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Careers In Video Games Are “Pretty Awesome” (Interview)

by Marc Luber

Careers in video games are “pretty awesome” according to today’s guest, video game producer Aaron Roseman. Aaron shares great insight into how to become a video game developer and what developer careers are like – plus what he did to achieve his dream job of becoming a video game producer!

SHORT VIDEO (Full Episode down below)

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Today’s Guest

Aaron RosemanGuest: Aaron Roseman
Current Job: Associate Producer at Major Game Developer
College Major: Screenwriting & Film Production
College: Cal State Northridge in Northridge, CA
High School: Milken Community High School in Los Angeles, CA
First Job Ever: Courtesy clerk at Ralph’s grocery store
Worst Job Ever: See first job ever!


Careers In Video Games

To become a video game developer, Aaron says you’d better have a passion for games because this path can be a lot of work! Producers interact with all of the different roles (including coders, animators, artists, and sound designers) to coordinate their efforts and complete the development of a game on time. Aaron says the best step to take in becoming a video game producer or to get jobs in any of these other roles is to first work in quality assurance and test games. He says a video game tester career is a great way to get your foot in the door, meet people, learn the business, the lifestyle and prove yourself. If you’re looking for a great industry resource, check out GamesIndustry.biz.

FULL EPISODE (#29)


For our Audio Podcast: Careers Out There on iTunes

TRANSCRIPT OF TODAY’S INTERVIEW

Careers in Video Games 2:01-11:02
How To Become a Video Game Developer 11:02-16:46
Challenges of Careers in Video Games 16:46-18:45
Requirements to Become A Video Game Developer 18:45-21:13
Keys to Success for Careers in Video Games 21:13

Careers Out There Host Marc Luber: Hey everyone welcome to Careers Out There. I’m your host Marc Luber and we’re helping you find a career that fits you. Today we’re looking at video game careers. Do you know that the video game industry is bigger than a $20 billion a year business just in the U.S. alone? That’s bigger than the movie and music businesses combined.

Our guest today is Aaron Roseman, and he’s a video game producer with one of the top game developers in the world. It’s gonna be a great show – so stick around!

[theme song] OK, we’re back. Aaron, welcome to Careers Out There.

Video Game Producer Aaron Roseman: Marc thanks for having me on your show.

Luber: Absolutely. Thanks for being here. So you are in an industry that is SO huge, so successful, so exciting, has a huge stamp on pop culture today, so many people who want cool jobs want to do what you’re doing….what’s it like?

Aaron Roseman: I’m not gonna lie Marc, it’s pretty awesome! It’s a lot of fun. I love what I do. In my opinion, it’s quite possibly the coolest job in the entire world outside of race car driver or astronaut or professional Lego builder. But…we all have our dreams! I love working in games.

Like I said, it’s the greatest industry in the entire world. I work with some of the most fun, creative, imaginative, funny…just good people. I love it. I enjoy coming to work every day and it sounds – everybody has their down days and stuff like that – but the truth is it really is just a great environment and a lot of fun.

Luber: It’s so great when someone can actually say that. That’s really really special.

I want to tell everybody –you’re just here representing yourself, you’re telling your story so that everybody can learn what it’s all about to be a video game producer. You are not here hiring, recruiting for them…you are not here as their official spokesperson. So – we’ll get that housekeeping out of the way.

[Aaron is here not as a representative of his employer but as an individual who loves games, fought his way into the video games industry and today is an Associate Producer, working in his dream job on some of the best known games out there.]

Aaron: Tonight is just about me and being an AP and working in games from my experience and my point of view.

[CAREERS IN VIDEO GAMES starts at 2:02]
Luber: So I have a feeling that a lot of the people that are watching are really interested in learning how to break in to the industry and they probably know all about the industry already – but for the people who don’t already know, give us the lay of the land – what it means to be a studio and what else is in the industry?

Aaron: Well the industry is split into a lot of groups. You could be a part of the video game industry and work at Game Stop because you’re working at selling the games. You could be part of the industry and the people printing the games. You could be a part of it working at a publisher. You could be a part of it working at a development studio – you’ve got the coders and a sound department and animators and artists and a production staff.

It’s all one giant storm but it’s all coming together to create one fun game for everybody.

Luber: So there’s all those different roles that bring in different skills, different types of people, different backgrounds?

Aaron: Yes. Like I said, the publisher’s main goal is to make sure everything is done on time and on the shelves. ON time and as promised.

Luber: You talked about animators, coders, you’re neither of those – you’re an Associate Producer. Tell us what it means to be an Associate Producer. What’s your role over there?

