Sunday, January 29, 2006

The Harsh Truth About Video Game Industry Careers

In a June 2005 online publication entitled "The Next Big Thing," the Chamber of Greater Baton Rouge Louisiana Technology Park found out a few things about the video game development industry. Here's some points they made in Chapter 3: Video Game Development Workforce:

Like many high technology sectors, jobs within the video game development industry are constantly changing. Additionally, jobs also vary a great deal between studios. For these reasons and more, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not keep employment and earning data for specific jobs in the video game industry. This makes tracking industry information difficult.

Jobs within the industry can be summarized into four general categories: design, art, programming, and testing (Crosby, 2000). Development studios also employ producers, and like other large companies in the private sector use services like marketing, finance, management, and intellectual property attorneys.

So employment and earnings are difficult to track in the video game industry. The video game industry also likes to employ business and legal positions. So, Santa Monica College's Academy of Entertainment & Technology (AET) lost that chance when its
Entertainment Industry Business occupational certificate fell to pieces. The study also noted that there are very few entry-level game designer jobs available.

As to 3-D game artists, these are divided into the following categories: character artists and animators, background modelers, and texture artists. Under Necessary Skills, the study found that on the job training was more important than vocational training. I cite the following:

Artists need a visual creativity. If an artist is doing 3-D work, then she needs to be able to use modeling and animation software. This often requires math skills. Artists usually have formal training in art, or more specifically in animation, industrial design, or sound design. Although this training helps, artists really gain much of their knowledge while working in a studio.

Programmers are an integral part of game development. A degree in computer science and advance courses in artificial intelligence is needed. So, a vocational certificate from AET in Game Development wouldn't help anyone interested in being a programmer. DigiPen would be a much better choice of schools. (See our blog article, "
Got Game? A Look at Game Design Schools").

What about job stability and rising up the career ladder? The study found the following:

The survey also found that there is a high turnover rate in the industry. The instability of jobs is clear: only 56 percent knew where their next job would come from and one-sixth reported that their company hired and fired on a project-by-project basis. Luckily, employees feel fairly mobile in the job market, with over one-third of respondents feeling that the gaming industry is not their only employment option. Many expect to leave the industry for other jobs: 34 percent within five years and over half within ten years.

The difficulty that employees face has not gone unnoticed. Recently a group of employees filed a lawsuit against EA claiming that the company was required by the state of California to pay overtime. An online essay published by a disgruntled spouse was enough to receive 4,000 responses from other angry employees. Two other lawsuits have been filed, one against EA and one against Sony. Industry leaders have responded, holding an all-day meeting in San Francisco in early 2005 to discuss quality of life issues in the games industry. The focal point of talks was the “crunching” period (Richtel, 2005). Despite these efforts, it is clear in discussing the issue with developers that quality of life – and in particular overtime worked – remains a concern for video game developers.

As to salaries in the video game industry, the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not maintain data. However, I visited the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics website and found their
Occupational Outlook Handbook for Artists and Related Workers. This handbook includes multi-media artists and animators who "create special effects, animation, or other visual images on film, on video, or with computers or other electronic media." This would fall into the category of certificates either offered or proposed at AET. Here's the Significant Points by the BLS:

About 63 percent of artists and related workers are self-employed.

Keen competition is expected for both salaried jobs and freelance work; the number of qualified workers exceeds the number of available openings because the arts attract many talented people with creative ability.

Artists usually develop their skills through a bachelor’s degree program or other postsecondary training in art or design.

Earnings for self-employed artists vary widely; some well-established artists earn more than salaried artists, while others find it difficult to rely solely on income earned from selling art.

Over half are self-employed, competition is keen even in the freelance arena, and earnings vary widely. Importantly, job opportunities for 2D animators "could be hampered as these jobs continue to be outsourced overseas." Even our own AET animation professor, Jim Keeshen elected to outsource his "
Day of the Dead" animation project to NIC Entertainment, Inc. in Korea. I have heard he is not the only AET professor to do so. If our own professors do not even believe in us, who in the entertainment industry will?

-- Des Manttari,
Editor-in-Chief,
Phoenix Genesis

(c) 2006: Phoenix Genesis/MBS LP

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