How would you break into the video game industry?
March 22, 2005 5:50 PM   Subscribe

I don't have formal training in Video game Programming. I do have two Bachelors degree in Computer Science and Biomedical/Electrical Engineering. Is it worth it to go to pigpen for 2 years and two years of high-interest loans to get a Masters Degree in Computer Science at 29-30 to get into the video game industry or is there another way?

I have 2 bachelors in Computer Science and Biomedical/Electrical Engineering. Currently I am doing lots-o-web application programming as my job. But, I really want to get into Video Game Development industry. So this past weekend i visited Digipen (Redmond, WA--I am from Los Angeles, CA) and found some bad news. Which is that the Masters program advertised as one year is actually two years(to anyone who didn't graduate from digipen undergrad.), it's not accreddited yet so i can't get federal Aid only private loans(higher interest rate and not so forgiving on interests while in school), and that school only starts in September. (i.e. 9/2005, 9/2006, etc.) I am 27 now, and I really want to get out of this field into the field that I would love, which is video game programming. How should I do this? Is it worth it to suffer for two more years and start over in a totally new area by my self?
posted by countzen to Computers & Internet (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: oops, sorry it says 'digipen' up there-- it should say Digipen. Spell checker--pushed the wrong button.
posted by countzen at 5:52 PM on March 22, 2005

Best answer: Pigpen is a great typo! Honestly I was thinking about the same thing you are, and eventually realized that the VG industry sucks. I think if you want to get into it, you should do so independently, starting your own thing, rather than trying to get into one of the big players. The big companies will work you till you can't anymore, and leave you in the cold at the end.

I'd be happy to hear people disagree with me.
posted by knave at 6:22 PM on March 22, 2005

Best answer: Fell for it twice I see :-).

I'm not employed in video game programming, so take with as much salt as you want, but if I were you I'd go for getting some practical experience instead of the comp sci masters. (Don't get me wrong, comp sci masters are very worthwhile, but if you're looking to improve your chances of getting a job, experience is probably worth more, and also cheaper).

For future reference: for the tags you should joinwords if they're part of the same phrase, so videogames (though games might be an appropriate tag too).
posted by fvw at 6:23 PM on March 22, 2005

Best answer: A few ways I have seen it done:

Go to Garage Games and get their Torque Game Engine. It has a free trial and only costs $100 if you want to keep using it. A lot of great little games have been made with it and it is a good way to get yourself noticed.

Do you play video games? Several people, including ID designer Tim Willits, got into the industry by designing levels on their own and getting the community to try them out. Several recent games, including Unreal Tournament 2004 (Editor's Choice Edition), come with Editors and Tutorial DVD's right in the box.

Using the 3D game world of Second Life, a programmer created Tringo, which was not only popular in the game, but was later licensed to an outside publisher for a nice sum.

You say you do web programming now. How much of that did you learn formally and how much did you pick up on your own? I think you can do the same here.
posted by sciatica at 7:08 PM on March 22, 2005 [1 favorite]

Best answer: it's not accredited yet

I would be very wary of getting any kind of degree from a place that is not accredited, especially a graduate degree, which can cost a lot of time and sanity, not to mention money if you don't have financial aid...of course if they intend on getting accreditation before you finish, that's a different story.

While searching for information to back up my claim, I found this site. The most relevant quote: "One [problem with a non-accredited degree] is a change in employer policy. A company that may have accepted or tolerated or unwittingly gone along with unaccredited degrees may have a change, either due to new personnel policies or new ownership, and previously acceptable degrees no longer are. Similarly, when an employee seeks work at a new company, he or she may learn that the degree held is no longer useful." This site also suggests that you can't expect a degree earned before the college becomes accredited to count as accredited.

Perhaps you would be better off considering a masters in something like AI? This would also have utility in the event that you get sick of the game industry, want another change of career later, etc.
posted by advil at 7:28 PM on March 22, 2005

Best answer: Don't bother with digipen. A master's degree is overkill for the games industry. Your time would be better spent working on a cool demo. Focus on polish rather than technology if you want to impress producers.