Aaron: I am neither a coder nor an animator is right. I claim to be none of those. Or an artist or none of the above. As an AP, there are several roles on a team. Depending on what your status is, essentially you’re managing specific tasks or a group of people at any given time.

An AP can be in charge of a handful of missions for a game – making sure that the designers, the artists, the coders and the animators are all working together to create the task of completing these levels on time. Meanwhile, another producer is actually zeroing in on a specific task – like specifically animation or specifically environments – or specifically multi-player or on game play balancing. There’s producers for everything making sure that all sorts of tasks are being done and finished on time.

And like I said, the videogame industry in a studio is like a big, giant storm and at any given moment things are just flying all over the place and it’s up to the producers to take all that information that’s all over the place – everywhere – and make sure that everybody is talking with each other and it’s all connected and one in order to complete the game, to finish a game.

Luber: So you’re like a coordinator helping to pull all the pieces of the puzzle together.

Aaron: Essentially, yes. And then there’s levels to producers. There’s Production Coordinator – what they do – they’re there for the team. So if people on the team – running anywhere from getting supplies to taking notes in a meeting , making sure people have their hardware set up, like their Xboxes are set up, they have TVs, they have computers, everything they need is there for them. Much like a gopher is in the movie industry except at the same time a production coordinator has the chance to learn a certain skill set.

A PC will usually have the choice of whether or not they want to continue on the production path or branch off and say they want to do design or they want to go into audio or something else. It’s a good place to be. But that’s production coordinator.

Luber: And that’s like the first level of production?

Aaron: That’s the first level of production, yeah. The next one is AP, which is where I’m currently at.

Luber: Tell us how many years out of school are you? How many years out of college are you at this point?

Aaron: I’m 6 years out of college and I’m an AP. An AP can be in charge of design, sound, audio, animation… we have a whole knowledge of the entire game and everything that’s going on in all departments.

And so we’re piecing all of this information together, putting together impromptu schedules, looking at how much time each task will take and presenting it to our producers – in my case a producer –and then they make the decisions on what has to be done.

And then the producer will hand me tasks – hand the APs tasks – and tell us what else needs to get done whether it’s make sure certain characters are done by a certain date and time or specific environments the bugs were fixed in them – you know – things like that. We have to keep on track of those specific tasks.

It’s all for the greater good of getting a game done on time.

Luber: And then what do people do at the higher levels? How is the role different if you then become a producer and then whatever is above a producer?

Aaron: The role of a producer has the big picture in mind. They’re in charge of making sure that the APs are getting their work done as well as talking with the leads of the animators – like the leads of the different departments of the games and they’re in cahoots with them. They’re constantly talking about scheduling and constantly talking about what needs to get done.

So essentially the producers are like generals plotting out the strategy – they’re plotting out the battle, the strategies and stuff like that. And then they send in the APs to make sure that it’s all gonna get done.

Luber: And who’s above them?

Aaron: That would be the senior producers, the executive producers, then the studio heads.

Luber: How would a senior producer and an executive producer then be different from the producer?

Aaron: A Senior producer – they deal with the bigger aspects of the game – more on top of what needs to get done – and like the highest level for in order to get the game out the door. That’s a very picture and like I said they also make the big schedule for the game. They decide what gets done, what gets chopped, what gets cut from the game, what stays in the game.

The senior and executive producers have a very big say-so in the development of the game. They know what can and can’t be done. And like I said they’re like generals – they command teams and it’s up to them to make sure that we go into battle and we win. In this case, ship a game on time.

Luber: So the production team as a whole, it sounds like, the overall role is to keep the engine going – to keep everybody pulling everything together so that everything can get out there and eventually get into the hands of the fans.

Aaron: Yeah. Correct. Essentially the role of the production team is to make sure that the game development never stops. Like you said, the gears keep going. From the production coordinator like I said earlier, it’s making sure someone’s computer is working, making sure that they have the right hardware, make sure they have computer monitors, make sure that their mouse works, make sure – when I was a PC – I used to be a PC – making sure that the team is fed. It’s very important things – essentially general team happiness is a major part of that job.

And as a producer it still a major part of the job – team happiness – make sure people are comfortable because sometimes you have to say – ask them to do stuff that they don’t want to do. But you can’t let it – you’ve gotta let them know at the same time that their work is extremely appreciated and then the truth is and in the long run sometimes – not sometimes – but it pays off – you get your game on the shelves and it’s a really great feeling. It’s awesome! It’s really awesome actually!

