February, 2003 (Updated October, 2013)
I had to change the title. It used to be "Stupid Wannabe Tricks," but people kept saying I was calling all wannabes stupid. I'm not. I'm saying that there are a number of stupid things that game industry aspirants frequently do. If I directed you here because of something you did, I am NOT saying that YOU are stupid. I'm saying you did a stupid thing. That's very different. If you are offended by my use of the words "stupid," "wannabes," and "newbies"... well, lighten up. They're just words. I wrote these articles to enlighten (and maybe to entertain). I don't coddle and soften and brighten my words, I don't talk down to my readers. I treat my readers like adults. The business of making video games is a hard business. It's also a fun, creative job - but the biz will chew you up and spit you out if you go into it with unrealistic expectations. I want my readers to be fully prepared. I'm genuinely trying to help. Don't be stupid.
The 10 Stupid Things Wannabes and Newbies Do are...
1. Stupid Arrogance
2. Stupid Blindness
3. Stupid Impatience
4. Stupid Inferiority
5. Stupid Laziness
6. Stupid Location
7. Stupid Over-Preparedness
8. Stupid Under-Preparedness
9. Stupid Waiting
10. Stupid Whining
11. Stupid Worrying
12. Stupid Paranoia
13. Living In Fantasyland
14. Stupid Overreaching
15. Stupid Desperation
16. Stupid Talking
17. Stupid Dumb Questions
18. Stupid Screen Names
19. Stupid Email Subject Lines
20. Stupid Emailing (period)
21. Paying To Get A Job
22. Emailing Multiple Employers At Once
23. Stupid Filenames
24. Using Headhunters When You Have No Prior Experience
25. Not Doing Your Homework
Okay, so I lied about there being ten things. By the way, did I mention that those are just in alphabetical order (not order of importance, or anything like that)? When more got added, they just got tacked on at the end (only the first 11 are in alphabetical order).
Are you ready for the details? Here we go...
1. STUPID ARROGANCE
I hear from wannabes all the time, right? And sometimes I hear from guys who haven't been anywhere near the industry yet, but still they talk like they know everything better than the industry pros do. "Most games suck, and I can show'em how to make games that don't suck." Or, "I don't want to work with anybody who would hire me - I only want to work with the superstars. The ones that wouldn't even notice if I was gumming up the soles of their shoes, you know. Those are the only ones I'd ever even bother to work with. Everybody else is just a buncha idiots."
Do I need to explain why this attitude is just plain stupid?
Oct. 20, 2003 update: Along these lines, an anonymous poster on the Game Design BB provided a link to an apropos article on the American Psychological Association's Journal of Personality and Social Psychology website, entitled "Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments." The address is http://www.apa.org/journals/features/psp7761121.pdf . Interesting reading.
And I saw a great Boondocks comic strip in the funnies section of the paper recently (10/13/03). With apologies to Aaron McGruder, here's how it went.
12. STUPID PARANOIA
"I have a mind-bogglingly great game idea that will make everybody on the planet want to buy a copy. Who do I show it to so they will develop it for me? Oh, wait. They might steal it. I'd better hire a copyright lawyer and an agent. Oh, wait. I hate lawyers, they're all shysters. And agents can steal my idea as quick as the next guy."
-- I guess that guy's game will never get made...
"I've got a game company interested in developing and publishing my concept. Now I just need somebody to teach me everything about contracts. Oh, and I won't hire a lawyer. I hate lawyers, they're all shysters."
-- There's a guy who stands a very good chance of either: (1) coming to regret the deal he signed because he didn't have good legal counsel, or (2) never closing the deal because he asks for too much unreasonable stuff, or because he alienates the game company with all the questions and insecurities he has about the contract.
Doctor Laura's term "Horriblizing" describes the way that people can imagine horrible consequences that might possibly arise from a decision or course of action, then become frozen in fear, resulting in inaction and stagnation. Life is a risk. Live your life! Don't go around horriblizing everything.
