If there was one takeaway from the “Diverse Voices in the Game Design Industry” panel discussion, which Otis Extension hosted last week, it was that there rarely is a direct entree into the video game design industry. For the event’s three panelists—Amy Allison, Jonathan Scott, and Chase Bethea—their ascendance in the field had a lot to do with being at the right place at the right time and never giving up in what often has been a volatile industry. These veterans all survived the 2008 recession—Bethea even got through six furloughs at one company—much like newcomers today are having to find job opportunities during the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Allison, Director of Marketing and Community at Skydance Interactive, who also is an ambassador for Women in Games WIGJ, originally started her career in education, which she quickly realized wasn’t the right fit. She took a temp job at Vivendi Games, which makes promotional videos for video games, and three years later was running her department. After mergers and layoffs at a handful of other gaming companies, and also launching her own boutique firm, she landed at Skydance, the studio behind The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners, one of the top-selling VR games in the industry.
Scott pursued a degree in conceptual photography and abstract painting at ArtCenter College of Design, all the while teaching himself video game development after hours. He got his start in the game design industry as a freelancer working at small mobile game companies, including a “tiny little independent project that had almost no money that was called Roblox, which is now the highest grossing mobile game in the world,” he says. He’s now a Senior Artist at Scopely Playa Vista, where he’s worked on such games as Marvel’s Strike Force and where he helped launch a biannual game jam, of which he says: “When you send creative people into a room, cool stuff comes out of the other end. More important than that, the culture of being willing to take risks gets reinjected back into your normal development process.”
Bethea had long planned on a career as a video game composer, but took a circuitous route, starting as a live sound engineer and studio manager before going back to school to relearn the basics of music and composition. He networked by going to industry events and made demo music for different games before landing paying gigs that now sustain a thriving career as a freelance composer and technical sound designer for such video games as Cubic Climber, Aground, and Potions Please.
The following is some of the career advice the three panelists shared with the event’s attendees, which included students in Otis Extension’s new Game Level Design Certificate Program.
“If you’re looking for jobs, you will want to follow groups like Women in Games International. If you’re in another diversity category like LGBTQA, there is a group for you. Build your community, do the work, and if you can’t get paid to do the work right away, do the work for free, or for pizza, or whatever, so that you can say, ‘I did the work.’”
“Find your circle. You’ll find the people that trust you and that you trust. When that circle happens, those are the people that are going to recommend you for other things, and will be how you actually grow in the industry.”
The biggest thing in game development is the ability to learn and be curious. That’s your biggest skill set—your ability to just go, ‘Oh, time to pivot now, we’re doing a whole new thing. We were doing anime and now we’re doing guns.’ Especially when you’re looking for a job, that will be the thing that comes up, so just constantly be up-to-date with learning and constantly be up-to-date with what’s happening in the business, and be flexible. Also, really nail down your foundational skills. You have greater opportunities to learn now than ever before.”
For more information on Otis Extension’s new Game Level Design Certificate Program, please visit this link.