Luber: Yeah! It’s gotta be really fun to know that you’re working on something that the world gets to interact with!

Aaron: Exactly! And that’s really cool. It’s great. It’s a good feeling.

Luber: We’ve talked about the big role of all the producers combined – what about you then as an associate producer – what’s a typical day?

Aaron: That varies from the different stages of production. I’ll show up to work, I’ll get on my computer, I’ll look at the emails, I’ll look at the bug database, which is extremely important for an associate producer and any production staff member is to look at the bugs, see what’s broken in the game, see what’s busted and then from there at least later in production formulate a task list and then talk to people based on the bugs, what work they have to get done.

And you have to speak with the appropriate people whether it’s a coder or an animator or an artist – or it’s all 3 of them – or all designers – or all of them together – to get that specific task done whether it’s due that day or later in the week – and it’s your job to oversee all of it.

There’s a lot of talking involved – you have to talk with a lot of people and be able to compute information that they tell you. If someone walks up to you and says, “I’m not gonna be able to get this part – piece of work done on time” – as a producer you have to take that little bit of information that they just gave you and compute it in your mind and say, “OK – animator A says he can’t get this character done on time – how is that gonna affect the tasks for the rest of the week” and it’s up to the producer to be like, “hey man, this isn’t an option” or – “you gotta get it done” or “we can punt on it”.

Luber: So you’re coordinating the whole thing you’re pulling people together, you’re keeping the machine rolling forward.

Aaron: Correct. And a team is usually made up of several APs making sure all the work gets done because one AP can’t handle all of the work – it’s just not possible – there’s so much going on. You just have to talk to people all day – that’s a lot of what an associate producer does. And writing a lot of Excel sheets and sending out a lot of emails.

Luber: And the excel sheets are tracking where everything’s at?

Aaron: Exactly. Tracking bugs, tracking tasks, stuff like that.

[HOW TO BECOME A VIDEO GAME DEVELOPER starts at 11:02]
Luber: Let’s get to what I think so many people want to know – which is how do you break in?

Aaron: I’d say the best way to do it is to apply for a job as a video game tester.

Luber: As a tester!

Aaron: Start in QA and work your way up from there.

Luber: QA is quality assurance?

Aaron: Yes, QA stands for quality assurance and that’s essentially a video game tester. The greatest job on the planet guys – and girls!

Luber: So you sit and play and complain about what’s not working right essentially?

Aaron: I wouldn’t say complain. You find bugs in a game. There’s a million games out there people – there’s so many games – and there are testers for everything. If you’re gonna become a tester, don’t always think that you’re gonna become the tester on the world’s coolest game and you’re gonna get on Halo and be on that team playing multiplayer all day.

Yes, you do that and you play a lot of multiplayer but as a tester there’s a lot of bug writing – a lot of form filling – a lot of late hours and a lot of sitting in front of a TV not moving and playing the same game for several months on end – it’s not 1, 2, 3, 4. It’s like 5, 6, 7 months, depending on the project and what you’re doing.

It can be a really tedious job at times but it is probably the best way to get in to the industry.

Luber: And what does someone have to do to get that job? Can they be anybody? Do they have to have worked in the video game world in some way?

Aaron: Great question Marc! In my experience anybody can be a tester. Just have a resume, have basic computer knowledge, shower – showering is a plus – that’s always a plus in QA – you’ve gotta know how to play videogames.

You’ve gotta know how to play games. It’s their job to break the game, crash the game, see what sort of weird graphical issues they can occur, making sure that the lighting looks well, the characters don’t run into walls, the game doesn’t crash, that everything sounds well.

It’s kind of like a movie production, Marc. You’ve got your lights, your camera, gotta make sure the camera works, gotta make sure the lights work. The controls are responsive. And it’s QA’s job to look out for all these things. They’re hired because they’re supposed to be the best of the best game players.

Luber: And so then someone does that and then they prove themselves by taking the job seriously, then they can move up?

Aaron: Exactly. But it’s not just that – it’s – a QA is kind of like a make-or-break position as well. The truth is it’s a really serious position and from production, personally, I expect the best out of my testers but if you stick to it and show a real dedication to just like loving games, you know, good things – good things can happen – just be enthusiastic, be happy about it, don’t be a giant kiss-ass.

Luber: If getting into QA is the key thing and people want to break in, how can they get in to QA in the first place/ What’s the best way for someone whether they’re sitting in Iowa or Nebraska right now or they already live in NY, or LA or Austin, TX. What can they do to do that role?

