Thursday, March 3, 2011

GDC, Day 4

Day 4 was yesterday, Wednesday. Today is the day I get my first chance to go to the career pavilion. A few people on the street have asked me what the "GDC" on my badge around my neck stands for. So people have struck up conversations with me about it. So these two garbage collector guys stopped me as I was walking from my hotel to the convention to ask me about it. I stopped and talked to them about how I was hoping to try and get a job. One of them said, "No, you're not going to try and get a job, you're going to get that job." I laughed, and they kept going. He said, "You're going to go in their and take someone's job because you're the best." It was just so funny and awesome. He said, "Let me tell you something. When I applied for this job, I told them I used to be a carpenter. The guy said, 'You see these ten pages I got here? These are a list of guys trying to get this job, and they're all carpenters. What makes you any different?' So I said, 'None of those guys are a bad ass. You want to start your company off with bad asses, right?' So that's what you gotta do. You gotta go in there and let them know you're a bad ass."

I shook their hands, patted them on the shoulders, thanked them immensely for their advice. Then I put my hands together and did a short bow. Why? I dunno. Cause it was an instinct and I really appreciated their encouragement. They did the same and bowed back, which was really funny. I'm a white guy, bowing to two black guys, which makes no sense, but it was fun and I smiled the whole way to the convention.

Aside from women asking me if I want dates and the 10-12 pan handlers I pass to or from the convention, I've got a general sense that the people in San Francisco just seem to be really nice.

So Wednesday - Friday is when Expo Pass people get to actually start doing stuff. And I had a lot to do. First off, they opened the Expo floor up at 10pm. It might have been a little bigger than the size of a soccer field. On the far left where closed booths for game companies. I didn't really get what was happening there. I think people made appointments to interview for jobs or they're doing some kind of business deals there. I don't know. In the middle was wear a lot of companies expo'd stuff. There was a dancer lady with motion capture sensors strapped to her. She was moving around and the 3d, CGI character on the screen was perfectly synced with her. I've seen that done before, only the 3d character was fully rendered--which I hadn't seen done before.

There were a bunch of other things like some guy lecturing about new features in 3d Studio Max and Maya. Since I'm not an artist, I just kept going. I got the the career pavilion. This is why I came to GDC in the first place. I didn't really get what I was supposed to do. Just walk up and say, "Hi, I'm awesome, please hire me"? So I just kind of pretended like I was looking at something else while I stood in hearing range to listen to what other people were saying. Ok, so I saw a lot of artists with their digital portfolios on IPads showing off their work. Blizzard wasn't taking applications. It seemed like their booth was set up to tell each person in line why they weren't going to be hired. They were pretty nice about it. It was more of a, "You need to do this and this, then come back next year," kind of thing. I mean, I'm trying to get a vibe about why employers are even here in the first place. They get plenty of people applying for them through their websites, so why even have a booth? It's not like the very people they want to attract aren't already aware of Blizzard. But I think what it is, is that employers want to help develop a better community of employees. So maybe a diamond in the rough gets some encouragement to keep going, thus better expanding the pool of talent worth hiring down the road.

So I hit the Blizzard booth first since I figured I might learn from that and won't get hired either way. He told me that I was too all over the place and needed to focus on one type of game writing and get experience doing that.

That makes sense, but does offer a problem. The term "writer" means a lot of things in the industry. There's design documents that need to be written. These will never be seen by the public. They're instructions for the programmers and artists to follow in creating mechanics and art assets. There's content design. This is quest information. There's dialogue. Writers that do dialogue come in near the end of the project. There's transfiction writing. This is creative writing that is really glorified fan fiction. Transfiction writers have no impact on shaping the game, but come in after to create more content in terms of novels, web comics, etc, to go along with the game. All of these forms of writing are done by different writers and here I am applying for all of it. If I can do a little bit of everything, it either makes me more viable to companies looking for one of the things I do, or less desirable to a company that wants someone that specializes in that area. It's hard to know which way to go. As I get more exposed to the industry, I'll be better at reconciling this problem.

