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Job Hunting

The Exponential Growth of Social Gaming

By: Steven Granieri

In a universe where all things are in continual flux, constantly changing and evolving, it would be silly to expect the Video Game Industry to exist outside of these governing principles and remain static. In fact, if you are looking for variety, there is no better resource for entertainment than video games.

Innovation and creativity are what help companies flourish, this is universally understood, and it’s apparent when you look at the progress of console gaming over the past 20 years. Even if you boil things down to a small scale example such as a timeline of Nintendo’s controllers, the amount of change and innovation is incredibly overt. From a D-pad to help you traverse the two dimensions in Mario Bros, to a Wiimote, helping you traverse the three dimensions of your living room; it is clear that things have changed.

But what happened to “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”? Why ditch a conservative mindset when it comes to video games? Well, there will always be the old-school, 8-bit enthusiasts, but I’d like to believe that this desire for innovation is inherently human. It’s quite simple: We like to be entertained, but humans grow bored of repetition, so the desire for a variety of stimuli is naturally spawned. We want devices and games to intellectually captivate us. We want something we haven’t experienced before.

With the aforementioned in mind, taking a look at the market today is very telling of society as a whole. In the 90’s, consoles flourished, but now they’re tackled with a daunting competitor: The Social Gaming Industry. Now, you may tease your friend if you walk in on him playing FarmVille, but the numbers for Social Gaming are nothing to joke about.

BI Intelligence, Business Insider’s research division, has predicted the market to grow to $5 Billion by 2015, currently valuing the industry at about $3 Billion.

(“We think social gaming will reach new audiences and new people, and we think it’s disruptive to current models of video games. Because games are provided as a service they can be optimized on the go to improve the product and monetization, and they’re inherently viral because they live on social platforms.” 


                Due to accessibility, Social Gaming is reaching a broader audience via Facebook and mobile apps. According to the Wall Street Journal, the number of people playing video games has risen 241% since 2008, and they feel this is due large in part to the craze of Facebook games such as FarmVille and CityVille, along with the multitude of mobile apps being downloaded.

But how is this possible? How are games with low production values making so much money? This, my friends, is also inherently human. The social connectivity that allows you to be a part of a community, and allows you to either play with or best your friends is what fuels this market. The compromise in production values is supplemented with social interaction and accessibility.

However, this must end at some point right? When are gamers going to start demanding more from the games they play? As it stands now, you either spend anywhere between $40-$60 and you get an isolated experience, sans Xbox Live, PSN, etc. Or you take the free-to-play route and you compromise in terms of graphics and cutting edge hoopla. When I try to forecast the future of gaming, I see a bridge being drawn between the two. Microsoft had a hunch in 2002 with Xbox Live and they unearthed a market with limitless potential. The ability to share experiences with people all around the globe is powerful.

I imagine that the consumer is going to get the better deal in the end, with the console market taking a big hit in the long run. People have so many outlets to play video games for free now, so they won’t to be willing to pay $60 for a single-player game without some “Level 99” apprehension. I feel like in the end, mobile gaming will conquer all, it just depends when technology will catch up and be able to provide the gamer with all the power they need in the palm of their hands.      
 

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The “Catch-22″ – For Designers: Prior Experience Required

The big Catch-22 in the game industry is that to get a job you need experience and to get that experience, you need to get a job. It can be pretty frustrating for someone who wants to get a foot in the door.

So . . . if you don’t have “official” experience, CREATE YOUR OWN!

Picking up new skills is always a great idea. If you can, enroll in an accredited degree or certificate program where you not only learn the ins and outs of your chosen area (game programming, animation, game design, etc.) but can also create something that can go into your portfolio.

No matter what game job you want, you’ll need to show examples of your work and demonstrate that you have what it takes to do the job. The good news is that you don’t need to be employed or have a shiny new degree to create a portfolio. Create your own art, design a soundtrack or . . .create mods of your favorite games.

“Modding” means modifying software to design an element or perform a function that isn’t currently in the product. Many games, like The Elder Scrolls series, come with a mod editing tool that actually encourages users to create and share original content. Some games even provide source code for player experimentation and publishing.

