All posts tagged jobs

  • GameSpot story: ‘The State of the Aussie Game Development Industry in 2012′, September 2011

    A feature story for GameSpot. Excerpt below.

    The State of the Aussie Game Development Industry in 2012

    In the wake of THQ’s studio closures in Brisbane and Melbourne, GameSpot AU investigates the path forward for the Australian game development industry.


    The State of the Industry

    Fortitude Valley, Queensland. Four years ago, this suburb functioned as the central nervous system of the tight-knit Australian game development industry. Employees of the five big studios–THQ, Krome, Pandemic, Auran, and The Creative Assembly–all worked within walking distance of one another. It was an extraordinary period of growth, wherein contracts to build licensed games for overseas publishers were relatively easy for development houses to secure, and to profit from. Studio executives, developers, and the Queensland government’s “Smart State” flag wavers toasted each other’s success.

    One by one, these companies were faced with insurmountable difficulties: new IP failing to attract adequate market attention; cost reductions by overseas headquarters; and licensed game contracts drying up, due to a rising Australian dollar. In early August 2011, another death knell sounded across the community: THQ’s sudden “right-sizing” saw the shuttering of its Brisbane and Melbourne studios, resulting in the loss of around 200 jobs. Less than a year ago, Krome Studios–once the country’s largest independent game development company, home to more than 400 employees across three cities–ground to a halt.

    Around 40 of Krome’s best talent were kept on and quietly folded under the banner of KMM Brisbane, a local arm of Kennedy Miller Mitchell’s Sydney-based animation and development studio. Yet, recent online rumours suggest that once KMM Brisbane’s current project, Happy Feet 2, is completed, the studio’s lights will be switched off. (GameSpot AU contacted a KMM Brisbane producer for comment, but they would not respond; an anonymous source said that four artists were laid off in the first week of August, that “most” would be laid off at the end of the month, and that “a core few” would stay until October, when the game ships.) Once again, some of this country’s most experienced and talented developers will return to an ever-contracting job market.

    On the first floor of an unremarkable office building, on Warner Street in Fortitude Valley, sits Sega Studios Australia, an 80-strong outfit that was known as The Creative Assembly until June 2011. They’re deep into the development of London 2012, an Olympic Games tie-in for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC. The walls are adorned with interesting artwork and materials that can’t be described, due to the nondisclosure agreement signed upon entry.

    “We’re now the biggest developer in Brisbane, and probably Australia,” says Gareth Gower, director of studio marketing. “We’ve got a bit of a responsibility to nurture as much talent as possible, and help the industry that way.” They’ve got only two vacancies at the moment, both high-level positions: studio art director and senior engine programmer.

    “It’s brutal. Absolutely brutal,” says studio director Marcus Fielding of the job market. He held the same role at Krome at the time of its closure in late 2010. “I’m seeing people at the local gym who can’t believe it’s happened again. They’re asking the question of me, ‘Is Sega secure?’ All I can do is work really hard to ensure that we are secure.”

    Of the studio’s 80 employees, 60 are full time; the other 20 are contractors, mostly animators. Fielding introduced GameSpot AU to several staff from a range of disciplines. Senior environment artist Chris Conte began his career with online gambling developer Eyecon in 2004 and then spent nearly five years with Krome and, later, KMM Brisbane. Senior animator Adam Dowley started with Ratbag Games, an Adelaide-based outfit that was acquired by Midway Games in 2005. After being closed by Midway, Krome rehired many of Ratbag’s staff and established Krome Studios Adelaide before eventually closing the doors in August 2010.

    “It throws your entire life into disarray,” recalls Dowley of the closure. “When Krome went down, I’d just bought a house in Adelaide.”

    “I’d just bought a house here in Brisbane, too,” says Conte. “It’s scary. It puts you in a mind-set where you don’t know what’s going to happen. I think we’re pretty good here at Sega, but there’s always that thought at the back of my mind now: ‘What happens at the end of this game?’ It’ll be there probably for the rest of my career, now; once we get to wrap-up time, what’s going to happen? Are we going to be able to do another project?”

    “It’s a fear that’s in the back of every developer’s mind,” says technical director Mark Rowley. “As an industry, it’s far more fragile than most.”