Another aspect of Stupid Paranoia is when guys hide behind a mask in online forums when looking for advice. They use a phony screen name or pen name and never give their real name online, because they don't want what they say online to be used against them in the business world. This is not an Intelligent Wannabe Trick! Step back a moment and imagine a parallel - let's picture ourselves in the real world (the word "virtual" used to mean "real," but I don't want to confuse the issue). You're browsing the offerings at an Information Shop and a guy comes into the shop wearing a mask that hides his real face. How does this guy make you feel? Do you want to go over, introduce yourself, shake his hand, and offer to help him find information? Or does he maybe make you nervous about his motivations? Do you keep an eye on his hands, glance at his pockets and clothes to see if he's hiding a weapon? Maybe you sidle away from him and get out of the shop in case he's planning a violent act! Wearing a mask does not make people anxious to help you - it just makes them anxious. Just be yourself and be nice. Don't wear disguises if you want people to help you.
13. LIVING IN FANTASYLAND
This probably falls under the category of "Stupid Blindness," but it's a particular specific thing that I've seen a fair amount of, lately.
I was watching "Walking With Cavemen" on the Discovery Channel and was taken by one line of narration in particular. The narrator was talking about Homo Heidelbergensis:
14. STUPID OVER-REACHING
This one is from Nathan Mates, a programmer at Pandemic Studios.
Years ago, I saw newbies asking "how do I make FF7? I don't know anything". [Am I dating myself? That was one of the first really expensive visual feasts for consoles.] Now, it's the Massively Multiplayer Online games, or whatever the big title of the day is.
Look: these games are written by a *HUGE TEAM*. Top games have a budget north of $5 million (Enter The Matrix was reportedly about $20mil). What makes you think that some random dude can make something look better than a team of dedicated professionals working over 40 hours a week? [Note: I said "look better". That's the #1 strength of big-budget commercial games. Gameplay is where newbies should concentrate.]
Recommendation: start *small*. Write Pong. Write Tic-tac-toe. Write Tetris. That'll give you an idea as to how long it'll take to make a small, simple game. Now, multiply that time by 100 for a bottom estimate of how long it'll take to do a simple commercial game. Multiply by at least 1000 for how to do the super-big hit of the year.
To which I (Tom) want to add another aspect of over-reaching - applying exclusively at Top-Ten publishers or developers. Those companies can afford to be much more picky about who they hire - and they almost always require some years of game industry experience, meaning they don't hire newbies fresh out of college. If you've been getting shot down by the big publishers, stop frustrating yourself and lower your sights. See Lesson 27 - the section on Realistic Targeting.
15. STUPID DESPERATION
It's understandable that one will experience frustration and, yes, even desperation, after having doors closed in one's face time and time again. But it's stupid to let it show, especially to the guy you hope will hire you. The game industry wants professionalism in their people. Professionals control their emotions. Imagine you're a busy producer and you get an email BEGGING, PLEADING for a chance: "Please, help me out!" Well, the game industry doesn't need people who beg and plead all the time. It makes a manager's job stressful when he has needy employees. He wants employees who have confidence in their skills... professionals. So if you're feeling desperate, keep it bottled up when dealing with industry professionals - vent your feelings to your friends (but don't be surprised if your friends return your calls less often). Game companies aren't in the business of "helping" wannabes by giving out jobs - they want capable, reliable, talented people to help THEM by working hard.
16. STUPID TALKING
[Submitted by Brandon Van Every, the 3DProgrammer, who after founding comp.games.development.* in 1998, spent a solid 4 years talking.]
Talk, talk, talk on newsgroups, web boards, and mailing lists keeps us game developers awake. It fosters career contacts, if we overcome our enginerd propensities towards rudeness. It fires our imaginations and stimulates our morale. Without purpose, without morale, we can never produce great works. But talking DOES NOT PRODUCE A GAME. You must code, or make art, or music, or some other tangible, and you must do it *A LOT*. Most of your time has to be spent doing, not talking. If you're spending hours and hours in forums, and you're not putting a similar amount of work into your game project, you've got the wrong formula. How many times have you heard a newbie say "I've got this great idea for a game, let's start a mailing list about it!" In 99% of cases, the lifecycle of the project is predictable from these words alone. Stop reading this. Stop talking. Start doing.
