Saturday, April 20, 2013

A Letter To A Concerned Mother

Recently a friend related me a request for some advice for her son's career through a rather circuitous route. It started with admiration for my career, and appeared to me to be asking on behalf of her son how to get into games -- although both she and her son himself declined to email me directly themselves -- attached to it a copy of one of the most banal and lightly decorated resumes I've seen in a long time. I puzzled over how to respond, and eventually came to the inference the mother was rather more keen on the matter than the son was. Desiring to cut out the middle man I addressed her as follows:

"To answer your question, like anything in life, you can find success when you find something you love to do, and make sacrifices of secondary priorities in dedicated pursuit of the primary. If your son has no single minded passion, it's not really fair to expect him to artificially develop one; if he does have one, it's only a matter of time, dedication, and good luck before that will blossom, and my help isn't really needed. If the case is the former, my suggestion is rediscover respecting who you are now, and be open to new experience that may teach you something new to love.

If it's the latter, and you've asked me specifically about the games industry, you'll have to understand a great many people enjoy games (like film and music), and a great many people graduate with non-specialist degrees (non-Science, Engineering, Technology, Mathematics), so outside of Engineering or Art, your son would face a lot of competition that is equivalently qualified and candidates are very hard to distinguish from each other. Walking into the industry empty handed basically has zero chance of success.

That's not to say there's no hope to break in, it just means the sacrifice I mentioned before will have to be proportionate. The only real way to get in is to start making games -- now. It's never been easier for a small group of modestly talented people to create something fun and distribute it (near) instantly to thousands or perhaps millions of people. Find a group of like-minded individuals and start making *something* -- it doesn't have to be good, but it should get you noticed, and hopefully you'll grow connections that will one day land you the job you've been searching for. That hold for marketing-level jobs -- there's lots of independent promoters out there doing great things, getting their game mind share and market share.

The games industry, thanks to competitive pressures, is highly localized in a select number of cities: Vancouver and Montreal in Canada, and places like Seattle, San Francisco, and LA on the West Coast of the US. If you're willing to sacrifice for your dream, you going to have to give up your home-town friends and your daily familiarities and move where the work is. A lot of mid-level management in games got their start from moving across the country to take a poorly paid Quality Assurance job, and started working their way up. Then again, at lot of those poorly paid QA workers also went nowhere as well.

The age of heavy organizations filled with ripe white collar, middle management, paper-pushing jobs is coming to a close thanks to technology; there's only going to be room for people who are meeting tangible business needs. Scientists are doing the research, Engineers are building the products, Sales is building demand, Retail is serving the customer -- pick where you want to sit in the hierarchy and make yourself valuable to some facet of industry, according to your own tastes and abilities.

However I have the impression your son isn't really passionate about games, you're just kinda guessing he might get into it if given the chance. One thing I've learned in life however, you can't make a horse drink water, and trying to force the issue only backfires. If your son doesn't want to become a game developer or a doctor, it's best to redefine what you expect out of life and enjoy the son you have now.


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