If anyone knows what it takes to break into the game design industry, it’s Al Doyle. A teacher of art, architecture, animation and game design for over 25 years, Doyle has been witness to the evolution of the gaming industry. From America all the way to Russia, Doyle has taught and given lectures in game design to students and children across the world. The work Doyle has done with his students has recently been featured on ABC News, the NY Times, Bloomberg Radio and many leading educational technology magazines.
Doyle offers his advice on the best ways in which game design students can get into the industry, discusses esports and talks on the subject of the future of video game consoles.
Hi Al, thanks a lot for speaking to us, firstly, broadly speaking, how would one go about becoming a video game designer?
Al Doyle: The best way to get started in the video game design is to Beta test games for a variety of platforms, markets and target audiences. In many cases you will be significantly provided high quality interactions with the users, who can easily be videos to create an archive of UI testing and more. I was very lucky/smart to be able to test and launch three video game creation engines that range from zero coding to some coding and finally to fully coding a working game.
This 2D Platform creator asks the creator to write one line of code at a time (much like Python) and the Pop Code! Language does not need to be compiled in order to execute giving the users instant visual feedback for their code. Gamestar Mechanic does not demand any coding skills as the UI is simple drag and drop. This is a great intro to Game Design for ages 5—12. Finally, ‘Ready’ is a unique and very powerful means of creating games.
Just how difficult is it to find a job within the video game industry at the moment? I've heard there is a lot of competition.
Doyle: Start by Beta testing games: it is low-entry and allows you to connect with a lot of industry players... a lot of people get their start this way. (I did) Decide what aspect of the industry you would fit (programmer / writer / 3D artist / etc.). GameDev.net is a great game developer’s community site and a great job board through GameDev.Jobs.
So it's all about getting involved and working hard for free in order to gain experience that employers want?
Doyle: You have to develop the skills somehow. The kids go to school now as many colleges have game design programs.
Is going to university to study game design enough now though?
Doyle: People will ask 'what have you done? What was your role? What can you do for us? A lot of jobs are very specific: special effects, voice over, programming, etc. New York University (NYU) has a Master’s program and then they incubate a select few of the grads with stipends and tech support that gives them a leg up: I know a few of these teams that are now producing real world products.
I know another team that ‘just did it’: a lot of hard work to do independently yet they have launched successfully.
No one cares where you went to school, they only care whether you can do the job? Yes, there is a lot of competition but skills rule the day: it is somewhat of a nerdy glamour profession like fashion or acting and the competition is tough: many people are willing to work long hours.
Are certain companies/countries more likely to employ recent graduates with less experience than others are?
Doyle: Many companies hire interns for little or no pay (just like many other industries). Recent grads will be facing tough competition yet if they have the particular skills for the specific job and are willing to put in the long hours during sprints they will find their way. Smaller companies are probably easier to break into.
Would you recommend to a recent graduate to intern then first of all?
Doyle: Beta Test, Global Game Jam and Internship is one pathway for someone to gain experience and skills for sure: this can work for beginners without schooling. Yet if someone is a crack 3D artist or a programmer with the right set of skills then they can skip the internship route and go right into the paid work.
Many graduates of Masters Programs still have to prove themselves by building games, polishing their portfolios and getting their first jobs. Start small: join a small team with a limited role and build from there. The big triple AAA teams have small roles to fill while the smaller start-ups need comprehensive skill sets.
GameDev.net and other "communities of practice" provide so much in the way of advice, blogs, news, job boards and insightful how-to articles to support those interested in getting a start. In New York City, ‘play crafting’ offers classes and workshops and has over 6000 indie game developer’s meetings throughout the year. Classes in Unity, Unreal, Corona SDK, and other aspects of the industry provide a support system independent of the University route.
Is the university route important still? Or are people able to learn the same skills that they would at university via the internet?
Doyle: Skills rule the day and many think the University system is a somewhat outdated model yet the University provides real mentorship, built-in networking events, industry talks and contacts. I have seen people succeed with absolutely no formal schooling besides Google and GitHub and others who have gone the Parsons / NYU / Full Sail route. The Programs at both NYU and Parsons are comprehensive and provide a sort of 'one-stop shopping' that makes the pathway more straightforward than the 'Bootstrap' approach. Yet, they both can work.
The skill set is king. The portfolio is paramount. At the end of the day: can you produce on time and on budget?
Have you known of any of your own students who have tried their absolute hardest to break into the industry (taking other courses, learning new skills, trying to get unpaid internships etc) and then ended up failing? Or if someone has that determination to get out into the world, build their portfolio, build their skillset, will they eventually land a job?
Doyle: It depends on how you define failure. Many students find that the industry is not for them; they may end up teaching, doing related jobs in ancillary industries like working for Google or Mozilla or in other related educational settings. They may become entrepreneurs and build YouTube / Twitch / Social Media presences. Not everyone wants to be part of the Triple A ecosystem but there are so many related opportunities to exploit: escape rooms, blogging, teaching, speaking engagements, writing, non-profits, corporate team building. There are many places to apply game-based learning, playmatics, team-building and engagement.
Is the theory true that it is easier for female game design graduates to get into the industry? Apparently, the game industry wants to become more diverse so they have begun employing a lot more women?
Doyle: Diversity in any aspect of the Tech Industry is a goal that is easier said than done. The indie game developer scene is definitely making inroads. Black Girls Code is an initiative that aims to do just that. Other initiatives are specific to getting women into Tech as well. I don't think that is any easier for anyone as the competition is global and outsourcing is an issue. Game Design is hard work period.
Is there a certain role in the industry that is constantly in demand that you would recommend to students to learn and full understand the aspects of?
Doyle: There are so many students in the front end (animation, character design, illustration) yet the back end (programming, analytics) is the more demanding and in-demand skill.
In terms of the future of video gaming, will consoles cease to exist soon?
Doyle: Millennials play with consoles, kids today play with phones and hand-held devices (a gross exaggeration yet there is some truth here). I see almost everyone playing games on the subway. Contact lenses with built in video cameras/playback are being developed now. Bio feedback, prosthetics and wearable tech will make gaming even more ubiquitous, transparent, seamless and pervasive. The future will see us send games to friends like e-cards (many have been doing this already). Anna Anthropy builds casual games that are quick exercises in possibilities; some are more like sketches for games.
Gamestar Mechanic challenges budding game designers to build a 'Birthday Game' for their best friend. Geometry Dash has an 'insanely great' level design tool. Is Super Mario Maker is a portend of things to come? I hope so for sure.
It's possible that game design itself will be like photography: we are all photographers now was a mantra when cell phone cameras became everyone's preferred mode of discourse. We will all be game designer as the tool sets become more intuitive, powerful and accessible
Do you think that the growing popularity of esports is a positive thing for the game industry?
Doyle: I learned from a High School student of mine that did an extended essay on esports: it is more popular (in terms of numbers) than the NFL, the NBA and MLB world-wide.
This is a good thing for the gaming industry as it bridges the gap between Sports and Life. The popularity cannot be denied, dismissed or denigrated as some sort of cultural backwater for trolls and teens. Stereotypes of Korean and Japanese kids being addicted to the Internet/gaming notwithstanding, the esports phenomena is providing users with a way to connect to the media in a direct experience that is both fan boy and celebrity-driven.
That’s a wrap, Al. Thanks a lot for talking to us and keep in touch!