Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Textbook Review: Break into the Game Industry

This is part of the series on book reviews.

"Break into the Game Industry: How to get a job making video games" (Ernest Adams)

I almost didn't want to review this book. After all, it's obviously a vocationally-oriented book that has no place in the classroom as a text, right? While there is certainly a strong focus on the "breaking in" aspect, it turns out this book has a surprising amount of overlap with my Game Industry Survey course topics, suggesting that it may have more use than the title suggests.

This book starts with a reasonable (if brief) look at the history of the industry and then goes right into the bits of how the industry is structured today: platforms, game genres, business models, job roles and responsibilities within a developer. This is important stuff for any aspiring developer to know, and it takes up about half of the book.

About a third of the book is devoted to what the title implies: what kind of education and experience to give yourself, and the actual process of applying for a job. This strikes me as the kind of thing that students should read on their own, rather than something that's part of any course material.

Lastly, the book ends with a short section on the minimum everyone should know about legal issues (IP, NDAs, and how to read an employment contract) and a final wild guess on the probable future direction of the industry.

It should be noted that this book was published in 2003. This has the obvious implications: some of the information is woefully out of date. Notably, this was written before the downsizing of E3 and before the ea_spouse letter. Some of the companies mentioned are no longer making games. That said, a surprising amount of the practical information in this book is still valid, although it is definitely living on borrowed time -- I'm not sure how many more years it will be useful before the obsolete material outweighs the usefulness of the rest.

Students: If you are interested in getting into the game industry or you'd just like to know a bit more about what it's like behind-the-scenes, this is a great book to read. I can't say that it's fun to read exactly, but the information contained within is obviously practical and useful which might give you the incentive to keep reading anyway. At least for now, most of the obsolete material involves things that can easily be checked online, so for any specific piece of information you'd do well to confirm it by firing up your browser.

Instructors: It doesn't have any end-of-chapter exercises so you'll have to make your own, and you'll have to supplement it with modern history (the current generation of consoles, the effect of World of Warcraft, etc.), and it has a title that will make other academics glare at you if you use it as a required text in a class. But it still has a lot of useful information about the industry, so if you teach a class about the game industry you might at least consider making it an optional text in your syllabus. And if you have no industry experience, you could do with reading it yourself to supplement your existing course materials.

Professionals: If you already have a job in the game industry, then you probably know most of this stuff already, so it's not really worth your time to read the whole thing. That said, if there are aspects of game development that you don't know much about, this is as good a primer as any to show you what the heck it is that those people in that other department are doing all day; I learned tons about art and game audio, which were always something of a mystery to me.

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