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January 27, 2010
Getting Pay out of Play: How to Make It in Games

If you’ve ever been on Facebook, and with 350 million active members it’s likely you have, it’s also likely you have seen or played FarmVille (and with 70 million registered users that’s a good bet too). Despite the “new normal” and economic times, the game business is alive and well. It's building audiences that would make primetime programmers jealous.

Console manufacturers Sony, Nintendo and Xbox are streaming more and more video content into homes through their own networks and deals with Netflix. A generation that has grown up with interactive entertainment is now fully entrenched in the work force. Advertisers are moving to a media mix that incorporates interactive entertainment, and content developers are realizing the ability to tell their stories in a way that encourages participation and choice. And games, by their nature, encourage two-way interactions that allow for conversations with their most loyal consumers; games are capturing data that allow them to constantly improve their product and to address their consumers in a personal and customized manner.

So what’s the best way to start?

Learn the landscape.

This may not seem like a radical notion, but the best way to learn the landscape is to play. Playing games will provide you with the necessary familiarity of the end product that you want to help create or support. Observationally, I have found that game industry professionals are very dismissive of people who want to participate but who do not play. So play and have an opinion about what you’re playing, no matter what area of a game organization you’d like to join.

Explore genres.

The game industry incorporates a wide breadth of options, from casual games and iPhone apps to $100 million dollar productions to educational games and training programs. Try examples of each. There are often great insights to find in all types: How game design is used, iconography, character development, risk/reward, user interface, sound effects, etc. A game is a collection of so many different media that it provides an opportunity for a variety of skill sets to participate.

Know yourself.

Do you work better as part of a large team or a small group? Large productions bring together teams that can reach up to 200 people with specialized skill sets: developers/programmers, game designers, graphic artists, audio talent, actors, writers, producers, project managers, web designers, database administrators, user interface specialists, to name a few. There are also outsource providers set up to provide services to these larger productions akin to the movie industry. Smaller productions require multiple skill sets due to smaller budgets and teams.

Join an industry trade group.

Like the IGDA (International Game Developers Association): Full disclosure-- I’m a member. But industry groups are always a good way to find your way and network in a new industry. The IGDA has great local chapters and special interest groups that provide a chance to participate.

Study the industry.

Many educational programs are available at a variety of schools in many cities. Learning a new game-specific or programming skill set cannot hurt. There are a lot of areas to participate in the game industry, but programmers are always in great demand.

Be bold, try something new.

Carnegie Mellon University professor Luis Von Ahn created a game called simply ESP Game which was licensed by Google to help crowdsource metadata for Google Images. Players are shown an image and then type in as many words as they can to describe the image; matches between players are scored as points and used as search data by Google. High scorers are displayed on the Google Image Labeler site. Fun games can be made for a purpose.

While the game industry grows there will continue to be new ways to participate. Like any industry or job search, to enter the industry may seem daunting at first, but taking small steps and committing yourself to the process will gain results. And if you’re like me, the research will be the best part of the process.

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Munir Haddad is a designer of exceptional customer experiences built on customer intelligence, a defeater of waste, and a defender of sustainable capitalism. His credits include productions from Electronic Arts, Technicolor, Sony PlayStation, and MTV. As senior vice president, Strategy and Planning for Direct Partners, Munir sets the direction for revolutionary, ROI-driven, multichannel programs for clients including Sony PlayStation. He is a graduate of Dartmouth College. Follow him on Twitter.

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