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Senior Designer ≠ Senior in College (And Other Myths)

January 18, 2010

As I surfed the open waters looking for a couple designers to join me, including one intern, I learned some lessons that I thought I might share:

  • Please, please play a lot of games. If you want to work in the social game space, play a ton of them. There are a lot of people who already are, and they will get the jobs.
  • Games made in the social space aren’t nearly as simple to make as it might appear on the surface. There are amazing new dynamics at play here and complicated user behavior. It’s the most exciting and amazing space I’ve been in. I am surprised by how often people regard these as “baby games” of a sort. Sure, like Wizardry 1 was back in the day just because it didn’t have 2 zillion polygons. They aren’t “baby games” by any stretch of the imagination.
  • Asking me which games you should play is asking me to do your job. You know what I am hiring for; do your research.
  • Asking me to define key terms in my ad (“What do you mean by games in the social space?”) is like saying, “Please, delete this message now.”
  • Offering to put together a student team to create a game for me if I need it is kind and even flattering. However, it suggests that you don’t quite get that real companies with millions and millions of dollars behind them are working on these games. We’re not in my friend Steve’s garage.
  • Senior designers are typically those who’ve been in the industry 10+ years, have shipped multiple titles and have probably led teams. They know their stuff. Seniors in college are not senior designers, unless you go back to school after some time in. They aren’t mid-level designers either.
  • Looking for an internship is like having an argument you don’t get to participate in. You need to show that you totally grok this space (whatever that may be), and give people a way to know that for sure in the tiniest amount of time possible. In the case of the intern I hired, she demonstrated through absurdly regular play (I could see her Facebook updates) and astute conversations that she was passionate about this space and wanted to see through it to the underlying design and emerging patterns.
9 Comments leave one →
  1. Shawn permalink
    January 18, 2010 9:25 am

    I think when people ask “What kind of games should I play?” and also applying for a job to join you, they want to narrow down genre so they can see what mechanics are around. Such as MMO RPGs vs FPSs. But now with games like Mass Effect and Borderlands those lines have now become blurred. It could also be a good idea to see one game mechanic in one genre and transplant it into another and see how it works there.
    On a final note: It’s just good to play all sorts of games out there no matter the genre or medium it is offered to you in (physical sports, board, or video/console games).

    • January 20, 2010 2:20 am

      “I think when people ask “What kind of games should I play?” and also applying for a job to join you, they want to narrow down genre so they can see what mechanics are around. Such as MMO RPGs vs FPSs.”

      Brenda’s point is that if you’re applying for a job at a company for an advertised position, you should already know what genre the company specializes in (or you should be able to find out), and if they’re branching out into something new it will probably be listed in the job description anyway. At the very least, you’re capable of playing the frigging games that the company made previously…

      I mean, seriously, if you’re applying to Blizzard and hoping to make an FPS, you are likely to be disappointed.

      Gotta side with Brenda on this one. “What games should I play?” is the kind of laziness and lack of initiative that will get you Not Hired.

      • Shawn permalink
        January 22, 2010 6:42 pm

        I am not disagreeing with Brenda on the subject. I do agree that a person should know what games a developer has in their portfolio of games. Yes a developer would probably post some specifics in the job posting without “giving it away”.

        Also, if you remember Blizzard did have in development Starcraft: Ghost some years ago. I do not remember if Blizzard itself was working on that title or had another company working on it. The games might also have been 3rd person as well. But sometimes a company will not disclose any details about a game in development until it is announced. Bungie is rumored to be working on a new IP now along with Halo: Reach. The only details I have seen on their website does not describe a specific genre and they have worked on other FPS, RTs, and action games as well.

  2. January 18, 2010 3:53 pm

    Excellent tips. Thanks, Brenda.
    I recently wrote an article about finding an internship in TV or video games that your readers might be interested in.

