The international panel of experts at the “Unusual Jobs in the Video Game Industry” panel have extremely diverse backgrounds and hold interesting jobs in a field primarily known for artists, programmers, and coders. The full room in the Westin at 5:30PM Saturday was excited to learn about alternatives to break into a field many of them interact with for entertainment on a daily basis.
The panel was composed of Roger Altizer, tester, journalist, college professor; Jose Zagal, engineering education research; Maribeth Gandy, research scientist; Laura Levy, behaviorist; Mauricio Ruiz, conceptual design; and Jessica Gore, music and sound designer, web marketing. Gandy ran double duty as both a panelist and moderator.
Before the panel got started, Gandy asked the audience how many wanted to work in gaming. A majority of hands were raised. The panel went into a discussion about how to get started in a career in gaming if you did not want to or did not have the skills to enter into a traditional coding or art position. “Mods are a great way to get started,” was the first suggestion. Testing was brought up next. Altizer mentioned he got into testing through a friend. He said many testers are not very dependable and often miss work. This was how he was chosen for his first job: he showed up on time to what was essentially a bullpen of others waiting to be a tester. One of the current testers did not come in one day, and he was called in.
Testing is more than just playing the game, the panelists went on to explain. You also need to be willing to play the same level over and over and be able to document what you find. Communication skills are a necessity as well. An audience member asked how to find these jobs. The panel mentioned that jobs are typically called Associate QA or Junior QA. Levy also mentioned that if you are into psychology, you can research testers, called Human Factor Psychology, to see how the player interacts with the game.
Other testing opportunities come in the form of gear testers. The panel mentioned that when new gear comes out, the gaming industry needs people to test that gear. In addition to testing, marketing needs to be done, so videos, social posts, talking in forums, all need to be done to create hype around that gear.
One audience member asked how many jobs are available outside of the typical job types. The panel estimated 30%–40% of people working in gaming are not engineers, designers, coders or developers. Some are content developers in digital marketing, creating videos, blog posts, social media posts, and email newsletters. People are spending money to push buttons for entertainment, one panelist said. Game companies need to be able to reach those people. Gore mentioned that community management is a big position. Many who take these positions come from the forums. Companies approach them due to their engagement online.
Another unique job that was mentioned was working at museums on interactive displays. Many museums are looking for ways to entice families and young adults to visit museums. Interactive displays and other gaming techniques are being used to great success.
At this point, the panel opened the floor to audience questions. The first was regarding young people and what the panel’s advice would be—go to school or just try to break in? “Definitely go to school,” was the strong suggestion. A games degree will also provide an education that can be taken to other jobs outside of the gaming profession. While in school, it was suggested, you should work on your portfolio by building games on your own time. Modding was brought up again. In addition, the panel mentioned that it is so simple to get your games published these days with Steam, Google Play, and others. It would be great for a portfolio to be able to point to a game that is actually out there.
Speaking of portfolios, the next questioner asked what companies are looking for—polish, quantity, individual work, team collaboration? The panel said it really depends on what the company needs and is looking for at the time. You need to be able to work on a team, though there are some jobs, like code optimization, that are solo.
A teacher in the audience asked how to get kids from STEM schools more involved. The panel said to use gameplay. The mentioned that all games, not just electronic, would be informative. “Having them build table-top or board games” and keeping it playful will encourage the kids to make games.
The next question was specifically for Gore: “How do you get into audio in gaming?” She replied that you should learn game engines, join communities, and find independent developers. She did warn that more companies are licensing music rather than developing original music. Ruiz mentioned that his company is different and they have many music developers on their staff.
Another question asked about finance jobs in gaming. Segal said there are many finance types but there should be more. It was suggested that if you have friends that are starting a company, offer to do their finances. One panelist mentioned he felt there should be a finance person on each game building team, not just in the company overall.
“With tools like Unity, is there still a need for developers?” was the next question. An emphatic yes was the answer. Those types of tools can only do so much. You still need to have people work on optimization, animation, and graphics.
Yet another audience member wanted to know what is expected of communications people in gaming. Gore said companies are looking for conversions, email marketing, analytics, paid advertising on Facebook and Twitter, and low cost per click. If this is the area you want to get into, you should look for recruiters and agencies. Another suggestion was to go to the Greenlight section of Steam and offer to help some of them as they all seem to need it.
A final general suggestion from the panel was to consider attending gaming conferences. The Siege conference will be in Atlanta in October and the Game Developers Conference is in San Francisco in February.
The last question for the panel was: “What is the most unique or weirdest job in gaming that you have heard of?” One answer was a company who designs custom controllers for the disabled. They will come to the hospital to work with the patient to design something and work with them to make sure it works. Another answer was a position that supports teachers to help kids in a classroom setting. The person works with the teacher and the students to find a way to use gaming to reach the kids. Gore mentioned they have sportscasters, like for ESPN, for gaming. These same people also do blogging or other social marketing in addition to sportscasting. The last answer came from Levy, that a company built a game to specifically stress out the players as they play the game. This is in order to see how the players interact with the game and to see how it affects them as they either lose or win the level.