This past week a great group of folks from Activision flew in to connect with and interview students at MIT. We hosted Kate Paneno (Activision HQ), Tim Stellmach (Vicarious Visions), Robert Morgan (Shaba), and Michael Vance (Treyarch). You can learn a lot about a company (and its industry) from the way it pitches itself to potential hires, so I thought I’d share a few details with you.
Activision kicked off its main presentation with the following points: 1) Work for us, and you’ll never need to worry about receiving a paycheck on time. 2) For all practical purposes, you work for a given studio — not for Activision. HQ simply does its best to help you find the studio that’s right for you. [Interpretation: “want stability plus a small, entrepreneurial environment? Have your cake and eat it, too.”]
The next part of the presentation: What is life like in the game industry? 1) All your colleagues are passionate about what they do. 2) Your friends and family will be mystified and/or jealous. 3) There is “crunch-time”, but it’s by no means perpetual. Quote: “you’ll put in good hours, but you’ll feel good about it, and it won’t last forever.” [Nothing unexpected here, though I’m always curious to hear a company’s particular take on crunch-time.]
The remainder of the presentation focused on the tasks associated with production, engineering, and design. In each case, it was made clear that occupational challenges were non-trivial. Producers “herd cats” and serve as a project’s “lymphatic system”. Engineers solve complex problems in real-time, under serious resource constraints, within new and unfamiliar environments. Designers wrestle with conflicting project goals and constantly revisit and revise their designs. [Interpretation: fanboys beware. Game development is not always fun, and definitely not easy.]
All in all, no surprises here. The team from Activision was candid and refreshingly eager to court students for all positions, not just engineering. (The way some companies behave, you’d think an education is barely useful to entry-level designers and producers. This attitude has become more rare in recent years, but it hasn’t vanished.) The challenges facing independent developers remain exploitable by large publishers. Crunch-time is still a hot topic, and Activision certainly isn’t disavowing it entirely. I’ll have to ask some students how they feel about that, especially since some developers, like Blue Fang, are promoting 40-50 hour work-week policies.
Lastly, my thanks to the Activision folks for their visit. :)