Still others, like 18 Wheels of Steel, provide the non-programmed data (images, small code pieces and the like) in a simple archive. Modders take the game in directions that the developers may have never anticipated or didn’t have time or funding to create. Some games, like Neverwinter Nights, could never have been as successful as they are without a thriving Mod community, which is why a number of game companies openly support modding. In the case of Half-Life, a mod called “Counter-Strike” drove sales of the original software for years.

GECK

The Garden of Eden Creation Kit (GECK) allows you to edit and create game content for Fallout 3. The data is stored in files that are read directly by the game. The GECK allows you to build your own areas (towns, dungeons, etc.) and populate them with your own characters, creatures, items and storylines. Want a job at Bethesda Software, the developer and publisher of Fallout? Create a killer Mod and watch how quickly you’ll get the company’s attention!

Hammer

The Valve Hammer Editor (known as Hammer) was the official mapping tool for the Goldsource engine, the engine that ran Half-Life and Counter-Strike as well as other pre-Source Valve games. The latest version is included in the Source SDK, for mapping under the Source engine (under which all newer Valve games run).

Aurora

The Aurora Toolset (also known as the Aurora toolkit) is a set of software tools developed by BioWare for use with the Aurora Engine, the game engine first used in BioWare’s Neverwinter Nights. The toolset is included in the Windows version of the game, and allows players to create their own adventures. The tools include a visual tile-based terrain editor, a script editor, a conversation editor and an object editor. Use modding to show BioWare that you love the game AND understand the engine.

Unreal Development Kit (UDK)

UDK is Unreal Engine 3, a complete professional development framework. It includes all the tools you need to create great games, advanced visualizations and detailed 3D Simulations on the PC and iOS platforms.

Many game companies actually follow the mod communities and may approach the good modders for jobs. EA, for example, has a strong reputation of mining the Sims Modding communities.The good news is that you’re not helpless here, so roll up your sleeves and GET MODDING!

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Hiring Wars

Imagine seeing this press release . . .

Press Release: Thousands are flocking to play Hiring Wars, the hottest new web-based social game. You choose between the Eager Employer, ready to shell out big bucks to new programmers with less than two years’ experience, and the Frustrated Employee with experience and title credits who’s being asked to work perpetual crunch time for a salary well below the “new market” average. Along the way you’ll deal with challenges like Fickle Investors, Giant Competitors, Insatiable Consumers, the twin demons Gamification and Monetization. You’ll seek rare items like the key to the Secret Metrics Scrolls!

You may think that all sounds a little silly but it’s where we are right now in the industry–finding and hiring the best talent as fast as we can to create games as fast as we can in this extremely competitive web-based game market. Isn’t that where we always are, some might ask. The answer is yes . . . and no. Companies should always be looking for the best and the brightest. What’s different now is the speed at which everything is happening.

We’ve gone from “how do we appeal to the mass market?” to “how fast can we get that up on Facebook?”

Oooh Shiny!

Casual, Social, Cloud, Web, Downloadable, and Free-to-Play games are what’s hot right now. You don’t need to know the storyline (such as it is) or spend hours leveling up. You don’t need a fancy controller, and you don’t even need to spend any money (although that’s not what the game makers want you to think!) It’s all about web-based-product with a social media component and microtransactions . . . and did I mention speed?

The rapid move toward casual games took many in our industry by surprise and has sent traditional segments like console and MMO-producing companies scrambling to adjust, often by rapid “restructuring” (read: layoffs). Traditional PC and console games take years and millions to build while the initial release of most casual games can be created within 90 days for an average of $30,000.

Hundreds of new media game companies are popping up everywhere, and even the console and MMO companies are trying to re-focus current product, at least to some degree, on Free to Play and more “casual” MMO’s rather than putting all their eggs in the traditional multi-year development cycle basket.

My Kingdom for a Coder

This relatively sudden change has also caused a shift in desired technical skills and forced our industry to compete for talent with the already highly competitive IT, networking & security, Information Services and industries. Sure, you still need artists (and marketing) but now you’re hunting for programmers instead of writers, and hey, if they can knock out some text too, that’s great. In this new world of “rapid deployment and “empowerment,” if the programmers can police their own workflow and bug tickets, so much the better.

