We had a game dev Meetup in New Orleans recently, and I was chatting with a developer who just recently moved to the city. He had worked for Nickelodeon, and he mentioned that he had worked on Neopets. I had met the Neopets founders at GDC many years ago, and we ended up bumping into each other at several parties and hung out a fair amount. So me and this developer swapped a few stories about our mutual acquaintances, and chuckled briefly about how small the industry is.
That got me thinking about how important that really is, and gave me the idea for this blog post. If you’ve had anything to do with games, I’m sure you’ve had someone give you the “it’s a small industry” line. It’s repeated so often that it almost sounds trite, but it really can have a huge impact on your career in games. One of the most important pieces of advice I would give to anyone getting into games is just to be professional. Be nice. Don’t be an asshole. You never know when a former coworker might end up having a say in whether or not a studio should hire you.
I wanted to illustrate that a bit using my own career as an example. I hope this doesn’t sound like bragging, that is not my intent at all. I’ve worked at 2 games studios, EA (Tiburon) and THQ (Volition). I’ve attended a few conferences over the years. I currently work at TurboSquid, which is used by many game studios, but we don’t do any game dev ourselves. I also help run this site and another new game-related site, PlayingThis. I help run the local game dev Meetup here in New Orleans. I am NOT, in any way, a famous game industry figure.
Using the “Six Degrees” idea, I’m going to look at a few well-known industry people, and see how closely I’m linked to them. This is not meant to show how influential I am – none of these people would have any idea who I am if they bumped into me on the street. But, if they were ever looking at my resume, they could pretty easily find someone to ask if I was worth hiring. The last thing you want at that stage is some former co-worker who you treated like garbage to say, “him/her? No way, they’re totally toxic!”
- Tim Schafer – Founder, Double Fine: 2nd degree. At least 2 former Tiburon co-workers are at Double Fine.
- Don Mattrick – CEO, Zynga: 2nd degree. Former execs at Tiburon worked with Don at EA and Zynga.
- Cliff Bleszinski – Founder, Boss Key: 2nd degree. Former Volition co-worker now at Boss Key.
- Harvey Smith – Creative Director, Arkane: 2nd degree. 1 former Volition and 1 former Tiburon co-worker each worked with Harvey at Midway.
- Warren Spector – Former President of Junction Point: 2nd degree. 1 former Tiburon co-worker worked at Junction Point.
- Gabe Newell – President, Valve: 2nd or 3rd. 2 former co-workers at Valve. I assume they have met Gabe directly, if not, they work with someone who has.
- Brenda and John Romero – both famous for lots of stuff: 2nd and 3rd degree, respectively. I know the former Orlando game community organizer through IGDA meetups, and he is connected to Brenda.
Again, I hope this doesn’t read as boastful – pretty much anyone who has worked in games for more than a few years could get similar results. It’s meant to be a word of caution. I specifically picked recognizable names to make a point, but think of all of the other Producers, QA Leads, Dev Managers, Recruiters, etc. where you would see similar results.
I’ll use another related example from my career to help highlight the point. Imagine someone junior to you makes a mistake that impacts you. Take a moment to consider that the Tester or Art Intern that you’re frustrated with will not always be in that same role – some people advance quickly in their careers, and in ways you might not expect. I’ve worked with many people in modest roles who climbed into very influential positions. I’ll list out a few examples, indicating the role a person was in when I first worked with them and their current role:
- QA Tester to Director of Design (2 people, actually)
- QA Tester to Principal Designer
- HR Intern to Senior Recruiter
- Receptionist to Art Outsourcing Manager
- Environment Artist to Director of Studio Art
- Associate Producer to Studio Director
- UI Artist to Studio Artist Manager
- UI Artist to Studio Art Director
Connections like these can absolutely make or break your chances of getting hired! I didn’t even really have to cherry pick these – I had a couple in mind when I started, and then I spent 10 minutes flipping through Linkedin for more.
Saying “be professional and don’t be an asshole” sounds so obvious, but I have worked with people who have not followed that rule. There are people I would not want to work with again, no matter how good they were. Is that how you want to be known in this small industry? Is it worth the risk?