Video games are an endless source of entertainment. For those with the right combination of talent and passion, as well as specific skill sets, gaming can be a sky’s-the-limit career. Pryce Jones, who heads the graduate program in the School of Game Design at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, says that young people would be wise to consider careers in gaming, as they offer a wide range of job options and the paths to gaining access to the industry are many.
Jones, 42, knows a thing or two about breaking into gaming on a professional level and achieving success.
The New York native graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in architecture and worked in that field for a number of years. However, he stunned family and friends when he pursued a career in gaming. However, Jones, whose college studies included sculpture and painting, says his art and architecture training made him well suited for the creative side of gaming.
For more than a decade, Jones had held positions in the gaming industry as an environment artist, concept painter and art director. He was a contributor on some of the industry’s biggest titles—Pool of Radiance, Legacy of Kain: Defiance and Tomb Raider: Legend. Jones also worked on Shrek Super Slam and the next-generation version of Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings.
His most exciting project was working on Lord of the Rings and watching the project go from one that got little consideration and resources to plenty of focus and an enhanced budget.
“Before the first movie came out, nobody knew it was going to be very big,” he recalls.
Jones says now is a good time for minorities to enter the gaming industry because there’s an interest in making games more diverse and bringing a more broad talent pool into the industry.
Blacks in Gaming (BIG), an organization for which Jones is a member and leader, strives for better understanding of the video gaming industry.
“BIG strives to demystify the video gaming industry for people of color,” states BIG’s website. “We assist individuals in evolving from consumers to producers of video games and apps…BIG provides networking, outreach, mentoring and entrepreneurship guidance to professionals and students.”
The organization’s 20 to 25 members represent a who’s who of African-Americans in the industry. Consider these BIG leaders:
Lisette Titre oversees social media and outreach for BIG and has been a computer graphics artist for more than 11 years. As a digital modeler, she takes data from scanned images, concept art and photographs, and creates 3-D digital sculptures. She’s managed teams of artists worldwide and has contributed to games such as Tiger Woods Golf and The Simpsons.
Verin G. Lewis is over mentorship with BIG and is professionally linked to Microcomputer Resources Inc. (MRI), an independent production company. MRI’s first title, Josh’s World is described as a non-violent game and includes “positive African-American role models for young children.”
Kevin A. Brown, who handles corporate sponsorship for BIG, has more than 17 years in the industry. He has worked on such brands as Space Chimps. While at Microsoft Game Studio, he worked on Mass Effect, and, at Electronic Arts, he helped to establish the Tiger Woods franchise. He also was the art development manager on God of War 3.
Jones points out that the range of jobs in the gaming industry is broad.
Programmers develop the code to make games work. Designers focus on the fun aspects, crafting the experience. Artists create the visuals and concepts. Animators work on characters and creatures.
Video games also involve writers, who develop story lines, and musicians and sound effects experts, who create soundtracks. There also are production teams that make sure everyone stays on task, and testers who get the bugs out.
Jones said those who want to be successful in the video game industry have to be team players, as everyone works closely together and relies on each other.
The emergence of small games for mobile devices and social media is reducing the production time of many new titles, with some being rolled out in months. However, major games for console devices can take two to three years or longer. He notes that the recent Halo game took three to four years to develop, and God of War took about six years to complete.
Despite Jones’ personal love and professional involvement in gaming, he limits the time his sons — ages 8 and 10 — spend playing video games. However, he has started to show them how a game “can be a creative tool.”
Jones suggests those interested in breaking into gaming on a professional level do considerable research about the industry through websites such as Gamasutra.com, an online guide to the “art and business of making games.”
“Find out as much as you can about it,” Jones says, adding that there are tutorials on the Internet about video game production, and programs that can be downloaded.
It’s important for a serious individual to start doing the thing he or she loves— drawing, animating, programming, designing, modifying existing games—so he or she can develop a body of work, he says.
Jones admits that many extremely talented and highly dedicated individuals can break into the video gaming industry without a college degree.
“You do not need a degree,” Jones says. “I don’t tell my students that. If someone is talented, they will shine through.”
However, college can help others get on the right track, develop their talents, learn discipline and focus, develop professionalism and get connected to the right people and organizations.
“School can provide that proving ground, that training ground,” Jones says. “Not everybody eeds that.”