At one point in time, I almost walked away from publishing – an industry I worked in for close to two decades – to work in the video game industry.
Follow your dreams
I have been an avid gamer my whole life. The publishing industry started off as a bit of a fall-back job, but ended up being a decent career. I worked for a bunch of publishers, mostly in the education industry, but after about 13 years, it had started to get really stale.
I was working as a freelancer on the Coles supermarket catalogue. We had been living in Melbourne for about two years, and I had been looking for jobs in book publishing or educational publishing, but it’s a really small industry and it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Still new to the city, I didn’t really know anyone. This design/publishing job came up at the Coles catalogue – the money was good and the work was challenging, especially that weekly deadline.
But it was just a job. It wasn’t creatively fulfilling. Putting yet another ‘Half Price!!!’ dot label on pictures of Coca-Cola started to wear thin.
I asked myself, what would my dream job be? I was making this comic strip at the time, but I had no illusions that it would pay the bills. Gaming, especially mobile gaming, was starting to boom and a bunch of up-and-coming studios were based in Melbourne.
Maybe I could make video games. Doing what? I didn’t know. Art, writing, testing, planning, I had no idea what the actual roles at a game studio might be, but I decided I wanted to try.
A job came up for a tester, so off I went to the studio.
What does a tester do? Just like it sounds. In broad terms, you play through the current build of the game, and report any bugs or issues so that the team can fix them before release. On paper, you’re playing games for a living (yay!) but in reality, it’s mostly writing emails and communicating with the various departments about the circumstances that caused the bug.
The weird interview
The team at this game studio were nice enough, but the vibe was that the industry was so new that it was making things up as it went along, especially the HR and hiring policies. My interview was conducted by a manager, with another applicant beside me – a shared interview.
Sounds terrible, right? That’s cuz it was. It’s hard enough talking up your qualities without another stranger looking on, who is after the same job you are.
We were even asked, like some reality show, why they should hire us over the person sitting next to us. Ew.
Did I mention the person I interviewed with was half my age? I was almost thirty and this kid had just finished high school.
Which leads me to the reason I’m not working in the industry – the job was entry level. Not just entry level, but money-wise, you’d make more slinging burgers at a fast food chain. The carrot is that starting in Quality Assurance would eventually lead to roles in other, more exciting, parts of the company.
At that stage, there was no way I could have walked away from a well-paying catalogue job when we had a mortgage and my wife was still studying her masters degree.
The manager interviewing me observed that I was overqualified for this entry-level job, and I had to tell him that the pay rate was not something I could accept.
I did not give up on the gaming industry just yet. I ended up getting a publishing job at Oxford University Press (Australia and New Zealand) and worked there in a variety of print and web roles for eight years, so the idea of making games went on the backburner.
The time I made my own video game
When I was burned-out on publishing, I dusted off the idea of making games for a living. The industry had matured while I was working in publishing and became much more mainstream.
In order to promote myself, I went ahead and made my own little platform game…
…but that’s a story for another blog.