PAX South - The Panels

One of my favorite elements of conferences like PlayStation Experience and PAX are the panels where I get an opportunity to hear stories and advice from the developers. So to round out my coverage of PAX South, here are my impressions of the few panels I attended.

Loot Crate: What's Next? - I started subscribing to Loot Crate last January. picked up a couple of the specialty crates like the Fallout 4 one, and I got our pup Elphie a subscription to Loot Pets when it launched in December. So when it came to choosing between "Storytime with Cliff Bleszinski" or a panel with some of the folks behind Loot Crate, I went with the latter. I respect Cliffy B., but I've barely played his Gears of War games so this just made more sense to me.

Hearing the story of Loot Crate also resonated with me because a buddy of mine from college works with them. The co-founder talked about being amazed when it launched and watching how it has grown in such a short time to the point where he and his team have such incredible purchasing power with some of the biggest properties like Star WarsMass Effect, and Fallout. When talking about how they are already working with companies on crates a year and a half from now he talked about the privilege of knowing about Fallout 4 before its reveal and having to refer to it by the codename Project Institute.

The big announcement out of the panel was the launch of Loot Gaming, a new subscription service they're launching this Spring with a specific focus on gaming, even going so far as to work with developers on exclusive content and possibly even some exclusive Indie games. As the gaming side of the Loot Crates tend to be some of my favorite bits, I'll definitely be signing up as soon as I can. They did mention that the launch would be a limited one so I signed up for the email list to be notified hopefully right when it launches.

Get Into the Game/Level Up Your Career: Game Industry Career Panels Part 1 and 2 - The biggest reason I may or may not have snuck into the conference on Saturday was because I really wanted to attend this two-part panel on getting into the gaming industry. This panel was hosted by Rich Weil (Senior Vice President, Global Operations, Metaverse Mod Squad), who talked about having always been torn between panels on getting into the industry and advancing within the industry so this year, he decided to do both. Joining him were Chris Mancil (Director, Community and Influencers, Electronic Arts), Linda Carlson (Director of Community Relations, Trion Worlds), Bradley Jeansonne (former Publishing Art Lead, Certain Affinity), John Erskine (Vice President of Publishing, Cloud Imperium Games), and Gary Gattis (CEO, Spacetime Studios). As someone aspiring to get into the industry I knew there'd be some insight here. Even if my focus is more on the media side compared to the developer/publisher side, most of the information covered could easily be applied to both.

After introductions, the panel touched on tips and tricks for your resume and cover letter. From common sense things like "proofreading" to something I always do but others might not like "rewrite your resume and cover letter for every job you apply for." Tailoring your skills and story to the specific job description you are applying for puts you leaps and bounds ahead of somebody who just sends out the same resume to 20 different companies, hoping for something to stick. There was a difference of opinion among the panel on the length of the resume and cover letters themselves, though, with Chris from EA saying stick to a page to Linda from Trion Worlds saying "make it as long as you need to tell your story." Personally, I tend to stick to a page because both in my hiring career and in the resume building course in my business school, hiring managers tend to only read the first page anyway. Many members of the panel also highlighted that your best option in getting an interview though is probably gonna be to know somebody on the inside. The idea of networking (without stalking) was presented: meet people and conventions like PAX or on Twitter, volunteer, etc. They also stressed that, especially in larger companies, your application is most likely going to a gatekeeper in Humar Resources rather than the CEO so keep than in mind as you compile your content.

Other important tips provided:

  • You have to want to do it. If you hate mobile games, you probably shouldn't just apply for a company that only makes mobile games.
  • The best way to prove you can do the job is to show them what you've already done. It's way easier to show a developer a game you've made than it is to tell them about an idea you have.
  • Identify if you would be a good cultural fit for the company.
  • On the subject of handling defeat, they encourage the audience to ask for feedback. John Erskine noted, "Don't take it personally. Ever," He also mentioned, "if you don't get the job, don't burn that bridge," and provided an example of bringing a prospect in, discovering that position might not be a good fit, but hiring that person on later in a different role that presented itself down the line.
  • On the subject of the interview:
    • Go in prepared to answer the hard questions.
    • Dress nice, but not too nice. ("Nobody in the games industry wears a tie.")
    • "Be prepared for assholes." Sometimes, an interviewer will be deliberately dickish in order to see how the interviewee handles stress.
    • The interview is always on, even if your out at lunch, an event, etc. They're trying to see how you would fit in with the team.
    • Cram. Learn as much as you can about the company and people you are interviewing with.
    • Play the game(s) the company has produced. Have an opinion on it/them.
    • Take notes and ask questions.
    • Shower.
    • Smile (even if it's a phone interview).
    • Be prepared to impress different sets of people. If applying for a position that works with programmers, marketing, and artists, be prepared to adjust how you approach each group.

Moving on to the second part of the panel, one of the first things discussed was "What is 'Entry Level?'" This basically boiled down to working as a QA Tester on the development side of things or working in Customer Support on the Business/Community side of things. Both of these jobs are widely considered to have the lowest barrier to entry and serve as the best "foot in the door" for their respective sides of the industry.

Speaking to myths of the industry, Erskine mentioned that there's pretty much always a "beginning, middle, crazy part, and an end," when discussing the idea of turnover in the industry. Because most companies are project-based, developers will often work until a game is completed and then have to move on to a different studio/project.

When moving on of your own accord, the general rule of thumb, again, is to avoid burning bridges. It's a pretty small community so if you have a meltdown, people will find out about it. Chris chimed in with, "Don't talk shit."

When trying to advance in the industry, Linda Carlson encouraged the audience to "be the person that drives positive change in your company." The panel also identified the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) as a great resource for networking and sharing information.

As for everyone's final round of advice:

  • “Be in it; don’t be about it.” – Chris Mancil
  • “Permadeath is real, people.” – Linda Carlson
  • “Don’t only talk to the people in your immediate group.” – Bradley Jeansonne
  • “It’s about relationships; this is a team business.” – John Erskine
  • “Be passionate and be persistent.” –  Gary Gattis
  • “You have to recognize that other people have brains and might know stuff that you don’t know.” –  Rich Weil (on being able to take negative feedback).

So that's my PAX South round up. I hope this recap, particularly of the industry panel, has been helpful and that you've enjoyed my recaps of Days Zero, One, Two, Three, and the games that caught my eye.

Tomorrow we'll return to our regularly schedule madness of whatever I feel like writing about.

Thanks for reading!