Take on and advise from old game artist


The Gaming Industry - What to know

Spent 13 years working in gaming, out for a while, but think most of what’s here still applies for all those people asking what it’s like in the gaming industry. Intended to put it on my web site but too lazy for that. Fellows still working in the industry I’ve talked with tell me it’s pretty much the same. Hope it clears a few things up. (corrected California home price to better reflect current, and added a bit due to cuurent industry changes). Other industry vets feel free to add comments, or you overseas fellows also data on your areas.

Mr D

Main areas of employment
U.S. : Main - California: Greater Los Angelas basin area. San Francisco Bay Area. San Diego area. More pay but your living in and area where a cheap 3bedroom 2 bath home runs $450,000 to$700,000 in price. If your young (or young at heart) plenty of places to have a great time.

Secondary - Redmond-Washington State, Austin-Texas, Chicago-Illinois. Cheaper home prices, cheaper wages. A number of artists i knew in California, saved their money there, than took jobs in these places so they could afford homes(and a lot came back to California because they’d rather live there).

Other - scattered about: Portland-Oregon, various smaller town in Texas, some developement being done in New England Area (Boston,etc…) also the technology belt surrounding Washington DC (Mariland, Virginia). plus some small companies in numerous towns, usually a single company.
Even cheaper home prices (outside of big cities), but you’d better like where your working because it’s likely to be the only place in town.

If you don’t want to live in one of these areas, especially main and secondary, best have a backup plan. And no companies don’t let you work remotely with a few exceptions that don’t include people just graduated.

(Note: Some California companies are looking to relocate elsewhere to save cost. Texas, Canada, and Florida amoung spots. Also get away from those nasty California laws suits where people paid to work 40 hours only have to work 40 not 60 hours. ‘Dang come to Texas you can work em’ as mush as you like. If they drop dead we’ll just bring in another herd).

  • Schooling - Yes/No
    Should I go to a computer arts school. If you can afford it - Yes. Can you still get a job if you’ve got a kickin’ portfolio but no schooling - Yes.
    Many companies do not bother to train, especially larger companies, as there are now so many people with 3d skills. It’s much cheaper time and expense wise to simply bring in another person who already has the required skills than to train a current employee to do the task. Best you have skills, which a good school can teach you.

    Much of getting a job doing game art is networking. Other students you make friends with may get hired, and knowing someone working in the industry raises your chances they could get you a job later. Also some instructors still work in the business, and if they notice a talented individual may help land them a post through contacts.

    Education is good in general. And most people who start a career in games don’t end up in one. Multiple reasons. So look for an accredited school, this means a degree from them is the same as a degree from a more traditional school. At some point you may wish to, or through your economic situation return to school to pursue a degree in another field. If accredited your diploma will mean not repeating classes because the new university will not accept your computer art degree. courses.

    Helps on interviews. If you walk into a interview and are asked ‘how did you learn 3d’, and you say 'I got the software and taught myself. To most people hiring, unless they think your rich, means ‘Hey, I’ve got a lot of pirated software worth thousands of dollars’. This makes management types think ‘Humm… wonder if they might be willing to steal our code’.

    So if not a big art school try to take a class at a community college, or publically offer class, or if younger high school class. Much better to say I learn the basics at this small school and then I taught myself more.
    If pressed on how you could afford the software. Well you bought a student copy while in school. Which is not a bad idea in and of itself. Through many schools a student can get a major 3d program for 20-25% of what it would normally cost. If nothing else see if a cheap-small school near you has such deals. If so signup for a class, and get yourself a legal version (Some people I hear even have friends already in school buy it for them, or so I hear.).

    *Suggestions: If going to a school use your electives to study other areas of interest. You may find you’re actually more interested in that field or have more of a knack for doing that type of work. A lot of students you meet in computer art schools may have the interest in 3D art, but may not have the talent. Plus as stated above can help set you up for when you may wish to change professions in the future. Also a few business courses might be good as 3d artists often go freelance whether they want to or not. And that is business.

