In our generation, plenty of people grow up playing video games. They teach us lessons about logic and strategy. They help us develop our understanding of choice and empathy. They drive us to use our imagination to immerse ourselves in strange, foreign worlds and also in fairly average ones. Some people grow out of games, but some continue to grow with them. When you’ve been passionate about something your whole life, sometimes you don’t even realize that it’s something that you could do for a living.
I’m Jackie Wiley. I’m a fourth year Game Design and Development student. I can program, I can do some art, but my life is destined to be one as a game designer and storyteller. I’ve been raised on games my whole life, from playing Mario Party on N64 with my mom and my sister, to my sister letting me play Pokemon for the first time, to the almost ten years I’ve been playing World of Warcraft. I’ve had so many games mold my life, but none as much as that last one. WoW is what inspired me to become a game designer; to start creating worlds in which players can immerse themselves totally. Over this past summer, I was graced with the chance to work at Blizzard on WoW as a quest design intern for the upcoming expansion. I will never forget what an amazing experience that was.
But let’s be serious here. Working in the games industry isn’t a walk in the park. You don’t spend day in and day out playing games. You’re pushed to your limits by difficult problems and crunch before release. There are countless ridiculous bugs, errors, and logic errors that you can spend hours trying to fix before realizing the source of the problem. You need to push yourself, hard, and players don’t always appreciate all the work you put in. But when you make something really good, when you ship a game… that feeling cannot be rivaled.
If you want to play games for a living, don’t become a game designer or developer. While it is important to stay up to date on current games, it’s not just playing them. You have to break them down, think about how they tick and why the creators decided to go about things how they did. Breaking down games becomes an inevitable part of what you do when you start learning how to analyze them. And of course you need to balance keeping up with games with keeping up with technology, working on projects, and still taking care of yourself and keeping up your social life.
What do you need to work in games? You need passion. People without passion create games without purpose, without love. You need social skills. You need to be able to work with other people on your team, give and take criticism and critique, and make connections in the industry. You need experience. Knowing and understanding games is very important. If you apply to a game company and don’t know how their games work, in-depth, you most likely will not get a position there.
At RIT, GDD (Game Design and Development) students get a strong foundation in programming. You do not need to know any programming coming in, though it is extremely helpful. Your core classes aren’t just programming, but also design and art (2d animation and 3d modeling, but don’t worry -- “programmer art” is fine). Afterwards, you can specialize however you want. The program curriculum is mainly geared towards programmers, then designers, then artists, then sound designers, and then producers are on the lower end of students. You learn a lot in your classes, but you shouldn’t just stop there.
What do I recommend to successfully get yourself into the games industry? Programmers, research new technology all the time. Be up to date with versions of different languages, learn different libraries, and push yourself. Make cool things with what you’ve learned. Designers, read and write blogs constantly. While programmers can send code to companies to show off their skills, design is a lot less tangible. Writing blogs about your design process and analysis of games put you ahead of the curve. Work on projects all the time; make analog games or write design documents for digital games even if you never create them.Go above and beyond on your projects, work on projects not tied to classes, research technology and follow the news at all times. I’m not making it sound easy, because it’s not. But if you want to work in games, hopefully you’re getting excited.
Hone your skills. Go out and meet people in industry without fear. Just because you are a student doesn’t mean that your ideas and opinions and skills are lesser; you are a game developer. Act like it.
And of course, work hard and let your passion shine through.