We can’t talk about what we’re doing, so we’re talking about the people doing the work. Ian is one of our designers, which means by definition he’s creative, inventive, and intuitive. He’s also a great friend to have when the chips are down. He’s as affable and kind and quick-thinking after two hours of sleep on an airport floor in Detroit (it’s a long story) as he is after a full night. Read on to find out how that has gotten him where he is today. — Sanya
The Butterfly Effect
by Ian Adams
When you tell people you design video games for a living, one of the most common questions (after “so what does that mean”, which I answer by paraphrasing Liz England’s Door Problem) is “how did you get that job?” Here is an abridged list of things that needed to happen for me to wind up with the job that I have today:
IN THE BEGINNING:
- Went to Hidden Valley Elementary School with a kid named Neal Buck.
- Robert Brown transferred to Hidden Valley Elementary starting in the third grade.
- Rob and I became close friends throughout the remainder of Elementary, Jr. High, and High School. (Also, in present day.)
- Rob and Neal were roommates for the first semester or so at the Art Institute in Seattle, Washington.
- I attended Seattle Pacific University from 2000 to 2001.
- With us attending University in the same city, Rob, Neal and I spent time together regularly in the early 2000s.
- Neal, who was taking Visual Arts classes, somehow met Bill Cole, who was at the AI in taking Audio Engineering classes.
- Bill worked at Blockbuster 95329.
- Got a free Neo Geo Pocket Color in 1998.
- While searching for information on Rockman Battle and Fight, I found the website Sector: Neo Geo Pocket, and found the forums.
- Mark Magdamit also had a NGPC, visited the website (and forum) Sector: Neo Geo Pocket, and happened to live in Seattle.
- Mark and I became friends through the forum.
- I was a terrible temp, during the brief period I tried to be a temp.
- Having met Bill through Neal and Rob, and failed at my foray into work as an office temp, I asked him to help me get a job at the Blockbuster where he worked.
- As a Customer Service Representative at Blockbuster, I always asked for training on the tasks and processes performed by Assistant Managers, and learned to do most of the job long before a promotion was available.
- [Redacted] was fired from his job as an Assistant Manager at Blockbuster 95329.
- I replaced [Redacted] as an Assistant Manager at Blockbuster 95329.
- The manager, Alex Thompson, gave me wonderful insight into leadership, management, and when and how those overlap.
- Alex Thompson was headhunted out of his role as Store Manager of Blockbuster 95329.
- The store manager who replaced Alex Thompson at Blockbuster 95329 had a very contentious relationship with the existing staff.
ON ANOTHER SIDE OF SEATTLE:
- Real Networks started Real Arcade to focus on the burgeoning casual game market.
- Mark Magdamit left his job in marketing at Infogrames/Atari/Humongous and wound up in Customer Support at GameHouse.
- RealNetworks bought GameHouse in 2003, with the sale completing in 2004
- One day, while complaining to Mark Magdamit about how much my job at Blockbuster had changed, and how frustrated I was by the new manager, he noted that post acquisition, he’d be moving to the RealArcade side of the company as a producer, but his role in Customer Service would be open.
- I had kidney failure in 2004.
- Too sick to return to University, I worked out a flexible schedule at GameHouse, and by the time I was healthy, was busy enough with work that returning to school would have to wait.
- When I was still in Customer Support, and QA at GameHouse was overworked on a tight deadline, I worked late, taking on QA tasks to help finish projects on time.
- In an effort to increase efficiency, RealNetworks eliminated the in house Customer Support team at GameHouse. All employees were placed in new jobs, with me moving to QA.
- As the only person in GameHouse QA with any management background (Blockbuster!), I received a promotion to Test Lead.
- BigFish Games dropped prices dramatically for casual games, dramatically impacting the profitability of other US based studios, like GameHouse.
- There were layoffs in June 2010.
- The Kinect for Xbox 360 left heavy testing in summer of 2010, resulting in a huge glut of QA testers looking for work.
- I struggled to find work in a market flooded by other QA testers.
- Apple released the iPhone, and with iOS 2.0.1, added the App Store.
- Apple released GameCenter for iOS, leading VC funded startup Zero2Live to pivot, using their backend tech platform to release proof of concept game Trade Nations, to unexpected financial success.
- After a few months of job searching without even a call back from anyone, I managed to book an interview for a contract QA Tester position (I’d given up on Lead) at Z2Live. I got the job.
- As an experienced Test Lead, I was quickly promoted from contract Tester to full time, then to Test Lead, and within a few more months, QA Director at Z2Live.
- As production on MetalStorm and Battle Nations progressed at Z2Live, the design team was consistently short staffed. After helping out after hours for several months, I moved into a full time design role.
AND OVER ON THIS SIDE OF TOWN:
- Geoffrey Card parlayed a single meeting at Amaze into a full time Job.
- After 11 years at Amaze (which had since become Glu), Geoffrey took a job at Z2Live.
- Geoffrey left Z2Live, and took a job at Undead Labs.
- When Undead Labs began looking for a Content Designer, Geoffrey recommended someone he’d been impressed by in his time at Z2Live: me.
So how did I get that job doing game design for Undead Labs? The answer is complicated, obviously, and no one is going to follow my path, but a few solid rules can be extrapolated:
- If you want to do something else for a living, start doing it now. Once you get good, someone will want to pay you.
- Whatever you’re doing, do it well and try to develop. You never know when a background as an assistant manager at a Blockbuster Video is going to be the bit of experience that sets you apart.
- Be nice to people. I don’t mean be a phony, social climbing network guy, I mean be a friendly, pleasant person who people will be happy to recommend when the time comes.
- Be lucky. When luck is not available, be persistent.
Epilogue of unrelated coincidences:
- Total number of people from the S:NGP forum that have gone on to ship a commercial video game as a Game Designer: five.
- Rob’s roommate after Neal was Richard Anderson, who went on to work at ArenaNet. I met Kekai Kotaki from ArenaNet through Rob and Richard.
- I went to Kekai’s birthday in like, 2010 or something, which was organized by Vicki Ebberts, who I later worked with at Z2Live and now at Undead Labs. We did not meet at that party, but you can see me in the background of some of her pictures.