||Book Review: Get in the Game
October 18, 2002 Jakub Wojnarowicz
Summary: In a bit of a departure from our normal fare, we've done a book review - but don't worry, this is as on-topic as articles get for FiringSquad. Ever dreamed of getting into the game industry but didn't even know where to begin? Or have you just gotten out of college with big dreams, but need some tips on getting interviews? Marc Mencher's book, 'Get in the Game!', just might be the answer for you.
| So you want to be a rock star||Page:: ( 1 / 4 )|
We all dream of it
Almost every gamer would like to make games one day, under the right circumstances. Many aren’t sure about the image that being a game developer would give them, others are worried about finances, and then there are those who doubt their abilities. Even when somebody decides they want to be a game developer, often they look at the massive list of required credentials for a position and give up.
After all, when almost every developer lists some sort of prior game development experience as a bonus or even necessity, it is a bit hard to feel confident about your odds of success. Particularly given the current state of the economy where there are plenty of former developers without jobs. How do you stand out, how do you improve your odds of success? Marc Mencher, a developer himself, puts his spin on the subject in his book Get in the Game!
The dream job
Halfway through the book, Marc delivers the most important words that the typical person needs to hear before trying to get a job in the industry: “If getting a dream job were easy, everyone would have one. You don’t accept defeat when playing your favorite game; you keep at it until you reach the next level. The same should hold true for you and your job quest.”
In fact, this seems to be the basic problem with the book. It is not organized in a fashion which would make it easy to read from cover to cover. Rather, it’s a cross between an advanced math or physics text and an informational source book. As with a textbook, the themes within the chapters are organized, but there is no ‘flow’ through the book, as there might be with a skill-training text such as How to Master the Art of Selling by Tom Hopkins.
In a way, this is a glaring weakness with the book. It advertises itself as a step-by-step guide, but it’s not a guide that teaches someone how to work with simply 3D-rendering tools or shows a programmer how Microsoft’s .NET functions, and what he can do with it. In another fashion, this is an advantage. For those who are already sure what they want to do, it becomes a resource book where they can look up their career and some things they need to do.
SIDEBAR: Marc worked for 3DO and Spectrum Holobyte, among others, before starting his recruiting company - GameRecruiter.com.
| Jobs, jobs, jobs||Page:: ( 2 / 4 )|
After a short preface, and an equally short introduction, which gives a short history and overview of the game industry, Marc jumps right to business. Anyone with a modicum of computer knowledge will be able to grasp the concepts at work here immediately. The author spends a short chapter going over the most common programs and utilities used in the industry for game creation. Everything from Microsoft Office through programming languages to art tools is covered. Marc makes sure to explain everything in a brief, succinct fashion and provide an example. There are code examples for the languages, he shares an anecdote about how Will Wright tests the economic model in the Sims games with Excel, and he even provides links to the developers of the major graphics apps out there. Obviously, working examples of the last are beyond the scope of this book.
From there, we hit the first major section of the book, where all the various jobs found at a developer are detailed extensively. QA, Art, Programming, Design, and Production each have their own chapter. The chapters start with an explanation of the position, how the positions divide into specialties (ie, lead programmer, AI programmer, tools programmer), the tools that you would be expected to know, the skills you’d need and the tasks you’d perform. There are even summary pages that look just like job postings, linsting all the requirements and responsibilities of the position.
These general sections are supplemented with information specific for the position you’re considering. Continuing with the programmer example, programmers have a section which goes over the different platforms they may work on. These are short descriptions of the various operating systems on the PC and the different consoles currently on the market. There are no detailed specifics – few readers of FiringSquad need to be told what a GameBoy or PlayStation 2 are. In keeping with rest of the book, it is aimed at everyone out there who is considering a career in the industry, whether they’re already professionals in other fields or students planning on gaming careers. There is a “how to get there” section for hopeful game programmers that gives a step-by-step for those who know nothing about programming, those who have done some, or experienced programmers working in traditional fields. For designers, Marc goes over what a design document is in explicit detail, with partial examples.
To get the most out of the book, those reading it should read all the sections to understand how the various departments in a company interact, but particular attention should be paid to the producer part. Since this is the only link to publishers, it gives an idea of the dynamic between the two major forces in the industry. More importantly, looking at game development from a producer’s perspective will help potential developers understand their own place within the company.