17. STUPID DUMB QUESTIONS
I wrote about "how to ask good questions" in Lesson 3. So at risk of beating a dead horse, here's more about that topic. You've probably heard the old saw, "There's no such thing as a dumb question."
A dumb question is a question asked without first turning on brain. In fact, FAQ 30 is all about dumb questions. And so is FAQ 65. So click already!
18. STUPID SCREEN NAMES
We're stuck with the names we're born with, but we choose our screen names and email addresses. It's a chance to show that we're cool, creative, individual. Many wannabes choose unwisely, without realizing it. It seems cool to go with a screen name that indicates a "gangsta" attitude, for instance, but if a potential game biz employer gets an email from "email@example.com" he's not going to feel particularly inclined to reply. Someone who is so passionate about games that his friends call him crazy might try to showcase this special characteristic by choosing the moniker "insanedude" - that's very cute, but when he goes jobhunting in earnest, this screen name will not be helping him. Remember -- when you contact someone in the game biz, you're entering the world of business. Comport yourself accordingly.
Some kinds of words to avoid in screen names in the world of business:
19. STUPID SUBJECT LINES
Imagine yourself in the shoes of the producer who gets an email, and its subject line is "PLEASE HELP" - the first thing he's going to think is, "that's some guy claiming to be the nephew of a recently-deceased Nigerian bank executive, and he's gonna cut me in for a piece of the action if I'll help him get $265 million out of a Swiss account." He'll trash the email without reading it, never suspecting that it's from a desperate game wannabe. When emailing anyone in the game business, avoid subject lines like the following:
20. STUPID EMAILING
Frequently heard complaint: "I've emailed and emailed, but nobody ever replies!" It does happen. Emails from wannabes are easy to ignore. Not every company replies to each and every applicant. But especially they may just trash emails that are poorly written, addressed to a dozen game companies at once, start with "To whom it may concern," or otherwise show that the applicant has taken a lazy approach.
I used to advise wannabes to call on the phone, visit, and use snailmail. But the industry has changed. H.R. departments (Human Resources) are increasingly relying on email as the method of choice for receiving applications. But ya gotta do it right, people! Do look for ways to contact H.R. by phone if you can, but don't beat your head against the wall if they've put up barriers to any other approach but email. And certainly don't just walk in to the game company - that's unlikely to get you a warm welcome.
21. PAYING MONEY TO GET A JOB
A recent and growing phenomenon is websites that promise to get you work, testing games from home, or breaking into the industry as a game designer... stuff like that... and ask you to pay money for it.
These websites charge you money for information you can get for free, if you'd just do your own Internet research.
And these websites make exaggerated claims about how much money game testers make. No game tester has ever been paid as much as $80/hour - that would be $150,400 a year - more money than most game programmers and producers make! $120/hour (the lie told you by one of these sites) would be $225,600 a year - almost a quarter million dollars - we're talking CEO pay here! They make these exaggerated claims about how much testers get paid so that you'll pay money for information you can get for free anyway. It's gross fabrication, and you shouldn't believe such lies.
Nobody gets paid "just for playing video games." Paid testing requires the tester to write comprehensive reports on problems found. Nobody gets paid to "play as much or as little as you want." Paid testing is grueling work for at least a full 40 hours per week.
The factually correct information about getting jobs in the game industry is easily found for free. You can research game companies using my Game Biz Links page. IGDA.org, Gamasutra.com, GameDev.net, GameJobs.com - these are some of the good websites that tell you the truth. Heck, I could charge money for the information I give here on my website, too - but I don't. I recommend you do NOT send money to "game tester" sites that offer paid lessons or paid memberships, like gametesterguide.net, gamertestingground, earnwithplaying, becomeagametester, videogametestingjobs -- I'd be wary of pretty much any website with "games" and "tester" or "testing" in the domain name. No professional game company cares about a "certification" you might get from any game tester site; that's a scam. You can't trust the promises made by any of those sites. There's even one that warns you against testing scam sites, gametestingscams.com - this one is also a scam. (^_^) It's warning you to beware of scams, but it's all a lie too (and it is undoubtedly the brainchild of someone who owns one or more of the sites it's "warning" you against).