Ok, so I hit the other booths. Blizzard had a long line, but many of the others didn't. Again, I was still trying to figure out what the objective of the people at these booths had. I hit some stumbling blocks. One guy, I mentioned that I'm a studio producer for musicians, and that would make it easy for me to transition to working in the studio with voice talent--an important thing since writers are often writing the dialogue. The guy said, "We don't make the kind of games with voice overs."

Tom Sloper gave advice on for people like me going to the GDC. He said the most important thing we can do is listen. He also said that employers don't care about us(I think he was exaggerating), but rather, care about our interest and enthusiasm.

I was thinking about as that guy told me that I made a false assumption about his company. I tried to cover by saying that if they chose to start using voice overs in later games, I could really help to make them more believable. But still, as I went booth to booth with the, "I don't know what kind of games you guys make, but please hire me" attitude(ok, so I tried to play that down the best I could), the bottom line was, they could see through that.

One guy told me they already had a writer. I said, "And he's almost as good as me." He laughed, but I later regretted saying that. I mean, just because he laughed, doesn't mean he didn't think I was an asshole for saying that. I mean, I want to be a "Bad ass," but not a jerk. What I should have said after that is that I was kidding, that I was sure they had a wonderful staff and I'd be honored to work with them--which is very much the truth. Instead, I think I just came across as another forgettable person standing in line with too much ego and not enough experience.

In line for Obsidian Entertainment--a game company that makes the hit games... ah, I have no idea... the guy said to the artist standing in front of me, "Every time I see your work, it keeps getting better and better." How many times do we need to keep coming to the GDC to get hired by someone?

I would cheat a little, pull out my IPhone, look up each company on the internet to see what kind of games they made, and try and give my pitch based on that. Tencent Games in Boston was actually hiring a Content Designer. The position said they were looking for someone to help the Creative Director and Lead Writer realize the full potential of their game lore. Um, crap, that's what I've been doing for the last 15 years in my writer critique groups. So I walked up to the booth and explained what I did and what I could offer. The other thing too, these people manning their companies booth--um, who were they? Think about it. So if you're a programmer, artist, writer, accountant, social media marketer, producer, what have you, these are radically different roles. And they just had one person there talking to you as if one person really knew the ins and outs of what you do. So as I'm explaining to the lady how awesome I am--I was being funny and down to earth about it--she said, "Content Designer? That's on our list. Does this match what you're talking about?" as she showed me the description, that I already read off their website before I talked to her. I mean, I just explained to her what I did, and now she was asking me if that fit the job description. It made me realize that she was listening to what I was saying, but only kinda sorta. Then it started to make me wonder what the booths were really for again.

I thought this was the grand daddy event for job seekers going to the GDC. Now I'm starting to wonder if there's much difference between going to the booths or just emailing your resume through their sites while sitting at home. I know there's got to be more to it. What ever is really going on, I'm on the outside looking in for now.

In either case, not all my booth experiences were negative. I'm kind of making it sound like I was actually like a dope, being an ass all full of myself. That's not really how I was. I was being pretty down to earth, pitching what I did with a nervous tinge in my voice I hoped wasn't noticable, why I thought my choice of majors and the skill sets I developed set me apart and made me unique, and what I could bring to the table. But I was charming about it. I made people laugh. The lady at the Warner Brothers booth was handing out WB deodorant. I asked her if it makes you smell like Bugs bunny. She thought that was funny, and we joked around about what WB must think of gamers if they're passing out deodorant to us. She told me about how their office in Seattle was looking for writers and asked if I'd be willing to move. I got that question a lot, actually. Hmm, it seems kind of silly to ask me that. If you're applying for a game company, you pretty much have to accept that you're going to be moving to do it. I've decided that I don't like telecommuting. I don't like being alone at home, feeling in the dark about what's going on. I'm a visual person. I need to figure out the vibe of things, the body language of people talking to me, and get a sense that way about things.