    “The problem is that people are very specialised in this industry,” adds Dowley. “They don’t have skill sets that are applicable to other industries. Game designers; where can they go? I can animate; how do I use that outside of games or film?”

    “You’ve specialised yourself for the love of the job,” replies Rowley.

    “You love it so much that you’ve kind of doomed yourself!” concludes the senior animator. He and his colleagues laugh knowingly.

    For the full story, visit GameSpot.

    Further reading: A Matter Of Size: The State of Triple-A Game Development in Australia

  • GameSpot story: ‘Game Developers’ Quality of Life: Why Should Gamers Care?’, August 2011

    A feature story for GameSpot; my first for the site. Excerpt below.

    Game Developers’ Quality of Life: Why Should Gamers Care?

    In this feature, we ask if quality of life at development studios should affect how gamers think about the industry.


    Blowing the Whistle on Working Conditions

    A video game is composed of millions of tiny achievements made by hundreds of people. When combined, their work results in innovative, genre-defining artistic statements like World of Warcraft, Half-Life, Super Mario 64, or Tetris. The fruits of their collective labour are savoured around the world by gamers, a once-exclusive tag that is now, thanks to the burgeoning market of Web-based casual games, embraced by more people than ever before.

    Despite the impact that generations of video game developers have had on the medium of interactive entertainment, though, it’s easy to forget those millions of tiny achievements when you’re embedded deep within virtual worlds like Azeroth, the Black Mesa Research Facility, the Mushroom Kingdom, or a 10-block-wide screen of endlessly descending shapes. Logically, our brains know that none of these worlds can exist without the imagination, artistry, and programming skills of human beings. Yet for many gamers, those who work in the gaming industry are, essentially, faceless purveyors of joy. There are a handful of household names like Shigeru Miyamoto, John Romero, Hideo Kojima, and Will Wright; as for the rest of the names listed in the closing credits and the instruction manual…well, who?

    This apparent cognitive failure of gamers to acknowledge the contribution of game developers to our overall well-being is only brought to the fore on rare occasions, when the people behind our gaming pleasure see no option but to go public with their sentiment of systemic discontent. The enduring example of the entire discussion surrounding game developers’ quality of life arose in November 2004, when an anonymous blog post by the partner of an EA Games developer working on The Lord of the Rings, The Battle for Middle-earth detailed a studio-wide, 85-hour work week.

    “The stress is taking its toll,” the blogger wrote. “After a certain number of hours spent working, the eyes start to lose focus; after a certain number of weeks with only one day off, fatigue starts to accrue and accumulate exponentially. There is a reason why there are two days in a weekend–bad things happen to one’s physical, emotional, and mental health if these days are cut short. The team is rapidly beginning to introduce as many flaws as they are removing.”

    The blog post gained widespread media attention and, later, saw EA settle over US$30 million in overtime to staff at its California studio following three class-action lawsuits. The “EA Spouse” saga, led by blogger Erin Hoffman, shone a spotlight into the dark corners of game development. For the first time, it seemed, gamers were made aware that making video games for a living isn’t necessarily as fun as it sounds.

    A similar incident in early 2010, ahead of the release of Red Dead Redemption, saw the “Determined Devoted Wives of Rockstar San Diego employees” publish a scathing attack against that studio’s management on industry website Gamasutra and threaten legal action if their partners’ working conditions were not improved. It is unclear whether that situation was resolved, although it appears that no lawsuits were filed against Rockstar Games. More recently, Team Bondi, the Sydney-based developer of the Rockstar Games-published L.A. Noire, was revealed to have dictated what former employees referred to as an “ominous crunch” (the intensive period before a deadline) that lasted for years, and a revolving-door staff policy that saw over a hundred employees leaving throughout the game’s seven-year development.

    Those three games–Battle for Middle-earth, Red Dead Redemption, and L.A. Noire–achieved Metacritic ratings of 82, 95, and 89, respectively. Collectively, they were enjoyed by an audience of millions across the PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 platforms. In the grand scheme of things, it’s all too easy to sweep a few months–or, in the case of L.A. Noire, years–of long working hours under the rug and bask in the shining glory of the final products. But to do so would be a mistake, argues Kenneth Yeast, who was the engineering development director at Electronic Arts during the Battle for Middle-earth project.

