So you want to be a developer?

GDC Online 2010: Industry recruiters from 38 Studios, Foundation 9, and Obsidian Entertainment tell aspiring game makers what it takes to land a job making games.

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Who was there: Lindsey McQueeney (recruiter for 38 Studios and Big Huge Games), Dino McGraw (recruiter for Foundation 9, Double Helix, Backbone Entertainment), and Jim Rivers (hiring manager for Obsidian Entertainment).

What they talked about: While most of GDC Online is intended for established developers to network and swap lessons learned from years in the industry, the show also has a Game Career Seminar for aspiring game makers.

Lindsey McQueeney holds the keys to working on 38 Studios' Kingdoms of Amalur.

Rivers began the talk by stressing that every studio recruits people differently, but there are some common themes. For starters, McQueeney said the team wants to see resumes and online portfolios. Rivers stressed that a Web site is absolutely necessary, whether a person is looking to become an artist, a programmer, or any other discipline. Rivers said prospective employees should be wary of the banner ads they allow on their site, as male organ enhancement ads can distract from the quality of their work.

A good, well-organized Web site can be a great differentiating factor, McGraw said, as applicants need something to make them stand out from the crowd. For example, artists should separate their samples by genre, so a studio making a sci-fi game doesn't need to wade through samples of fantasy art. Rivers echoed that sentiment, saying that if he has to search around for what he wants, he has probably already moved on to the next resume. On a more fundamental level, McQueeney said it's important not to have typos or grammar errors on a site.

While it's important to stand out from the crowd, Rivers said it's important not to stalk developers, saying that comes up far too frequently. Dropping by the studio unannounced is also frowned upon. He also said that AAA developers aren't looking for jacks-of-all-trades, so applicants should focus on a specialty and pitch themselves as that one thing. McQueeney said talents in other disciplines might make for a handy bullet point on a resume but should be considered secondary to a primary proficiency.

Rivers said programmers or designers shouldn't be shy about sending in their best work, even if it doesn't look great. The people hiring understand that programmers aren't expected to be great artists; they're more interested in how good the programming is. On the other side of that, when submitting something that was a group effort, applicants should be sure to specify exactly what they did on the project. Rivers said he gets suspicious about projects that someone claims to have done entirely on their own when every aspect of it showed specialized skills at work.

Having a LinkedIn page is also key. McQueeney said it's one of her top two tools for recruiting. While it's good to list extra clubs and talents, she said it's not worth it to embellish on a resume to pad it out. It's OK to specify entry-level knowledge or real proficiency in a subject, but all the information should be helpful to the hiring manager. Rivers said the "fake-it-till-you-make-it" approach is particularly hazardous for aspiring developers.

"We've been doing this a pretty long time, and we can see through BS pretty quickly," Rivers said.

As for how to get a recruiter's attention, Rivers said it's fine for people to approach them politely. McGraw said that's a great way to separate themselves from the herd. If someone goes to his LinkedIn page and sees he's a Yankees fan, that's a good hook to start up a conversation. On the other hand, McQueeney said she doesn't want people doing background checks on her or talking to her about what she did on the weekend.

"That would just be creepy," McQueeney said.

One piece of advice Rivers gave for approaching recruiters at a show is to think friends first, business later. If they've just come off a long day of work, they probably don't want to go right back into work mode to deal with an applicant.

Rivers said he's looking for people that constantly grow. If Rivers tells someone when they apply, "You're not quite there," he might go back to that applicant's Web site in six months to see if they've improved. If they haven't changed anything, Rivers writes them off.

While much of the advice sounds generic, McQueeney said the panel wouldn't be here talking about simple spelling and grammar mistakes if people didn't make those mistakes every single day. It's heartbreaking to reject people for the smallest things, she said, but if a programmer doesn't care enough to put together an error-free cover letter, there's no way the hiring manager can assume his code will be clean.

