GDC 2012 was here in San Francisco last week, and I caught the tail end of it on Friday. It’s the world’s largest game developer’s conference, with a wide variety of contributors from the industry coming together for talks, demos, fun, etc.
I spent most of my time in game career seminars, wandering around the career pavilion, and checking out the expo.
Game Career Seminars
1) gHarmony: Networking Your Way into Acquiring Your True Love Job Match in the Game Development Industry
This talk discussed different forms of networking, starting with fire and forget online resume submissions (worst) to finding opportunities through your friends (best). Basically, the more high quality exposure you have, the better. Get out there!
- LinkedIn – Used heavily in the game industry. Have a profile, make it count.
- Professional blog – Detail the projects you’re working on, and the process you’re taking.
- Alumni Association – Take advantage of any school connections you have. They last forever, can provide unique contacts, and have a vested interest in your success.
- Game Development clubs & competitions – These are great opportunities to get involved and gain experience in your area of interest.
- Modding – Another great way to demonstrate your interest, skills, and gain experience.
2) Perfecting Pitchable Prototypes
This talk was given by a cool guy from Double Fine about their 2 week prototyping sessions. They break into teams of about 10, with the goal of a playable demo by the end. A number of their shipped games started this way. Nice to hear how a top game studio is using prototyping effectively.
- Stand out, look different – Pick whatever is different about your game idea and embellish it. Now’s the time to experiment.
- Don’t build an engine – It’s too time consuming when you’re goal is a playable demo. There are many great and inexpensive frameworks available to test your proof of concept (Unity, Unreal, etc.). Leave the low level engine work for a real product cycle after you commit to the full project.
3) Ask the Experts: Professional Programmer’s
This panel had a good cross section of game programmers with different levels of experience and company type. It was aimed more at students and junior programmers, but still interesting and entertaining.
- Do Stuff – Emphasis on do. Many of the panel answers included advice to get out there and work on things. If you are interested in a specific area, then create things in that area. If you don’t know what area is for you, try everything. This struck me as good advice outside of professional game programming too.
- Make Games – The most useful thing you can do if you want to become a professional game programmer is to make games. There was a large focus on learning through doing, and landing jobs through doing. Do.
- Finish Some – At least some of them. If you’ve ever worked in software, you already know the last 20% can kill. Hiring managers know this, and want to see that you can complete a project, or three. Anyone can start a project, but can you finish?
- Hardware – Know your stuff. A skilled programmer understands the relationship between program and hardware.
- Algorithms – Know your stuff. Knuth.
- Design – Know your stuff.
- C++? – Yea, it’s used for a lot of game programming, but no one really cares. You’ll learn a lot of languages throughout your career. Do NOT ever aspire to be a language X programmer. Languages are tools of the trade, and you’ll use what makes sense.
- What are your biggest weaknesses? – This is a stupid interview question. Go political: Well, I don’t know a whole lot about AI. Or, answer a slightly different and more useful question: An area I’d like to know more about is AI.
4) Breaking into Game Development: Ask the Pros
This panel had a good cross section of different disciplines (programmer, QA, design, producer). There weren’t a whole lot of new ideas from the earlier seminars, just more interesting stories to support the main takeaway: The best thing you can do to break into the game industry is to make games. This can be on your own, in groups, contributing to open source projects, or working for a game company.
Takeaway: The best way to break into the game industry is to make games in some form.
Historical books to check out:
There were 40 odd companies in the career pavilion, so I tried to hit up the locals first and then branch out. The booths were mostly manned by HR folks, so there was limited opportunity to ask engineers specific questions about the companies.
Peoria, Illinois company that makes simulation and training software. Not quite in line with my interests, but they did have some cool demos of big yellow earth movers.
Hiring for the gaming platform team. This would be a cool spot to be given the explosion of social gaming. I’m more into console and PC games.
Bigger AAA game company with offices around the world, including SF. Nice guy from HR gave me a run down of the company, culture, opportunities, etc. The SF office typically has support engineers (somewhere between game developers and clients) and a few AI engineers. Hopefully that expands in the future. I really should check out Assassins Creed.
Lots of hiring going on at their Redmond-based US headquarters. Similar to Ubisoft, they have support software engineers that don’t require specialized game development experience, and positions that do require prior experience in areas like 3D graphics, UI, or networking. Interestingly, the HR woman suggested experience could be obtained through projects outside of typical employment, which is in sync with the game career seminars.
Ireland-based game development middleware company. The friendly HR woman didn’t have many specifics beyond that they were growing and you should craft your resume to the position.
The Sony booth was a bit underwhelming. There wasn’t anyone onsite that could answer specific questions, but I did learn they have a streamlined application process. Basically, you create a online profile and then add interesting positions to your shopping cart.
Now, I know Blizzard is based in Irvine and not exactly local. But, I’ve been playing their games for years, and as far as I can tell they only ship stellar games. Naturally, I had to stop by, and it turned out to be my longest career booth visit. First, there was an engineer on hand to speak with, which was great. Second, he was a fellow ex-Microsoftie who told me all about the QA infrastructure team he was building. This was particularly interesting to me, since I’d worked on similar stuff on the Internet Explorer team awhile back. Nice guy. Irvine isn’t looking so bad on this rainy morning.
Expo & Random Stuff
Some of the booths were pretty sweet. Next time I’ll take decent pictures. Oops.
The youthful male demographic was well covered.
I came across some new HTC Windows Phones in a Microsoft area, which were pretty cool. But, more importantly they had unreleased versions of Carcassonne and geoDefense Swarm! Based on my 5 minutes of testing, I’ll skip the Trial and go straight to Buy.
See you next year GDC!