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Informational Interview to Learn about Games Industry

3940 words (16 pages) Essay

24th Nov 2020 Video Games Reference this

Executive Summary

This informational interview report was written for a comm234 class to learn more about an industry or job you would like to work in one day. The main focus of this paper is to look at the games industry and what it is like to work in it as well as the history of the industry that is so big now. The information for this was gathered through research done online as well as an interview that was conducted with Seth Coster CEO and game programmer for butterscotch shenanigans. The conclusion recommendations for people looking at getting into the industry is that it’s a lot of work and can be harsh conditions to work in so know what you are getting into.

Introduction

Video games are loved and played by people all over the world, but what does it take to bring these games to the players. This informational report will cover what it is like in major companies or AAA development as well as the history of games through research. It also includes what the indie field is like working in games through an interview with Seth Coster, CEO and games programmer of butterscotch shenanigans.

Secondary source information

Playing games is all well and fun, but what goes into making a game? What is the history behind the games everyone plays today?

Industry background

To begin looking into the game industry it would help to have some knowledge of the history of the industry. Video games are just a thing we all do for entertainment now but in an article from history.com titled “Video Game History” it mentions how games started in research labs starting with professor A.S. Douglas doctoral dissertation where he made tic tac toe and naught and crosses in 1952 as well as William Higinbotham creating tennis for two in 1958(history.com,2017). This was just the beginning of something that would soon be a lot bigger than ever imagined in the 1950’s. the same article from history.com  informs the reader about the beginning of the home console in 1967 also known as the brown box this was the first time anyone could get games on their home tv screens. Then followed a stream of other home consoles like the Atari through the 70’s (history.com, 2017). Unfortunately, this led to a market crash for video game as expressed in the article(history.com, 2017) “In 1983, the North American video game industry experienced a major “crash” due to a number of factors, including an oversaturated game console market, competition from computer gaming, and a surplus of over-hyped, low-quality games, such as the infamous E.T” (p.11). The article continues to explain how the next sight of a home console wasn’t till 1985 with Nintendo’s NES and it was a big success. So big that other companies started producing consoles as well which gave birth to the console war. The console war was essentially two or more companies all making consoles and trying to be better than the other this continues to this day even though some consoles have come and gone(history.com, 2017).

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In an article from techcrunch.com titled History of gaming: an evolving community, it describes the modern gaming industry and how it blew up in the early 2000’s due to a rise in internet capabilities and the computer processing power improving at a high rate. This article also mentions how the advancement of touch screen phones and the Appstore opening in 2007 forced the industry into another evolution with mobile games(tech crunch, 2015). according to tech crunch, the problem with mobile games is it caused the death of the handheld gaming market (tech crunch, 2015). The looks to the future are promising though tech crunch goes on to explain the oculus rift is and the advancements that can be made in VR can make a splash as mobile gaming did(tech crunch, 2015). With knowing the history of games, it would be a good idea to understand what goes on to get the games people love made.

Work conditions and salary

First, how much do people make when developing games. Looking at glassdoor.com it states (glassdoor.com,2019) “The national average salary for a Game Programmer is $59,475 in Canada. Filter by location to see Game Programmer salaries in your area. Salary estimates are based on 74 salaries submitted anonymously to Glassdoor by Game Programmer employees” (p1). Another web site called payscale.com shows that the average salary for a video game programmer in Canada is $57,512 a year. The information found from Linkedin shows that the average salary for a game programmer is $60,000 a year (payscale.com,2019). Base on this you can expect to make about $55,000 to 60,000 a year as a game programmer in Canada giving that you will no always get the exact average it all depends on the needs of a business. Comparatively the united states of America have a different result where according to glassdoor.ca (glassdoor.com,2019) “The national average salary for a Game Programmer is $84,746 in the United States. Filter by location to see Game Programmer salaries in your area. Salary estimates are based on 122 salaries submitted anonymously to Glassdoor by Game Programmer employees” (p1). This isn’t entirely accurate because according to ziprecruter.com (ziprecruter.com,2019) “While ZipRecruiter is seeing annual salaries as high as $103,000 and as low as $20,500, the majority of Game Programmer salaries currently range between $53,500 (25th percentile) to $86,000 (75th percentile) across the United States” (p2). This indicates that well the pay is high in some cases it is low in others so it’s a risky industry in the USA for game programming. Well, all the salaries look good and shinny what is the work environment like in the industry.

Next, how do workers in the industry get treated and what is the work environment like. Long hours are a thing that a person working in the game industry is going to have to deal with in an article from the business hub by Sam Forsdick he mentions Rockstar games had workers working 100 hour work weeks leading up to red dead redemption s’s release. He also brings up that 85% of workers are asked to work more than the contracted hours (Sam Forsdick ,2018). The other problem in the industry is sexism in some cases like riot games as mentioned in an article by Nathan Grayson and Cecilia D’Anastasio about the riot games walk out in 2019 they state (Nathan Grayson & Cecilia D’Anastasio ,2019) “In the months since Kotaku’s investigation uncovering endemic sexism at Riot Games, five current or former employees sued the company, in part, for violating California’s Equal Pay Act”(p5). The fact that there have been 5 lawsuits against them shows that this is not an isolated case. Although the work environment is less than ideal the job availability is not that pleasant either.

