265: I Got A Golden Ticket?

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I Got A Golden Ticket?

A job in the videogame industry is highly prized, but it's not all fun all of the time. Mur Lafferty shows us why playing a bugged game or reviewing bad games makes it just like any other job.

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Well, I do book reviews on my blog, but I got my start in game reviewing for allgame.com. In both cases, the things I reviewed I generally bought myself (or in the case of books, took out from the library where I work). And, like most people, I am honest and truthful about the games I play and the books I read. In all my time on my blog, I have actually had one book that was so bad, I absolutely slagged it when I wrote my review.

But you can't just say, "This is good. Buy it!" or "This sucks donkey livers, avoid it like the plague!". You also have to say why, and do it in an entertaining and informative fashion. And realize that you are not everyone. I sometimes say, when I do not like an aspect of a book, "this is my personal feeling, based on X. Your Mileage May Vary." Especially when a topic is a deal-breaker for me, but might be fine for someone else. It also works the other way around. I may be fine with male/male romance or sex in a book while other people will be very turned off by it, so I include warnings about these things.

In short, reviewing isn't for everyone, and it's harder than it looks. Even when you are reviewing things you personally enjoy, you have to realize that the enjoyment or dullness you are feeling might not be what everyone gets out of the same book, same game, or what have you. You don't just do it to have fun, you do it because you want to share your enjoyment of the medium with others.

Preach it brother!

To be honest, I'm still amazed by companies who don't outsource their QA and instead have their internal, regularly-paid teams to do it as it really shows in the final polish of the games. It's hell, no doubt, but damn is it critical.

Ah, QA. Done a bit of it myself but only for smaller groups and smaller projects, where it was borderline sane. The larger project stuff where the testers are treated like light bulbs - use 'em, take 'em for granted, replace 'em when they burn out - I've avoided like the plague. I did my time at a call centre, I don't want to relive that same kind of hell.

Back when someone had that win-a-beta-testing-job reality show, Penny Arcade did a comic summing up neatly why that was not a prize to compete for. But the best part was the PATV episode that went with it, where they gave real-world examples people have been subjected to:

1) Stress testing a console DVD player tray. You think they got a machine for that? Machine's not smart enough to tell when something's wrong, I guess. Imagine a room full of people whose sole job is to open and close a DVD tray until it stops working.

2) A Gameboy baseball game, with stats! Stats not computing right. Gotta play a full regular season of baseball (almost 200 games), do the stats by hand, and see if they match up. New build? Do it again! How to get very good at math.

3) Pokemon Snap. Nintendo wanted to make sure you couldn't take any pictures that could be construed as sexual. Imagine playing that all day, for months, and having to try sexualize every picture of a Pokemon you take in an effort to stop someone else from doing the same.

And, as they said, this is 80-100 hours per week. You're gonna burn out fast, so the company works you as hard as possible.

Whenever you make something you enjoy as a hobby, originally, into a profession it usually doesn't end well.

I know I did that with hockey. After H.S. I spent a few years playing Jr.A hockey, 6-10 hours a day of hockey, working out, practicing, etc...and it sapped the fun from the sport for me. I still enjoy skating with friends and family, and doing pickup hockey. I have absolutely no interest in playing it competitively again - it's funny. When I watch hoceky on TV or live I go into this analytical mode, and I can't enjoy the spectacle of it. It get so wrapped up in thinking about hip, body, stick, puck, etc...position, and all the dirty/cheap stuff that's done that the layperson never sees. I don't regret attempting to play hockey professionally, but I know how much something like that can be romanticized - after all you're playing a game for a living...right?

It's probably why I enjoy watching sports I've never played immensely.

Also, I'm sorry you had to suffer through The Matrix Online. I had a friend try to get me into the game, oh man, was it boring. It had some cool ideas, like in-game events that shaped the servers, and apparently had a pretty sweet RP community if you were lucky enough to be on one of those server. However, as you said, the game was just so devoid of anything to do.

Ahh, the old misconception that working in the industry you play in will be fun. Work is not always play. There's a lot of crap that goes on behind the scenes that people don't know about, and there's often a ton of background knowledge that QA testers and reviewers have to have in order to do their job correctly and efficiently. I know this is a far cry from being a QA guy, but in a way it's related... I (like many) used to think that working for Gamestop would be awesome. You're surrounded by games so it has to be enjoyable right? Not entirely. It's the every day work that the common user doesn't see. They often don't know what shite games you have to review or how many times you had to jump through hoop (x) to get a game to crash, or the people you have to deal with in any given circumstance.

Never turn what you love into a job.