According to the Electronic Software Association (ESA), the game industry generates over $25 billion in annual revenue, and employs more than 120,000 people. Current research indicates that by 2015, 60% of the new jobs created in America will require special skills held by only 20% of the population. On top of that, the number of college students enrolled in computer science and information technology majors has declined even though the demand for the talent has increased. The result is that in 2011, Computer Science graduates are receiving an average starting salary of around $98,000. (Yes, there are higher base salaries but they tend to be at the mega-companies like Google and Facebook.) New programmers without degrees or much, if any, real experience are commanding salaries previously reserved for more senior people.

Sadly, this hasn’t necessarily resulted in a company-wide shift upwards in salaries at all levels. Companies think they can maximize profits by laying off current “specialized” employees to get “multi-taskers.” Even at the higher salary, the company figures it’s saving money because it’s paying less than before the layoff. Given the competitive situation and finite supply of qualified talent, it’s the perfect storm to fuel a hiring crisis.

Outsourcing Woes

In previous hiring wars we were able to supplement a lack of U.S.-based talent by bringing well-qualified talent from other countries like the U.K., back when the U.S. dollar was strong and UK salaries were lower. It also helped that getting approval for H1B work visas was easier.

In today’s world economic and political climate, not only does the weak US dollar work against us, the process of obtaining a U.S. H1B work visa has gone from simple to torture, and many game companies won’t even consider it. So unless you come from a country operating under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), obtaining a U.S. work visa is nearly impossible.

Some, U.S. game companies think they’ll save money by using a small company outside the country. This works more or less until the parent company decides to “restructure” (again) and cuts the smaller foreign company adrift without so much as a Bon Voyage pizza party. Doesn’t do a whole lot for U.S. relations in an already difficult market, and certainly doesn’t do much to bolster investor confidence in the parent company

Pay to Play . . . in the Job Market, That is

With the new business model for generating web-based games, the industry has returned to something of a “garage” mentality. Lured by the desire to create the next Farmville, companies are using variations of Lean Management, AGILE development, and “throw it on the wall ‘n keep what sticks.” Those who can afford it will grudgingly pay the higher salary while those who can’t might offer a range of inducements like stock options and profit-sharing. In some ways, it’s like reminiscent of that crazed time Before the Dot Com Bubble Burst when the perceived potential to generate an endless revenue stream fueled reckless business practices.

Case Study: A client wanted to hire a programmer at a maximum base salary of $120K. After approaching well over 300 candidates via recruiting it became clear that this company wasn’t going to get anyone until it raised the base salary to somewhere around $165K, the current average cost for that particular talent in today’s market. The company wouldn’t upgrade the base salary so the position is still open, months later.

They pushed existing staff to make up for the slack, which created a stressful work environment. Ship dates slipped which wreaked havoc on the revenue stream and meant even MORE crunch time. The already-underpaid employees began job hunting for better pay and freedom from eternal crunch time. The executive staff offered large pre-IPO stock grants but sadly for them, employees and candidates today are much savvier about the business environment and would rather have real cash. They know that they can’t pay their bills with stock options.

In the long run, the company could have done some negotiating on the base salary and saved themselves a lot of money that was wasted on overtime. There was a time when the caché of working for certain “big name” companies outweighed the known downsides but political in-fighting and employee abuse isn’t worth even the big money. Penny wise and pound foolish in this situation, they have earned themselves a reputation that has already come back to haunt them.

As this case proves, not only is it a war to locate and hire talent, it’s a challenge to keep the talent companies have already. The climate is so aggressive that candidates are joining companies only to be lured away a few weeks later by a competitor. Loyalty is nice but in this economy money is what motivates employees.

Lean Mean Overworked Machine

Companies are enamored of the “lean ‘n mean” approach, especially when it comes to engineering departments. Candidates are being asked to do virtual online white-boarding sessions even before the formal interview. At the interview, they are asked to walk through code samples and are subjected to intense questioning to test horsepower, agility, and problem-solving skills. They quickly figure out that the high salary probably comes with a high price tag in be this tough new environment. Shouldn’t a company perform due diligence on new employees? Definitely, but in this case they might as well say, “Hey, we expect you to do everything, do it lightning fast, and oh yeah, sleep under your desk.”