    *Biggests reason I’ve seen that causes artists to leave the industry are

    1. In ablitity to divorce yourself from your art. If a company you work for wants to take your killer mech warrior, put a tutu on it and have it do battle by flying about shooting green flies from its hind quarters. Well it’s their art, they paid for it- own the rights, and can do with it as they please.
  1. Shear boredom. Remember your doing a job, that’s job not oh i’m going to get to make my cool game I always want to now. No your going to make whatever the company wants, and you’ll be doing the type of artwork they feel they need to make sales.
    Often you’ll find yourself doing the exact same type of work on one project after another. ‘Hey John makes great car wheels, we’ll just have him do that.’ And at times it will feel just like your standing on the line at the Ford pant bolting on door panels.

*Art Programs which ones
Main 3d: Max\Maya will most likely be a single program in 3 years or so. Next Softimage, and Lightwave, rarely but trying to Blender due to no cost. I know people will say how they’d rather use other programs than Max/Maya, but it’s what most companies use and if you want to stand your best chance for getting a job you’d better know them. See that part about not wanting to train people.

Main 2d: Photoshop. Some Painter a few others. There is a little more latitude here as what is more important is file types the program can spit out (TGA,BMP,PNG…) and how well they mesh with your 3d package, and if the game engine can use them.

If your a top end texture artist companies tend to get you what you work best in, but prefer photoshop. It is the most widely used and companies don’t like a production enviorments using a wide range of programs. Also it is taken into account you will most likely leave the company at some point. If you use some off brand of paint (or 3D) program, then they either have to buy all new software or try to find someone who works in the same off brand as you. You’d better be really hot stuff here where they love you, or it’s going to be hire the person who can use our common software and keep the production line flowing.

Big company: Better pay, a little more stability, and you get to play with the newer (clostly) 3d programs-toys sooner. Bad part- a lot of your a cog in the machine, we hire you as a modeler and that’s where you stay. Production schedule and marketing windows are king.

Smaller companies: Less pay but more creativity. they often don’t have the bodies to fill every post some you may get to fill more than one pair of shoes. Big down size- here today gone tomarrow. Alot of these places live game to game, and are deadline driven. Don’t meet deadline, no payment from larger company financing game, no pay check for you. Also if a large company needs to cut costs, first item looked at are external developers.

*You should know
Average time at a company 2 1/2 years. Mainly mostly you work for a smaller company and when the fundings gone so is the company. Larger companies are around longer but often work hire/layoff route. Hire for a project, layoff when project is done and rehire when new project starts. Now adays this is often the skeem when you hear the ‘click’ word ‘Hollywood system’. Basically your a hired gun. You go in do a job and get out. XYZ company needs some one who makes cars, you do, so you spend six months making their cars. No more cars to make, no more need for you. Off to the next gig. See above about the need for networking.
Also as above, you may wish to learn new skills. Your big company may not wish to move you from your position to train you. So you find a small company that will take a chance. Learn the skill, then go back to a larger company able to get a new postion. Or a lot of times you get fed up with what your working on, and who your working with. ‘So long folks I’m outta here.’.

Average time after marriage till you leave the industry 5-6 years. There’s a reason that big place in Northern California got the nick name ‘the divorce factory’. Amazingly many loved ones foolishly object to you working 60 hour weeks, then coming in on the weekend. Plus the little fact that every 2 1\2 years your out looking for work, unemployed for a bit, then moving to take a new job elsewhere.

Average time after having a child before leaving the industry 3-4 years. Many of the same reasons. A lot of artists especially after starting families just find it in their best interest to have more secure employment.

(Now this does not happen to all people, it’s just an average I arrived at after working for so long in the industry. With the divorce rate in the U.S. at around 50% in the first seven years chances are what they are. But you should take this into consideration when thinking of doing 3d Art. Chances are very good you will be often changing jobs, with bouts of unemployment. Same is true of a number of jobs, but you should ask yourself if your the kind of person who needs to have a job they know will be there for the next twenty years. Plan to retire and get that pension. First off no game companies have pensions, maybe 401k’s, your on your own baby.).

Women tend to leave the business quicker. Main reason is many of them tend to put personal and family life above the job. Especially after having childred. May sound sexist, but true none the less. If it comes down to their partner and/or kids on the weekend, or coming in to take one of the team. Many women will tell the company where they can stick the team.
And to tell the truth it most likely shows they are more intelligent than their male counterparts. ‘Sure I don’t need any days off for anything, girls - huh? What’s a girl.’ Some of those jokes you hear about game artists only knowing 3D girls sadly rings true. 60-65 hour weeks do that to you.

