How To Interview (As) A Game Designer

A pretty good article on the subject here.

Look for signs of a deep interest in gaming. The resume should indicate gaming as a way of life, not just a job. Modding experience is especially a key sign. Anyone who wants to be a game designer has an extensive record of making games in their spare time, for free: making levels for favorite games, modding, writing game material, creating board games, RPG background, story writing, etc.

This is almost a stereotype now, but it’s there for a reason. Having something – anything – in your portfolio shows that You Mean Business and have something tangible you can point to that shows:

  • Your writing skills (and yes, spelling and grammar count)
  • Your ability to stay with a project to completion (if we’re going to invest in training you in our tools and procedures, this is kind of a big deal)
  • Your knowledge of what makes something fun

Another important trait, which the article somewhat hints at but not enough, is passionate opinion. For those who read MMO message boards, it may be a surprise that this can be difficult to find sometimes. For those who read this blog, it may even be more of a surprise that *I* had the problem of not expressing a strong opinion in interviews when I started interviewing as a designer. Luckily, someone pointed out that, you know, based on the past 10 years of my writing, they really did expect me to have an opinion or 12. It was OK.

In my last position, I interviewed a lot of designers. The ones we hired were ones that had something to show in many cases – but also the ones that had opinions and passion. My favorite question was, when asking someone what MMO they were currently playing (it was always World of Warcraft) to ask them what was their least favorite zone and why. The ones that shrugged and said “eh, I kinda liked them all” sent up danger flares. The ones that could explain passionately why they hated the CRAP out of Stranglethorn Vale passed. The one that said no, he actually couldn’t stand Nagrand, and listed off some very good reasons why, got to be our lead world builder. And I liked Nagrand.

Of course, you also have to do the other usual job interview stuff. Be personable, approachable, don’t check your watch 15 times during the interview (several did this) and above all, when we ask you what you did at your last job, don’t say “I was pretty burned out, so I did nothing but run BGs with my shadow priest all day” (yes, someone did this).

Then, for reasons I’m sure everyone’s pretty well aware of by now (hi2u, exploding Austin dev community!) I got to swallow my pride and do the interview circuit my own bad self. Strongly expressed opinions told while smiling? Check. Humility laced with self-assertiveness? Check. Prior body of work? Che… oh wait, we didn’t actually SHIP anything at NCsoft, and my sole design contribution to DAOC was an /autoloot command 2 weeks before I left. Guess I’d better wave my arms a lot for dramatic effect! It helped that I could wax eloquently on this point:

No design survives first contact with code: Ask them to describe an example of a feature change/cut and how they adapted to it. If they worked on a game, they should be able to describe at least one feature in the original design that was cut (for whatever reason), and describe why they chose that feature and how it impacted the rest of the game.

Oh BOY could I wax eloquently on that point. Dealing with this makes you an experienced designer/bitter, jaded old man. Some of the engineers came with me to John Galt from our project at NC, and they STILL taunt me about the long and painful process we went through. “So how doable do you think [random very reasonable design spec] is?” “You’ll never see it, and two years from now you’ll be drinking heavily and cursing my name.” “Right. Carry on.”