What should I ask at a gaming industry interview?
March 12, 2010 2:17 PM   Subscribe

So, I've got an extensive set of interviews coming up for a math job in the gaming industry. (Video slots, in particular.) What are some gaming-industry-specific topics/questions I should be able to address/ask?

Super excited about this job, and I check every box on the job description---except 'previous gaming industry experience preferred.' I'd like to be able to talk in a little bit of detail about the gaming industry at the upcoming interviews. Where do I look? What are some good buzzwords to know? What are some issues facing the gaming industry that I should ask about or be able to talk about? Any good articles out there?

The job is pretty back-room; essentially running/analyzing/creating simulations of to-be-released games, largely for regulatory commission purposes. Anonymous because I don't want this linked to my name in case of pre-interview google.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I've always relied on the Wizard of Odds when I have been in search of math-related discussion on gambling. From a quick re-read-thru of his article on slots, he does bring in a lot of manufacturer's jargon to talk about how they work.
posted by caminovereda at 2:27 PM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

Tell us more about yourself, like, what's your skill set? Interests? Experience (in fields outside of the gaming industry)?
posted by hapax_legomenon at 8:04 PM on March 12, 2010

Mmm, I used to know a slot tech and some maintenance people, but I can't help you with the designer end of things. I can do the real life gaming end of your question, however. I used to work at a casino (not on the floor, so that's a big caveat) and my family has been going to Vegas since before the place was family friendly; I've soaked in a lot. I can tell you that the casino where I worked had a lot of IGT slots so if your interview is with them, this'll be more relevant than otherwise.

For industry news, try a quick peruse of the magazines listed here. Some are consumer-oriented, some are niche oriented (poker, for example), some have terrible websites, but you can certainly get an idea of what's being written about in the field. I know my family is always reading the gimme mags at the local poker club but unfortunately I can't remember any good titles (besides Card Player) though I know a lot of them have gaming industry news in them. You could try to get your hand on a copy of Strictly Slots.

Note: though I use poker in my examples, please keep in mind that poker is not slots, though there are poker slots. Poker and other table games are sometimes at odds with slots in competing for the gambler's attention. Slots are massive profit centers for casinos, the loyalty to the casino is easy to track on slots, and they are always incredibly popular (especially progressive slots).

I would argue that the two major issues facing the industry as a whole are: the Internet (and online gaming), and Indian casinos. The internet has so far brought new life into the industry (see: the massive growth in satellite tournaments for the World Series of Poker. Again, poker is not slots). It does, however, eventually have the potential to eliminate interest in physical casinos and physical slot machines. Not to mention, when online poker peaked it siphoned off a lot of newbies into the area of table games and away from slots.

The second big thing to worry about is Indian gaming and the growing public acceptance of casinos in general that has led to such a big geographic growth spurt for the industry; for slot makers, that's an area with a lot of growth potential but the threat of over-saturation is definitely something to think about (some would argue that that point's already been reached). Did you know that the casino with the largest number of slots in the world is Foxwoods, an Indian casino in Connecticut? The game has changed and Vegas isn't the focus necessarily.

Generally speaking, I suppose you should know about the massive move toward touch screens, cashless prizes, and interactive slots. The 'one arm' of the old saying 'one armed bandit' is slowly being done away with as slot machines are being engineered to emphasize touch screens. More and more slot machines are dispensing a gambler's winnings in the form of a little piece of paper with a barcode on it that is taken to the cashier or a cashout machine for the actual dispensation of the money. Interactivity is something I'm less familiar with, but just be aware that there's more connectivity among slots (see: progressives with massive networks across casinos that are owned by the same corporations) and I'm sure there will be more gambler-game interactivity, too. Think Skinner box from the posts on online games on the blue this week. Another trend that I forgot to mention above is the trend towards themed slots; there's an I Want to Be a Millionaire slot, a Bewitched slot, and I don't remember what all popular culture icons (some more Nick at Nite than Must See Thursday, as you can see).

The regulatory commission is typically composed of a bunch of hard asses. Expect to undergo a thorough and invasive background check before being accepted for the position. If you owe too much money (that is, your debt/income ratio is skewed), expect to answer some tough questions if they hire you at all. They're worried about people stealing their intellectual property and going Ocean's Eleven on them, and people who owe lots of money can be bribed and/or blackmailed.

Keep in mind that if you do get the job, future non-gaming employers may make value judgments about the work that you did. You may not find that to be a deterrent, but just keep in mind that gaming is still a 'sin industry' no matter how widely accepted it's become in the past fifteen years or so, and that can be an issue once you move on.
posted by librarylis at 11:30 PM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Friend of mine is a math guy who had what sounds like the exact job you're describing a few years back. I passed on your question, and he said:
I guess to start with there are some companies one could mention that are big players... besides my old employer, Multimedia Games (which is not really that big of a player, really), two of the biggest are IGT and Williams.

Just trying to remember some of the buzzwords...video slots usually have "lines" that one can win on....generally a video slot has a square grid of symbols visible at any time, usually 3x3 or 5x5 if I recall correctly. The player can win if certain patterns fall on any of the horizontal lines or either of the two diagonals.

The main number of use in a video slot is the payout percentage. The higher the payout percentage, the "looser" the slot. The trick in designing a slot is to design it such that it tends to pay out fairly high when the player first starts playing... but of course that tapers off the longer the player plays.
If you have any more specific questions for him, comment here or MefiMail me and I'll pass them on as well.
posted by slappy_pinchbottom at 10:37 AM on March 13, 2010

'Math' would be Combinatorics and Permutations for analysis of near wins situations. In the canonical game of slots, if a player always lost with 2 cherries and a bar, they wouldn't play for long. You have to prove that the symbols appear with maximal randomness and that each game play is non predictive of subsequent games. Non canonical slot games are much more difficult to analyse, of course.

And statistics (basic analysis of distributions).

If you understand the reasoning behind win percentages of two card hands in a Texas Hold Em poker game, you're in.
posted by sleslie at 11:41 AM on March 13, 2010

This was me asking this question. Thanks to everyone for their helpful advice---I'll be starting with this company at the end of next month.
posted by PMdixon at 8:49 AM on March 25, 2010

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