    For the full story, visit GameSpot.

    Further reading: Why Did L.A. Noire Take Seven Years To Make?

  • IGN Australia story: ‘Advice: Careers in the Games Industry’, December 2010

    A story for IGN Australia, which I compiled as a result of asking members of the Australian game development community for their games careers advice while writing my previous story for the site, about the games education sector. Excerpt below.

    IGN Advice: Careers in the Games Industry

    How should you go about entering the games industry? IGN talks to the pros.

    As a supplement to our feature story about the Australian games education sector, IGN asked 10 members of the game development community for the best advice they could give to those looking to gain employment within the local market. Our thanks to everyone who participated in creating this feature.

    Jane ‘Truna’ Turner – coordinator, IGDA Brisbane / co-founder, 48 Hour Game Making Challenge

    Play games. Read books. Watch movies. Understand your world, so that when you’ve learned some hands-on, practical skills, you have ideas to make new, exciting forms of games. Generate your own enthusiasm, and your own, new industry. Don’t go and be a little worker; go and make your own world. I think games are just beautiful. Design is powerful. Game design is utterly powerful. You’re playing with culture and philosophy and fun and image and audio; the whole kit and caboodle. Don’t just think about making new forms; think about pushing the boundaries with it.

    If you go to uni, you’re in the ideal position, because Duncan Curtis – one of the guys who started 3 Blokes Studios – I think it was him that coined the phrase ‘the uni advantage’, which is: there you are. You’ve got your mates, you’re used to not sleeping, you’re used to living off noodles, you haven’t got a mortgage yet. You can actually afford to set up a little company and see what happens, and explore. You need to do it for a portfolio anyway; why not start making experimental pieces, put them up on Congregate, do some iPhone dev, do some Android dev? Little, fast, experimental work.

    John Passfield – Chief Creative Bloke, 3 Blokes Studios / co-founder and former Design Director, Krome Studios

    One of the big things we look for when we’re interviewing people is their portfolio. Whether it be as an artist showing your work, or a programmer and having a playable game; that just puts you so far ahead of other people when you’re applying for a job. And even a designer, if you have a little walkthrough video. One of the guys we hired at Krome for Ty the Tasmanian Tiger 2 – Rob Davis, a graduate, who’s now working at Microsoft Games Studios in Seattle – he had a walkthrough of a Ty The Tasmanian Tiger level that just blew everyone else away. He’d thought about it, and made a level up. He couldn’t program, or really do art, but he did a simple little walkthrough video, and explained his thought processes. That was amazing. It gave him such competitive advantage.

    So many people come for an interview, but they don’t really have anything to show. And clearly, if they’re going for a particular job, it’s really important to have something [to show] that applies to that job. If you’re applying for an iPhone developer, even if you can’t program, if you just mocked up an iPhone game on screen in Flash or something, or as an animatic using whatever tools you’ve got, that would definitely put you way ahead of other people – as long as it’s an interesting [game] concept. That simple process of coming prepared with an example of your work, targeted to who you’re applying for. That’s how you put yourself ahead of people. The staff we’ve hired at 3 Blokes are those who’ve had workable demos up on a place like Newgrounds or Kongregate.

    When I’m looking to hire, I look for enthusiasm in the medium, the platform that we’re making games for. That’s really important. And also – team fit. Games is a collaborative process. And obviously, if you’ve started a degree program, it’s important to see that you’ve finished a degree. It’s really good to show that you’ve finished something. Degrees are good, because it shows that someone has the wherewithal to stick it out. Holding a degree answers a lot of questions about somebody when they come in.

    For the full article, visit IGN Australia.

  • IGN Australia story: ‘Australian Games Education: A 2010 Report Card’, December 2010

    My second feature story for IGN Australia. Excerpt below.