‘Business is Business.’ Applies to all work not just 3D art. Companies will do what they think best to stay in business. Cold and impersonal at times. If getting rid of your job will save them, then your job goes.

‘Your your own business.’ Also could be ‘look out for number one’, just as a company does what it needs to survive so should you. Companies will try to get you to go for the ‘loyalty’ bit but remember ‘business is business’. Work with one eye on your job, one eye open for your next job.

Programmers are considered more valuable than artists. If you have personality clashes
(and in an industry with many egos plenty show up) with a programmer, companies consider good programmers harder to find than good artists. Plenty of artists out there. They will look to replace you more than the programmer. Hint: When a manager says "Just calm down, stick it out till we can find a solution to this problem’ (have said this myself). It really means ’ If you left now it could hurt my schedule, give me time to find your replacement. Then I’ll can you.’.

Having done some management I can tell you as an art manager you probably spends 1/3 your time in meetings. Why? who knows, mostly so your upper management can look like they’re doing something. 1/3 for your time is spent doing art related items, and 1/3 is spent dealing with personal problems of the artists. Problems between team members, personal problems of artists, etc. Managers do not like this, your suppose to be a professional. When a game projects end there is a window of several weeks when nothing much happens. This is a good opprotunity for managers to dispose of troublesome or non-producing artists. There is no work to be done so there is no reason to have you employed. Or they can suddenly find your postion won’t be needed on the next project, and hopefully palm you off on some other team regardless of your desire to continue on your current team. So learn to play nice, no running with scissors.

Often it’s not what your working on but who your working with. Again true for most work. Many artists prefer working with certain leads or managers. You just like their style of doing things. And artist will try to get on the projects those people will be running, I’ve had leads leave get jobs elsewhere, then I left to go join them as I did not care for their replacement.
So look for a lead or team that fits your style of doing things, you’ll be happier.

*Hint on getting that job

  1. Your a professional, you can get it done. Present that attitude, not I want to do this, or I have ideas how this could be better. Your not hired so who cares about your ideas. If asked talk about what you can contibute. They need it done, you can do it.

  2. Keep your reel 2-3 minutes. Boy does interest wain quickly. If you have a reel of 10 minutes showing every model you ever made spinning in circles, people will look at it for ten second or so.

  3. Highlight your best work, but best work in what your applying for. You can show me lovely texture work on some characters you made, but if I’m interested in a animator I’ll look for 10 seconds again.

  4. Put up a web page. Leads get tons of resume’s often 100-150 for a postion. Often you don’t want to sit through watching 150 demo reels. So first you usually look at the applicants resume, like what you see then it’s their web page first. Like what you see there, then you’ll look at the demo. No web page chances are your demo will be seen if they can’t find someone from the web sites they viewed.
    And have that be your artist web site and as above look professional. No my blog here, pictures of my family, or my film reviews. No fancy transitions (unless your looking to get hired as a web designer), no forcing the viewer to search through 7 other pages to get to your art page. (Must admit I tend not to follow my own suggestion here).

  5. Know and understand about game engines, and art pipelines. If you have no experience get one of the games that have mod tools that come with them (Unreal, Half-Life, etc…) Learn what it takes to get art from your art programs into a game engine. A number of these tools are actually used at some companies for production work. Teams are often on short production schedules, they want to work with people they like, and whom they know can produce.

  6. Join what art groups you can, once more network. Perhaps get together with friends to work on a mod.

  7. See if there’s a contest you can enter, a new artbook looking for submission, anything to get your art seen. If your just graduating and have no practicle experience, saying you where published in this book or that, or perhaps recieved some sort of award at a show helps say you do quality work. Also other artists in the industry look at these things and you may draw their interest.