You speak the truth, any job from any industry can be absolute hell. I personally want to get into the entertainment industry, mostly the movie industry and unless I am one of those extremely lucky bastards who gets in the door by a nail and a hair I'm going to have to work from the bottom to the top as a lowly peon, the assistant managers, the fetch boys, maybe even a janitorial job or two. If you are really passionate about what you love, and really want to expand it into a carreer, you're going to have to suffer for it a bit. Maybe you'll never achieve your dream of starting your own video game company, or maybe I won't achieve the carreer or directing movies, but you cannot know that until you go into the industry head first and perservere through the bad times and the really crappy times.

What if you do not want a job as a QA or Game Reviewer? What if you want to be the one who designs models, creates the codes that run the games etc? What if I want to be the one who makes the sounds or draws the concept art of the game in question? I am asking anyone in the industry, I have only ever worked on a farm. Mainly shoveling cow crap and moving bales of hay for days on end using a machine that I thought was obsolete 30+ years ago.

Please just give me one ray of hope so I have something to hang onto once I leave this shit hole Q-Q

My only word of advice: Choose your profession & company wisely. Having shoveled shit on a farm I can safely say it was preferable to some of the jobs I held...but not all. Here's a short breakdown:

Programmers/Engineers - they have the easiest time finding jobs. The work is hard and requires a strong analytical mind. These guys are the platform on which all things are built, be prepared not to direct titles, but support the rest of the team. They are also some of the highest paid employees on a dev team. Ever decide to jump ship from the game industry your skills will transfer rather quickly.

Artists - they have the second easiest time finding jobs and frequently moonlight doing contract work. Be prepared to work as an independent contractor, so take a few business courses while you get a degree. I strongly suggest a solid background in traditional art combined with modern technology. Frequently high paid and can jump into other field pretty quickly.

Designers - Third easiest time finding a job, to make it easier be able to use either a scripting language and/or a 3D modeling program. Expertise in design, writing, game systems & human interface are always a definite plus. NOTE: hardest time *leaving* the industry as the skills are pretty unique. Not as highly paid as many artists, but it can eventually get up there.

Producers/Managers - this is the hardest position to land (ratio is generally 1 producer for every 30 team members) Producers are project leads, team leads, gophers and firefighters. If you can script, do low-level art, make websites, handle PR/Sales/Marketing it will improve your chances of being hired. In the end it's all about who know and is generally less respected/liked than QA. (Kid you not) Has a relatively easy time to leave in the industry if you have a relevant degree (business management) and have maintained your skill set. (PMI for example)

But in the very end it comes down to who you work for. I've worked for places that smelled like a frat house on a Monday morning and other companies where everyone was out the door by 6:30 and we got all holidays off. This advice is for any industry anywhere, choose your employer wisely. Pick a corporate culture that matches your goals & values.

My first job was testing Vegas Games for New World Computing. Multiplayer slots was the most boring thing ever. We had to ensure the jackpot was hit. It took us 4-12 hour days to do so and then there was a bug with the jackpot so we had to repeat it....three times. I'll never forget that and to this day I always make sure my QA staff knows they are welcome and respected. Generally there is copious amounts of beer involved. :D

I've been designing and programming a couple of games of my own so I really can understand with the stress it would bring out. Unfortunately what the majority of the people who want in on the industry expect is to become a celebrity lead developer of some sort, which either takes a miracle, extreme ingenuity or experience.

As a friend from Mythic told me in the past you do not go in the industry without experience in an unrelated field. Video game programming is VASTLY different from your mother's programming but the general knowledge and expertise is a great boon for understanding how things roll.

I've done a bit of QA testing in my time, though not for gaming - all I can say is it requires a somewhat twisted mind which, after several years of struggling to put together programs in a computing course is now allowed - no, encouraged, even - to run riot working out ways of destroying other people's creations.

...What? Stark raving mad, you say? Agreed, but I enjoyed it.

I suppose reviewing would work out better if rather than it being a hierarchy of people getting the "best" games and handing on the "worst" games, the reviewers in question were able to each prioritise the various genres of game (though I imagine the balance may be a bit off sometimes). Of course, this may lead to some decidedly odd choices of who to pick from interviews, but then, it's always good to see a good assortment of lunatics behind a gaming magazine, no offense to the Escapist staff. :P

It's sad to think about, but they call it WORK for a reason, and they pay people to do it for a reason as well. Honestly though, it doesn't make me want to get into the industry any less, and no one ever said it was going to be easy.