There's something to be said for personality as well. Developers work in close proximity for extended periods of time, so they need to be able to get along. Rivers said the biggest cancer a studio can have is one jerk. People need to learn to play well with others, and McQueeney said it might be enough to axe an applicant if they simply won't make eye contact with her during an interview.

"We don't hire five-star technicians with two-star personalities," she said.

As for specific interview tips, the panel laid out a number of tips. Don't talk about salary or benefits initially. Don't be jaded or critical of the company's games. Do research on the background of the interviewers. Don't act cocky, as the interviewers will almost certainly be senior people unimpressed by that attitude. Try wearing at least a shirt with a collar and nice jeans.

And above all else, be clean. Rivers said he had one applicant with what appeared to be algae on his teeth, and the interviewers couldn't focus on his qualifications because they were too distracted. Odor has been another problem in the past, as people who come in to an interview smelling funky are probably going to come in to work smelling the same way. Tics like stuttering or pausing are less problematic, unless the job position in question relies heavily on being able to quickly communicate with others.

Rivers also said it's important not to get discouraged by minimum requirements in job postings. Junior artists applying to senior artist positions may not be considered, but McGraw said he hires more on talent, so a two-year experience requirement for a low-level position would be a better possibility. A college degree is one such flexible requirement.

"We haven't reached a place in the industry yet where you're required to have a degree," McQueeney said. "It's certainly helpful, but it's not a requirement yet."

McGraw added, "If you rock, I don't care where you learned how to rock."

On the other hand, the entire panel said a formal education can help greatly in ensuring people understand their field and how their work needs to be created to work in a game development context.

For some positions like concept artist and character artist, there are so many applicants that Rivers said it was like finding "a needle in a stack of needles." On the other hand, there are few people who pursue jobs like user interface artist, so talented programmers in that field are highly prized. McQueeney cautioned that people shouldn't go into a niche field like that unless it's what they have a passion for; good interface artists and designers are so prized that developers are not always willing to hire them for other positions.

Quote: "You guys are the future of our industry, so we want to make you better so you aren't struggling as often."--Rivers

Takeaway: There are dozens of possible pitfalls for prospective developers, but many of them can be avoided with a little common sense. The rest are made easier to navigate with a little forethought and careful preparation.

Discussion

64 comments
Shadow_Dragon88
Shadow_Dragon88

Tom told me to leave you a nice comment, so good job man thumbs up!

natare
natare

Brendan, you deserve your Hotspot break. two thumbs up! Hope to hear you next week in my weekly dose of Hotspot tho.

Polybren
Polybren

@Yukeshime Thank you kindly!

ASnogarD
ASnogarD

It is easy to be a developer, it just takes time and effort. To be hired by a studio is harder, but you can make your own games, and just by using online resources and / or a few good programming books... the resources are all there for you to try it. I am on the verge of completing my first very simple basic game using C++ and SDL, and learnt most of what I needed to learn from online resources. The thing that kills most want to be game devs is that all too often they try to make the ultimate game before they have even learnt to program a " Hello World " application... learn to crawl, then walk, do some running before you try to fly. In my opinion of course :)

Trogeton
Trogeton

I wish it was that easy to be a developer

meedokicky
meedokicky

For some positions like concept artist and character artist, there are so many applicants that Rivers said it was like finding "a needle in a stack of needles." haha well i am one of them ;P

gaiden81
gaiden81

I think its funny how the article mentions proper grammar is required, but the article itself is full of grammatical mistakes.

Young_Charter
Young_Charter

Yeah this is a lot of work lol but I would love to be a Game Developer tho.. Bring at least part of my creation to life.

KamuiFei
KamuiFei

This applies to nearly every field of work.

dkdk999
dkdk999

that was pretty useful.

DrAmazinDood
DrAmazinDood

This is one of the best articles I've read on Gamespot, very helpful, anyone interested in working in the gaming industry would agree with me

kintama88
kintama88

most of these can be good tips for job hunting for any field of work, not just in the gaming industry.