“Empowerment” is a great word, but what does it really mean? It means that you get a chance—sometimes only one chance—to throw your pasta on the wall. If it sticks and people love it, great! You survive to cook up something tomorrow. If it fails (or worse causes other things to fail), you’re outta here!

“We’re paying better than anyone else out there, so what’s their problem?” management asks. It’s hard, if not impossible, to explain that burning through waves of employees (who either quit or work sick until they’re too sick to come to work) can very well mean you’ll end up with a lot less money, no real product, and an incredibly bad reputation touted far and wide on the very social networks you had hoped to conquer.

Less is More, Right?

Since its inception, the game industry has been known to pay lower base salaries with the justification that unlike traditional business, working in the game industry is just too cool, and everyone will make lots of money from all those AAA games. In the early 90s it was common for companies to assign significant royalties which made up, at least in part, for the low salaries and long hours.

Then game companies moved from the garage to multi-story office buildings and spacious campuses, and royalty programs morphed into “bonus programs” with all sorts of caveats and qualifications that didn’t pay out as well. In the end, although the sodas and snacks might be free, base salaries remained lower than in other industries seeking the same skills.

In the last three years, over 10,000 employees have lost their job in our industry. Although the economic crisis is usually the excuse for this, several other factors at work as well:

1) The rapid and steady advancement of technology. One day your skills are in high demand and literally within months you can be perceived as obsolete or unqualified (especially if you make the mistake of getting older.) Nowadays, the older you are and the more experience you have, the harder it is for you to find a good job. Companies don’t seem realize they’re sending a mixed message here: “Sure, New Kid, we’ll pay you $98,000 to start” vs. “Hm, (Older) Person with tons of experience, you’re probably going to be too expensive, and besides you’re not cool.”

2) The rise of new game industry market segments. These new entities (Casual / Social Gaming, Cloud-based Gaming, Browser / Web based gaming, even the industry’s move towards digital distribution and downloadable games) seem to spring up overnight on little or no money. Established companies see this and figure that they don’t have to spend any money to jump into the mix.

3) The normal changes. Hardware platforms, software sales, hot new things, whatever Marketing thinks a game Has to Have, budgets, investors, and of course the constant specter of the Economy.

Summary

1) The game industry is now squarely in the midst of a hiring war.  We’re competing for the same talent many other software segments seek.

2) Game companies can no longer attract quality talent with lower salaries and the vaporware offer of a stock option to cover the difference. Candidates are savvy and don’t care about your stock unless you’ve got a proven track record (i.e., Google, Facebook, Apple.) It’s “show me the money now!”

3) The “glamour” of working for a game company is beginning to wane now that just about anyone can put a company together and say they’re in the industry. While it’s exciting to be part of a start-up, the lure of independence and “unlimited profit” is often replaced very quickly by long hours, exhaustion, and the need to provide your own soda.

4) Candidates would rather leave the game industry than compromise on life / work balance issues.  People want to be paid fairly and work a 40-hour week instead of being underpaid (often dramatically so) and working on average 60 hours.

5) With the average salary for a programmer fresh out of college at around $98K, companies need to look at their entire salary structure and adjust accordingly. Otherwise, they’ll have a tough time attracting new talent or even retaining existing staff, especially if they’ve shifted into Eternal Crunch Time.

6) Hiring limited-experience talent just because they’ve worked on one Facebook game isn’t necessarily good planning (or even planning at all!) Seasoned professionals who have tackled game creation on several platforms with multiple genres and demonstrated the ability to learn new stuff are usually a better investment in the long run. It’s hard not to be attracted by the promise of big profits but you still need to have a solid foundation with experienced talent to survive. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider hiring a young inexperienced person who obviously has a flair for game design but don’t underestimate the ability of your experienced employees to create fresh, engaging content.