*Last why do it.
If you like games and want to do 3D game art, then it’s their ball and you’ll need to play by their rules. If you really want to do art then you get to put up with the above.
If what you read above makes you say I wouldn’t want to live that kind of lifestyle, I just want to do my own art. Then find someway to do that, don’t waste your time. Or think ok I can put up with it for a while, bank some cash then move on to my own thing.
Also as above many of the larger cities can be a whole lot of fun when your young, and with the outsourcing going on now a number of artists are using the opprotunity to take jobs working or training foreign works in countries like India or China. Grabbing 1 or 2 years gigs working overseas. Seeing the world on another persons dollar. Also there are places in Australia, Canada, and Europe looking.
If that’s not what you want don’t make yourself meiserable, life’s to short for that. And remember it’s all technology, just because your job is needed today does not mean it will be needed tomorrow. Plus technology always changes so you’ll be spending a lot of time keeping up your skills. Are you the type that enjoys doing that.

Hope that helps some of you out there.


Hey, spot-on, good post Mr.D, but why so few replies?



I’m too humbled and also too arrogant to reply, I fear :slight_smile: at one end he is right and I can see many a fellow student go ‘that path’ and do what was described. On the other hand, I am Jeroen Stout and I will not succumb to that. I’m destined for greater things. So there :slight_smile:

Has any-one played Myst IV? There’s this bit where Sirrus goes: “I AM SIRRUS AND I WILL NOT BE DEFEATED!” It’s so cheesy yet so amazingly classy. He does the standing-on-edge-shaking-arms-up thing. Probably the only thing, save for some of the art direction -hi Pascal-, that made that game worth playing.


Great thoughts Mr. D! Thanks for sharing. Good timing too, I’m just entering this crazy world called ‘job hunting’ :eek:


Best summation of the industry I’ve seen Mr. D, although I’m surprised you skipped so lightly over the egos and boys club politics that dominate the business.


Between this, which is probably the most honest and valuable “industry guide” Ive seen in these parts… and recent threads where human resource “professionals” gleefully describe the cursory fashion in which they discard demo reels and make hiring decisions based on peoples ability to put together their “personal music video” rather than their actual skill level and character…its a wonder so many kids pine after it as a career.

Probably for the best though…theres too many cg artists around and too much “CG” in general…hey wait…what site am I on again…this is epilogue right? I lose track…

Oh crap…CGTALK…wheres the edit button…? What I meant to say was that everything is good, everything is equal, digital paint equal to oil painting, all software as good as every other software, video games as good as reading books, most art jobs in the games industry NOT the artistic equivilent of “ditch-digging”…um, what am I missing…oh yeah, all that matters is the ART!

What? I mentioned about the ART, right?


Thanks for the post, Mr. D…I read the entire thing, and thats a rarity for me!


Great post! More like an article. Blunt and accurate.



thats the spirit!


Great man, it’s really good to have you post this overview of the industry, which in my very short time so far, seems spot on as everybody said. It especially makes me happy to see it here on CGTalk (as i’m sure it does some of the mods as well :wink: ) because for a while people would ask questions about this stuff, seemingly every day…so questions to this got sorta banned/highly frowned upon, so it’s a very good update to these questions…hopefully this will be a sticky or somthing.
I just got my first studio job a couple months ago after being out of college for a couple years and I can tell you my biggest hurdle was not knowing any engines, as you mentioned. I can’t count the number of times that i’ve had mulitple phone interviews with a company spanning over a few weeks and in the end I would get turned down due to the same re-occouring reason: “The lack of game engine experience put you behind some of the other candidates when deciding whether to hire you or not”
One thing about your post that I think could use some additions is adding Texas as more of a player in the industry than you put it. Through my job searches, I’ve found quite a few good game companies down there, between Dallas and Austin. When I applied to Ritual they had a listing of other companies in Dallas, besides Ritual:

[li]Id Software – Quake franchise, Doom franchise, Castle Wolfenstein franchise[/li][li]3DRealms – Duke Nukem franchise, Max Payne[/li][li]Ensemble – Age of Empires franchise, Age of Mythology[/li][li]Gearbox – Bond: Nightfire PC, Halo PC, Tony Hawk PC, Half Life Opposing Force[/li][li]Paradigm – Mission Impossible, Spy Hunter[/li][li]Terminal Reality – BloodRayne, Monster Truck Madness, Fly, 4x4 Evolution[/li][/ul](which doesn’t take into accout Austin)

GREAT post man!


when you say, “leave the industry,” where does everyone go? Do they still do jobs somewhat related to what they have experience in, i.e. computers, graphics, ???

also, it’s been recommended to save a few paychecks for “rainy days” or inbetween jobs, but is this really feasible when you start a family? do finances really become unstable enough to make a family person leave the industry?