Aaron: Oh man. A lot – you could do – to do that role essentially – to get into QA – have a resume and go to a publisher or developer’s website and see if they have positions open. That’s what I did. I went for interviews and I totally bombed the interviews and I never got those jobs in QA and I was so upset. I was so disappointed. But I just kept persisting.

Don’t give up – and even if you can’t get in as a tester, my best advice is just somehow try and stay involved in the games industry. My knowledge was then expanded when I worked at a game shop. Like at this mom and pop store – the Games for Less. I’d get paid to sell games and play games.

Luber: So would you recommend to a kid in high school right now who’s a big gamer but not quite probably able to get that QA job, he or she should start in a store?

Aaron: I definitely recommend starting in a store – if there’s a store that’s hiring, get a job there – the people who work in a store are always a colorful cast of characters – it’s always so much fun.

I recommend if you can do it go to the mom and pop store – because usually they don’t sell just the new games they sell games from all generations and if you’re in a store like that you have the opportunity to play – like I said – everything.

The other thing that I did – when I was younger – when I was like 12, 13, 14- what I would do is I’d go to different software developers whether it was Microsoft or some small game studio and then I’d literally just look for an email address or see if they had any type of beta center or some sort of testing.

In the case of the game studios, I actually got a couple of betas for these cool games that never saw the light of day. You just email somebody there and be like, “hey I’m really interested – I saw your website – I saw this small game you’re working on – if you need somebody to help test It, I’m your man – I’ll help you write these bugs – I’d love to do this.” Just try and get your hand in there or your foot in there anyway you can – just get experience.

Luber: Tell me this – so many people come home from work and to relax and unwind they play video games. You’re doing this all day, working in it at work. Do you still come home and play video games?

Aaron: Yes, yes I do – every day actually. I work with a lot of the smartest, most giantest nerds on the face of the planet and they love games so much. These are people – they literally sit and animate, code or do whatever they have to all day on whatever game we’re working on that they go home just like me and they play every game they could get their hands on.

These people are like super fans and we play it all as often as possible whether it’s old, new, etc. But yeah, to get in – not to get in – but I’d say to sustain yourself in this industry it doesn’t hurt to have a real passion for games.

[CHALLENGES OF CAREERS IN VIDEO GAMES starts at 16:45]
Luber: I always ask everybody two things- the most rewarding aspect of the job and the most challenging. I think we get the most rewarding b/c obviously you get to be in nerdland and so for the most challenging aspect, what’s the thing that you’d say could weed people out – for the people watching at home who really think they want to be in this industry – what would you say if you can’t handle this, don’t waste your time – move on – go do something else?

Aaron: Let me start first by saying the number one thing that would weed people out: The hours.

Luber: So the hours are the most challenging thing. Was there anything else you would say?

Aaron: The technical aspects of the development of a game. There’s a lot more that goes into a game than what a lot of people think. There are so many bits and pieces of the game that have to come together. Every day I’m learning something new and something different. And it’s a lot to take in.

And it’s easily – if you don’t catch on quick and if you’re not as perceptive or can’t take in certain information or technical information, you will drown a little bit and you’ll get lost.

But – but as long as you have a good team behind you they’ll make sure that you don’t get lost and they’ll help you through it but at the same time to get to where you’re at right now, you have to know this sort of thing – you have to know – have a certain knowledge of computers at the very least.

Along with the hours – it sounds silly but it’s a pretty stressful environment and a lot of people are under pressure from their bosses and their bosses’ bosses.

Luber: So you need to have a thick skin?

Aaron: You have to have a thick skin not take certain criticisms personally.

Luber: And I would think what leads to that issue is just the fact that the money is SO huge that’s at stake for each game combined with the fact that you guys have really strict deadlines!

Aaron: But that sort of pressure is intense cause it’s not just about the money – and the deadlines – it’s about – you have to deal with hundreds of people on a team as well – I mean there’s so many individuals and every person is unique.

[REQUIREMENTS TO BECOME A VIDEO GAME DEVELOPER starts at 18:45]
Luber: So let’s take that and boil it down to some of the key things that people need if they’re coming into this industry to be some kind of producer – you’ve gotta be – it sounds like you’ve gotta be some kind of a people person because you’re interacting with all different kinds of people – they’re not just lots of people – it’s different kinds – cause there’s all these people that fill different roles that you’re interacting with to keep them working together. There are different types of people that fit those roles, right?

Aaron: Exactly. Correct.

