Video Game Industry Jobs and Careers: Resourcefully Breaking into Esports or Game Development


by | Dec 3, 2018, 3:00PM PDT

A few of us have known since we were little what we want to be when we grow-up, while some of us could graduate and still not know. One thing seems sure, that the sooner you set a destination, the sooner you will arrive there (barring GPS glitches or user error). So how does one go from not knowing to knowing? Exploration and introspection are two great ways! And if the headline brought you here, you have at least narrowed it down to an industry. An ocean is smaller than a nebula, so this is quest progress!

Exploration can be preliminarily broken down into reading, conversing, observing and experiencing. What does this mean? You can read up on the different parts of the industry (and the disciplines within them); talk to informed, veteran insiders; you can ask to job shadow someone; lastly, you can make games. These paths will serve you at all levels of your journey, whether a neophyte who enjoys gaming but doesn’t know QA Testing from Product Management, or a well-informed applicant who knows their exact dream job and already has done some business networking.

But you do not have to sail this ocean on a rickety self-made raft without a compass, map, nor companion, ye brave Wind Waker. Have you stepped into the UCI Career Center at least once, or even surfed their website? If not, DO IT! DO IT NOW! (“GET IN DA CHOPPAH!”) If you do not know the best ways to do job and career research, they are there to help you. Discover your options here.

Quest tip #1: Reading job postings on company websites can be educational. Sometimes their jargon might leave you not entirely sure what you read, but you can get help clarifying. Find a good source of information to get educated on this rich and diverse industry.

On-campus, the Video Game Developers Club at UCI and The Association of Gamers (TAG at UCI) are great clubs for making friends and networking. LinkedIn, Reddit, and Facebook Groups are some of the top ways to find recruiters whose job is to help answer your questions. You can also use them to find organizations like the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) (with chapters in OC, LA, and more) or SoCal Game Devs. Also, (watch Extra Credits.)

Quest tip #2: Companies will sometimes hire a candidate they know (plus trust and like) with most of the required skills over a total stranger who looks like a perfect candidate on paper.

Networking can be an art form, and like all major points above, the sooner the better. Companies want to hire people who can do the work and add value. As one favorite author has put it, your goal should be to increase the pleasure and reduce the pain of your employer and colleagues. Networking lets you get to know others and to be known. So be mindful of your image and reputation.

After you have completed your first major quest milestone and figured out what you want to do and where you want to go, it becomes clear what skills or degree you would need to best reach your destination. Much better to figure that out freshman year than senior year! (But there are still options for those in the final phases of their degree program.)

While applying with degree in-hand is one option, the strongest move is to apply for internships before then -or- to make your own games (including mods, characters, levels, et al). Blizzard Entertainment has one of the most developed and robust internship programs in this young industry. Sadly, this year’s application window just closed, but start planning for next year’s or search for others. If Los Angeles is not too far away, check out opportunities with Riot Games.

Quest tip #3: Think outside the box and be proactive–do not wait for things to come to you (or for them to happen in a preconceived conventional order).

Making your own games does not mean making your own AAA video game for all major platforms–although more power to you if you do that (mad respect). Making a rudimentary card game, board game, even word game, they all count; drawing characters, writing a backstory; playing with a level editor. The merits of this may or may not be obvious, but JUST DO IT. (Remember: “Don’t let your dreams be dreams! Yesterday, you said tomorrow! So just do it! Make your dreams come true. Just do it!”)

Once you apply for jobs, you will hopefully start having job interviews. If you have had none or few, tap back into the UCI Career Center for job interview tips and preparation! After working so hard to get so close to the goal, do not go in cold and raw. But that is a whole other chapter for another time.

TL;DR: Learn the various parts of the industry and how they all fit together to decide where you want to be within it. Acquire the skills for the job you want and also find allies to guide or support your journey to your goal. The more you know and do before you apply for a job, the easier it will be to get a job.

Esports Lab Spotlight: Craig G. Anderson


by | May 1, 2019, 11:00AM PDT

This is part 2 of a mini-series on the UCI Esports Lab and their research topics.

This article features Craig G. Anderson, a doctoral candidate at the Esports Lab. His research topics focus on the cognitive influences of games, including the roles of failure and persistence in gaming. More information, including contact information, can be found at https://www.uciesportslab.org/.

What led you to become involved in esports research? What is your educational background?

I’ve been working with Profs. Constance Steinkuehler and Kurt Squire for about five years;  we started in Madison, Wisconsin where we were initially researching educational games. It wasn’t until we moved to Irvine when our research started to change gears toward esports. I still study single player commercial games, but I can now start looking at the area of multiplayer competitive environments as well.

What questions are you looking to answer through your research?

My masters work was on “what makes video games engaging.” To that end, I made a low-fidelity version of Peggle and had people play it to find out if they still enjoyed playing and if they learned the core skills about the game (they only played half as much, and reported less engagement). There’s something about having success just out of reach that keeps players coming.  I then started to think about how failure is so common in games, and how games construct failure as something expected. I’m interested in looking at games like Dark Souls and Cuphead, notoriously difficult games that have a huge fanbase. Do playing these types change the way we think about failure, both in and outside of the game as well?

Today, my research focuses on how players react to failure in games. I come from a psychology background, so I’m interested in how video games make people think, and especially how they frame failure in comparison to other environments. One reason why esports is so interesting is because there are teammates that are relying on you to succeed with them as well — any failure can affect the whole team. Another interesting aspect as well is the spectators; do players react to failure differently when people are watching? If so, how?  

I am currently looking to watch testers play Cuphead and try to map the places where players are most likely to fail. I’m particularly interested in seeing if they persist, and also the reorientation strategies they use. What’s difficult about this is that the methodology hasn’t been done before. Researchers usually just survey their testers about their experiences, but I plan to actually observe the testers play the game. How long do players persist through failure? How many times do they fail, and how do they react to those failures? How many times do they try before they give up?

Who do you work with on a regular basis at the lab?

The lab was designed on purpose to encourage open, constant collaboration. Everyone talks across the table and gets the chance to collaborate with others on topics they find interesting. There are all kinds of people that work in the lab, from professors to graduate students, and even undergraduate and high school interns.

Outside the lab, our biggest project is NASEF, the high school esports league that also facilitates academic research. We work with the high school players to get gameplay footage that we might be able to refer to in our research, such as League of Legends mid lane players.

What is one of the most important things you’ve done in your time researching esports?

I am the co-chair for UCI’s Esports Conference (ESC). It was a huge amount of work, especially since ESC 2018 was the first-ever instance of it. The team spent a whole year planning the whole event, but it paid off! I’m happy that many people enjoyed it and want to go again next year, so even now we’re working on ESC 2019.

Where do you see esports (and/or research in the area) in five years?

As esports becomes more mainstream, I see it growing in popularity until it is on par with regular, traditional sports. Similarly, esports research will continue to grow, especially at UCI where the Informatics department and games studies is growing. I want to see UCI become the premier game studies university. Before Profs. Steinkuehler and Squire came, there were only three or four professors in the department studying anything games-related. Now that there are a lot of big names doing research here, the school is now attracting more and more games scholars.