How do you tell if a site is legit or not? Simple. If they want money from you, don't give it to'em. If they can give you work without you paying money, that's fine -- but that work might or might not be a positive addition to your résumé. How do you tell if that work will look good on your résumé or not? Simple. If they pay you, and the work period is measured in months or years, then it looks good on the résumé. A testing gig that lasts only a couple days or weeks looks very questionable on the résumé -- it looks like they tried you and found your work lacking. And a testing gig that doesn't pay you is called an "unpaid internship" -- and if you have an internship on your résumé, you'd better have the name of someone at the game company (not someone at a game tester site) to vouch for your internship. If you do work as a tester, you don't pay them -- they pay you. If that's the way it works, and if they don't try to sell you stuff or charge you any money for anything, then it's legit. No legitimate game testing service or recruiter will ask YOU for ANY money whatsoever. (If you had a good experience with one of those sites, tell me all about it and I'll share the info with other game biz wannabes.)
If you want to get a job in games, you must live near a game company, and you must prepare properly and you must possess the proper qualifications (such as being at least a high school grad and being able to write properly). See FAQs 5, 4, and 27 here on my site, and use my Game Biz Links page to find companies.
I know, you want to believe that you can telecommute, that you can get paid for sitting on your couch and playing games for as long or little as you want. But if you're a wannabe (an industry outsider), you cannot. Don't believe everything you read just because someone's promises play upon your fantasies about the game biz.
I wrote more about these sorts of questionable websites in my July 2007 column on the IGDA website, "The Games Game" - the editor entitled this column "Summer Job Scams (July 2007)." The column is at http://www.igda.org/games-game/. If you look for the July 2007 column in a later month, just click Archives to find all older columns.
But you don't have to believe me. Other game biz pros have discussed the topic of these test scam sites on GameDev.net and GameSetWatch. Check'em out:
And look at what these scam sites offer to people who'll post links to their sites, if some sucker pays the scammer money:
That last one might change their URL or close down when they find out that people are showing you (the potential sucker) about how they make money, so here's what it says on that site as of March 31, 2008:
Gamer Testing Ground
The target audience for this website would be people 18-30 years of age, as kids will not have a credit card and will waste your click-throughs or will request a refund when their parents find out that their credit card has been used without permission.
*NEW* Cross Sell Opportunity:
In the backend we keep track of which affiliate referred which customer. When a particular customer logs in to the members area he is presented with an opportunity to buy membership to Gain Opinion at a discount rate. To buy the Gain Opinion membership this customer will go through YOUR ClickBank ID.
Additional benefit: up to $20.00 extra commission from EACH member.
Do I need to say it again? Beware of websites that ask you to pay for a job as a game tester. Don't fall for the hype. They just want your money, that's all they're about.
22. EMAILING MULTIPLE EMPLOYERS WITH ONE EMAIL
[Added January 1, 2008] This has happened to me more than once this year. I get an email from someone who's looking for a job, see. And his salutation is "Dear Sir or Madam," or "To whom it may concern." If you look in the To: field in the email header, you see that he's sent this email to several potential employers.
Why this is stupid: It's obvious that the applicant is shotgunning. He's too lazy to send individual emails and to write individual cover letters. He'd obviously be too lazy to do a good job, and when I get one of these I might just be too lazy to even reply "Dear Applicant, your application is acknowledged, your profile doesn't meet our current requirements, good luck with your career, sincerely, Human Resources." (Which is a fairly lazy reply in the first place.)
23. STUPID RÉSUMÉ/COVER LETTER FILENAMES
[Added January 7, 2008] This has happened to me a lot this past year. I get an email from a job applicant. He attaches a résumé and a cover letter. The name of his résumé file is (get this) "resume.doc" (or resume.rtf or resume.pdf) - and the name of his cover letter file is (you got it) "cover letter.doc."
Now, it makes sense to name it that, if the file just sits on your own hard drive. Because on your hard drive, the file "resume.doc" couldn't possibly be anybody else's résumé but your own - because you wrote all the files on your hard drive. But when you send it to a potential employer, you ain't the only one sending your résumé! I store all applicants' résumés in one "applicants" folder. The second "resume.doc" overwrites the first one, the third one overwrites the second one, and so on. Unless I do the applicant's job for him and rename it.
