05 January 2010

January Challenge #5:
All Fun & Games. OK, All Games Anyway.

Reposted to new blog at http://dynamitochondria.blogspot.com/2010/01/january-challenge-5-all-fun-games-ok.html.

I totally lucked out on my first game job straight out of school. I got to start out my game career in exactly the sub-field I was aiming at, gameplay programming. As part of the game team, I worked shoulder-to-shoulder with designers and artists to design and implement rules, interface, and player experiences. But all good things must come to an end, and this one-year contract eventually ran out.

Next goal: get another awesome gameplay programming job. I polished up and circulated my resume. I went grinding for business cards at PAX. I lined up interviews.

Lightning did not strike twice.

As any of you who were job hunting in 2009 can tell me, it's a tough labor market right now. From what I hear from colleagues, I performed above average just getting interviews, even if none of them panned out. Three months later, my mandatory break from contracting at Microsoft is up, and I'm back at work at a new job.

From the long perspective, I got a good one, a solid skill and resume builder. By the time I'm done, my existing time on the tech bench will be supplemented with Xbox hardware experience, I will have crafted a solid library of C++ and C# code, I'll have more XDK experience, I'll have good resume bullets in automated testing and test driven development, I'll have learned a ton about optical data formats, and I'll have experience in tools development. In all, it will be a great boost to my engineering credentials.

From the shorter perspective, it's just not as awesome as gameplay programming. I don't get my name in the credits of a hot new game. I don't get to put a notch in my belt for when I'm asked what games I've shipped by some recruiter who doesn't know any other way to measure achievement in the games industry. Worst of all, I'm not actually working on a game.

I understand that what I'm working on is damn important. Without the infrastructure on which game experiences are delivered, there would be no games industry, whether that infrastructure is print publishing, commercial shipping, Internet communications, or Xbox optical drives.

And the work is awesome compared to most of what I've done for a living in the past, including military service, retail sales, and telephone tech support. I'll still be programming and growing my existing skill base with software development experience. In the long run, my resume will be stronger with this "Pay Your Dues" job than with another gameplay programming job.

There's a lesson here, one that I knew was coming and that more aspiring game developers need to have driven home. I already knew that a game job wouldn't be just playing games all day. I have too much real world professional experience to have thought that for over a decade. More recently, I've learned that a game job won't necessarily be making games all day.

A lot of aspiring game developers have yet to learn the first lesson, and when they learn it, many give up on their dream. That's OK. If you want to maximize your game playing time, get a decent paying job that doesn't require much overtime, and play lots of games.

For the ones that stick with it, that second lesson hits like a hammer blow.

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