8 year old gets advice about game industry

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Wow. It really warms my heart to see so many positive comments on this topic and how willing Blizzard was to help. This kid is really blessed starting out with having such a good support system around him, giving him resources on how to succeed in game design.

To the OP, your son, Alex, reminds me an awful lot of myself! I'm 16 right now, but when I was only 9, I really wanted to become a game designer too. 7 years ago, it was a bit harder to look for help concerning how to become a game designer, but over time, I learned a lot of valuable lessons and matured in a way that made my motivation to succeed as a game designer even stronger.

One really big advice to your son is to "Start early, start small". Meaning, if your child ever gets a hold of a really good game editor, tell him to start off with really simple projects and publish them over time. I recommend Game Maker 8 as a really good start. (http://sandbox.yoyogames.com/)

My mistake when I was making my games back then, was that I expected to make games that look professional like the ones I always played on my consoles, but I was getting ahead of myself. I just kept getting frustrated, abandoning project after project. It was only 2 years ago, when my father gave me advice that changed my life forever. "Start early, start small". I started with more simpler projects and published them over time, and it really helped overall with the recognition I was awarded with the people who played my games.

Your son has all the time in the world to make his dreams come true. Make sure he uses his time wisely on simple projects that he can publish online instead of trying to imitate the World of Warcraft MMO all by himself. Trust me, his games will improve a lot more using this "start small" method.

If you're looking for credible proof regarding my past works and accomplishments, take a look at this website (http://pdc-gaming.webs.com/). I just learned how to design websites a couple months ago and although I have yet to update the 'Mini-Games' portion of my website, within a week, it will show a good handful of games that I finished working on that you and your child can play for free.

Please, by all means, use my website as a reminder to your young boy that dreams do come true. He should never give up on his dream of becoming a game designer, for he already took the necessary steps it takes to starting up the rest of his grand journey for future happiness. Good luck to him, and thank you, OP, and everyone else for helping pave the path for this young, little boy's success. It warms my heart because that young boy is like looking at myself 7 years in the past.
Note: Ghostcrawler (Lead Systems Designer for World of Warcraft) saw this thread, and had a few thoughts to share on the subject with all those interested in pursuing a career in game design at Blizzard:

Hi Aayia,

Peratryn offers some great advice, and I can elaborate on it. I do know a ton about what the different game teams here look for, and I’m happy to share.

...words words words..

Good luck!

Damn good read. Kudos to GC for writing that up!

I'm not going into game design but I've been trying to look into what direction my career is going if I do need a change or whatever. Somehow this reply made sense and somehow gave me pointers outside of game designing and in a way, I am grateful for.
Very nice read. Thanks GC.

And to Aayia: I wish the best of luck to you and your child :)
GC generally makes me a rather bitter person, but that post got a huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuge +1 from me. Seriously. :)
Wow, I am thoroughly impressed. Thanks GC for taking the time to write something so heartfelt and inspiring. It's almost enough for me to forgive the "Dungeons are Supposed to be Hard" blog post. Almost. ;p

01/08/2013 07:47 PMPosted by Nhuvasarim
This is very good information, but for those of us not only challenged by gaining some entry/experience into the gaming industry, but also limited to geographical opportunities, what are we to do?

I think this is where Ghostcrawler's suggestion of starting a fansite would come in handy. You don't have to be close to any gaming meccas for you to gain an Internet presence, and who knows? Garner enough attention and/or connections in the gaming world, and you might be snatched up. :) Where there's a will, there's a way!
Game Designer. I had that aspiration when I was in elementary school back in the 80's (probably around 8 years old, as I was in 3rd grade and drawing new Super Mario Bros worlds on 17x11 paper). I wrote a paper on it for "career day" in middle school in the early 90's. Boy, back then I found a total of 2-3 books on pac-man game design. =P

Eventually I went to school for computer science due to this aspiration. Game design and computer animation. In the 00's, there still wasn't much in major courses you could take to learn game design specifically. Unless you could afford going to a place like Digipen in Washington.

My best advice I could give for a parent of an 8-year old would be:

  • a) Nurture this desire. Nothing is more powerful for learning than self interest.
  • b) Understand the difference between "design" and "development". Design tends to be the artsy side. Development tends to be the programming side. They both tend to be used for those who plan/create games in general, despite the need for both technical and artistic qualities.
  • c) Games need music and sound affects. You can become involved with making games through music as well as graphics or programming.
  • d) Developers tend to have to know a lot of physics and math. You'll be implementing systems for calculating the drop of a "missile" (generic word for an object flying through the air, which could include a thrown apple or banana) to falling speed and damage, like in WoW.
  • Games are rapidly evolving thanks to the iPhone/Ipad/iPod or "smartphones" and "tables" generically. Casual gaming is a word that's been popular for 3-4 years now and there's a vastly growing market to make a living off that.
  • Read about the history of video games. A great way to get a kid to read! There's a great book out there called "The History of Video Games". Noal Bushnell talks about starting Atari and how he helped some mother out with her scraggly kid who was getting into trouble in school. This kids name was Steve Jobs.
  • Look into young kids programming classes. I'm always amazed by what kids can do if their parents work with them. There's 8-year prodigies on the violin because the parents worked hard with them. I don't think it's too soon to start them learning programming. They might not become a developer but knowing a little something about it would certainly help them. And they could easily start making text based adventure games and give them a leg up in the future. Something that could continue to motivate them.
  • Not everything has to be on a computer. Games are games. They have rules and actions. He could create a board game or a card game (WoW has a card game!). This helps in the general idea of game creation. Also, just drawing out a video game on paper, the maps, levels, monsters, etc. Like building a portfolio of the games design is a great idea! Remember games start as concepts and the first thing we ever see from things like WoW expansions is the concept art. Your son could certainly be drawing those concepts out.
  • It would be good to help with organizational skills too. Help your son organized his game ideas into vanilla folders so he can pull out a game concept and work on it for a while and put it back. Years down the road, if he's got a file full of game concepts, it could really help him and he could realize how important it was that you helped him organized this back when he was 8! =)
  • "Back in the day" people broke into the game industry by making modifications or maps for games like Doom or Quake. Today, they're doing it by making "indie" (independent) games on the web or smartphone/tablet devices. It wouldn't hurt to get them a tablet so they can become very familiar with touch interfaces. When your kid is 18 and going to college... everything will be a touch interface. And we'll have flying skateboards. ;)