Other than the two big companies there--Blizzard and Bethesda, all the other companies took resumes. Some of them wrote notes on them. One guy wrote, "Writer" on the top even though I had that near the top. Another put a box around, "Content Designer" which I had as my resume title after my contact info. One wrote, "Willing to move," on the back. A couple I didn't leave my resume with. One company said they only hired local people... and they had no offices in California. Um, why were they there then? Another only had offices in Taiwan, which, at this point, I'd move to Taiwan for a job. I don't care. He told me, "If we decide to start having a western touch to our games, we'll consider you." That just seemed odd that they would come to a convention in the west, but not have west themed games.

I don't know. Like a lot of what was going on, I didn't really get it. I think it will make more and more sense as time goes on. I think something killing me is that I didn't know which companies made which games. I know maybe the top 20 game companies, but there's hundreds that I should know. And only a few of the ones I do know, I know fairly well.

How much farther would I have gotten had I walked in like, "You know how much I love playing your game such and such and how great the story line is with the thing and the thing?" How much further would I have gotten had I contacted these companies ahead of time and asked to set up meetings to get a private interview with someone that actually knew what questions to ask a writer? I'm on some mailing lists that had game companies posting that they were available to schedule private meetings with people at the GDC. They were all companies that didn't make the type of games that need writers, so I didn't go through with that, but what mailing lists am I not on to hear about the companies that do make the games that could use me?

Ah well. There's always next year, right? Next year, I'll be a lot better prepared.

So I got to go to a couple panels today. The first one was on the importance of testing games early. The guy presented worked on Halo a lot and talked about things they did in that game. I've never played Halo, so I didn't really get a lot of what he said. But he said something like at the beginning, they make you run around without a gun. They want you to get used to the controls first, without having to worry about defending yourself. So some players would get pretty frustrated at playing a shooter and going the first three minutes without having a gun to shoot. So finally, you talk to this really important guy, and there's this big deal about how he gives you his gun like he's passed the mantle on to you, and it's all epic. And they found that players would take the gun and immediately shoot the guy just because they were so mad at going so long and not being able to shoot anything. Some people weren't mad, but just wanted to test the gun out, shot the guy, and it screwed up their game. So they had to change the game so that you didn't get ammo until after you left the room. Now, this is a problem that game testers won't encounter. Why? Because they're game testers. Game testers do a poor job at simulating what the typical player is like. Most players don't play 50 games a year like us hardcore players do. So they do silly, none nonsensical things like shoot important people they're not supposed to shoot.

I went to another panel after that, that was a game writer's round table. They mostly talked about the frustration writers have in that most "writers" get hired because they know people, not because they're good writers. And because of that, games often have bad writing--which they do--and that writers need to band together to try and promote good writing in games. It's sort of a weird thing here. Some players don't care about writing, but the ones that do and can spot good writing, find it important. The problem is that most game makers can't spot good writing and don't care about it and don't see it as that important. How do we, as writers, impress upon the greater game development community the importance of hiring actual writers for writing positions?

I don't know. But after, I worked at the IGDA booth for a few hours, felt tired and hungry and for my motel. I had been living off a case of Slimfast, some blueberry bagels, and a bag of tangerines that I bought before coming out here. I stocked up on anything that didn't need refrigeration, but didn't think about nutrition. I was badly craving anything with protein in it. Getting a pizza might not have been the best filler for that, but I decided to see if Domino's lived up to the "we don't suck any more" claims on their commercials. I thought it was pretty good. I ate almost an entire medium pizza by myself, crawled into bed and slept. Ok, so it's now thursday morning. Hmm, I don't really know what to do today. I have to work something today and there's some awards show--that sounds like a big waste of time. I've heard that Will Wright sometimes comes in and gives speeches, but he has to do it under a pseudonym or the room gets crazy packed and unwieldy. For anyone not obsessed with games, Will Wright created Sim City, the Sims, and all the other early Maxis games making him the most successful computer game designer in the history of the world. Anyway, we'll see how it goes.

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