By Tami Quiring
Written from notes on a lecture given by Vlad Ceraldi, President and Joint CEO of HotHead Games, Vancouver.
Mr. Ceraldi began his lecture by asking attendees what they love most about gaming. The top four answers were story, action, interaction and environments. He next asked why they wanted to go into game development, and the top two responses were for the creativity and enjoyment of doing the work. He then held up the box for a PlayStation 3, and asked if given the choice, would they choose the console or having a job in the industry, and without hesitation the answer was having a job in the industry.
Throughout his lecture, Mr. Ceraldi was brutally honest with attendees. He did not paint a Hollywood fantasy picture of the game development industry, and I feel that because of his honesty, those looking for jobs in the industry have a much clearer idea of what it takes to enter such a competitive field. He stated that if you only wanted to become a game developer to get rich, you would be better off pursuing another career, because you would have to work just as hard in game development, if not harder, as you would to be successful in any other career.
Due to the introduction of new consoles and computing technology, game development is constantly pushing the boundaries of entertainment. It is a field which is demanding, and requires developers to stay up-to-date and educated in regards to the new technologies available to both studios and gamers. He noted that there are some great technological schools and programmes, especially here in Vancouver, as well as reference books and resources on the internet which would enable everyone to continually educate themselves about changes in the industry. Self-motivation and a willingness to learn is a must in this industry.
Vancouver is home to 44% of the Canadian game development industry, and the market for jobs is extremely competitive. At one time, prospective employees only needed to worry about competing with other locals for development jobs, but that has changed over the last five years. Vancouver has become home to so many studios and known world-wide as the Silicon Valley of game development, that now local developers are competing in the world market for local jobs.
The next important piece of advice Mr. Ceraldi imparted to his audience is that they never forget why they are in the industry. If they don’t have a passion for games and their development, it may be time to review their motivation. You need to be very clear about the motives for your career choice, and without the passion, your motivation to develop great games will be severely lacking, and it will show in the work you produce. He noted that a passion for the industry is his number one pre-requisite for those applying for positions at his company.
Going on to talk about education, Mr. Ceraldi stated that the days of the self-taught developer are pretty well over. If you don’t have the formal education to back your knowledge and skill, then those who are self-taught had better have an outstanding demo reel and be able to demonstrate to a prospective employer that they have outstanding skills. While self-motivation and self-learning are important, he noted that it is necessary to take formal classes to fill in any gaps there may be in a developer’s skill set. Chances are in this day and age that the self-taught developer’s application will be passed over for the applicants who have that formal schooling. His biggest recommendation for those who want to become development engineers is that they obtain a Computer Science degree, for even though Computer Science is not specific to game development, the knowledge gained from studying the field will give you a distinct advantage in the engineering field over those who do not have the degree. Further, most game development educational programmes do not devote enough time for students to become fully proficient as computer engineers.
In regards to education, it is important early on to decide which discipline in the industry you want to focus on. There is a wide variety of careers available within the development industy, and while some areas may have overlapping skills, other areas require specific knowledge. Planning your education to focus on one discipline is a good path to follow, however it is also wise to have a usable knowledge of other disciplines as well. One of the main reasons for this is that it not only broadens your chances of staying employed in the industry, but also because in smaller studios, you may need to wear more than one hat on the development team. Obviously, the more you know how to do, the more valuable you are to your employer, and the chances of promotion to a lead or director position are greater once you have put in your time in the trenches. Quality Assurance can be a good entry position and get you in the door of a development studio; however, as Mr. Ceraldi cautioned, job advancement can be somewhat limited when you follow this path. If you excel in the Quality Assurance department, it is entirely possible that with the right studio and the support of other team members, you could advance into a junior designer or artist position.