There's a few ideas that I hope helps!
Thanks for the info my 15 year old also wants to be a game designer:)

In addition to what everyone else has posted (and GC's fantastic response) I thought you might be interested in a Microsoft Research project called Kodu. It's a game design environment intended for experimenting with design and content creation. It's very easy to use and unless they've changed it recently the games can even be run on an Xbox 360 and shared with others.

The site is located here: http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/projects/kodu/
Hey, Nhuvasarim! My apologies if you've already seen this, but just in case you haven't -- you might want to look at Blizzard's job directory (http://us.blizzard.com/en-us/company/careers/directory.html#region=Americas), esp. under "Internship". One of those might be up your alley, and I'm sure an internship would be a nice way to get a foot in the metaphorical door (both geographically and experience-wise :).
I'm going to take what Daxx said here and add my own personal advice from working in a highly competitive industry.

Make sure you kid is smart, make sure he reads a lot (but not to the detriment of other social skills). He's going to need to be good at math too.

Then, bust his butt and get into an ivy league program. During high school he'll need to take on opportunities which get him exposure to local congressman or senators, which he'll need to get letters of reference from. I suggest community service and/or participating in election campaigns (even if he's the coffee boy). The idea here isn't the experience, but the exposure.

In terms of education, Daxx highlighted some ideas. I'd suggest the harder track and go double major or major/minor. Computer science as a major, backed with art or computer-aided art design, art as a minor (and not crap like art history, he needs hands-on art). Expect 5 years of school to do this, or 4 years running winter/summer terms also.

Keep the GPA high, 3.5+ is great, but no lower than 3.2 with the major/minor above 3.5

Senior year, start looking for jobs and thinking about graduate programs. I'd look for graduate programs in the vicinity of Blizzard and/or other major game design companies. And MBA from UCLA might be a good call, and I think there are some other options.

The only downside of all this, is that there are very likely to be more promising career opportunities for an ivy league grad with an MBA than becoming a starting game designer. I suppose you could go state school, for the cost difference. But you trade off network, which could be huge in getting in the door at Blizzard (i.e. you are going to want to know someone).
TL:DR, If I had to pick from the critical items from my list above:

1. Good School, strong GPA
2. Double major, computers & art in some respects. Definitely computer science over any other computer discipline. Comp Sci separates the men from the mice.
3. Network, find an in. Find someone who knows someone. Be it through conventions, online networking, blogging, community sites. Know someone at Blizzard, or another game design company.
4. Work hard (overriding theme)
Wow. Ghostcrawler is awesome. So much wisdom in that post. He really knows what he's talking about. I guess that's why sometimes he gets a bit sour. Too many people thinking they know better when in fact they don't.

Excellent points and they made me think about some decisions in my life as well. Gotta finish projects.

I mean, I was around when GC did his scenario for Age of Empires. I played AoE since it was published and messed around with the scenario builders at the time, always thinking about how good it would be to make a good map, but I was too busy picking my nose or whatever to go for it, and here I am, 15 years after that. Things could've been different. It's awesome that your son wants to do stuff so soon.

My only advice to all the excellent others here is to reinforce what GC said about FINISHING stuff. Make sure he finishes what he starts. That's VERY hard.
reading this post, i started shedding a tear or two :')
GC that was a really great post. Thank you for sharing that.
Well, what do you know, maybe Ghostcrawler has a soul after all.
This is what I'm trying to go to school for, thanks a ton Daxxarri :D
Definitely get him involved in some sort of programming lessons for kids, perhaps online. I started programming when I was 14 but I knew people who started at 11 or 12.

My friend Fritz was already a pretty good C++ programmer when he was 12. You don't need to earn a college degree to be an expert programmer.
Nice post GC.

OP: Let the kid be a kid. I was once that prodigy, that brilliant little tyke, the smart kid, and my parents thought they had it all mapped out for me.

I grew up without a childhood. I was stuck in the house with my nose forced into books and courses I could care less about. I could do multiplication and division tables backwards and forwards before I started grade school.

I was taught to read when I was 2. By the time I started grade 1 I was reading classics and mythology when the other kids were reading about Dick and Jane.

I was completely miserable.

You want to do the right thing for your kid? Kick him outside with a stick and a ball and tell him to play. He will have plenty of time to ponder trajectory equations and designing games.

Let him be a kid... he only gets to do it once, and once those years go by they are gone forever.

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