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tex-murph

Deciding on going back to school for career change

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Posted (edited)

Hi! I'm a video editor and filmmaker who (many years ago) graduated with an undergrad film degree. I'm looking into a career change into the gaming industry, and while I don't want to go back to school to get a masters, I'm currently researching the possibility. I am considering if it will help me more quickly and efficiently move forward to where I want to go.

Over the course of the last year, I have taken shorter term online video game writing classes, and I learned more about the details of what a narrative designer does. Narrative design sounds like my dream job that focuses on what excites me about games - interactive storytelling.  I've also taken an 8 week Unity class that I loved, and since then am building up demos/work samples to put on a new website I made. I'm doing as much networking, creating, and learning as I can to get that first foot in the door.  I know I'm starting over, and am excited about any opportunity to continue learning, whether it be an internship, QA job, or working with other indie developers.

Of course, I know there are a lot of obstacles in my way. I know narrative design jobs are one of the hardest jobs to get, and that my ideas for to more immediately break into the industry (applying for work as a trailer editor who uses Machinima in-game tools, cinematic artist, level designer) are all still incredibly competitive positions. I also recognize that New York is not bustling full of narrative based game companies, and it's mainly the two highly selective big studios (Rockstar and Avalanche) where my skills could be a good fit.  Most companies here are looking only for programmers and artists. (Moving is currently not an option for me) And no matter what, I know I'll be competing with kids coming out of schools like NYU who already have polished portfolio websites and already are doing freelance Unity work.

Seeing these roadblocks, it does make me consider if I would benefit from going to a good MA program that could help better guide me towards where I want to go more quickly, with less stumbling around and experimenting on my own. USC and NYU are out of my price range, but SMU Guildhall looks the most promising so far. Its price is (relatively) decent, and its design program explicitly says it prepares you for career tracks including narrative design. I'm also considering DePaul, Full Sail and Drexel just due to affordability. 

Sorry for the long post, but based on all of that information, I am curious if anyone has thoughts on whether a design program would help move my career forward? And if so, any thoughts on the schools I am considering? (Suggestions welcome) Thanks in advance!

Edited by tex-murph

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1 hour ago, tex-murph said:

while I don't want to go back to school to get a masters, I'm currently researching the possibility.

I don't mean to discourage you; I applaud your thinking, and your desire to get into game development. But the piece of paper (the degree) won't get you a job. The learning and the contacts from taking the degree can be helpful. Your previous experience also helps. The piece of paper will be very useful if you later switch careers again into education. While studying for your masters, you will be involved in making games, and that will be vitally important; note that you can get involved in making games without entering a degree program. Another possibility is to just take some courses rather than the full degree. I'm not going to comment on your schools list since I teach at one of them. 

I wrote an article on switching careers and another on the importance of location (where you live); two I think you should read. Good luck!

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Thank you for your response! Knowing that you have firsthand experience at one of those schools is helpful when considering your perspective on recommending against me going to school! It certainly reinforces the prevailing viewpoint I see that work samples trump everything. I still do wonder if going to a program could help me create better work samples, in a focused nurturing environment, but the financial burden of most schools just doesn't make that compelling enough of a reason on its own. 

And thank you for the links. Since you shared the link on location, does this mean you think NY is not a good spot for me? I'm still too inexperienced to know the climate here well enough. Ideally I'd like to still get my foot in the door here first before moving. Will also make moving an easier sell on the fiancee later :).

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I agree with @Tom Sloper on the notion of getting a degree. I would also state that it's definitely possible to build up a resume/portfolio with game making and what not without expressly getting a degree for that. Courses are a great idea as well, since it'll allow you to learn things you didn't necessarily know (which you already have done to an extent). A great thing to do in general is to build stuff in your free time. It doesn't have to be big or ambitious. It's a good way to keep building up your capabilities even though you may not necessarily have a job in the industry yet. 

What do you specifically want to go back to school for? I saw MA in the post, but not a specific program. Getting a degree can help in some regards, and I'm generally of the opinion that school isn't a bad thing. HOWEVER, it's not always the solution. While it may be helpful, it might not get you what you want. And it also sounds like that the financial burden isn't going to be easy. I'm not sure that a degree will help you get into the games industry necessarily. Of course, there are ways it can (as @Tom Sloper mentioned) since you'll be getting experience. Degrees are pretty helpful if you are going into something like programming, where getting a masters or bachelors in computer science (or related discipline) is very helpful in getting you the necessary skills. It really depends on the end goal of the degree.

I realize you can't move currently, but would you be able to do so in the future? If so, when?

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Posted (edited)
52 minutes ago, deltaKshatriya said:

 A great thing to do in general is to build stuff in your free time. It doesn't have to be big or ambitious. It's a good way to keep building up your capabilities even though you may not necessarily have a job in the industry yet. 

I am building my own work game demo work samples currently. They're going on a portfolio website I'm putting together. My thought on school was just wondering, for example, if that will help facilitate that process of making work samples more effectively with more guidance. I see plenty of people making games for numerous years, but that doesn't translate to a job for them. It seems common for people to get stuck after working on their own projects for years. So my concern is mainly making sure I don't get lost making work samples for years in a way that doesn't get me anywhere productively. I want to be smart and targeted about the whole process.

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What do you specifically want to go back to school for? I saw MA in the post, but not a specific program.

Sorry, I can see how my info in the post is scattered around a bit. I'm primarily interested in design programs that offer specific focuses on topics such as narrative design and level design - i.e. SMU Guildhall. I'm primarily interested in narrative design, but am interesting in any aspect that is storytelling related - i.e. level design.

I know the Internet is full of resources that can help you learn how to learn development skills, and I use them all the time, so I want an environment that could help prepare me for my long term narrative design goals. I'd like to have better work samples, get more guidance, ideally meet collaborators, etc.

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I realize you can't move currently, but would you be able to do so in the future? If so, when?

My fiance is okay with me moving temporarily for school, but for us to move permanently, it would earliest be years from now. She's open to moving, but a lot of things need to be worked out for us to both agree to that. The goal currently is  to break in in some form here, and then later on make a strong case for moving after I have some degree of traction.

Edited by tex-murph

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1 hour ago, tex-murph said:

I still do wonder if going to a program could help me create better work samples

It probably would. And it would probably get you good work samples faster than other ways. 

1 hour ago, tex-murph said:

does this mean you think NY is not a good spot for me?

I take it this means you are in NY. Check out gamedevmap.com.  There are some game companies in the state (my nephew works at one), but not hardly any in NYC. 

If you're in Texas, there are some game companies there. But the real hotbeds are the west coast and some Canadian cities.

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Posted (edited)
25 minutes ago, Tom Sloper said:

It probably would. And it would probably get you good work samples faster than other ways. 

Okay gotcha, thanks for clarifying. Improving more quickly is my top priority now. I see people in their 20s who slowly build up their work on the side, but at 36 I'm pretty driven on maximizing my time right now.

So I see your point is that while I shouldn't expect to have a program open any doors for me, I still could improve at an accelerated pace in a good program. 

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I take it this means you are in NY. Check out gamedevmap.com.  There are some game companies in the state (my nephew works at one), but not hardly any in NYC. 

Sorry, I could see how my post was pretty dense. Basically, yup, I'm in NYC. I'm looking at targeting Rockstar and Avalanche, since you as mentioned, very little is in NYC beyond small mobile companies that are looking for programmers and artists only. No cinematic artist, trailer editor, or even level design gigs usually. So I have a narrow highly competitive window to try to break through, which is part of my concern in making sure I stand out amongst other applicants who are younger and more experienced than me.

Edited by tex-murph

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