Fun and games are serious business.
The gaming industry is growing up fast, and is generating impressive revenues and fascinating job opportunities for certain IT professionals who are young at heart.
In Canada, video games sales were $245 million by the third quarter of 2004, up 19 per cent compared with the previous year, according to market research by Toronto-based ACNielsen Canada.
About 10,000 people are employed in gaming software development Canada-wide, with two major hotbeds of 3,000 each in Vancouver and Montréal, says Jason Della Rocca, executive director of the International Games Developer Association (IGDA), a not-for-profit advocacy group based in San Francisco.
Despite significant sales and growth rates the industry is often overlooked by mainstream IT. “What people may not know is that Electronic Arts is the fourth biggest software company in the world, after Microsoft, Oracle and SAP,” says Alain Tascan, vice-president of Electronic Art’s (EA) Montréal studio. The Redwood, Calif.-based gaming giant generated about $3 billion in revenue globally last year.
As in any emerging industry, gaming companies are having difficulties recruiting the right people. EA has many programs under way to find and grow the creative and technical staff it needs. It is involved in outreach efforts to spread the word to educational institutions that there are viable jobs in gaming, and recently invested $2.6 million in training programs to sharpen its existing staff’s skills.
Tascan says a typical game project will require a diverse range of skilled staff: artists, writers, musicians, project managers, programmers, engineers, and so on. “Our [technical] guys are divided in different categories: 3D rendering, digital imagery, artificial intelligence, physics, plus doing the big online architecture,” he says.
Many EA employees come from businesses that require related skills, such as engineers experienced in industrial and flight simulation. EA also has people with backgrounds in medical imagery, with experience in making three-dimensional images for doctors.
Most programming is done in C++, but there’s also an increasing need for Java and Brew for cell phone games.
Making the motion of cars, planes, exploding rockets and the like in games as realistic as possible is crucial, so many new, cross-disciplinary skills are needed, such as physics programming. “Some of our best people are engineers, people who build engines and planes. We teach them the basics of programming,” says Tascan.
Networking skills to manage communication between players and the security to prevent cheating are becoming critical. Games like EverQuest, for example, are “persistent”, or MMO in gaming-speak (massively multi-player online). “This is a world that exists on a server in California with one million subscribers. The world is always there, living and breathing with monsters and adventure. I can leave for dinner and come back, and it’s there, it persists,” explains Della Rocca.