The games industry has come a long way since its conception. Mostly starting out as the singular ‘bedroom coder’ it has moved into a multi-million dollar, development studio led industry which employs thousands in the UK alone. It has also grown to the point where most roles within these organisations are increasingly specialised.
This required people to try and be ‘the best’ in their respective fields, especially coming out of education you where resigned to slot within a company in which you sat. Due to the shire size of the larger studios having one person turn a single cog in the production line was efficient to getting the job done. But now we are seeing more of a shift. The industry is starting to split.
The large developer studios still exist and will continue to, as they are able to make world record sales every year, but the smaller companies do not follow in the same footsteps as their larger siblings. With the increase in Indie developers creating games from basically nothing we are seeing a movement back towards where the industry began. It takes a vast amount of knowledge and ability to start a development from scratch with only a small team, as such being a specialist in only one narrow field of the industry doesn’t suit this kind of development at all. Which puts us at a cross roads.
Which route do I take? I’m an undergraduate student looking as to where I want to go within the games industry. Do I: A. Specialise massively towards the role I am most passionate about and become ‘the best’, constantly in hope there is the dream job going at the end for someone with my exact expertise. Or B. Do I try and learn as much about everything there is possible to know in the games industry in the short time I have left in education, hoping that there’s a small developer somewhere that needs someone that is the Jack of all trades but the master of none.
The answer, as given in the ‘The Valve Handbook for New Employees’ is neither. The ‘T’ shaped employee has started to be the way people are hiring in the industry, and it’s what personally I’m aiming my studies at to become. This model means that employers are looking for people who are both generalists (highly skilled at a broad set of valuable things - the top of the T) and also experts (among the best in their field within a narrow discipline - the vertical leg of the T). Something that is becoming more asked for within the industry, as it was referenced by Richard Tawn (Art Director at Exient) at a recent talk he gave to our course at University. Showing how developers other than ‘Valve’ are looking for the same thing in employees.
So, this model not only, hopefully, gives you a chance at getting those previous jobs within the largest developer studios or the up and coming Indie development but also gives the spread to fit in across the whole board. The industry is one that for the most part runs on collaboration, working in teams within the larger business, often on different developments to other teams in the same studio. This requires someone that can deconstruct problems on the fly, and talk to others as they do so, simultaneously being inventive, iterative, creative, talkative, and reactive. Following the ‘T-shaped model’ you are suited to being the better candidate, as you’re not an expert who is too narrow and has difficulty collaborating or in fact a generalist who doesn’t go deep enough in a single area that ends up on the margins, not really contributing as an individual.
The games industry is ever evolving and as we see different job roles come and go the requirements to fill said role will change just as frequently. As of today, for the most part, ‘Valves’ idea of what they want from an employee seems to fit the best across the industry. This means not to be a generalist or a specialist but both.
I am Elliott Pacel, a Technical Artist at Reflections, Ubisoft.