Below is a photo of Mr. Ceraldi’s slide listing Job Roles and the Discipline Categories they belong to:
Moving on to getting a job in game development, Mr. Ceraldi went over some very important points in regards to garnering an interview and winning the position. First and foremost, know the company you are applying to. Know what games and genres they develop for, and be clear on why you want to work for that company. Write a clear and concise cover letter with proper grammar and spelling, stating what you have to offer the company, and make sure that your passion for the industry rings through to the reader. The next important factor is your resume. Be sure to list all of your education in regards to the position you are applying for. Do not over-embellish your experience. Once you have impressed the recruiter with your cover letter and resume, it’s on to your demo reel. Your demo reel will be a huge factor in whether or not you will make it through to the interview stage.
When making your demo reel, remember that it is a visual, tangible example of your skills, and you need to leave a positive impression about your work with the recruiter. In many ways, your demo reel speaks louder to the recruiter than your written letter and resume. Your demo reel must be fun to watch, yet simple in composition. Be sure that your demo reel shows off all of your hard-learned skills to their best advantage, but also be aware that if your cover letter and resume do not display the required credentials, there is a very real chance that your demo may not even be viewed.
Now that you have your application package together, make sure you know where you are going to send it, and to which person at the company. Take the time to find out who is responsible for recruitment and hiring, and make sure you send the proper package to the proper company. Mr. Ceraldi made this point very clear. Do not send a package meant for Hot Head Games to Propaganda. The recruiter will open the package, see that it is addressed to another studio, and more than likely file it in the garbage can. If you are applying by email, do not blanket-send to all of the studios. Send individual emails to each studio. Also important is to not send emails with large attachments. You would be far better off to deliver your demo reels either in person or via the post. Once you have sent in your application, give the recruiter a reasonable amount of time to view your material. Remember, this industry is highly competitive, and the recruiter may have received hundreds of applications for a single position. While it may be very tempting to do so, do not endlessly bug the studio recruiter. While it’s certainly okay to check on the status of your application, do not bother the recruiter with endless phonecalls and emails. Chances are that if he or she was impressed with your application, you will be contacted and an interview scheduled.
Once you make it to the interview stage, remember that this is your chance to make a lasting impression with the recruiter. Make it a good one. Be prepared for your interview, and arrive early. Mr. Ceraldi even recommended making a test run to the studio, so that you can be prepared in regards to travel time, alternate routes, and parking availability if needed. This is important if you are unfamiliar with the studio’s location. Arriving early for your interview will allow you time to take in the studio’s atmosphere, as well as to settle your nerves. When the recruiter comes out to greet you, return the greeting with a firm handshake and look the recruiter in the eye. Let him or her know that you are serious about your application and your desire to work for the company. Eye contact and a firm handshake go along way to establishing your professionalism. It is also very important to be articulate. Answer questions with clarity, don’t hum and haw while desperately trying to think of something to say. Take a brief moment to think about your answer, do not give rapid, off-the-cuff replies, but keep them simple and to the point. First impressions are hard to change. Take the time to rehearse interview questions and answers with a friend, teacher, or family member.
At some point during the interview, the recruiter will ask you if you have any questions. Have some ready. Remember that the recruiter is not the only one in the room conducting an interview, and you will want to know more about the company you are applying to. Important factors to consider are in-house training programmes, team structures, job culture, company atmosphere and philosophies. While you may be applying for what you consider your dream job at the number one studio to work for, you will still want to be sure it’s a company you could be happy working for in the long term.
Now that you have the job, it’s important that you realize there are steps you must take to keep it. Mr. Ceraldi reiterated that you must never stop learning. Keep up with new technologies, and continue studying other disciplines. A shift in the development programme at a studio could inadvertently lead to unemployment, unless you can demonstrate to your employer that you have other skills useful to them. Constantly challenge yourself, but at the same time, never be afraid to ask for help. Teamwork is vital to the development industry, and no one person can afford to be his or her own little island in the studio. Game development is a very demanding industry, and it is important that you also look after not only your mental health, but your physical health as well. Learn to pace yourself in regards to your workload. Spend your energy wisely, and learn to take breaks. Invoking these important aspects into your lifestyle early on in your career will help stave off the burnout which is well documented in the development field.
In closing, Mr. Ceraldi again drove home the most important points of his lecture. Be passionate, develop your talent, and stay educated.
*This article was originally published on KillaNet.net – December 8 2006