Luber: OK, so you’ve got that. Then you got the fact that you’ve gotta have a thick skin, you’ve gotta be able to deal with deadlines, you’ve gotta know your stuff, let me see what else – what about – is there a particular education – does it matter – do you need a college degree? And should that college degree be in a certain thing? You said yours was in filmmaking.

Aaron: Mine was in filmmaking – I‘ve seen people in the industry that are working who never got a college degree. They never completed college, they never got the degree, but I’m not saying like any Joe Shmoe who barely finished high school could go on and be a producer – you have to have your wits about you.

Just because they didn’t finish college doesn’t mean these people are not smart. They’re on top of their game – they’re extremely smart – they’re extremely knowledgeable and instead of picking up their education to be in the videogame industry in a classroom some of them started in QA and just stayed in QA until eventually they made it up a little bit. They learned. They got their education on the streets, Marc, that’s all I gotta say.

Luber: There you go! That’s sometimes every bit as valuable.

Aaron: Exactly. Every bit as valuable, yeah.

Luber: Anything else that you’d say as far as a skill or a personality type or an educational background that someone really should have and should start gearing up to get if they don’t yet have it – if they want to get into this?

Aaron: The first thing- one of the most important things for being a producer is A being a people person. Being able to communicate and talk with somebody. You have to because you’re conveying information to them constantly all the time. That’s what you do. You have to talk to your artists and say “hey – this needs to get done”. You have to be able to communicate with somebody in a way that they understand to get a task done.

Luber: It’s just good communication skills.

Aaron: Exactly. And you can’t just – like I said every person – no 2 people on the team that you work on are the exact same so you kind of have to deal with – you have to know everybody on your team – your designer’s not gonna act the same way as an artist, your artists aren’t gonna act the same way as a coder. And you have to know how they behave and how they’re gonna get work done.

[KEYS TO SUCCESS FOR CAREERS IN VIDEO GAMES starts at 21:12]
Luber: Alright so to kind of wrap things up and end us out on a high note, give us some keys to success for this path of video game production and combine that with an action plan for people watching who want to do exactly what you do.

Aaron: The keys to success in making it in the games industry – most important thing no matter what and no matter what project you work on or anything – is you’ve gotta love games. You have to. You have to have to have to love playing video games – because that’s essentially what’s pushing you through this – pushing you through this career choice.

To get to where I’m at right now just be persistent. Don’t stop trying. If you’re in high school right now and you’re playing games, just keep playing games and when you’re at the right age, I’d say 18 usually, because that’s when people start hiring, just try and get a job at a game shop, try and work at a videogame company – just try and get that experience.

In life you’re probably gonna fail – you can fail a thousand times and then thousand and one you’re gonna make it, you know?

There’s so many paths you can go whether you want to be a producer, you want to be a coder or an artist or an animator, I mean, just pick up a pen and paper and start drawing. It’s that simple.

Sometimes it’s gonna require you to leave your hometown. I’m fortunate enough I was born and raised in Los Angeles where there are plenty of game studios. But you gotta go to where the business is – or – if you want to go into production and you want to get into testing and stuff like that you can – like I said earlier, there are small developers – go to their website, check out their games, see what they’re working on , see if they just need someone to do QA.

The bottom line is working in games is like absolutely the greatest job on the face of the planet. If you really like making games and just see yourself playing video games and being a giant nerd for the rest of your life, I recommend this job for you.

Whether you’re gonna be an associate producer – like this guy – or a coder or an animator – or any other aspect of the industry – as long as you have the will and determination and passion for it, you can do it.

I’ve been doing this for the past 6 years and I have not regretted 1 itty bitty moment of this. It has been so much fun and it’s just been amazing – I make video games for a living – I go to work every day knowing that I’m gonna pick up a Wii remote or an X-Box controller or Playstation 3 controller and just playing a game and writing up emails about why an explosion wasn’t big enough or if a sound wasn’t loud enough. It’s kind of silly and kind of amazing and awesome and fantastic. It’s the greatest job in the entire world and I love it.

Luber: It’s so great to hear when someone loves their job that much. You guys – leave your feedback in the Comments – hopefully you learned a ton from Aaron today. Let us know is there something more you want to know about getting into this path and being a video game producer. We’ll be sure to get your questions answered – I’m sure Aaron would be happy to comment on this site where you leave your feedback. So please leave feedback in the Comments. Aaron thank you so much for joining us today.

Aaron: Marc, thank you for having me on your show today. It was awesome. I’ve never been interviewed before!

Luber: It was fun to have you . So yeah, thanks for being here. You guys thanks again for watching. I’m Marc Luber and look forward to seeing you again soon. Take care.

© 2010 Careers Out There

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