For casual readers, the Producer section is one of the more interesting spots in the book as they will also gain a better perspective on the industry as a whole. With so much time spent in zoomed detail on designers, programmers, testers and artists, the producer chapter comes at the right spot – at the end of the jobs section – to bring it all together.
SIDEBAR: My favorite use of ‘perspective’ was in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The Total Perspective Vortex is one of the most creative things I’ve ever seen in a book.
| How to get those jobs||Page:: ( 3 / 4 )|
The second major part of the book reads much easier, more like a traditional guide. In fact, it’s a collection of guides from how to write resumes and handle interviews to how to network and develop contacts in the industry. All of these tasks are, if possible, put in perspective of the specific position you might be seeking.
This is where Marc’s research truly shines. The first part of the book is simply a convenient reference by comparison. Here, the author draws upon his own experiences in the industry as well as experts to cover the many tasks and pitfalls involved with seeking out a job. On the subject of demos, there are 9 ‘Expert Tips’ from people like Paul Steed, Murray Taylor (Worldwide Art Head at Infogrames), William Anderson (founder of Eagle Claw and Game Design of Maximo), Matt Scibilia (Founder/Art Director, BigSky Interactive) and Andrew Paquette (former Director of Art, Sony Pictures Imageworks.) These experts list everything from pet peeves about demos, through tips on what to do when submitting a demo to common problems that they look for.
While useful on their own, these short tips serve as an excellent complement to the author’s own commentary on why a demo is necessary, how to make it, what makes an excellent demo and what to watch out for. Then the book goes into the specifics for each position out there.
Another useful chapter is one with sample resumes that Marc creates for many of the positions and specialties he mentions in the book. It’s a little unfortunate that he left out the entry-level position most commonly available, that of the QA tester, but he does cover the QA section with a Manager resume. Tips for resumes, like securing references and making sure not to alienate former employers are included in this section. As always, in his characteristically succinct and direct style, Marc covers the reasons for his suggestions and the recommended steps you should take.
After you’ve created your resume, demo and sent them out using the contacts you’ve established and using many of the methods suggested in the book, it’s time to get that interview. Marc uses this section to give suggestions on how to stand out from your competition, how human resources departments work (and are limited in their ability to recognize industry talent) and the dangers involved in sending your resume to a recruiting firm which will just spam it out everywhere.
In many ways, this section is like a sales book and by far the easiest part to read. Marc’s facts-only style takes a back seat and he motivates you to be aggressive and get the job you want. In fact, many of the techniques here are the same ones that are used by successful salesmen. Using the phone to follow up emails, leaving appropriate messages and being just aggressive enough to get noticed rather than irritating – these are just some of the formulas that the book visits.
Finally, the clincher, the interview process has several chapters on it. Tough questions you might face and warnings about surprises that you should avoid (like bad habits during the interview) are listed and explained. Suggestions on the kinds of questions you should ask, and when to ask them are also supplied.
SIDEBAR: I’ve applied only once for a job in the industry, and seeing some of the mistakes that I’ve committed being listed here makes me cringe :D
| Conclusion||Page:: ( 4 / 4 )|
I am shocked at how much information Marc has put into a mere 240 pages of actual text. The additional thirty-page Resources appendix gives readers more suggested reading, a list of industry conferences and a huge selection of publishers and developers.
The compact and to-the-point nature of the book is extremely useful – anyone planning to get into game development will be able to get succinct, clear blocks of information by skipping to the right section. The drawback is that this means Get in the Game! is not an easy read; you won’t be sitting at Starbucks sipping coffee and checking out the scenery while reading this with any productive effect. This is a no-nonsense text, which explains everything someone would need to know to get into the industry.
Whether you’re a high school senior with an avid interest of games and dreams of being a developer but little actual knowledge of the industry, a veteran artist or programmer in another field, or maybe even a low-level QA tester or designer trying to find out what it takes to move up - this is the book for you. It could use a better, centralized introduction to game development, and perhaps an explanation of the harsher realities of working in the industry. After all, no developer wants to hire someone who may be quickly disillusioned. However, Marc Mencher has undeniably achieved what he set out to do when writing Get in the Game! - providing a definitive and clear guide on how to become a game developer.
Get in the Game!
By Marc Mencher
© 2003 by New Riders Publishing
$29.99 USD / $46.99 Cdn / 23.50 UK pounds
SIDEBAR: Do you have plans of going into the game industry? Think this book is useful? Have you read it and want to share your opinion as well? Sound Off!