Job availability

The job availability in the game industry seems to be a lower than other fields of workable to go into according to Linkedin there are 133 jobs available in Canada, 1064 jobs available in Europe, and 187 jobs available in the USA(linkedin.com,2019). As well as indeed shows that there are 197 jobs available in Canada and 227 jobs available in the USA(indeed.com,2019). All these numbers were compiled at the time of a search for jobs on these sites in November 2019. This shows that there are jobs in the industry, but it may be hard to find something in your area. You can get a job if you are willing to go elsewhere in the country or world. With having this information, we will take an inside look at someone working in the industry to get firsthand knowledge about what it is like to work in the field.

Interviewee Company

An interview was conducted with Seth Coster of Butterscotch Shenanigans (game company) in Sept to get an inside look into the games industry. According to the companies, web site Butterscotch Shenanigans is a company that was formed in 2012 they have released mobile games and pc game the titles they have put out are Crashlands, Towel fight 2, Flop Rocket, Roid Rage, Quadropus Rampage, and most recently is Levelhead(bscotch.net, 2019). The company is owned and run by 3 brothers Seth Coster, Sam Coster, and Adam Coster(bscotch.net, 2019). Curious to know how does it run and what is it like to work with such a small team. That’s what the interview was for.

The interview

With wanting to get into the industry, and email of initial contact was sent to Seth Coster CEO and games programmer of Butterscotch shenanigans to find out more about what it takes to get into the industry (see appendix A). an interview was conducted on September 30th, 2019 over a discord voice call after Seth accepted; he was asked a series of questions about this (see appendix B).

Starting in games

During the interview Seth indicated that you don’t need school with specific degree, but you do at the same time the fact of having a degree won’t get you the job it is the portfolio and demonstrations of skills that will get you the job(S. Coster, personal communication, sept 30, 2019)  . He mentions that when he hires someone he doesn’t look at the degree he finds it holds no weight what is important is if you have demonstrated in a portfolio that you have gone on your own and solved problems to make your games outside of what a professor has told you to do(S. Coster, personal communication, sept 30, 2019)  . This relates directly to the question of how people start in the field (see appendix B) where Seth mentions how it’s just people work on projects and eventually get noticed for the work they have been doing when applying for jobs(S. Coster, personal communication, sept 30, 2019)  . To get started Seth was asked what actions to do when you finish with school and apply for jobs Seth mentions actions to take are during school need to be making games all the time and there is a simple fun way to do this that is with game jams which is a weekend thing where you have 48 hrs(S. Coster, personal communication, sept 30, 2019)  . to make a game with some restrictions based on what the jam is there is even a site to find these which is itch.io/jam(S. Coster, personal communication, sept 30, 2019)   . to fallow this Seth was asked more about what is to happen after and what careers look like.

Career Overview

Seth was asked  more questions now more concerning the career of an indie game developer (see appendix B). To start, Seth talked about how an indie developer earns about $0 on average because so many fail but for the most part a little more then half of the indie developers will make $1000 a year but there are some success stories around these independent games making a lot more money(S. Coster, personal communication, sept 30, 2019) . Continuing on with if the market is over-saturated the answer is yes there are so many people able to just get a laptop and start making games and with the app store is so easy to get your game on it there is a lot of indie developers putting there games onto the market as well as the algorithm for displaying games in the app store is not friendly to developers who don’t have any success yet so it can be hard to get anything going in the market apart from searching your game to get it. This is causing people to leave the field weather it is money issues because a developer can only go so long making nothing to 1000 a year before finding success(S. Coster, personal communication, sept 30, 2019)  . The field also has a pay effect where Seth used the example of a well-established game studio that will pay a web developer $80,000- $100,000 a year but if you were to be a web developer elsewhere you can make $150,000-$200,000 a year. So people mainly leave the industry over burnout (not finding success) and money(S. Coster, personal communication, sept 30, 2019)  . But with all of this, there is a demand for the job it’s not all rainbows and sunshine.

