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Jobs for mathematicians in game industry, or 3D tool industry?

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Hi, 

 

I am aware that most game companies are interested in employing people with a strong game-related portfolios. But I was wondering whether you come across positions advertised for academics, or people with a strong academic background? I figure that perhaps very large companies relating to high end graphics like Nvidia may have a need for people with a PhD in some area of applied maths. Perhaps the same applies for developers of 3D tools like Autodesk. And perhaps there are other aspects of the game industry where mathematicians fit in. 

 

The reason why I am asking is that I am interested in perhaps entering the game industry. I am making games on my own time but primarily I am doing a PhD in applied maths, so I was wondering how I fit in the game industry, if there is a fit.

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If you're going for a programming job, then a strong maths background will always be a plus that sets you apart from others.

 

There's lots of programming tasks where a strong mathematician might be able to solve the task in a more elegant way than someone who's "just a programmer" -- but in those situations, programming is the primary task, and maths is a secondary tool that helps you complete the primary task.

 

In a games programming team, someone who's an expert programmer + a basic mathematician will be more often useful than someone who's an expert mathematician + a basic programmer :/

But, an average programmer + expert mathematician will be a lot more useful than an average programmer + average mathematician.

 

There's not that much need to be a maths expert for general games work - linear algebra and trigonometry are the most common areas that games programmers will require, and a few tasks will require a basic understanding of calculus too.

As a graphics programmer, I read a lot of research papers (this is also true for other specialists too), which often contain compact a lot of their content down into a few dense lines of formal math, instead of pages of code, so a strong maths background would help a lot with these research tasks.

 

At some companies, there might be room for a good statistician / "data miner" to develop tools to analyse large volumes of raw data collected from customers.

 

In the "gaming industry" (i.e. gambling, not video games), mathematicians can earn a lot of money working as a "game designer" -- the choice of symbols, ordering and rules in gambling games (like video poker / slot machines) is based on extremely refined and deliberate choices made by mathematicians... There's also complex formal proofs (and monte-carlo simulations) required to show that the game rules deliver a certain amount of profit (high enough to satisfy the casinos, and low enough to satisfy the government).

Edited by Hodgman

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Other than programming a lot of the newer casual online games and online casino games companies hire full time statistitions.  They are usually the highest paid people in the company too.

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There's a "new trend" in the area where a bunch of studios appear to be interested in the services of an economic designer. Though the designer part implies you should have some understanding of the gameplay elements, the bulk of the work does require a degree in mathematics. The idea is that economic design should be thought of as a functionning theoretical model long before actual implementation, and this is something a lot of designers appear to be struggling with at this stage (hence the opening in at least 3 studios in my city alone).

 

If at all possible / interesting for you, I would recommend that you spot such jobs and see how you can help contribute. It's a relatively new/rare job, and as a result, its job description is vague. Here's a good opportunity for you to demonstrate how you could be of use to reinforce the theoretical analysis of in-game economies for F2P games!

 

Good luck.

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Thank you very much for your replies!

 

It looks like mathematics at a high level is needed only marginally and that its application is most prominent in coding tasks. But on the other hand, in applied science you code a lot too. Scientific programming is usually sequential rather than object oriented, and (unless your job is to actually write a library) scientists usually code for themselves. On the other hand, economic memory management and efficiency is really important, so it has something in common with games. I could imagine large companies like Nvidia, trying to push the boundaries of efficient rendering, might have some problems that could involve a somewhat more abstract, open or general task which needs a good concept and an implementation. Perhaps there are problems that are not so unlike applied maths questions. But unfortunately I know too little about e.g. graphics programming to put my finger on it. 

 

Perhaps there is something physics-related that would fall in a similar category?

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One thing to consider is if you should actually come out of Academia in the first place.  The company I work at has a large number of PhDs and all of them wish they had stayed in Academia rather than entering the private sector. 
Also the companies you mention such as NVidia don't always hire PhDs in house.  There are a lot of research projects at NVidia where the work is actually contracted out to universitys.

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As Hodgman points out, real money gaming interests need mathematicians to calculate expected house edge. Easily done for slots but some video pokers and table games need fairly advanced math to calculate optimal player strategy (minimum house edge) in a reasonable amount of time (naive or brute force solutions might be correct, but take way to long to calculate).

 

A smart programmer might be able to get the correct and efficient solution, but all concerned feel better if a qualified mathematician can prove the solution is correct.

 

I see ads on gamasutra for these positions from time to time, every few months or so -- relatively rare.  But with all of these social casinos and online real money gambling coming to the US, there might be more jobs like these in the near future.

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This makes me sad. Using stats to optimise games for profit is the opposite of why I am writing games. I am not interested as working at a statistician for social games or the like at all. 

 

My interest is in physics. I care about physics or maths inspired gameplay (even if it is not scientifically correct) and therefore I care about games like Mammoth Gravity Battles or Teslagrad. I am designing a novel physics game which attempts to be both fun (by game standards) and physically correct (beyond boxes colliding). I could imagine creating fluent and correct physics experiences in games. And I could imagine learning some graphics programming although I know little about it yet (and do not need it for my game design). Anyway, that is what I care about and if there are no jobs where this particular interest can be used that is OK.

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What do they do? 

 

I am using Unity and it has a full implementation of rigid body Newtonian mechanics. I would assume other engines have that, too. I suppose Newtonian implementations can only be optimised, if anything. Other branches of physics are hardly of interest for most games. What are physics programmers hired for? I suppose someone who knows mechanics can use engines more cleverly but what is there left to code?

 

EDIT: Soft body physics

Edited by kingPing

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