Back in the spring of 2000, when I was going back to school at the University of Washington for a Technical Editing and Writing certificate while still working full time in the wireless industry, a great thing happened. Well, actually it happened a little before that time, but the trickle-down effects finally emerged that spring: Wizards of the Coast was purchased by Hasbro.
Why was that good? Well, it meant that for a few of the folk working in the TCG editing department, their ship came in. So, Wizards was looking for some new talent for some of its upcoming (and ongoing) TCGs. I was in the last third of my certificate program and ready for a change of scenery when Wizards posted some editing positions. I jumped at the opportunity. Luckily, I had been playing Magic: the Gathering for about 6 years, played a lot of D&D, was a sports geek, and nailed the interview (well, I think I did, because I got a job). It helped that Wizards had recently moved to an interview style that I was familiar with from my previous job, where they really wanted specific, real-world examples of how you dealt with different situations.
The sports geek part was important too, because I was being hired to work on Wizards’ new TCGs, including MLB Showdown, so my sports knowledge combined with my TCG knowledge and my gaming background made me a good fit. My very first editing project, however, was working on the short-lived WCW Nitro TCG. It was a good experience for learning about templating and rules interactions, and I met a lot of great editors, developers, designers, and artists at the company. Funnily enough, not long after WCW Nitro ended I began editing a fun little soccer TCG for the European market called Football Champions, and the main designer was this cool guy named Rob Heinsoo, who was also fairly new to Wizards.
Thus began my time working on a slew of other projects at Wizards over the course of eleven years, including a lot of TCGs that came and went (MapleStory, KidsNextDoor, Xiaolin Showdown, etc.), numerous board games (Axis & Allies, Vegas Showdown, Castle Ravenloft, etc.), and various RPG products (Adventurer’s Vault 2, Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium, Monster Vault, Tomb of Horrors, The Plane Above, parts of various Player’s Handbooks and DMGs), and other products like Gamma World.
After a short stint working on the new kaiujdo.com website, lately I’ve been working for Fire Opal Media (owned by Rob Heinsoo—small world huh?—and Jay Schneider, another Wizards alum) on their 13th Age RPG (it’s pretty cool), and other interesting game projects. It just goes to show you that every connection you make in the gaming industry is an important one, and that, even though there are more and more games being created now, the industry is still smaller than you might expect. It’s been both fun and interesting working with Fire Opal so far, and I’m excited to see where the work will lead next. But my gaming career might have never happened without some luck, good timing, a bit of talent, the right education (formal or otherwise, as long as it fits; that certificate was a big reason for my hire I learned later), a love of games, and being able to work with and learn from a lot of talented folks over the years (and yes, I do thank Hasbro).
So you’re interested in working in the gaming industry? Here are a few bits of wisdom I can pass on, coming mainly from my background as a games editor at Wizards.
If you know anyone in the game industry on a personal level, ask them to be your mentor. Having someone who already knows the business can be a great help in figuring out what it is you want to do (and what the name of that position is in the industry). Sure, it’s great if they can get you a job, but more realistically, if you ask for their help, you’ll have a better chance of success. Find out what type of experience you need to be considered for what you want to do. Ask them to look over your resume. Find out what types of games they see coming on the horizon, and what types of skills will be needed for those games (and maybe new companies that have people your mentor might know who are willing to take a risk on somebody new for some sweat equity). If you don’t know anyone personally, try emailing (or possibly approaching at a game convention) a game maker whose work you appreciate and ask them if they’d be willing to give you some feedback about your qualifications for working on games and what you could do to increase your skills. As always, be courteous.
Freelancing (editing, writing, or design) is a great way to get your work known to people, but to even get a chance to do freelance work, you’re probably going to need some experience first (see next point). Once you get a chance to do freelance work for a company, you need to nail it or they’ll move on to the next person. Nailing it means you do a good job, you hit your deadlines, you’re easy to communicate with (which both means that people can get ahold of you easily and that you’re not “difficult” to deal with), and you listen and do what you’re being paid to do (going above and beyond is fine, as long as you don’t ignore the work you’re being asked to do because some other part of the project is more interesting). Show that you can consistently do good work over a period of time, and the next time a full-time position opens up, you might get a call to come interview.
Get experience working on games. How? Any way you can. At Wizards, for example, they take article submissions for the online magazines. Look up the guidelines for submissions, see what type of articles they’ve been making, and send in proposals during their submission period for topics that could use more coverage (or that the editors ask for). For writers, start a game blog and talk about why games are good and bad, or what interests you about them. Contact smaller game companies and see if you can do any free volunteer work for them, helping with ANYTHING they need, even if it’s handing out fliers at a game day; you’re making contacts. If you’re still in college, apply for internships at game companies (many will be unpaid though, so have a second job or some savings). Go to game conventions and strike up a conversation about games with the people who are making the types of games you want to work on, and ask them how they got into the business and for any advice they have (and maybe for the name of a hiring manager or HR rep at the company, but don’t be pushy; they might be busy, and a negative interaction can be worse than none at all). Go to classes and seminars being taught about games, or the related field you’re interested in, by the people you’d like to work with. And as for editing and writing experience, any work is useful, even if it’s not with games. When it comes time to send in a resume and you have two years of editing experience in another industry, but you can show that you know the games, and have a passion for those games, it will help you stand out.
Play games, all types of games, and take away at least one good or interesting mechanic, piece of terminology or wording, or game rule from each. Also pay attention to what those games don’t do well; you can use that knowledge when talking to people to show you’re inquisitive and game smart. Most times when someone’s resume would come through for an editing position at Wizards, they would have editing skills but little in the way of game knowledge, or game skills with no formal editing skills. Those who had both stood out. Fitting into the company culture is very important to the people who are hiring you (and the ones who will work with you).