.

I was just wondering if this was another instance of being unrealistic about adopting this as a career.

Have you heard about the starving artist? It's not a stereotype. It's a reality. Consider Sturgeon's Law. 90% of science fiction writing is crap. He was referring to PUBLISHED scifi writing. Imagine what the ratio is when you include unpublished writing. Game designer, writer, artist, musician -- they are all the same thing. You can be competent at them and work for a wage doing what others want (ad/copy writer, graphic designer, studio musician, etc), and some small percentage of people get lucky at can work for themselves (publish authors, known artists, 2nd rate bands) and for a real small few there is the big time. But generally, creative jobs do not make money. If your goal is to make money, go into business with rich people and convince them to give you money.

But I not trying to deter you from your goal. Loving what you do for a living is far more important than money once you get past the huddle of making enough money to live. Creative hobbies used to generate spare income is a safer way to pursue such a "career". The safety or danger of what you want to do with your life is ultimately your decision.

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I'd still like to design and produce prototypes and other games, and I'm still hoping to attract a publisher who might pick up on some ideas and prototypes I'm still testing.

No reason to stop doing that. Good luck in whatever you decide to do.
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I personally think that Joe is being perhaps too pessimistic here.

Quote:

There is no reason to assume an HR rep at a game company is any more interested in games than the HR rep at an oil company. Some HR person might be so intrigued that he or she would investigate the Resume Game. But the average person doesn't care about games or puzzles and would just ditch it rather than exercise some brain power to figure it out. Think of a topic that bores you to death, basket weaving? Fast food preparation? Would you give the latest carburetor innovation more than a passing glance?


For instance, I simply don't think this is true. I think there is every reason to believe that an HR rep in the game industry would be more interested in games than an HR rep in another industry, if for no other reason than that it's the product that provides his/her livelihood. I'm not saying that will be true of all of them, but for some of them, undoubtedly. Not only that, given that many game companies are relatively small operations, it wouldn't surprise me if the HR rep was also a co-designer, or the company head's girlfriend, or somebody else like that. Sending an unorthodox resume to a small company in a creative niche industry is simply not the same thing as sending an offbeat resume to BP or Kraft. At the very least, it makes you memorable. I say go for it.

I work in the entertainment industry. There's one maxim that every successful person working in this industry knows and lives by. It was coined by William Goldman, who wrote The Princess Bride (among other stuff) and it's this: Nobody knows anything. And it's true. Nobody knows what will or won't work, what people will or won't like, what companies will or won't buy. The ideas that make it through are the ideas that people never give up on, year after year after year. I don't have that patience or persistence, but I admire those who do. But patience and persistence are far better indicators of success than talent or, god knows, going about things the "right" way.

I completely concur with what Mymil said about networking. And I also concur with what Joe mentioned about starving artists. That part, I think he's absolutely right about. You should be prepared to "go without" in precise proportion to the amount of time and resources you put into your creative pursuits. That doesn't mean the tradeoff isn't worthwhile, particularly when you're younger. But yeah, the odds are stacked against you, just like they're stacked against every other would-be designer lurking around BGG. But some of you are going to beat those odds. Are you going to be one of them? There's only one way to find out.

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Joe Mucchiello
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loopster70 wrote:
I personally think that Joe is being perhaps too pessimistic here.

My view of HR reps might be colored by the industry I'm in: computer software. HR reps at software companies are notoriously inept when it comes to resumes. Sending a resume to anyone other than a hiring manager is a waste of time here. They can be experts at getting their companies great 401K plans and such. But don't let them screen applicants for jobs if they aren't qualified to manage those hirees. I presume this is how it works in any industry.
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I was pretty much going to add what Loopster70 added, which I suppose shouldn't surprise me since I also work in the entertainment industry.

I've dealt with and in many small and medium organizations, and the HR people are people too just like anyone else - usually with a background in sociology, psychology, or something else in liberal arts - which means they're just as prone as anyone else to be interested in a resume that grabs their attention. Okay, maybe a typical video game company or a behemoth like Hasbro might have some suit who just tosses it be the first person to get your resume, but most board game companies, and even many video game companies, are small organizations with HR being only part of a persons' job.