Besides that little problem, there's another problem with naming your résumé "resume.doc." Let's say your name is John Smith, and I've filed your résumé and cover letter for future review. So later that day or the next day, I have the time to look at your application. I open my applicants folder and I'm looking at all the files sent me by dozens of applicants. In there I see "Bill Johnson resume.doc," "Bill Johnson cover letter.doc," "Catherine_Brown_resume.doc," "Daniel George resume.doc," "resume.doc," "resume.pdf," "resume.rtf," and "SamuelWilliams-resume.doc." How am I supposed to know which file is yours? I know it's not the Bill Johnson, Catherine Brown, Daniel George, or Samuel Williams files - so I have to start opening files willy-nilly until I stumble on yours. How stupid is that? I roll my eyes at you!
If your name is John Smith and you create a résumé file you should name it "John Smith resume.doc" (or "John_Smith_resume.doc" or "JohnSmithResume.doc").
And actually you usually don't need to attach a separate cover letter file to your job application email. Most people just write a text cover letter. If doing that, why would you not just put the text in the email? If you want to put graphics in your cover letter to make a big impression, then yes - sure - make a separate cover letter file. But if it's just text, put it in the email. The email is your cover letter, in most cases.
24. USING HEADHUNTERS WHEN YOU HAVE NO PRIOR EXPERIENCE
[Added March 27, 2008] If you're a raw grad or just trying to break in through Q.A., don't waste time relying on headhunters to get you a job. Headhunters have to make money, and the way they do it is by earning commissions. They make good commissions on high-paying personnel - i.e. experienced personnel. Some of them might tell you they can help you get Q.A. jobs, but the game publishers don't need to pay headhunters to bring in testers. Testers are easy to get! 1. Live within commuting distance of multiple game publishers; 2. Apply yourself. Don't waste headhunters' time or your own.
25. NOT DOING YOUR HOMEWORK
[Added April 11, 2008] A lot of wannabes stupidly just apply for any old job at any old company any old where. You have to educate yourself about what job openings there are, and where they are, and you have to make an intelligent appraisal as to whether or not you are suitable for the job and vice versa.
* * *
The above are just general guidelines based on my observations over more than (now) thirty years experience in the business of making electronic games -- not concrete statements that must be taken as gospel. There is an exception for every rule (even this one). That means that it is possible to succeed at achieving your dream career in spite of your being subject to one or more of the above pitfalls.
All rules are meant to be broken, once in a while (even this one).
But it's just stupid to think you can break a bunch of them, or ignore them entirely.
Name: Tom Sloper
Age-Ed-Occ: Happy Year of the Ape!
Date: 04 Feb 2004
From: Tim Maly <tim.m of capybaragames.com>
>Subject: New entry for your Stupid Newbie tricks
>Hi Tom, This trick may just be a combination of 16. Stupid Talking 5. Stupid Laziness and 17. Stupid Dumb Questions but I ould propose that you add:
>Stupid relying on the kindness of strangers. or
>Stupid wanting to be micromanaged.
>A lot of people seem to respond to any kind of assistance with an unending stream of increasingly simple and lazy questions. They're either really vague and terribly general questions that are probably answered in one of the many fine tutorials available on the Internet ("How do I write a resume?") or they're a long series of specific decisions ("How many words should it be? What font? What colour? What type of paper?"). The problem with these is that they're too general, they look like attempts to get other people to do your work for you.
>But maybe you covered this in lesson 3: bad questions. I haven;t read it yet. -- Best regards, Tim Maly
It's definitely related to all of those, Tim! If it needs a name of its own, we might want to call it "stupid not thinking for oneself" - or "stupid wanting others to do your thinking for you." (^_^)
Thanks for the suggestion. I haven't decided yet if it needs its own number. As a compromise, I'll tack this exchange to the bottom of the FAQ. Cheers! - Tom
Got a question about this lesson? No need to raise your hand -- just click here to go to the bulletin board. You'll get answers!
For more about how to be smart and avoid the common pitfalls, read Lesson 27 -- the "Barrier-Busting Checklist" is the flip side of the "Ten Stupid Tricks" coin!
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