Welcome to this week’s ‘The Monday Interview’.
And it’s another interview that I’ve really been looking forward to bringing to you. Over the years I’ve worked with many young people who believe that a career as a software engineer in the games industry is the perfect excuse to sit around playing the latest computer games every day. This interview proves that there is a whole lot more to it than that. And also raises the interesting point that even a relevant degree is often not enough to enable you to break into this incredibly competitive career choice.
Hugh has spent a number of years working successfully as a game developer, and in this interview he talks about the highs and lows of the job as well as giving some great advice to people interested in following a similar career path.
So, briefly, what is your job?
“I’m a Software Engineer in the entertainment games industry. Together with a group of anywhere between 2 and 30 other engineers, we write the software that is delivered to consumers on consoles and handheld devices, and software that is used internally by teams to produce games. I’m a generalist, which means I’m able to work on many aspects of a product rather than specialising in a specific area..”
How did you get into it?
“I started programming on the very first computer we had when I was very young and discovered it to be amazingly rewarding and challenging. Ever since then, programming has been my passion and I always knew that the kind of software I wanted to create was the kind of software I wanted to use, which is games! I consumed any information I could find on the areas of programming I was interested in. Initially library books and then later on the internet, swapping programs and ideas with other like minded people. I became involved with the demo scene which is a group of people who try to impress each other with their programming, artistic and musical skills in competitions. At school there was no path into the games industry so I took standard GCSEs and then standard A-Levels. However, in my first year of A-Levels I was offered a programming position on a game through contacts I had made online. I left school and never looked back! Since then I have worked at the largest games companies in the world, working on hit games, and travelled all over the world.”
Describe a typical day.
“Work varies depending on the stage of production a game is in. Programmers generally manage their own time and work both independently and together with team members to solve problems. Typically I start my day by checking my email filters for any important issues that may have occurred overnight and then I continue work on my current tasks. This could be prototyping ideas, implementing features for audio, visuals and game play or working on tools to help internal artists and designers get their ideas into the game. I may also check other programmers’ code and discuss problems that need to be solved before that code is submitted to the game. Towards the end of production the team will mainly be working on bugs in the game so we can deliver a high quality play experience.”
What do you enjoy most about your job?
“I love solving problems. We take an idea and have to work out how to make it a reality. It’s a privilege to create something that people take so much enjoyment from.”
And the least?
“Crunch! Towards the end of a project there is a lot of pressure to complete games on time and to a high standard which can lead to people working long hours for long periods. You have to be professional enough to organise your time so work doesn’t impact your home life and the long hours don’t end up being counter productive. It can be a high pressure industry and you need to be strong enough to set boundaries for yourself otherwise you run the risk of burning out.”
What are the common misconceptions that people have about the work you do?
“That we sit around playing games all day! We do play the games to check the code but it’s very repetitive and you’re concentrating on what you’re looking for, not the game experience. I ran the intro sequence of one game at least a hundred times to check for errors, though I did spice it up by changing the music each time! Another misconception is that a love of playing games will translate into a love of making games. You need to enjoy one of the core skills needed to make games rather than just the finished product.”
What are the main skills you need to be a Game Developer?
“You need to be self motivated and self organising, good at problem solving with a critical eye for your own and other people’s work. You need to be a good communicator, methodical and have a desire to be the best in your field because the industry moves incredibly quickly.”
Tell us a little about the benefits that come with the job.
“There is the potential to work all over the world, many companies are happy to relocate staff if they want them. Depending on your level you can earn anywhere between £20k and £60k, or more depending on your speciality and experience. Working with people who are the best in their fields incredibly exciting and seeing your games in the shops or advertised on TV is just brilliant!.”
What advice would you give someone wanting to break into this career?
“Don’t rely on the education system to teach you what you need. While there are some respectable degree courses now available they only teach the bare minimum and armed with that alone no-one will employ you. You must pursue your skills in your own time, it has to be something you enjoy doing regardless rather than a means to an end. The standard of entry into the games industry is very high, your pitch for your first games industry position must show that you have the skills and drive to be productive straight away rather than having to learn what the industry already expects you to know. The candidates who put this effort in get the positions.”
Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?
“I have never thought ten years ahead in my career! The industry is always changing, with new opportunities and technology appearing all the time. I would like to see myself as a pioneer in my area of expertise and of course still enjoying it as much as I do now.”
AND JUST FOR FUN…
First in the office or last to leave?
“Usually somewhere in the middle.”
Tea or coffee?
“Coffee, although I do enjoy a nice cup of Earl Grey.”
Staff canteen or packed lunch?
“Neither, eating out.”
The lift or the stairs?
“Lift going up, stairs coming down.”
Out after work or straight home to bed?
“Home to chill!”