    Australian Games Education: A 2010 Report Card

    Do you want to work in the games industry? The good news is that over two dozen education institutions across Australia offer games-related degrees. But how valuable is having a degree? Are they keeping up with the changing face of development in Australia? And with so many studio closures how many jobs are there anyway? IGN AU finds out…

    In the wake of Krome Studios’ significant downsizing in mid-October, one fact became very clear: finding employment in the local game development industry was going to be harder than ever before. Though Australia’s largest gaming company surpassed over 400 employees across three studios at one point, their gradual decline eventually returned the vast majority of that talent back into the national job pool.

    All industries move in cycles, and though the Australian game development sector is at a low ebb right now, it’s myopic to believe that things will stay this way forever. Though Krome’s wave broke upon the shore and left a great many stranded – as the saying goes, the bigger they are, the harder they fall – other sectors of the local industry are experiencing periods of unprecedented growth. Krome’s downfall served as a two-prong reminder: that large-scale game development is a high-risk business, and that relying upon overseas publishers’ work-for-hire cheques in a volatile world economy is among the riskiest business in the games industry.

    Disheartening though the events of October 2010 were, as I sifted through the detritus of vindictive former Krome employees and their shattered CEO Robert Walsh, one question kept flitting through my mind: what did this all mean for students graduating with games degrees in 2010? Here they were, about to enter the job market – many of them bleary-eyed, owing to marathon all-nighter sessions spent completing their final projects – only to be shuttled to the very end of the queue. They’d stand behind former staff from Krome, and the handful of other development companies who’ve shuttered in recent years; behind anyone who ever took on a temp QA (quality assurance; game testing) role; behind existing games graduates, many of whose only industry experience is submitting their portfolio to every studio with an email address, and – if they were lucky – participating in a brief internship, arranged on behalf of their educational institution in their final trimester.

    What else but passion could drive these people? To give up several years of their (often young) lives, to willingly put themselves tens of thousands of dollars in debt, just for the slight chance that they’ll be able to make a living making video games in Australia? The answer must be passion, if not madness. Yet here they are: hundreds of them, each year, graduating with degrees in games design, art, animation and programming. On the other side of mortarboards, robes and well-deserved handshakes awaits uncertainty, self-doubt, and a high likelihood of unemployment – within the game development industry, at least.

    Put simply, making games for a living sounds like fun. Given that gaming is the world’s fastest-growing entertainment medium – last year, for instance, Australian consumers spent over $2 billion on video games – it’s unsurprising that tertiary education providers were keen to institutionalise game development, just as they’ve done for practically every other form of creativity. As I discovered, though, investing in a games-specific education in the hopes of obtaining employment within the local industry is a decision of similarly high risk as building your company’s business model around ever-shifting economies and the mood swings of international publishers.

    For the full story, visit IGN Australia. At 6,000 words, it’s the longest article I’ve written. A huge thanks to everyone I spoke with for this story.

  • A Conversation With James Drewe, Digital Planner at Starcom Worldwide

    james_dreweMeet James Drewe, Digital Planner at Starcom Worldwide‘s Brisbane office. Starcom is a media agency that focuses on the strategic implementation of advertising and marketing objectives. James deals with sweet digital projects every day. Jealous?

    James, Starcom seem a lucrative company to break into. How’d you first hear of them, and how’d you talk your way inside?

    I had the possibility of taking two subjects’ worth of work experience in my final year of university and I really wanted to take advantage of that opportunity, so I did a lot of research on advertising agencies and weighed them all up based on a few factors which I thought (at the time) were important to what I wanted to get out of my career. I looked at the global size of the company and their clients. Starcom was on the list, along with half a dozen other agencies with offices in Australia.

    How did I talk my way in? The old fashioned way – networking. University is about what you know, but the workforce is also about who you know. So I began to network in order to approach the right people in the industry. Timing was also on my side, as Starcom happened to be looking for a new digital person at the time I made contact with them.

    Which degree did you study, and, thinking about your career, how effectively did the coursework prepare you for life in the real world?

    Originally I wanted to study 3D animation and work at a company like Pixar, but in my first year I discovered advertising and in my second year I switched to the Queensland University of Technology’s Bachelor of Creative Industries. It was an open-ended degree that allowed me to study the bulk of marketing and advertising subjects from a full Business degree, but also continue my passion for arts by taking electives in film, television and website development.