There are tons of game companies in LA. Get on gamasutra if you're not already and start researching companies you might want to work for.
posted by electro at 8:27 PM on March 22, 2005

Best answer: Spent 4-5 years in the industry, working on medium to high budget titles, and I don't think anyone have taken those degrees seriously. Like any other industry the real way to get in is to know someone. Once you get a job it isn't too hard to move around from company to company, the industry is surprisingly small and people move around far too much.

If you don't know anyone doing games I'd suggest finding local companies and cold calling them, but I have no idea how successful that would be. You just missed this years Game Developer's Conference, which is too bad as it can be a pretty good place to schmooze if you are into that, and there are plenty of companies recruiting there.

My advice, think twice. The industry spits people out and can be soul crushing. Yes there are awesome jobs out there, yes there are great companies to work for, but there is tons of shit. And even the shit takes oodles of hours to work on and get published. That's was the real killer for me. Expect to be paid lower wages to spend 60-100 hours a week more than half the time for a project that lasts for years and that, by halfway into it, is pretty obviously not going to be any good. It's amazing how much work goes into even the crummy games.

Yes I'm bitter. I know deep down inside I got tons out of working in games, but I also know that the burnout isn't worth it.
posted by aspo at 9:20 PM on March 22, 2005

Best answer: I've worked in the games industry. I'd say your bachelors is perfectly sufficient for academic qualifications (workplace experience is given far more weight), you'd get little to no advantage boosting it to a masters.

Also, I cuncur with everyone else - avoid the games industry if you can. It's not worth it. Get a stable job with decent pay instead, and you'll get to live the best years of your life, not spend them at the office.

Aspo pretty much said all this better, I'm just adding my voice to his/hers.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:18 PM on March 22, 2005

Best answer: Well, I think you should read the famous EA Wife rant before doing anything.
posted by jikel_morten at 8:25 AM on March 23, 2005

Response by poster: I have been keeping up to date about issues with EA and things. I figuered I can live with that.

Yeah one of the big issues with quality of life: I make pretty good money doing what I do now--- don't know how this career track change would effect me.
posted by countzen at 9:41 AM on March 23, 2005

Best answer: No no no, a thousand times no. Digipen, Full Sail, and other similar programs are a waste of money if you already have a CS degree. I am not kidding when I say you are overqualified. Game programming is not hard. The hard part is convincing someone to hire you.

I could write a long rant about my experience (coming up on 3 years now), but much of it is already covered in this blog (self-type link).
posted by Sibrax at 9:53 AM on March 23, 2005

Best answer: Advil: Harvard University is not accredited.
posted by u2604ab at 10:07 AM on March 23, 2005

Best answer: Maybe I was wrong about that.

My reason for posting: Stanford Medical School was in danger of losing it's accreditation around 3 years ago, due to substandard teaching facilities. The buzz around the medical school, though, was that "Harvard isn't accredited, Why should we bother?"

It's as if to say that if the school is famous enough, it doesn't need to be accredited.

My impression is that digipen accepts only high-caliber applicants, and so accreditation may be almost moot.
posted by u2604ab at 10:11 AM on March 23, 2005

Best answer: I have a couple friends in the game industry.

One is a game designer at Valve. He got his first job by blowing off college and working hard on a game demo back in the Quake I days. Since then, he's moved up through level design and by not having any life outside of work and coworkers. He's happy with his life but in a way he seems frozen in time to me. But then I don't see him much.

Another friend was making great money with Sun, but hated it; he left it for the game industry. His decision was to do an internship -- i.e. work the first 6 months for free. Legend (Unreal 2 people) brought him on, but then French Atari canned Legend, and he's sort of drifted around Amaze! working long hours on games he doesn't like. He's not entirely happy with this, I don't think.

I think your degrees are both underkill and overkill. The industry has lots of 3D wizards for programming, and it doesn't sound like you are going to be one of them; as a lower tier programmer you might find yourself say working on the website for the game -- would that satisfy you? You don't seem to be an artist, either. What's left is level design, where programming experience helps but a degree is meaningless. I think level design is your best bet. The time you would spend in Digipen, you might consider just working on a solo project seriously and being involved in the game community in your spare time.