If these horror stories haven't scared you off, here's a bunch of resources we've been compiling for game artists:
http://wiki.polycount.com/CategoryGameIndustry

I can concur, I have seen many similar situations to those mentioned above. But they also happen in other industries as well. Personally I love this business, don't want to work anywhere else. Though YMMV.

I don't buy it

It's true that a job will always feel like a Job, but in context the "gaming industry" is about "games" and even if you are reviewing those kind of games or doing that kind of repetitive job, it all comes down about "what is it that you like" or "what is it that you are aiming for", and if you like "Video Games" and are aiming to "produce the best game ever" or "give the public a great review of such game" then you don't have to worry at all.

In the end you have a status and position that allows you to be inside, within the industry that you love, I have heard of janitors that work in the stadium of their favorite sportīs team, and just because of that they feel empowered, yes they are still unclogging toilets and cleaning the mess of others, but just being in there makes them feel special, part of something greater than themselves.

And it's the same job than being a janitor in a school, except that in their minds it's more important because they care about the place and the people they work for.

I mean, "IF" you got into the gaming industry, that makes you the holder of a unique status, being "behind the scenes", many people would love to be part of the creating progress, or would have loved to be the first to review any game (and I do mean any), and that is the "glamour" of working in videogames, not so much the job as such, but being a part of something bigger than yourself, and something you care about.

You may point at the hardships and troubles of working in there, but in the end, I don't buy that it is as bad as you make it look, if one is a seriously involved person with videogames, they will love it even if they are just the janitors at the place.

Not that being a Janitor is a bad job, itīs just an example for an unrelated job in an amazing place.

Funny what you say about QA where you worked. I'm a codemonkey at a place very far removed from the gaming industry, but around here, we love our QA people: they find all the bugs we didn't, so we can release products that (hopefully) *aren't* full of bugs. Which would be a much more significant embarrassment.

I've always thought as much. It's why I'm sticking to something I have very little passion for, that I may maintain my passion for other things without interference.

A timely article for me, as I'm possibly starting a QA job in the next few weeks. Luckily, I'm going into it with my eyes wide open; for me it's less about "YAYZ I GET TO PLAY GAMEZ ALL DAY WHAT FUN" and more about forging a connection with the industry and doing the best work I can. Because yes, it is a job in the end, and even though I'm sure there will be quite a bit of awesomeness along the way, the work involved is at the forefront.

I think the thing that upset me the most about working with videogames was that it made games unfun for me.

This is the largest reason I've decided that trying to get into the video game industry is likely not for me. I like video games. I dislike work. If I turn video games into work, it's not going to make me like work. It's going to make me dislike video games. And I don't want that.

The Mighty Mur? On the Escapist? SWEET.

Loved "Playing for Keeps"

Anyway. Good point about QA testing and game reviewing jobs. I always figured those jobs stunk because of the bad pay. (Doing a job everyone wants means they can pay lower wages) I didn't think the job itself would stink.

Maybe when reviewing those bad games you can make the point of your editor that you need some AAA titles too. Even if you don't get the assignment to review the Dragon Ages and Starcraft 2s of the world, maybe you can make an argument that you need to play them to use as a comparison to the crappy games you actually do review.

More like "I got a Golden Ticket: to Videogame Hell"

In all seriousness though, I knew before this article that I did not want a job in the VG industry (except maybe security guard) this confirms I do not want a job there.

neminem:
Funny what you say about QA where you worked. I'm a codemonkey at a place very far removed from the gaming industry, but around here, we love our QA people: they find all the bugs we didn't, so we can release products that (hopefully) *aren't* full of bugs. Which would be a much more significant embarrassment.

This. If you don't like what you do for a living, stop doing it. If you don't like QA, you're just going to ruin games with lax QA processes. If you don't like reviewing games, or if you're not allowed to be honest when reviewing games, you're just ruining the industry. Look at IGN, the constant butt of "eXtreme Paintbrawl only got a 7/10" jokes.

Captain Placeholder:
What if you do not want a job as a QA or Game Reviewer? What if you want to be the one who designs models, creates the codes that run the games etc? What if I want to be the one who makes the sounds or draws the concept art of the game in question? I am asking anyone in the industry, I have only ever worked on a farm. Mainly shoveling cow crap and moving bales of hay for days on end using a machine that I thought was obsolete 30+ years ago.

Please just give me one ray of hope so I have something to hang onto once I leave this shit hole Q-Q

Some jobs are more interesting than others. In general, though, the work itself isn't the problem. Management is. There's a chance you'll get a worthwhile management team, one which gets off its atrophied ass long enough to *do* things, but you'll more likely be saddled with a management team that acts like spoiled btards -- where no level of dedication is *ever* going to be enough, no numbers are *ever* going to be high enough, and yet they won't get off their fat asses and do real work.