    After looking at how many business subjects I could take, I took as many advertising specific courses as possible, everything from consumer behaviour to copywriting, marketing and PR. Some subjects prepare you better than others, but I can’t comment on the current course because it might have changed.

    There are very few courses which focus specifically on media. A Business degree and in particular the Marketing/Advertising Major is very broad in its scope because marketing is a very broad field. Marketing covers advertising, public relations, the look and feel of your brand, consumer behaviour, media, research and more, so it is very tough to focus on your particular interest unless you went on to do post-graduate work.

    At the end of the day, you can only learn so much at university and most of it will be theory rather than practical. There are a few team-based subjects where you get the opportunity to prepare a marketing/advertising strategy for a company (made up or potentially real) and these are the closest you will get to applying the theory in a real-world context until you actually land on your feet in the industry.

    Tell us about your role at Starcom. How has it has changed during your time there?

    My role at Starcom is Digital Planner which encompasses research strategy, media planning, campaign implementation and reporting and analysis. This means that I sit in with our client teams at the time of briefing and help develop their campaign strategies, specifically how those campaigns will play out in the digital space (be that online, digital video, social, mobile or other forms of ‘digital’). I also plan the intricacies of the campaigns, including which sites we will use suggesting ad formats to creative agencies, and implementing (booking) these campaigns. Once a campaign is over I assist with the reporting and analysis of performance and what we can learn for future campaigns.

    And, because I know digital (and therefore computers), I’m also substitute IT guy when ours is out of the office!

    This role has evolved since I started in 2006. When I was fresh to the agency my primary role was to look after reporting and material management (making sure the correct ads appear in the correct places). The role has definitely grown and my responsibilities are now far greater.

    In this Mark Pollard article, he and his merry band of marketing/advertising commentators joyously bash the words and phrases with which you deal each day. Is your blood boiling, or do you agree that the industry tends to disappear up its own arse on occasion?

    As you can tell by the number of comments on Mark’s article (45 at last count), this is a sentiment shared by a quite a few people within the ‘digital’ community – I’ve even thrown my two-cents into that post as well.

    Marketing as a whole is full of jargon and catchphrases, it’s not just the digital fraternity. However, it seems to me that along with the rise of online and digital marketing, the number of buzzwords has proliferated – you can’t just use generic terms anymore, you have to put your own spin on it.

    My blood certainly isn’t boiling after reading the article, it’s been a great opportunity for some of us to have a laugh at ourselves, because at the end of the day we’ve all been guilty of using at least some of ‘those’ words – I know I am.

    What are your thoughts on the recent commercialisation of social media – wherein many companies are realising that people are talking about them online, and that they’d best monitor those conversations – and do you think this concept is solid, or a mere phase?

    Social media still has a ‘flavour of the month’ feel about it to me but I don’t mean that in a bad way. It just seems that a lot of companies see social media as something they have to jump into because everyone else is. Unfortunately, very few people know how to do it properly and actually turn it into something which can drive measurable business results.

    Social media has been around a long time, digital has just made it easier for groups to congregate and get their voice heard. I’d include word-of-mouth marketing, public bulletin boards and to a certain extent free newsletters in the social media category because these are all about people voicing their own opinions. However these three examples are much easier for mass audiences to ignore due to the limited reach these mediums have.

    The internet made it a lot easier for groups of like-minded people (say, bitter Walmart employees) to get together and share their passion. When the issue of physical distance is removed from the equation, you no longer have just a small, local community – instead you have a national, or even global – group which has a lot more weight behind it.

    I think social media is a great way for some companies to extend their customer service and public relations into an environment that their consumers are actively engaged in; however, there is a very fine line between utilising this space correctly and simply jumping in because ‘Twitter is in the press at the moment’. There are some great examples of companies using social media to their benefit, including Dell and Zappos on Twitter, and there’s just as many examples of companies who have created a lot of bad press for themselves, such as RyanAir.

    Financial crisis. Big and scary for advertising agencies. Right? Have the last six months been kind to you?

    The financial crisis is affecting different companies and agencies in different ways. There is certainly an overwhelming mood of cautiousness at the moment. Many companies, regardless of industry, are doing it tougher this year than they were at the same time last year – some are choosing not to increase their budgets, others are cutting theirs, some are continuing on with business as usual.

