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Realists are usually interested in 'things' - such as buildings, mechanics, equipment, tools, electronics etc. Their primary focus is dealing with these - as in building, fixing, operating or designing them. Involvement in these areas leads to high manual skills, or a fine aptitude for practical design - as found in the various forms of engineering.

Realists like to find practical solutions to problems using tools, technology and skilled work. Realists usually prefer to be active in their work environment, often do most of their work alone, and enjoy taking decisive action with a minimum amount of discussion and paperwork.

So you want to work in Video Games

So you want to work in Video Games

The gaming industry is a rich, vibrant and varied world – bursting with commercial potential, constant change and creative, vibrant people. 

We’ve got good news and not quite so good news for you. Let’s start with the good. The good news is that you don’t necessarily have to be technically adept to work in the industry (but it does help). There’s a huge variety of roles, both traditional (for example, coders, testers) and relatively new (community managers), and almost certainly some yet to be invented. 

It’s also a good time for indie developers and start ups, with the rise of casual and hand-held gaming creating a boom time for lower-budget, low-fi indie games. The Angry Birds phenomenon couldn’t have happened 10 years ago, for example. 

The not-so-good news is that it’s a volatile and precarious industry. It can be hard to break into and even big companies can be at risk. 

Having said that, we’ve talked to a diverse number of men and women – an artist, a quality-assurance tester, a studio head and a publicist – all of whom have carved out gratifying careers related to Ireland’s blossoming gaming industry.

Interview 1: Videogames - The Artist – Basil Lim

Basil Lim is art director for bitSmith Games.

What were your favourite subjects in school?
Shock twist - One of my favourite subjects was art! However, growing up, many people giving me advice would be adamant that art was not a viable career choice, and so I dropped the subject after 4th year, whereupon my favourite subjects became biology, physics and applied mathematics - in a weird way these subjects made me a lot more aware of the physical world and its sometimes aesthetically beautiful rules, which has definitely had an impact on what I do everyday with bitSmith Games.

What did you study in third level?
Initially I completed a medical physics course - the full, long-winded title being Bachelor of Science in Physics with Medical Physics and Bioengineering. It was a good course and I had a great work placement at Boston Scientific, but I wanted to try to see if I could do something new. I returned to college to do an MA in Creative Digital Media, which is where I met my bitSmith Games coworkers!

Are there other courses you'd recommend?
I know that Ballyfermot does a very good 3D animation course, and I do part-time lecturing on a Springboard Games Cert course at Griffith College, which is a one-year overall game-design type course. The DIT Creative Digital Media/Games course is the one where I met my colleagues, and it gave me a good foundation to build on.

The really in-depth, specialised courses are mostly offered in countries such as the US and Canada where they have a strong tradition of game development and AAA [high end] studios, but these can be amazingly expensive. When it comes to the art department side of games development however, I share the same philosophy as many, many games companies both big and small - that a strong, varied portfolio of amazing, striking images is much more likely to get you hired than a string of letters showing what degrees you have. Many of the people working in the games industry - including my humble self - have never been formally trained - the Internet is an amazing learning tool, and combined with the right willpower and discipline to learn, it is more than capable of getting you places.

What's your full title, and how long were you working until you reached this position?
Professional Doodler. My official title is Art Director, but really, bitSmith Games is such a small company that we all take a hand in everything that is created. A lot of the art decisions have been influenced by ideas from the team, and similarly, I've had a bit of a hand in some of the gameplay decisions! Except for coding - I am extremely inept with speaking to computers.

I went straight into this position out of college, since I was part of the startup process, long may it last.

What does your day-to-day involve?
The thing I love working at bitSmith Games is I don't have a day-to-day as such. Game development is a very varied experience, and my workflow changes drastically depending on the part of the production cycle we're engaged in. One day I could be working on promotional posters, the next day I could be helping to design a puzzle, and the next creating environmental particle effects. Overall I am tasked with creating the in-game assets, artwork, animation, promotional material and effects for the game, but a lot of the fun I have is when having big long game-design discussions with the team - so many times, this helps to inform the artwork as well.