Ghost_702
Ghost_702

So pretty much, stick to what you're good at, don't lie, and don't look/smell like a hobo during the interview. The same goes for ANY OTHER JOB OUT THERE, not just the video game industry. I think people freak out too much about getting a job and hold the employer as some sort of god. It's not like trying getting a job in the industry is like trying to win the Nobel Prize. You don't have to cure cancer in order to become an entry level programmer. You just need to know the material and show that you know it.

Gladestone1
Gladestone1

Man how can any one go into a interview not looking decent..At least shower an put on your best clothes..Dont go in looking like a bumb..Ive always landed jobs based on knowledge an how i looked an acted..Making your boss laugh is a good idea..Not a rude joke but..One interview i had the boss laughing so hard he hired me on the spot..Its not always like this..He liked how i went in an just was laid back.. My current job my boss was impressed on my record..Im a truck driver an been driving since i was a teen..Had him laughing talking football, baseball, family..At the end of the interview we where like best friends..Im still on that job five years later..Its important to look an act your best..How ever dont be a stiff..Please please please shower brush your teeth lol..He was focused on his teeth, that was the best part of this article.. It amazes me how people can go into a room with a metallica t shirt an ripped jeans..Also shave an look clean..This is good advice )..From a guy who has been working for 25 years..In a bad economy )..

NicAgent
NicAgent

Bottom Line: Playing video games is fun. Making video games is work.

daabulls23
daabulls23

"Rivers said the biggest cancer a studio can have is one jerk." Hear that, Mr. Kotick?

CommandoAgent
CommandoAgent

I will be retaking a video game program that is hosted in my college and which lasts 3 years, and maybe i will be taking programming in different college just so i can continue with my passion. For future Devs out here Don't Let Your Passion Die! Never give up.

VarietyMage
VarietyMage

They forgot the most important requirement for being a developer: OCD with regards to creating games. They work what normal people would call a slave-driving schedule every day, sometimes 7 days a week. I'm talking 12-16 hours a day in a lot of cases, especially near the ship date trying to squeeze in as much as possible. The upshot is that gamers need to have a very good relationship with all family members, as they will be spending a huge amount of time away from home. They need incredible focus and drive in order to do everything that makes a game great (including getting enough sleep so the bugs don't creep into the code - energy drinks are no replacement for sleep). I would have been a game developer, but I could never get past DirectX (and I tried numerous times). When you want to single-handedly bring back the space combat genre, it requires a huge amount of matrix math, something I know a little bit about but never felt comfortable with. It also requires knowing the underlying design behind the DirectX hierarchy. I'd rather have a visual macro language that could encapsulate most of the raw math out of it - drag object from here to there, not write endless sequences of coordinates. I have tons of ideas, but I don't do art, and to me, programming DirectX is like trying to draw an animation with 8-megapixel slides, putting in one pixel at a time via code. I want more intuitive tools. You know, ones that don't cost thousands of dollars (like Maya).

wonzan
wonzan

Respect to anyone that becomes a game developer. It seems like a tough career to get into. I'm happy with the guaranteed career I am studying for and I hope you game developers make me more happy by giving me some kick ass games to play!

CaptainAhab13
CaptainAhab13

@Tarfang 2 "can one of you guys break it down for me i cant be botherd to read." ...can't be bothered to read THIS? It's barely a page of text! Good grief, try picking up a legit novel sometime! :P

Cillerboy
Cillerboy

@okassar thats cool cos i was interested in it anyway :D

MLGgamingyeayea
MLGgamingyeayea

actually i dont,,cause than i would have no time to play video games dude!!:)

okassar
okassar

I heard if you get a computer science degree from a decent university, you're pretty much guaranteed a job in the gaming industry.

FraserAlexander
FraserAlexander

it's the recruiters that stink. HR and all people like that - they think they are so smart, yet constantly hire idiots. I was in awe at one company I found out it was a revolving door, even the HR lady said so remarking about how unbelievably stupid some past employees were. GUESS WHAT???? THAT MAKES YOU THE IDIOT AND SHIPPY AT YOUR JOB. I wish at least once recruiters and hr employees were actually people that have done actual work in their industry...otherwise all they are is HR grads who spew out the same BS and have never had an original thought. peace.