  3. January 18, 2010 10:35 pm

    These two:
    # Asking me which games you should play is asking me to do your job. You know what I am hiring for; do your research.
    # Asking me to define key terms in my ad (“What do you mean by games in the social space?”) is like saying, “Please, delete this message now.”

    “you totally grok this space”
    Thank you for invoking grok.

    Good luck in the hunt.

  4. Chris Pioli permalink
    January 19, 2010 2:21 pm

    Social games are my Achilles’ Heel because I have not played them yet.

    And yes, grok is the appropriate word. Game designers have to see everything, like Neo from The Matrix, and they have to understand all the variables and conditions at work when the players are in the game space. So… um, yeah…

    Are you working on a social game? I never even knew you’ve placed an ad up…

  5. January 22, 2010 6:35 am

    I’m going to quibble a bit on one point:

    Asking me to define key terms in my ad (“What do you mean by games in the social space?”) is like saying, “Please, delete this message now.”

    The one thing that the game industry doesn’t have is consistent definitions. Let’s go with the classic, “What does a Producer do?” Generally this is a management position, but is the position strictly business-related? Is this position that has a heavy hand in creative/design as well as schedules and budgets? While most professionals have a general idea of what is meant by “Producer”, there are a lot of details that can be vitally important. Hell, I’ve had lengthy discussions with people about what “design” actually entails; one respected designer I talked to only considered the initial specification to be “design”. Filling in the details of a high level concept didn’t qualify as “design” to him, but I certainly think it does.

    There’s also the issue that a lot of times places will use buzzwords. “Social Games” is the hot new thing that is attracting investment, so a company might be working on a game in the “social space” when it’s just a typical client/server MMORPG with a Facebook Connect login option in order to land their next series of funding. (Of course, I would assume Brenda’s enthusiasm for her new job would mean it’s not just a company spewing buzzwords.)

    Until we have things standardized, I think asking questions for clarification should be seen as a positive sign of interest myself.

    • January 23, 2010 1:53 am

      As a student and someone that’s gone through the entry-level-hunting nightmare(and it is quite the nightmare; I’m certainly not in favor of shutting doors to make it harder) I have to disagree. Not with the point that the terminology isn’t standardized, but with the suggestion that this is a mitigating circumstance.

      The fact of the matter is that the prospective employer is the wrong person to be asking that question of, and as someone that’s still trying to break down the door to industry, I still hold that opinion.

      The information is out there to find and research. it may be somewhat vague, there may be conflicting opinions and definitions, but there’s enough out there to form one’s own understanding. My experience in interviewing, while ultimately unsuccessful, is that this is what the hiring guys were looking for in those interviews. Not that I knew every term in whatever definition they had at the company, but that I’d pursued an understanding and had some idea that they at least had to admit was reasonable if not spot-on in their view. While I didn’t land those jobs for one reason or another, you can detect when someone thinks you had a good understanding of something.

      I think that’s a little more what Brenda’s getting at here. Asking a question like that to a prospective employer comes off as being somewhat lazy (not necessarily intentionally). trying to step in the shoes of someone doing hiring, I’m simply much more apt to think lowly of “can you define social space” than something like “in your dealing with social spaces, are you primarily interested in the dynamics of sites like Facebook and Twitter and the games they put forward, or are we looking at other sorts of social spaces, like…” this is assuming the information isn’t somehow available publicly, like press releases associated with the company or the company’s website. It just speaks of a willingness to understand and research, and comes off much more professionally to my ear.

      Please do take all this with the grain of salt that goes with opinion and an ego-centric(hopefully not in the usual sense) viewpoint on the topic. But I think it’s a question of how one goes about the clarification and what information is available(and how easily).

    • January 23, 2010 2:17 am

      As par for the course lately, I read what I wrote and realize it’s not entirely what I intended in tone. Just to clarify, I don’t really disagree with what you’re saying here– they’re all VERY valid and good points. I would, however, say that I don’t think it lies counter to what Brenda was attempting to convey with her complaint (or rather, what I believe it to mean), for the reasons outlined.

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