Cheat Mode is a new book about getting into and surviving the games industry. Written by industry veteran Dan Jacobs it contains interviews with industry professionals from studios including Bioware, Capcom, Codemasters and Rockstar. We spoke to Dan to find out more about the book.
Your story is a personal one, built up over years of experience; can you tell us how you broke into the games industry? Was it always a lifelong passion?
I’d always loved games but never in my wildest dreams did I think I could actually get a job in the industry. Then one day I got a call from a friend, who happened to be temping as a receptionist for Empire Interactive, she explained they needed some testers and she thought I’d be a good candidate. I was very excited about the opportunity but how could I with no experience actually stand a chance? Well my friend spoke to some of the QA team and one of them said they applied with a list of games they had completed, so I did that.
It helped demonstrate enough of a passion for them to give me an interview and I managed to turn that into my first role. I’m not sure if it would still work today, with such easy access to vacancies the competition is much tougher.
QA is often cited as a good entry point. What advantages does a role in QA role give you?
QA is still the best start to your career in games, you get to interact with every department, you see games in every stage of development and you can learn so much about how games are put together. Also because QA deals with every department if you do head off elsewhere at least you’ll have a great understanding of QA their role and how it helps everyone improve the quality of the game.
In your experience what are the most important qualities to have when making your start in the industry?
Without a doubt passion, it’s a very hard industry to work in. Long hours with aggressive schedules and not the greatest pay structure compared to software development in other industries all adds up and can bring you down. If you have the passion, if you really care about making great games for people to enjoy then you need that drive, that passion for what you’re doing to get through the low points.
Strong communication skills really helps as well, as you will be discussing lots of things from design to schedules to problems, if you can do this clearly and in a likeable way it will really help you get on?
The games industry is seen as a desirable career path by those who play games, how different is the reality from the dream?
Very different, yes it’s a creative workplace and can be great fun. I’ve met some brilliant people along the way and had some great moments. But people tend to see it as something other than a job its one of the things I wanted to dispel in the book, it is a job and you have to work.
One of the interesting things about the industry is that it’s very small, I’ve bumped into people from previous companies in almost every job I’ve had and every time it’s the hard workers who treat their jobs seriously that have made it and continued in the industry, the ones who have messed about and treated it as a big laugh because we make games I never seem to bump into again.
What have been the biggest changes you have experienced in the development scene over the last decade?
Online it’s changed the way we think about multiplayer how we handle quality assurance now we can patch a game after launch and of course the testing itself, it’s a lot harder to handle 32 players than it was to handle 4 player split screen.
So after many years in the industry you decided to pour your knowledge into a book. What led you to write the Cheat Mode?
It was a few things really, I did a podcast for Eurogamer.net and afterwards chatting to a good friend who I used to work with at SEGA he suggested I write a book to “Tell them how it really is” I played around with the idea for a while and realised there was no book out there, that just said here’s a role and here’s what they do and how it all comes together.
It was also born out of frustration with the staggering lack of knowledge I saw from fellow gamers or job applicants, some of the nonsense I’ve heard of the years really is staggering.
Included in the book are some insightful interviews with some notable industry names. Did you find an enthusiastic response from your subjects?
The interviewees are all amazing people I really couldn’t have written the book without them. When I set out to write the book I didn’t just want to give a poor overview of the roles, yes I have some understanding of art, code, audio, etc. But as they say to truly understand someone walk a mile in their shoes. Tt was very important that real coders spoke about their roles rather than I. Of course a lot of them had worked with me in the past, some were friends of friends and others were complete strangers but that’s the great thing due to the nature of the industry we’re all used to pulling together to get a job done and I couldn’t be more thankful to each and every one of them.
Of course your book is packed with good advice, but to those thinking about a career in the game industry what would be one tip you could offer?
Whatever role you’re applying to, no matter what the company, before you submit your application stop! Think about it carefully, will this grab their attention? Will it stand out from the other applicants? Does it really get my passion for the job across? Remember the quality bar of applicants is incredibly high you have to do everything you can to stand a chance.
After the success of Cheat Mode, do you have plans to write more about your work and experiences?
One day I would like to revisit the interviewees and see if they still work in the industry, where and what they are up to and if their opinions have changed over time.I’d also love to write a hard-hitting expose on the bad practises that some companies employ, but of course that would probably end my career.
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