What do you like most about your job?
I love the variety of the job, and the fact that the game is very much a bitSmith Games game, in that we all have a very personal stamp on the game. I love the collaborative aspect of the work in that everyone's opinion is valid and given equal weight, and I feel that it's produced a much stronger game than it might have if we functioned within very predefined, set roles.

And what do you like least?
The uncertainty is difficult for me personally, to deal with. I think about how the game will be received by the general public, as I'm a firm believer that your players are the real judges you need to care about - if you keep them happy, you'll be OK. However, with us being an unproven company with our first game being released into the wild, it's very hard to look into the future and see what's going to happen.

What advice would you have for people who want to get into the game industry?
I would advise them to love games and play them. You don't love games if you play one, and only one game religiously, or think that games is just a good way of making money, or you're just doing it as a job. You can't know what a good game is until you've played and compared lots of different games in lots of different genres and seen what strengths are needed in one genre verses another. You have to follow the industry, understand about what goes on behind making a game, best of all try making one yourself. Most people find that a lot more goes into making a game that they initially think, and it helps you to appreciate the medium much more. It really is one of those industries where every single department is just as important as the other, and the end result is an intricate, interlaced composition of design, sound, art, optimisation, everything!

Interview 2: The QA Tester - Jen Carey

Jen Carey is a QA (quality assurance) games tester at Playfirst Inc. She also engineers on games she tests.

What were your favourite subjects in school?
Classical Studies and English.

What did you study in 3rd level?
BSc (Hons) in Computer Game Development at IT Carlow. I got this position directly from an internship during my 3rd year of college.

Are there other courses you'd recommend?
The game development courses in LIT - Tipperary and in Dundalk IT are also very good courses for this career. All of those are BSc. hons. Moving on from that the MSc in Trinity in computer interactive entertainment is a very good follow-on course.

What does your day-to-day involve?
My day-to-day involves either adding new features to the game or going through the bugs logged by QA and fixing any issues I think I can or that are assigned to me by the other engineers.

What do you like most about your job?
Most of the time you get to work on new things each day, and it is very satisfying to see features you have added to the game go live, or managing to fix complicated bugs.

And what do you like least?
Sometimes there are lulls when the only work to be done is beyond my ability or there is a wait for the designers to finalise new features. That can get very boring.

What advice would you have for people who want to get into the game industry?
There are two main things. First, start learning about the part of the industry you're interested in. If you're interested in programming then start learning how to code yourself, there are loads on online resources outside of college and paid courses. For design start analysing the design in other popular games, see what was good and bad. Start making your own games and build a portfolio.
The second thing would be to involve yourself in the game development community. gamedevelopers.ie is a great website for that. There are regular meet ups and the members are always open to give advice and help people interested in games jobs.

Interview 3: The Studio Head - Owen Harris

Owen Harris is the Studio Head of Dublin-based bitSmith Games.

How did you get started? What’s your background?
As a teenager, Quake came out it was so impactful on me. I thought it was amazing and everyone in my class was talking about it at the same time and playing it and exploring new things. I remember very specifically the moment where, for the first time in my life, I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to make games. I started making enquiries around that. It would’ve been around 1995 or ‘96, I would’ve been about 15. There was no information available, at least that I could find. There were no courses, there were degrees in computer science but they only briefly touched on games if at all. I was told flat out that it was something I couldn’t pursue. That was depressing. Then about 10 years later these courses started popping up in Dublin. I’d forgotten about it, and even had stopped playing games. I saw this course in Ballyfermot and enrolled in that. That’s their two year diploma in games. It was through that that I started building all the skills I needed in games and then once I’d finished I started building games by myself.

Are you technically minded?
I would say I am a mix. I’m visually minded so I tend to think about things visually.