Mur Lafferty:
SNIP

Actually there's three things they do

1.) Play games all day
2.) Play broken games all day
3.) Write long boring reports about the broken games they play all day.

People think the same thing about the film industry. It's great at times and I love the creative aspects of it, but a lot of the time it's just rough. I can count on one hand the number of projects I've gotten paid for while the number of projects I've worked on is in the double digits. Nice to get the down and dirty aspects fleshed out for the general populace.

Reading this article brought back all of the memories I have for working video game retail sales. Working in a job like that made my taste in video games wane, and nearly die a slow, expensive death; though, I did like the people I met while working.

Then, of course, it doesn't help that I was fired prior to our company being gobbled up by GameStop in order to save money. Bleh! I think that really turned me off of anything related to gaming, let alone retail, for a very long time.

Yes... it WOULD suck. But you're comparing how boring you're work is to your free time,instead of other people's work. So yes, its not the best. I doubt however, it is less fun than most people's JOBS. This was especially glaring when you complained how your were playing matrix online while your friends were playing WoW. I sorta doubt it unless they play WoW at work. Then again I guess a sob story isn't particularly impressive when you write about playing Matrix Online while your friends are writing reports on a tax deduction.

For.I.Am.Mad:
Never turn what you love into a job.

Right on. I love videogames and I'd love to live off of them, but I know that if I have to play them as a job I'll start to hate them. Hell, I've already come to grips with the fact that keeping up with the latest releases so I can understand gamer talk is not only financially but also time and why not say emotionally demanding.

Or maybe I'm just so lazy I can't even get my ass slightly higher in the chair to play games properly. Who knows?

How bizarre. I start listening to your audiobook for the second time one day before you publish an article on my favorite gaming website. I appreciate the insight into the gaming industry. It hadn't been something I had really been interested in, but now I know why I have trepidation into diving into that career path.

By the way, everyone should at least try Mur Lafferty's Audiobook *Playing For Keeps*. It is free and very fun.

This is incredibly true. In fact, this is true of the whole entertainment industry. And probably every job that's ever been romanticized. Video Games just happen to be the current flavor of the era.

The upside is that when you say you're in video games, people are more likely to just go "oo cool!" rather than what they do when you say you're a writer, which is say, "Oo cool! By the way I've got this great idea for a story..."

God, I hate that. I hate that so much.
Never tell anyone you're a writer. Ever.

This is such a great piece. I'm glad to see the posts from others about the movie industry, the similarity is striking, but not really surprising.

Both are entertainment mediums so a lot of the same starry eyed hopes of those on the outside wanting in would be similar. And the crashing reality too.

This is the best example of not being fooled into believing the grass is greener I've read.

If this put me off the industry, I would have wasted a lot of time and money going to uni :P

You need to love what you do, and know what's expected of you. I've done enough research to keep heading forward. From pretty much every reliable source it's been made clear that it can be very high pressure, get you thrown into situations you just don't want to have to deal with, that marketing will swoop down and destroy your work etc etc; there's more to it than most people assume. But again, if you love what you do then all the crap can be made bearable.

But keep out of QA...I hear only bad things (low pay, low respect, large monotonous workload...sounds like fun!).

eh. I understand where she's coming from and what she's saying the job entails, but I'm still gonna try and be one.

If you're a tester, you're doing software QA. If you're a programmer, you're doing the exact same things every software engineer on the planet does. If you're a game designer, you make board games. If you're an artist, you have to work under time, budget, and creative constraints that will kill any sense of fun or creativity that a hobby would bring.

It's not a game, It's a job.

Usagi Vindaloo:
A timely article for me, as I'm possibly starting a QA job in the next few weeks. Luckily, I'm going into it with my eyes wide open; for me it's less about "YAYZ I GET TO PLAY GAMEZ ALL DAY WHAT FUN" and more about forging a connection with the industry and doing the best work I can. Because yes, it is a job in the end, and even though I'm sure there will be quite a bit of awesomeness along the way, the work involved is at the forefront.

If it helps, I hear the most useful thing a person in QA can do is to be as specific about any problems as possible, but try not to let their own hypothetical design decisions get in the way. Example we heard was that most people will report things like "Boss not fun" after a while, instead of the much more helpful "Boss is frustrating because it's not clear how to counter his attacks due to X factors". Sound self-explanatory, but apparently it's a common habit. It's an important job, but usually quite a thankless one, so uh...good luck to you!

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