Agree 100% with this article. For those of you new to the industry or wanting to join in. Read the above article.
Making games and playing games are two very different worlds, and I think many students do not fully understand that when pursuing a career in games.

I wrote an article much like this one a few years back and I just finished updating it so it can be placed on gamecareerguide.com, should be up around sept1 I believe if you want some more of the same info.

I think it’s great that more game vets are sharing information like this. I hope others do the same.


yea… its a shitty industry Im trying to get into. I expect I’ll do it for 6-10 years and then I’ll be gone to something new.

God knows I cant have one career only in my life…


Very good and accurate. I have to disagree with the idea that you would be inclined to steal from your company if you didn’t buy software. I was lucky enough to work on school computers, but not everyone can afford that. You can’t go into an interview with mediocre models that are hindered by mediocre software. They want to see the best work possible.

You mentioned yourself that they don’t wanna train anymore. So even if I can rock Maya but haven’t used the other programs, there is a slim chance they’ll still hire you if you’re amazing, but not very likely. They’ll go with someone who knows the in-house software. So you should learn em all so that your options are more open.


These sorts of posts always make me wonder… just how long will things continue like this? How long can an industry full of such friendly, intelligent people continue being run by a bunch of greedy jerks?

The hours are not reasonable, the job security is not reasonable, the lack of retirement options is flat-out ridiculous, and treating talented artists en masse as factory monkeys smacks of arrogance and idiocy.

How much better would movies and films be if they were made by real, cooperative teams that weren’t being run ragged? The stuff that’s risen above is almost always made by a creative and passionate bunch of people that did things right-- but it’s always so short-lived.

Sooner or later the bubble will burst, the fad will slump, and audiences will demand stuff with more substance to it. I hope so anyway. Also it might help if the employees quit being so blindly led and put a foot down on how they’re willing to be treated.


I’m wondering this as well. Games are so specialized that after you’ve been in the industry for a number of years (in my case about 7 now) I’m wondering where you go from here? I mean, I want to stay in games, but part of me feels that perhaps after the 12 year mark, I might need to do something else with myself.


It’s hard to put your foot down and demand better when there is a long line of newly graduated students at the door wanting to work for a quarter your salary and are willing to work 80 hour work weeks because they haven’t been hazed yet.


Maybe if more people were to speak out…but oh wait…you can’t speak out or voice your opinion because then YOU’RE FIRED! There are so many game artists out there who want to post in this forum and voice their opinions but they can’t because they are scared to death of being fired…
I just hope more people continue to post here give out advice and tell the truth. I know not all of the experiences in the game industry are bad, but after the 2 year mark, they almost always tend to be bad, especialy if you’re in the “trenches.”


Sorry, no :slight_smile: you’ll have to do it all by yourself, without any bubble bursting for you. The teams were people who did what was their goal, their faith in themselves. It’s part luck, but you can’t make a lucky shot if you don’t pull the trigger first.
Perhaps I’m overdoing the whole faith-in-yourself thing here, but I’ve been waiting for bursting bubbles my entire life - my life, which is far too short to serve as an argument at this point, but for me it’s been quite a while already (should’ve seen the bored afternoons, took forever).

So go oot and aboot and make the great things. Look at Tim Schafer. No bubble bursted for him and he nearly bankrupted a company. But he’s going strong and has made a game which is fantasticly him. He made what he wanted to do. Nobody came to him and said: “He Schafer, you’ve got a handsome goaty, here’s a bag of money”. It’s risky, dangerous. And that’s the price of doing what you want to do instead of what others want you to do.

There, overdoing it now :slight_smile:


A lot of what you say here is accurate, but it gets tiresome when you resort to the tried-and-true scare tactics that every noob fears: There’s always someone ready to take your job! You will work 60 hours a week, minimum! You will get divorced! You can’t have a family! I suppose these might discourage some, which ultimately means less competition for me. :wink: But I think many of these issues are over-stated. And much of the inter-personal workplace advice is applicable to any business.

Oh, and when posting very long-winded diatribes, grammar and punctuation are your friends. Commas are often safe and effective when used properly. :wink:


Very good read. Thanks for your input in this. =)
Now on w/ my modeling…