What else would you recommend studying? Do you know of any courses that colleagues have done?
After Ballyfermot I did the Masters in DIT which was their Masters in Science and Digital Games which follows on from Ballyfermot, the core, diverse set of skills you need to make games. Others on the team have more specialised roles, so Robbie our programmer came from a computer science background, Ralph who does UI and sound comes from multimedia, Basil our artist comes from science background. Paul, our level designer, like me, went to Ballyfermot.

Is there anything you recommend people do outside of courses?
Coder Dojo [training courses for young people, www.coderdojo.com] is important if you want to be a coder. The most important thing is to make games. Go into game jams if there’s something specific you want to do, they are 100% what you need to do. Game jams, if you don’t know, are very short spaces of time where you get together with a team of people, often who you don’t know and make a game from scratch. It’s a mixed set of backgrounds and you put something together. Sometimes it’s 12 hours, sometimes it’s 24, or it can go to 48 hours. It’s a great way to dive in with both feet, do something really quickly and get a feel for whether you enjoy it. Otherwise just download some of the easy to use software, like Game Maker and Unity, and start making stuff.

What’s your favourite thing about work?
My favourite is that I get to do different stuff every day. For example, we’re in pre-production [on a new game] so I spent my morning researching the history of Buddhism in Japan and the structure of Japanese rock gardens and when I get back in after this, I’m going to do coding for the afternoon. So you get to go from contemplating, design state to a technical, building state. And then there’ll be times when I’m doing leadership, or business stuff or planning stuff. I really get a huge variety in how my day is structured. And that for me is my favourite thing.

What’s your least favourite?
My least favourite [task] is dealing with the business stuff attached to the studio. It’s something I don’t enjoy and I’m slow at. So I hate wasting time and being inefficient, and it sometimes feels like I’m doing both when I’m doing the business side.

Interview 4: Sarah Gallagher - the Director of O’Leary PR

O'Leary PR represents one of the biggest videogame companies in the world, Electronic Arts, in Ireland.

What did you study?
I did an arts degree in UCD then a post grad in PR in DIT Rathmines (now Angier Street) and a Masters in Aungier Street as well.

Where did you work prior to your current position?
I started out in Communicado and we left and O’Leary was started as a continuation of it. I’m one of the founders.

Were you a gamer prior to this?
I was! I played quite a few, so I was well aware of the industry prior to EA.

What do you like about your work?
It’s varied. You’re always working on different clients, and different games within different sectors; football games, to racing to The Sims. It’s very fast moving, which I enjoy.

What do you dislike about your work?
It’s not a 9 to 5, which is fine, but sometimes the hours can be long. You don’t get a chance to switch off. You’re always on – if I’m walking past a shop I’m always checking to see what games are in the window. Sometimes your head could do with a rest, but if you didn’t like the job [that aspect] is not something you could enjoy.

In what way is game PR different from other areas?
In a way, there’s not a huge amount of difference. For me it’s about knowing your target audience and who to communicate to. It’s all about understanding the audience.

There is a dedicated gaming media sector in Ireland now. They know their stuff. You’re dealing with a very specific area that is very engaged. Ultimately it’s about knowing what you’re selling and who you’re speaking to.

Are there any courses you’d recommend?
From a PR perspective, there’s one post-grad which is in Aungier Street. otherwise I’d go to the PRII who would give recommendations. I would recommend doing a specific course in PR especially since there’s so much competition, so having a relevant qualification is a prerequisite for any job.

What else would you recommend for people who want to get into games PR?
I think if you’re interested in a career in PR, it’s a good idea to try to get work experience, perhaps unpaid experience or an internship. We would have someone who comes in every Tuesday. It gives you a good chance to experience it on a practical level. Study can’t replace that. And I think that pro-activity that people show definitely helps. If someone goes to the bother of trying to get that experience, it stands to them. Another thing that’s important – be very familiar with social media and active on it and understand it. That’s an important part of a PR job these days that would make you stand out.

Joe Griffin