Breaking In: Then and Now

by Darius Kazemi on August 7, 2007

in breakingin,education

Peter Carlson, Senior Systems Designer at Surreal, posted a cool article examining breaking in to the game industry: what it was like in the ’90s, and what it’s like now. I myself broke in during the transitional period, where game programs at schools were just starting to come into existence. Maybe this is why I still tell high school students who want to make games that they should

  • get a degree in CS, or art, or business, or whatever at a reputable four-year school
  • work on lots of games in your spare time while they’re there, preferably with a game development club (start one if it doesn’t exist)
  • and network the hell out of every conference or IGDA meeting they can get to

I guess I’m old-fashioned, but I still think it’s the best way. Because believe it or not, you may change your mind about making games while you’re in college. And it would be nice to just say, “Okay, I’ll just stop making games in my spare time and going to conferences,” as opposed to having to change your major, maybe change schools, and worry about all those extra credits you took that are not going to help with your new degree.


Patrick August 7, 2007 at 11:43 pm

Of course, as with all things, knowing what you want to do with your life as early as possible is key, not just in your focus and decision making, but also in your passion, your temerity, your edge.

Ian Schreiber August 8, 2007 at 5:15 pm

Right there with ya.

I still tell students to do all those other things, because ultimately you’re the one in charge of your education, not the school you go to.

A lot of people expect to just shell out for a fancy degree, jump through a bunch of hoops to get a piece of paper, and then the game industry will break down their door with fistfuls of contracts and job offers. Hardly.

Even now, I think it’s better to show that you want to be in the industry, because most people aren’t interested in hiring someone who isn’t passionate about making games. Yes, going to a game-specific school shows that. But getting off your couch, making games, starting a game dev club and lobbying the faculty for game-specific classes at a “normal” school shows it even more… AND you get to show that you have “initiative” or you’re a “self-starter” or whatever buzzword HR is calling it these days — something that the waltz-through-FullSail crowd isn’t going to have.

I’d value a student who made a game outside of class a whole lot more than someone who made that same game as graded assignment.

Casey August 9, 2007 at 6:05 pm

Nice post. Seriously though, the chapter I’m writing right now, this was relevant to. :) So thank you. A screen shot of the post and reference to it have made the dissertation.


Darius Kazemi August 9, 2007 at 6:17 pm

Casey: I’m honored! w00t!

Steve Chiavelli August 13, 2007 at 10:40 pm

Just to play devils advocate a bit:

I went to DigiPen, and like many other DP students have had no trouble finding my place in the industry now that I am done.

Giving people the advice to write games in their spare time is great for people that can do that. Others – for various reasons – simply can’t or won’t work on these types of things in their down time. In that case, maybe its important to know who you are advising, rather than just blindly proclaiming that traditional CS is better.

Many people with a traditional CS background from a “reputable” school love to look down on the “waltz-through-FullSail crowd.” Just to clarify, a four year B.S. from DigiPen requires completing 154 credits which consist almost entirely of computer science, math, and physics. It is challenging, and requires an insane amount of dedication to complete. There was no “waltzing” or “tightening up of graphics” involved. Many DP graduates are extremely talented, and are assets wherever they are hired.

There are obviously merits to both traditional CS and more focused degrees. Different educations work for different people. The important thing is that you take a path which works best for you, and hopefully leads to your dream job.

After a quick proof-read, I definitely sound very angry and bitter. Sorry to ruin your otherwise happy blog, Darius :)

Darius Kazemi August 13, 2007 at 11:41 pm

Steve: your comments are well-taken. I can see your point, except for one thing. You say that some students “simply can’t or won’t work on” games in their spare time. To me, those students don’t have the drive to last more than three or four years in the industry. I’m not saying that someone who went to DigiPen lacks that drive, there’s just no way to tell if they would have taken the time to do it or not.

Here’s the thing: I’ve worked with people from Full Sail and DigiPen. Many of them are fantastic developers. In fact, most of them are. So yeah, they clearly got a pretty good education in game development.

But again, I don’t trust anyone out of high school to know what they want to do with the rest of their life. So I think that going to a DP or FS is a huge risk. What if after three years you find out that you don’t want to make games? At least a more general school will give you alternatives.

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