Editor's Choice

Editor's Choice
Shadows of the Colossus

Erin Hoffman | 27 Feb 2007 11:01
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The personal challenges are intense. CAs must possess the ability to think fast and act smoothly, often juggling the disparity between bulging session attendance and the fire department's maximum occupancy ratings, all without dropping their poise. If you meet a veteran CA, ask them about staffing Will Wright's annual lecture - you'll get a good-natured, but thoroughly exhausted, earful.

Still, Link Hughes, graduate of Full Sail's game development program and also a programmer at 1st Playable Productions, calls the program the "best networking tool for young up-and-comings in the industry." He adds, "If you're a positive, upbeat person, it's really a way to rocket start your career."

Gonzalez agrees. "It was a decision that changed my life. I don't mean that I became a Power Ranger or found the cure to cancer. It put me in the right frame of mind to start making opportunities for myself. So I guess I owe the CA program my current career in the game industry. It put me on the right track to get in the industry and gave me insight into how it ran. When I was ready for a job, I found my first in the GDC Job Fair and my second through another CA."

His experience is neither uncommon nor a coincidence. Harlick says, "The CAs in our program are talented and fun people, and I always view them as a valuable resource when my company is looking to hire more people." Program veterans such as Harlick know that when they're hiring a CA, they're not just getting the skill-set on the resume, but the vote of Brengle and MacKenzie, as well as a proven track record of reliability, non-stop enthusiasm, social grace and problem-solving - four things employers are almost always searching for, but won't fit on a demo reel.

What You Want, Baby I Got
"People who treat the CAs as run-of-the-mill volunteers are making a big mistake. That person in the [conference] shirt is your next stellar employee, co-worker or even boss," Harlick says. As a freshman CA in 2004, I was astonished at the number of industry veterans enthusiastically putting in their time with the bright shirts. This will come as a great shock to many gaming starlets, but the industry is not always that stable; the company I'd worked for had folded, and, though technically a full-time developer, I joined the program out of financial need. But for many vets, this isn't the case.

"Some of the CAs continue to volunteer even after their employers would be happy to send them to the show to just attend. Working the GDC as a CA is too much fun, and it's just plain hard to stop." Harlick, who has been with the program since its formal inception and with the GDC since its not-for-profit days, says that the culture of the group itself, guided by Brengle and MacKenzie, makes it a one-of-a-kind experience. And though the application and program information are just a Google search away, few seem to know what they're getting access to when they sign up. Harlick adds, "I've been enjoying that the CAs have become more social between shows; they really are a community now." He's referring, in large part, to the CA alumni mailing list, a boisterous and upbeat online community made available to CAs after their first term.

"It's kind of a game industry fraternity organization, in a way," Link Hughes says. The sense of "family" is something many CAs will return to again and again, and value even above the rush of the conference itself.

The fraternity atmosphere is sometimes necessary. Despite the now intensely competitive application process, most conference attendees don't recognize or appreciate the skills and challenges represented and addressed by the CAs on a daily basis. Let's face it: Game developers can be kind of surly, and when it comes to the GDC and the after-parties, the atmosphere can get a little wild.

"A lot of people don't really 'get' CAs," Hughes says. "People who have been CAs know that CAs are somehow a higher caliber of people. People who never had to go through the program ... people who have become important and never had that start sometimes will look down on CAs, consider them 'the help.'" It's an easy mistake to make; most conferences have guides or security, and most assume they're being paid to take abuse. While the CA program does offer participants a full pass to the GDC - a value definitely not insignificant these days; we are a long way from the $75 entrance price of CGDC II - any CA could tell you that in terms of monetary reward, it would be far less work to pay one's own way.

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