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The Most Common Job Hunting Mistake for 2011: Choosing the Proper File Format for Your Digital Resume

While you can show your portfolio to prospective employers in person (at conventions like SIGGRAPH, for example), you’re probably going to be submitting your material online which means that your resume needs to sell you pretty much from the moment it’s downloaded and pops up on the computer screen.

Your challenge is to wrangle a bunch of positive, action-oriented words into a cohesive 1-3 page review of your work history, your professional accomplishments, and even school stuff if it’s relevant. This “CNN review” needs to be clever, unique, factual, engaging, and easily understood by a varied audience (HR, Staff Production, Management, etc.) No pressure or anything…

A Yes or No Interview Decision Is Based On Your Resume Presentation

In the “old days,” an actual person reviewed resumes and portfolios. Today, nearly all game companies use some form of Applicant Tracking System (ATS) or Customer Relationship Management System (CRM) to handle the initial processing of job applications and resume data.

CRM systems force you to be aware of the digital file formats you choose to save and distribute your resume. Yes,  (file) size matters because most CRMs default to a 3MB file size and will reject larger files—not a good way to introduce yourself to a prospective employer!

Many CRM systems collect resume data directly from a game company’s own website while others extract the resume from job boards like Monster and Career Builder who have partnerships with CRM software providers for data migration.

On top of that, many CRM systems use their own customized or proprietary word processing software in conjunction with Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology to create searchable, viewable, and/or readable files. (And then there are the automated data retriever bots…)

You Need To Create A Digital Resume That Can Be ‘Read’ By Any Computer!

OCR software analyzes a document and compares it with fonts stored in its database and/or tracks features typical to specific characters. Some OCR software also “guesses” at unrecognized words which means 100% accuracy is pretty much impossible. While OCR software has come a long way, the technology isn’t failsafe, so including images in your digital resume can cause the system to cough up something that wasn’t quite what you intended.

You want the data in your resume to be displayed properly via the CRM system and any e-mail or internal world processing software staff at the game company uses to view the material. You also want to ensure the data on your resume is captured and stored accurately for future consideration.

When you create your resume it’s pretty safe to assume that the Word Processing and OCR software used by the game companies CRM system is a basic bundled module which could be using tech from 2005!  Never assume the software is new or advanced.  This is why selecting the correct file format for your resume becomes a very important decision.
FILE FORMATS

Text Based Formats: MSWord or .DOC, RTF, TXT, and TIFF

Most OCR software is designed to handle MSWord files so this is a good format when submitting your resume directly to a company. Even if the online resume submission guidelines don’t specify a file size limitation, keep the document simple and avoid advanced formatting techniques like multiple columns, inserting images or Excel spreadsheets. The more complex the layout, the more complex the data stored in the text file, and the more room for error when the OCR scans the file.

Graphic/Image Formats: JPEG, GIF, PNG, WebP, etc.

Your resume is a text-based document so standard graphic formats like JPG, GIF, TIFF, PNG, etc. save your resume as an image. OCR software can deal with images but it was really designed to read text so documents are easier to scan than pictures. Graphic file formats are hard on search engine indexing. Remember that 3MB file size limitation? Graphic file formats save as a larger size file, which means that your resume may get bounced out of the system before anyone can read it!

One of the most versatile formats is Rich Text Format (RTF). Microsoft Word, Open Office, Google Docs, or pretty much any word processing software can read an RTF file. RTF keeps your original formatting so you can control how your resume is displayed. This format isn’t specific to a particular word processing program, so it’s more versatile and easy on CRM systems.

The other very basic format is TXT. Some online job sites and career services ask that resume information be directly typed or pasted into a ready-made text box on their website so it’s good to keep a TXT version of your resume on hand; most word processing programs offer this as an option for saving the file. If “Plain Text File” or .txt isn’t available, you can always cut and paste your resume into Notepad or Wordpad (Windows) or TextEdit for (Mac).

Microsoft Word and other common word processing programs offer either “Plain Text File,” “ASCII,” or simply “Text” when you save a text file. If these options aren’t available, copy and paste your resume from the document to Notepad (Windows) or TextEdit (Mac).