Aekom
Aekom

@Sniper Pretty much the plot to all games released since 2000. Well played sniper. ;)

Sniper
Sniper

Yes! I do want to become a video game developer! And I have the perfect idea for a new game: It will be an FPS featuring a super-soldier, with a square jaw and huge biceps. He fights terrorism. In this one level, he provides sniper cover for his almost-nude female partner, who presents her battle thong during combat. Waves of terrorists run across open ground to attack her, while she turns her back to them and hacks a locked door, which is impervious to the rocket launcher carried by the super-soldier.

Crush_Project
Crush_Project

ya it loses its glamor to play the same level 1000 times just looking for bugs and problems with your script/code. Unfortunately this seems to get less and less attention as technology progresses and other categories need attention. The economy cant help with staff sizes as well and this requires mostly brute legwork.

Lazay727
Lazay727

Anyone can make a game if they know ruby scripting and buy rpg maker vx.

Merl57
Merl57

I completely agree with talking to them as "friends" or people first. Don't go too far with personal details but talk about things ouitside of work that are appropriate because everyone talks business but can you talk like a human being if you would work with those people. Also just going up and being job as your first topic is kinda bad, because it looks like you are trying to get stuff from them and don't care about anything else.

Tarfang2
Tarfang2

can one of you guys break it down for me i cant be botherd to read

blackace
blackace

A writer wouldn't be a bad thing to do. I could actually do that job if I put my mind to it. Actually programming the game would be a pain in the @#% though. I've seen gaming code and it's not a pretty sight. Debugging that crap must give game developers tons of headaches.

AceBalls
AceBalls

I echo that DFBTG. Writers are the most important body of talent for any medium.. especially games in this era.

fkbwii
fkbwii

This was a great read. I'm going to become a director so this helps me out.

S2333
S2333

That was really interesting.

DFBTG
DFBTG

...so, what about being a game writer?

mission76
mission76

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

jalexbrown
jalexbrown

@oneofthefall The problem with that notion is that no awesome game is ever made by just one person. If you can't work well with other people, you can't make an awesome game.

oneofthefall
oneofthefall

I dont have much of a personality mainly because people get on my nerves, but give me the opportunity to sit at a desk (without people bugging me) and make an awesome game id do it!..or at least try!

Philly1UPer
Philly1UPer

@Animatronic64 Could not have said it any better man. There have been many times I've seen someone not get a job they are more then qualified for, based purely ether on skin color, or because they aren't a part of someones family.

mdboomer
mdboomer

@Gamespot Are there no live feeds for GDC 2010? It would be nice to watch some of the interviews.

Animatronic64
Animatronic64

@ raydawg2000 As much as no one wants to admit it, there's discrimination when you're looking for a job. Some companies can be very biased when it comes to hiring people, but it's their business and they can hire whoever they want to. If it makes you feel better, I'd hire you if you were a good game designer.

-Elite
-Elite

The world will always need programmers and devs.

jalexbrown
jalexbrown

@Dualmask Most of the skills you learn will be universal and will apply equally to a large development studio or an independant one. A high-quality game is a high-quality game, independant or otherwise. Even if you're working out of a garage, your programming skills, design skills, or whatever need to be up to par with what the major studios get if you want to make high-quality titles.

UltraFaded-nwK
UltraFaded-nwK

@ wis3boi Most of the time the Dev's are not the ones to blame for over-priced DLC, sure they make the product, but someone else slaps a ridiculous price on it. Sometimes we are lucky they will let them release one for free, but only one. BS i know, but we live in a world of $15 map/skin packs because they know people will pay for it.

Zamphere88
Zamphere88

@raydawg2000 "Ticks like stuttering or pausing are less problematic, unless the job position in question relies heavily on being able to quickly communicate with others" as in stuttering would not be a problem for some positions.Only if your job relied heavily on quickly getting information to people.

AltoShadow13
AltoShadow13

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]