I think my friends are surrounded by lots of interesting people, and are living their dream. Good luck to you.

Is it worth it to suffer for two more years and start over in a totally new area by my self?

I'm not sure how you're going to avoid this anyway; were you only going to consider working for game companies in LA?
posted by fleacircus at 10:53 AM on March 23, 2005

Response by poster: Thank you, everyone, for giving me some input, I really appreciate it. It's nice to get a fresh perspective on things.

(BTW, this is my first post, so sorry about all the typos and tag errors and things!!)

Yes, I would hate to be doing website programming for a game company. I would like to be programming games in C/C++. (I do have training and experience with it, just not related to games. Closest thing to a game in C/C++ was a ray-tracer based on back-fourier algorithms for CAT-scan-like data.)

And yes, you are right-- it would be unavoidable (unless i am lucky) to start over in a new area. I was actually referring to going to school in a new city, and end up working there or moving again after for a job. Relocation is a bitch. and costly. and lonely.

So far it seems like, me-fites tend to agree, that it's not worth it.

I REALLY want to work in this industry--I mean I was writing games in pascal back in junior high (albeit crappy ones), so I think I came up with a plan: Try go get into the industry on my own until mid-2006. If that doesn't pan out, then I will seriously consider going to digipen or another school as a last resort and depending on life situations.

In the mean time, what, do I work on demos? Cold call companies? Go bug all you me-fites who worked in the industry?
posted by countzen at 11:25 AM on March 23, 2005

Best answer: Advil: Harvard University is not accredited.

Actually, this is basically a myth, at least for undergraduate programs. I have read that cambridge and oxford aren't accredited - but I hardly think that accreditation really matters for schools with this kind of name recognition. Digipen is not harvard.
posted by advil at 12:03 PM on March 23, 2005

Best answer: I am in the industry and really damn happy - but I am not a programer and I work for a publishing house, not a design house.

What I know is it is really hard to get in, and then hard to get out.

Bottom line is - If you are a writer you write. You can't stop writing. You write if they pay you or not.

Same here. If you are a game developer you make games. If they pay you or not. The most impressive thing you can show is games you have made. Any games. Card games, little computer games, a Pen and Paper RPG. Preferably as many kinds and types you can. Make a small video game that is simple, fun, and unbuggy. Check for positions. Send resume and game. Always take a game with you to interviews. Get involved in open source game projects.

Yes- it is tons of work to get in, the pay is not stellar, and the wrong job can decimate your life (as can a number of IT jobs - not just the game industry) but if you are a game developer - you will make games.
posted by jopreacher at 1:03 PM on March 23, 2005

Best answer: When I was trying to find a job, the whole thing was like some kind of super-secret club, and I wish I had someone I could ask questions. You're more than welcome to e-mail me if you want more information (should be in my profile). Other than that, write your own game, or join a mod community. Have something tangible you can show people.

Many game jobs do really suck, but if you find the right company and/or project, it can be really awesome. And even though my first two years were horrible, I'd do it again in a second. You can't give up on your dreams that easily. Unfortunately, except for maybe a few dozen people, the jobs we all dreamed about don't really exist.
posted by Sibrax at 1:28 PM on March 23, 2005

Best answer: I'm working my way through this process right now, actually. I'm with the others in agreeing that a Masters from digipen isa horrible idea. The only time a masters would really help, based on the job descriptions I've been reading, is if it's in a specialized area that the company needs. Something like AI, Networking, or cutting edge 3d. If you're not interested in one small specialty, don't bother. And, I don't think digipen is particularly good at teaching any of those specialties (maybe graphics). Wish me luck on a few job interviews coming up, and I'll wish the same to you :)
posted by JZig at 3:37 PM on March 23, 2005

Response by poster: goodluck!!
I think i got a pretty clear consensus of ideas--more or less: Don't go to Digipen, it's not worth it, and there are other options.

Thanks everybody, this really helped!

I wish I could mark all your answers as best.
posted by countzen at 9:10 AM on March 24, 2005

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