My non-profit theatre that is my day job has 12 full time employees and about 45 part-timers, and our HR department is nonexistent - each department head gets the resumes and handles their own hiring for everything except background checks. I hire about 20 part-time people a year, and I guarantee a resume that shows some creativity, particularly in a related field, is going to catch my attention much faster than the standard 1-page list of work experience.
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Mark Thomason
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jmucchiello wrote:
loopster70 wrote:
I personally think that Joe is being perhaps too pessimistic here.

My view of HR reps might be colored by the industry I'm in: computer software. HR reps at software companies are notoriously inept when it comes to resumes. Sending a resume to anyone other than a hiring manager is a waste of time here. They can be experts at getting their companies great 401K plans and such. But don't let them screen applicants for jobs if they aren't qualified to manage those hirees. I presume this is how it works in any industry.


Not in any given industry, even computer software - not always anyway. I've known a few smaller software companies that don't have that issue at all.

But I'll definitely give you that software companies have far more of the problem than certain other fields - particularly big software companies. In my experience, you'll run into this problem the more a given organization is in a technology/engineering/science field. HR people are by nature geared towards people skills and social skills, and often have less understanding of the work that their coworkers are doing - as such, this makes for a poor judge of the necessary skills, talents, and personalities that will do well with the department down the hall.

But yeah, if you can find the department head who you want to hire you, DEFINITELY send your resume to them directly and bypass any HR department. Or send one resume to HR and one directly to the department head or hiring manager. Networking is key, but a QUALITY gimmick like a designer/game artist using a passable game for a resume - that will get you that interview, if you can get it to the right person. And that interview is how you get started on networking!
 
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Some very good posts here guys. I have an angle as well... I worked in a cubical for a long while and when a game company that I had done volunteer work with offered me an interview... I jumped at the chance to talk with them and mill around ideas and possibly be a working member in the game industry in a section of their company that was relevant to my degree.

Guess what?! They offered me the job of my dreams!! They loved me and I couldn't wait to start... but wait... I had to turn them down. Why? Because I had a house payment, a wife, a family, two car payments, and student loans to pay off... and I couldn't do that if I took a job in the gaming industry. Not that I was making a ton of money in the cube. Heck, I was spending most of my day faxing documents and pushing papers. Hardly glamor.

So the thing about working in the gaming industry... many are fresh faced young folks who are straight out of college... and honestly, a good talent WILL get noticed. In fact many game companies don't even HAVE HR departments because they are small operations. This being said, even multi million dollar game companies WON'T pay you a lot, and they won't even pay for your relocation. Even if you FEEL like it's a lot, once you get deeper into life and start getting mortgages, a family, kids, and other kinds of real life debt... this pay will seem a lot less "worth it." But at least you get to make your mark in the meantime.

The summary? I say go for it, apply, try and get your feet in the industry... but be realistic. Have a backup plan. Don't be afraid to get a temp job in the meantime, so you can afford to move once you do land that job!
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stagger lee wrote:
Some very good posts here guys. I have an angle as well... I worked in a cubical for a long while and when a game company that I had done volunteer work with offered me an interview... I jumped at the chance to talk with them and mill around ideas and possibly be a working member in the game industry in a section of their company that was relevant to my degree.

Guess what?! They offered me the job of my dreams!! They loved me and I couldn't wait to start... but wait... I had to turn them down. Why? Because I had a house payment, a wife, a family, two car payments, and student loans to pay off... and I couldn't do that if I took a job in the gaming industry. Not that I was making a ton of money in the cube. Heck, I was spending most of my day faxing documents and pushing papers. Hardly glamor.

So the thing about working in the gaming industry... many are fresh faced young folks who are straight out of college... and honestly, a good talent WILL get noticed. In fact many game companies don't even HAVE HR departments because they are small operations. This being said, even multi million dollar game companies WON'T pay you a lot, and they won't even pay for your relocation. Even if you FEEL like it's a lot, once you get deeper into life and start getting mortgages, a family, kids, and other kinds of real life debt... this pay will seem a lot less "worth it." But at least you get to make your mark in the meantime.

The summary? I say go for it, apply, try and get your feet in the industry... but be realistic. Have a backup plan. Don't be afraid to get a temp job in the meantime, so you can afford to move once you do land that job!


Amen.
 
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B Mendez
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Applied mathematics is the field.
 
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