Often when playing through a game I’ll say to myself “I could design a better game than this”. But that’s as far as I go, a single off-hand remark muttered to myself. Others are so committed to getting their ideas into the hands of gamers that they devote their whole professional lives trying to doing so. But how do you even go about getting into game design in the first place?
Adam Russell is the Social games Designer for Soshi Games, working on a new generation of online social games. So what made him decide in the first place to go into the games industry? “I guess the reason I wanted to get into the industry is similar to many other people; I love games and wanted to spend my working life in an industry that has given me so many great memories,” he said. “I’d often invent games when I was younger with my brother, all we needed was a tennis ball and an active imagination and we could create dozens of games to play and I feel these early experiences shaped my interest in creating new gameplay experiences.”
Wanting to get a job in the games development industry, he went straight to the University of Lincoln to study a BSc in ‘Games Computing (Software Development)’. But it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. “The course was quite programming heavy, which wasn’t made particularly clear in the prospectus, and as such there were a number of students including myself who felt that we weren’t getting as much benefit from the course as we were anticipating,” he said. “Following my graduation in 2006 I struggled to find a games job and instead found myself working in a hotel bar,” Adam added.
After completing a degree (with a 2:1 no less) Adam found himself at a crossroads, keep plugging away and hope something turns up? Or add to his skill base to be more attractive to potential employers? He went for the latter: “I decided after a few months to return to University and spent a year saving money so that I could put myself through a Masters degree in Computer Games Design at Staffordshire University, which was much more in line with my career aspirations.”
A Masters degree landed Adam a spot at Realtime Worlds on the QA team. An experience that provided a good foundation for his current role at Soshi. He said: “I think the one of the most important things I learnt at Realtime was the importance of good communication. It sounds obvious but as a games designer if you’re not able to communicate your vision to the rest of the team clearly, the game is going to suffer.
“Getting my first job in the games industry as part of a QA team has turned out to be really useful in my current role at Soshi. As we are a relatively small studio, our QA team consists of four volunteers who find and report bugs. Without any previous QA experience between them, I was tasked with training them up in the skills they would need to find and report bugs to support the development team.”
“My role at Soshi is pretty varied” Adam said, “but I am primarily involved with the origination and development of new game features and producing the documentation to support these,” he added.
Adam explains that one of the most important parts of his job is just knowing everything he must about his game in order to instruct other members of the development team: “One of my key responsibilities is to know every detail about how the game should work in intrinsic detail so that whenever another team member has a query as to how a particular feature should be implemented or how it relates to another aspect of the game, I’m able to explain it to them without the need to trawl through the game documentation,” he said.
And what of the team he has to organize? “The majority of team Soshi are made up of volunteers, graduates and interns,” Adam explained: “We also have a number of remote staff, primarily in the art department, which provides a unique set of challenges. We use agile development and conduct regular, normally weekly, product reviews in which the entire team shows off the work they have done and we all get to raise any concerns or lavish praise on them,” he added.
Not only is the development agile, but Adam had to be on his toes during a recent trip to Brighton for The Great Escape Festival, which he called “one of my most surreal moments while working for Soshi”.
“I’d gone solely as a lover of music, but shortly after getting off the train in Brighton one of Soshi’s co-founders called me up and asked if I could present the game at ‘The Great Escape Start-Ups Forum’. A little taken aback I agreed and less than 24 hours later I was stood at the front of a lecture hall full of around sixty people and a panel of leading music business leaders and entrepreneurs which included former [Dragons’ Den] dragon Doug Richard and Steve Milbourne, creative director at Sony music!”
So with a room full of music industry veterans Adam had to sell Soshi’s latest social gaming experience Music Festivals. “With nothing more to prepare with than a text message with nine bullet points I pitched the game (without the aid of our promo video) to the room and once it was over I was approached by dozens of people wanting to learn more about the game and how they could get involved,” he said.
In a short period of time Adam’s professional life has seen him go from barman, to QA tester, to a games designer pitching products to the head of Sony Music with only a text message for a cue card. Any advice for anyone reading who thinks this is the life they want? Adam’s words are reassuring yet realistic: “I’ve always believed that if you do what you love the money will find you. You may need to work for less than what you feel you’re worth or even work for free in the early stages of your career in order to establish yourself within a company and get that much needed experience. Also, try and avoid getting a flat with a minimum 12 month contract, you don’t join the games industry for job security!”
If you liked what Adam had to say then please check out his blog here, it’s a pretty interesting insight into the thoughts of a games designer. And to find out more about Music Festivals, click the following link to pre-register for the game bit.ly/soshiregister.