On-the job demands

Next Seth was asked more questions now more about the job demands of an indie game developer (see appendix B). Seth talks about how the hardest part of being a indie developer is that team sizes are small so you have to wear many hats which means that you need to be very flexible with your skills and abilities you also may not get to do what you want to because you are working on all these other important tasks that are not what you mainly enjoy to do(S. Coster, personal communication, sept 30, 2019)  . But there are positives to working ion indie development like it is rewarding and the fact that you are working in the smaller group means that choices can be made easier and quicker which saves time not having to have a lot of production meetings with approval processes like you would have in a AAA(corporate game studio) studio(S. Coster, personal communication, sept 30, 2019)  . Seth continues to talk about how the long hours of work or “crunch time” differs from AAA to an indie studio , the fact is that indie studios will spend long hours just as much as a AAA studio would but the difference is that in an indie studio the worker has more passion and it is more of self-inflicted long hours that the developer puts on themselves and is not told to by a boss(S. Coster, personal communication, sept 30, 2019)  . Seth explains what his company does and that is they stay very streamlined and work a 9-5 typically so everyone can have evenings and weekends off but sometimes most of them will show up around 8 and go to about 5(S. Coster, personal communication, sept 30, 2019)  . Seth himself says he works about 8 to 10 hours a day as CEO and game programmer for the company(S. Coster, personal communication, sept 30, 2019)  . Knowing the hours at Butterscotch is not as long as others an interesting insight would be what a typical day for a worker there.

Typical day

Finally, Seth was asked about what a day to day was like for him at butterscotch shenanigans (see appendix B). A workday at butterscotch shenanigans is 9-5 typically. Seth will start his day by answering emails for about a half-hour and dealing with the business side of things(S. Coster, personal communication, sept 30, 2019)  . Then Seth takes the time to check the forums online for any potential bugs that need fixed as well as reports from the QA team (quality assurance) (S. Coster, personal communication, sept 30, 2019)  . After that, he will spend the rest of his day working through the preassigned tasks butterscotch uses an app called trello to keep everything organized(S. Coster, personal communication, sept 30, 2019)  . If it is a Wednesday Seth with have a production meeting with the team here is where the day to day or weekly tasks are assigned and make sure nobody has too much work to handle, as well as discussing changes that can be made to improve the game(S. Coster, personal communication, sept 30, 2019)  . After all, was said and a thank you letter was written up thank Seth again for taking the time to be apart of the interview(see appendix C).

Conclusion

In conclusion, the video game industry is a tough field to get into. There seems to be some problems with the way labor gets handled in the industry. For anyone looking to get into the industry should consider what it is going to be like to work in the industry. as well as question are they willing to work in the industry for a long time or should they keep making games as a hobby for themselves as opposed to it being their career.

References

Appendix A- Initial Contact

SUBJECT: Information Interview Request

Dear, Seth Coster

I’m a game programming student at St. Lawrence college I am writing you to see if you would be available for a brief interview to learn more about the game industry and your career.

After studying game programming and trying to decide what type of work I would like to go into after school I found a lot of information about the AAA development of games but not as much about the indie development of games. I would love to get a chance to speak with you about the indie development side of game programming and what that type of workplace is like. As a part of my communications 234 class term project, we have been asked to find someone in the professional field that we respect and try to learn more about the field from them. If you have any time in the next few weeks is would greatly appreciate the opportunity to ask you b10-20 questions about your work life and get a better understanding of an indie dev workplace. the interview wouldn't take much time and can be done whenever it works best for you.  The interview can take place by phone, skype call, by email, or another form of voice chat. I appreciate you considering this with your busy schedule and will contact you again on September 30th, 2019 to see if you are available.

I have attached 20 questions for you to review and get a better understanding of what I am hoping to learn from you.

Thank you for your consideration,

Appendix B- The Questions

interview questions:

  1. what is the hardest part of working in an indie game studio?
  2. with the existence of crunch time in AAA dev does it exist in indie if so to what extent?
  3. what should someone going into indie dev expect to earn on average?
  4. can you describe what a workday is like?
  5. how many hours do you typically work?
  6. why do people leave this field of work?
  7. is there room for more people in the industry or is the indie field over-saturated?
  8. how did your company start?
  9. what education is required for someone to succeed in the field (is a bachelor’s in computer science needed to succeed)?
  10. what qualifications would an indie studio be looking for in a new hire?
  11. how do most people get their start in the field?
  12. what advancements are in the industry to look at what might change the way games are made?
  13. what is a reasonable salary to expect on an entry-level job in an indie studio?
  14. how frequently do layoffs happen in the indie field?
  15. what parts of indie dev do you find most challenging?
  16. what part of indie dev do you find most enjoyable?
  17. what are the negatives to working in the indie dev field?
  18. what are the positives of working in the indie dev field?
  19. can you think of any actions I should take before starting to apply for jobs?
  20. is there anything I left out that you think I need to know about indie development?

Appendix C- The Thank You Letter

Hello,

I hope everything is going well with Level head. I'm just writing to thank you for taking the time to participate in an interview with me in September.

I found our conversation about the industry interesting and informative especially about what it is like to work in the indie field of the industry. The way your company started was intriguing and shows how you never know where life will take you.

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I appreciate the time you took to talk with me, I found I learned a lot of information about the game industry and it has made me think more about what part of the industry I would like to work in.

Kind regards,

 

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