I got another email from a student inquiring about the game industry, wondering if game companies mistreat employees and how to get your foot in the door at a company. Here is my response:
Q & A
-You mentioned that the place you worked at when you worked in the games industry had pretty long hours and didn’t value employees the best. Does that seem to be really common in the industry, or do a fair amount of companies treat their employees ok?
Some companies are great, some not so much. When you are just starting, it doesn't matter how "great" the company is, you just want to get your foot in the door and get real experience. Once you have real world experience it becomes much easier to get other jobs, not only because of your work experience, but also through connections you make in the industry. It is common to go through crunch time in the game or film industry, you just don't want that to be the normal working environment. However, I will say, it takes a few years to work through the "junior" stage so that getting out of work on time becomes a more attainable task; so there is hope that you will get more efficient in time even if you are crunching a lot in the beginning.
-Do you have any advice on how I could get my foot in the door? I imagine I might have to start out at a smaller company and maybe work my way up?
The biggest advice I could give is to really dig into your studies and explore different aspects of game development. If and when you find some aspect of development that you really enjoy and you find yourself getting better and eager to learn more about that area, then you can be pretty sure you are on the right track. However, you do not want to lie to yourself and think this industry is for you when you really don't grow passionate about an area of game dev and see that you have an aptitude for it. I will expand on this thought a little more with a personal illustration: I love fighting, I mean Boxing, MMA, Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai, that kind of stuff. There was a time in my life when I thought I wanted to get into fighting for competition. However as time went on I had face there were a lot of reasons this path was not the path for me. One of the clear indicators was that I was undisciplined when it came to practicing martial arts. I mean I enjoyed practicing, but it didn't really grab me like it should have, enough that I was willing to do it for a living. On the other hand, I had been a long time practitioner of traditional arts, and when I decided to start studying digital arts, it really grabbed me, and I was willing to spend hours and hours on end practicing. It became clear that Martial Arts was an interest, but not a career for me: Art and Technology is my passion. It is a beautiful thing when a passion can be done as a career, I truly can attest to this, so it is worth a shot. But don't fool yourself into thinking this field demands anything less than a bunch of study, practice, and reflection (am I getting good enough?). All of the demands equal time, self discipline, delayed gratification, and talent, there really is no secret sauce that will change this. BTW I still practice Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but it is for fun, not a pay check.
-Is there anything I should be doing now (besides practicing, but I do plan on working in Blender and Maya during my free time) that would help me in the future?
Read about the Industry you want to get into, see if any of the jobs therein have any alignment to your known aptitudes. Practice and spend extra time on your studies to take your skills to the next level. Keep working and after a certain amount of time assess if you are more passionate about developing media as you are about consuming media.
-Is Blender becoming more commonly used by professionals in animation?
I would currently say Blender is not the industry standard, but it is gaining a lot of momentum, even among some big name companies: Ubi Soft being one.
-Is there any rookie mistakes that I should look out for when getting into this?
Don't beat yourself up by comparing yourself to seasoned pros out there (or even upper class mates). But do be aware of the professional level and keep aiming to achieve that level.
I recently sat in on a conversation about equity, diversity and inclusion. While in that meeting a woman of color stated that she felt like she had dealt with a George Floyd experience everyday of her life. I was taken by surprise by this woman's comments because I know that she is successful, intelligent, and as far as I can tell certainly a conqueror. Now let me be clear, being all the positive traits that I just described does not in anyway exclude her from racial injustice, (hence the conqueror description); but I wonder why, if she has done so well, does she feel like she is going through everyday being held down in a vicious manner like George Floyd was?
I literally woke up in the middle of the night pondering this whole situation, uneasy and prayerful about coming to some sense of what is going on here. A phrase that came into my mind was the old saying “seek, and ye shall find”. I looked this up and it comes from the New Testament Matthew 7:7. This is a statement I learned so long ago, I heard it from people around me early in my life and at some point I put it into practice for myself and found from my experience, it is true.
Dirt, it is everywhere! You see I have a bit of the OCD in me; my mother has it, my brother had it, it just seems to run in my family. Without professional help I have been able to overcome my tendency to want everything perfectly clean and organized though. In reality my OCD lingers in my mind, but my will to accomplish other things, things that are more important to me, I give more credence to, and try to complete those top priorities first. I suppose this is what the successful woman I am speaking about has done: She sees dirt (racism), but she keeps pushing forward despite her feelings.
But I can’t seem to shake another subject I think needs to be addressed. The notion of “seek, and ye shall find” can work in a negative manner for a person too. Imagine you are a building inspector, and your whole job is predicated on looking for any kind of flaws or potential flaws in a construction project. No doubt this is an important job, but now imagine you go home and you never take off your work hat? You see flaws all over the place and live in unrest about your surroundings, even when there is no immediate threat; true, your home isn’t perfect, but it does its job (This is actually a real world example, I have a close family member who lives this way!). The reason I bring this side of the subject up is that this woman's life and accomplishments is to be celebrated, however if she feels held down everyday, this seems tragic. I am not sure what happens in a successful and prosperous person's life that makes them feel like a victim of racial inequality on a daily basis; I don't walk their path so I can not judge them. But I hope in our daily walk we take time to reflect on all the good we have, so that we can have a larger sense of gratitude that outweighs the negatives we perceive.
Got another email that asked the question: "How much does the game industry pay junior developers? There are surveys that talk about this, so I went and found an article link, but I thought it important to explain a little bit about playing the game of moving up the pay scale. Here was my response:
Found this article, skimmed it and it seems to line up with what I encountered: LINK But remember a lot of the pay rate will also depend on where you live. If you are moving to CA for a game dev job, cost of an apartment and taxes are much higher than say NC or IN for that matter. This should dictate whether you are asking for the upper end of Jr salary (or will the lower end be acceptable). Also one thing to keep in mind is that getting your first game gig is super important, so don't be afraid to take a little hit on salary to get your foot in the door, but, BUT Do Not Stay at that salary too long if they don't want to negotiate a better wage each year!!! Work on improving your skills, keep building your portfolio (<--never stop doing this until maybe you are at senior level and even then it is not a bad idea to keep updating your resume, website, linkdin etc). In my experience it is a good idea to work to a mid level artist/programmer/designer and if you are not satisfied with your wages, jump ship and go to another company. I have known people who started as Junior level, and after a number of years and struggling to get paid more, they left, went to a new company and then started at $20,000 more than their first gig (in that case the artist was a junior, and left as a senior artist after more than 7 years). It is just the way it works sometimes with budgets; a company hires you as a junior and their budget revolves around and increases from that initial pay. If you leave for another position, say a mid level position, the initial pay for a mid level developer might be 10-15 G's more than a junior position. Getting 10-15 G's more by annual salary increases can be more difficult than moving to a new position. Now many other factors come into play when making these decisions, like where is my family, and do I want to live in "said place"? And perhaps the biggest barrier I see among young prospective game developers is "do I want to put in the work to get there"? It takes a lot of study and practice to "get there".
I think the key thing to remember in the struggle of working, and this is the same for most every field: you start off at the bottom, pay your dues, put in a bunch of extra work to make yourself valuable to any company you would work at, and then...then the money flows in (hopefully, no guarantees for any walk of life or career!)
Hope that Helps!
Daniel Triplett, is an artist that worked in game development for over 6 years, and now teaches in the Computer Graphics Technology department (CGT) at Purdue University.