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.
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.