    Okay, recession. We get it. Tough times for the job market. Near-impossible to get a start in the creative industries if you’re a recent graduate. Fact or fiction?

    Near-impossible might be taking it a bit far, but it certainly is a lot tougher to get a job at the moment, and it is the same in many industries. That doesn’t mean that without some determination you can’t land a job though.

    Bearing in mind that Craig Wilson at Media Hunter has recently opined on how to avoid the ‘resume run-around': if you’d just graduated and wanted to get a start in the advertising industry – with no formal experience – what would you do? You mentioned networking earlier, and that Starcom were on your hitlist when you were looking for a job in 2006. Run us through your self-marketing pitch at the time, and advise how you’d approach the same task in 2009.

    I quite liked Craig’s article – I hadn’t seen it previously – and the overall tone of the article certainly rings true. Personally, there is one sentence that stands out for me, right at the start: “I encourage starting a relationship before asking for the job,” and this can only be more important in the current environment.

    If you are still at university (or out of university, it doesn’t matter) the best way to build a relationship in an industry you have no contact with is to do work experience. Your course co-ordinator can help you out with organising this and will more than likely they have a few contacts in the industry to help get you started. This is how I got my foot in the door.

    I worked at a media agency for two full days a week for 13 weeks with no pay. A lot of people won’t like the ‘no pay’ aspect but to be honest, if you enjoy it then it shouldn’t matter. Build up a rapport with your co-workers, ask if you can go into meetings with them with the media, ask to meet clients and, if you are enthusiastic, and get the work done. Then people will take notice.

    This is the same route I took – except I also ended up joining my co-workers when they went to the bar every other Friday night, it’s a great way to meet people in the industry! – and while I didn’t get a job with the agency I did work experience for, I was able to make some calls and find a placement. I had an interview the day after I called in, and a job that afternoon. Sure, I still had a formal interview and had to submit a resume, but I was able to avoid a lot of cold calling and rounds of interviews.

    In today’s job market, a similar route will still get you in the door, and that is the important part. You might not be able to land a job with the company you do work experience for, but it will allow you to add some real experience to your resume and you will be able to demonstrate a knowledge of the day-to-day tasks and workings of a company that university can’t teach you.

    Great advice, James. Finally, Simon Van Wyk of Hothouse Interactive spurred discussion within the advertising community by declaring that interactive web agencies need to stop behaving like digital advertising agencies. Since Starcom seem to be positioned directly between the two – I might be wrong here, please clarify – what’s your take on Van Wyk’s rant?

    First off, I’ll try to clarify the different types of agencies that make an appearance in Simon’s article, and then I’ll get back to the question.

    HotHouse Interactive is a company that produces websites and content management systems for their clients (purely based on the content of their website). Then we have digital advertising agencies, I would put companies such as Amnesia|Razorfish and Tribal DDB in this category. Starcom is a strategy and media agency, in that we focus on our clients’ messages being in the right place at the right time. We don’t focus on one particular medium over any other, nor do we create any of the ads, since this is usually the role of a creative agency. For me, when digital suits a client’s objectives, that’s when I get involved.

    So back to your original question. Not having worked in an interactive agency (such as HotHouse), I can’t really comment on how much these agencies do (or don’t) want to be like digital advertising agencies, but there is obviously a bit of contention in the industry about how these agencies fit in and act within the industry as a whole. There’s also a slight issue (as many commenters have pointed out beneath that article) that Simon’s rant is exactly that, a rant. Like many rants, it gets off topic a little and I feel like he contradicts himself in places too.

    I agree with the stance on social media, as I’ve stated above and some of his points in this industry code of practice also hold some weight. Unfortunately there aren’t any facts or case studies to back up the claims he is making. Ashley Ringrose made a great point that the valid points are muddied by some invalid and sweeping statements.

    If the purpose of the rant was to start a discussion about where the different agencies fit within the industry – and there is quite a lot of overlap these days – then Simon has done a fantastic job. However I think a few revisions might have given the article a lot more weight.

    James – thanks very much for your thoughts, advice and time.

    You can get in touch with James via Twitter.