Just about anyone who is involved in the gaming industry will tell it isn't the easiest of businesses to break into, let alone maintain a career of nearly 20 years. It takes hard-work, dedication and as any developer will tell you, passion.
How we first met John Slaydon, who is a Senior Game Designer at Ubisoft, is what some could say were unique circumstances. After thinking about all of the countless people who work so hard to bring consumers of this industry exciting new games each year, we wanted to shine the spotlight on an individual who has dedicated nearly two decades of service to the gaming industry.
When we had the chance to sit down and talk with John Slaydon, he told us about how he got his start in gaming, the career he has experienced, some common misconceptions about being a game developer and what he hopes to experience as he continues his career in gaming.
As it always seems to turn out for people getting into any industry for the first time, knowing someone or having a connection with an organization seems to be the way a lot of us receive our break. In 1995, John's sister happened to know a programmer who worked for an indie developer that was then hiring for QA testers.
"I'd been around computers all my life so I applied for the job and was hired as a tester. I guess my creativity at the company impressed the owners because after 6 months of testing I got offered the chance to design a game for the studio. My first game as a designer was Soldiers at War, published by SSI. It was a isometric, turn-based, tactical squad game," Slaydon said.
While John has spent a total of 10 years with Ubisoft, that time has been divided up between the time he worked for Red Storm, which was then eventually acquired by Ubisoft. He remained there for six years and served as lead designer on Rainbow Six: Lockdown, which was a PlayStation 2 title at the time. After a stint with Sony Entertainment, he returned back to Ubisoft where he has spent the last four years.
John explained his role as a game designer and some of the nuts and bolts about what his job entails. Part of it is working with the outside developers that Ubisoft hires to create games for them.
"Mainly, I focus on player experience, player goals and the overall "fun" factor of the game. I need to know as much about the design and the engine for the game as the [outside] developer does, so that I can be their voice here at the publisher.
"But, when the need arises, either because of time issues or lingering problems with a feature in the game, I will step in to help fix the problem or redesign a particular part of the game. That doesn't happen as often because we work with very talented outside developers," Slaydon said.
As we all have seen this year, new technologies arise in the gaming industry, but more come up that are not as publicized as Microsoft and Sony's upcoming consoles. For developers, it is important to keep an open-mind and welcome new concepts and ideas.
John discussed how much he enjoys getting his hands on new technologies or hearing about new ways of thinking when it comes to game design.
"I do love learning and experimenting with new technologies and new ways of thinking about game design, but what I really care about is making sure the game is as compelling for the player as possible. If there are tools or techniques that allow me to do that, then I'm 100% on board for using or adopting them.
"Though, what drives me is making sure that the player's choices and the consequences of those choices are as satisfying for them to make as they are for me to dream up.
"Being that I am in an interactive medium, unlike books or movies, it's the choices the players make that are the most important. Having to struggle with a decision and then living with those choices is for me, the heart of what games are about and how I determine what is best for developing the game that I have in mind," Slaydon said.
No matter what your role may be in the gaming industry, there always seems to be this misconception or preconceived notion that all people do during the day is play games. While playing games is part of the job at times, hard-work is a must for anyone who wants to work in gaming.
John talked about what the true reality of being a game developer is for most, and how much time and dedication is required of all developers.
"I've had people say to me that they think that making games is so fun. Playing games all day must be a dream job. I do admit that there are many advantages to being in game development, but like any job, it is also a lot of hard work and long hours.
"It makes me wonder if those who want to get into games really understand the sacrifice that comes with making games. We don't do it to get rich or famous, though there are those exceptions.
"I do it for the satisfaction of making people smile.
"So what is the thing I like the most about the industry that others might not realize? Being able to bring joy to someone's life that works harder than I do and needs that escape from the everyday life.
"Also, being able to email a friend at another company and asking if you can score a free copy of the latest game they just released isn't a bad perk either," Slaydon jokingly said.
For someone who has spent close to two decades working on games, there have got to be some things he has always wanted to do, right? There has to be a role he has not held yet or some sort of dream game he wants to make, right?
John explained what role he hopes to find himself in someday, as well as the type of game he dreams of making when he has the chance.
"I feel I'm a very creative individual. I've been in development for almost 20 years and over that time I've designed A.I. systems, User Interfaces, Level Builders, Combat Models, plus I've done plenty of Mission and Campaign work.
"I've been a Project Leader, and I have worn the Producer hat. Though, I have written the back stories for some games and done some dialogue writing, I've never been able to focus solely on being the Narrative Designer. I feel that is something that I would excel at if ever given the opportunity.
"Well, my dream game would be some sort of large scale RPG set in a near future world (either post apocalyptic or during the course of a world war). I think it would be a combination of sci-fi and fantasy with a real world component. Because I love to see as much of the environment as possible, an isometric camera is my choice. As for what else, well, I'd have to make it first," Slaydon said.
Regardless of the industry you are in, the role you may have, the money you may or may not make, it's important to remember the reasons for why you do what you do. Passion, commitment and enthusiasm will always outlast any drive for fortune or fame, and John is one of millions who are proof of it.