Television ads tell people they can make money playing videogames. Sounds like a dream job, right? The truth is, making games is a job like any other. It takes a lot of work and probably won't make you rich.
"Just because you talk about elves all day doesn't mean you aren't working - negotiating, documenting, planning and researching," said Sanya Weathers, the Director of Community Relations for Fairfax, Virginia's EA Mythic.
In recent years, the price of creating a videogame has skyrocketed. Like many industries, what was once a one-man job now requires dozens of full-time developers, the backing of major corporations and, according to a recent report on GameDaily BIZ, as much as a $25 million budget.
"Designer" is the most sought-after position. These are the people who invent games. At their core, designers are responsible for making things fun. Yet, getting there requires a lot of tedium.
"I don't play the game all day long while I'm at work," said Jen Ortiz, a designer on EA Mythic's Dark Age of Camelot. "Seriously, I'm usually [too] buried in Excel sheets, product quality reports, poll results, team lead reports, emails and document writing of my own to even look at the game at work."
The computer science department of any university is chock-full of kids who say they would love to program games. Once again, the reality is not that different from any other job.
"A game company runs exactly the same as any software company," said Steve Pope, a Software Engineer at EA in Burnaby, British Columbia. He explained how only the end product differs. The work that goes in is much the same in any software field.
Sometimes, the role of producer is promoted as a good target for those who are not artists or programmers. The producers run the ship, keep things balanced and, while they may not be the masters of any aspect of gaming, they are often veterans who fully understand the realities and interplay of them all.
"I manage project senior staff to ensure high-level teamwork and effectiveness," explained Daron Stinnett, the Executive Producer of Perpetual Entertainment's upcoming Star Trek Online. "I set overall project direction and, when necessary, make decisions between conflicting goals." Stinnett also explained how the producer must be aware of the market as a whole to make sure that the vision of his team stays in line with what the average gamer wants.
Despite the growth of the game industry over the last few years, paychecks are also not quite what people expect.
"People also think we're all rich. In reality, we make less money than we would [by] doing the same job anywhere else," said Weathers. She went on to explain how the sheer popularity of the industry means that game companies can offer candidates less money than competitors - such as the government - who have less desirable job descriptions. Most game industry professionals across all job categories echoed Weathers.