Everyone who is involved in this endeavor is too excited to sleep at night. We’re up at 5:00 AM thinking about zombie MMOs, and we’re tossing and turing at midnight thinking about zombie MMOs. Our families, roommates, and SOs are being subjected to impassioned lectures on the relative merits and demerits of fast zombies versus slow zombies. Farmhouses versus apartment buildings. Supermarkets versus sporting goods stores. Crossbows versus crowbars. You just can’t take us anywhere these days.
I’ve been working on fantasy games for 14 years, and I’ve been working on PC MMOs for a decade. I think it’s fair to say I know the genre, the platform, and the players intimately. I’m a certified fantasy geek, with deep cred in the foundational Tolkien and D&D universes. (For the record, I’m a Greyhawk guy, and don’t even talk to me about Forgotten Realms.) So why this radical transition away from the tried-and-true, the cozy and familiar?
I’ve been trying to answer this question, for myself, and for my friends and family, since I left my button-down-shirt-and-brown-socks job this summer and resumed my real life as a game developer. This weekend Annie was going through some old files and forwarded a copy of a commencement address I gave at the DigiPen Institute of Technology a few years ago.
And there was the answer. As I was challenging these new graduates to be bold, take risks, and push the boundaries of their new profession, I was also speaking to those of us on the future Undead Labs team.
Here are some excerpts from the speech. Or, if you have good attention-span skills, or are thinking about getting into the game industry, you are welcome to read the address in its entirety.
The game industry is almost certainly an enigma to those of you who are parents and grandparents of these graduates. In fact, there’s a very good chance it is an enigma to those of you who are big brothers and sisters as well. How can little Timmy really hope to build a career, support a family, save for his retirement, and pay for our retirement by playing video games with giant sticky balls that roll around picking up cows and mailboxes? I’m here tonight to tell you that all those hours of Dungeons and Dragons, Super Mario, Magic the Gathering, and collectible Warhammer miniatures are the foundation of a stable, vibrant, exciting, and perhaps best of all for you, extremely fulfilling career.
But economic stability is not enough. I understand that there are excellent career opportunities in the travel, health care, hospitality, and financial industries as well. Many people do not understand just how demanding the DigiPen program is, not only in terms of the intellectual difficulty of the material, but also in terms of the sheer number of hours that the successful student must put in. And, of course, the game industry itself is known to be extremely demanding. We’ve all heard the horror stories of 7-day work weeks and 16-hour days. So why? Why choose this, when there are so many other options?
Those of you who are wearing the gowns and hats in here tonight know the answer to this question, and I’m going to make sure that everyone who helped you get here knows it as well, because when you are choosing your career, you are essentially choosing your life. And they want you to have a good life, a life that is more than economic stability and earnings potential. The graduates in here tonight signed up for all of this simply because they are passionate about games, and the thought of actually getting paid to do this stuff is astounding. And how fortunate for all of us, that they live at a time when they can take that passion and choose a path that is more than simply meeting the financial demands of the next 40 years. That they can, instead, pursue a career doing something they truly love, can get out of bed in the morning (or, okay, the afternoon) and face a day of fresh challenges, working with people they admire and respect to create something they can truly be proud of. There are so few people in the world who truly have that opportunity, and fewer still with the courage to pursue it. Every graduate here today is one of those fortunate and bold few, and you should be very proud of your role in helping them get here. So congratulations, parents, grandparents, and spouses. You’ve invested in a fulfilled life.
You have the strongest head start you can possibly have in this industry, and now I am going to challenge you to take that education, experience, and passion, and go do something grand with it. I talked earlier about how fortunate you were to be working in an industry that excited you, that would challenge you every day of your life, and that is unique to your generation. Now it’s your turn to show that you can take that opportunity and run as far and fast as you can with it. You’ve been playing games all of your life, and learning how to make them for four years. You will surrounded by art, music, creative thinkers, and brilliant engineers every day. The game industry does a pretty good job of recognizing excellence, and you have everything you need to be one of the giants – the Sid Meiers, Will Wrights, John Carmacks. Always remember that your career will be defined by the games you make, rather than the title on your business card.
Let me repeat that. Your career will be defined by the games you make. So choose to associate yourself with companies and games that match your own ambition, quality, and ethical standards.
I’ll end by paraphrasing the famous Japanese game designer, Masaya Matsurra: Go forth, and do weird and difficult things!