Tagged Image File Format (TIFF or TIF) is a file format for storing images. Popular among Apple Macintosh owners, graphic artists, the publishing industry, TIFF format is widely supported by image-manipulation applications, publishing and page layout applications, as well as scanning, faxing, word processing, OCR and other applications. TIFF is a flexible, adaptable format for handling images and data within a single file. It’s flexibility is both a feature and a curse, however, with no single reader capable of handling all the different varieties of TIFF files since no standard format exists for TIFF files. Although TIFF is still widely accepted as a photograph file standard in the printing industry, unfortunately, TIFF format is not widely supported by web browsers.

Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), the commonly-used language for web sites (especially blogs) is a text-and-image formatting language used by web browsers to format and display web pages dynamically. It’s a flexible language that’s easy to learn and update. Just be sure that you take a look at it on a web-browser test screen before you submit it because there are some issues with the way symbols are displayed on Windows machines vs. Macs.

What about PDF?

PDF (Portable Document Format) and other graphic file formats are widely used for uploading resumes to the web. No one can edit them without permission, and Adobe® Acrobat Reader is free so many people have it on their computer to read documents.

To avoid common problems with PDF files, create the file so that it retains as much of the text as possible in a format that OCR and search engines can read and index it. For Mac users in particular, you can easily convert the file into a PDF. You can also download Adobe’s  online PDF converter and convert your PDF into HTML, a format that CRM systems, search engines, and web crawlers love!

However, as a creative person in a creative industry you might be tempted to create a resume with complex formatting or unique visual design. Adding art images, logos, fancy headers or footers to your digital resume is a recipe for creating a file that actually confuses not only OCR software but search engines, and can significantly reduce your ability to land that job. The answer is to augment your resume with an online demo. Guidelines for art and audio demos are discussed in another Article.

To verify you saved the PDF file correctly as text, upload your PDF to: www.gamerecruiter.com/pdftest/ the results will show you exactly how well the CRM will ‘read’ then create an internal database file on you.  Fix and adjust your PDF until you are satisfied with the results.

Check and Double-check

Although TXT is very OCR-friendly using it can remove layout commands and produce strings of raw text instead of legible data. Once you’ve saved your resume to the acceptable format, proofread and adjust any formatting issues like lost italics, bold, underlines, etc. A mess of words and symbols on a screen which can leave a terrible impression about your technical abilities, your thoroughness, your skills…you get the picture. An attractive readable resume that contains the proper information gets you an interview.

Put the document aside for a few minutes and then proof it again. (Don’t laugh—sometimes reading it aloud to yourself can help you find mistakes that reading silently misses.)

Conclusion: Have Your Resume Ready in Several File Formats!

Be ready to submit a great resume in the requested format, be that RTF, DOC, HTML, TXT and PDF versions. Keep the document formatting as simple as possible and avoid “extras” that can trip up the OCR reader. Proof it—then proof it again—before you submit it.

•    Use DOC, RTF, or TXT files to ensure correct parsing and extraction of your data.
•    Use HTML for onscreen use and searching.
•    Use PDF for printing only.
•    Use HTML, JPEG, GIF, PNG, and BMP in your online demo.
•    3DS, MAX, CCP, IFF, MA, MB, MEL, MP, and SKL are special formats used in the game industry but not commonly used in an online demo. Convert these files into JPEG or GIF files.
•    Save the fancy stuff for your online resume and demo.

Marc Mencher

Game Programmer / Technical Producer turned Recruiter, Marc Mencher has been actively involved in the Game Industry for 27 years, including as Technical Advisor and Executive Producer for several released games. He is founder and CEO of GameRecruiter, an acclaimed recruiting firm that representing the game industry’s hottest talent

He is also the author of Get in the Game!, an instructional book on building a career in the video game industry. Marc was a contributing author to the book, “Game Creation and Careers: Insider Secrets from Industry Experts” and is currently working on a series of articles about game industry management. His articles have been featured in publications like Gamasutra, Industry Gamers, Game Daily, and Next Generation News. He also has been interviewed on television and radio as an expert on working in the video game industry. A frequent speaker at industry conferences, Marc volunteers as an advisory board member for several colleges that offer game design programs.

A detailed bio on Marc can be found here.

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