Advice to a 5th Grader Aspiring to Make Games from Scopely’s Director of Game Design, Jake Bales

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My name is Jake Bales and I’m the Director of Game Design at Scopely. With this post I’d like to share a little about myself, my path through the world of game development, and to share some anecdotes and resources I’ve picked up along the way.

From about age 10 onwards (I’m 32 now), I’ve been a gamer. For me, it all started with video games but it was card games that truly propelled me into the community of gaming. I would take the bus or get a ride to the local game store every day to play in tournaments, hang out, and try to learn as much about the games as I could. A few years later, I became the game store’s tournament coordinator. I studied all the game rules, became a certified tournament judge, promoted our events, organized, kept scores, and officiated every tournament. Later, as part of my job (I was 16 now), I built one of the largest card game leagues in Washington state. Through this, I met a lot of people who worked for the game company that made these games. They hired me to run their tournament programs, and I travelled the world working tournaments and conventions. After I went to college, my old boss hired me to move 1500 miles to Southern California to do similar work at a new game company.

In the years that followed I started doing more creative work on games. At first I would just add a little flavor to someone else’s design, contribute some text here or an art description there. Over time I transitioned into creative full-time and was responsible for the stories that brought our games to life. Suddenly, the mobile games industry exploded into being, and I moved to San Francisco to write stories and content for mobile games. There, I was exposed to the hard technical side of game design. I learned to create the systems and economies that were the backbone of every game. How much experience does a player need to level up? How much damage does this sword do? How much gold should it cost? What do we want the win rate of this puzzle to be? We answered these questions with intricate, complex spreadsheets of data and algorithms, functions and scripts. I led a team of designers that created and supported games that made tens of thousands of dollars every day, and now I’m at Scopely trying to create the next generation of mobile game hits.

So, why am I telling you my crazy, zig-zagging career story?

A few reasons:

  • Every game designer’s path is unique. For every game designer with a degree in game design, there’s another that studied law, another with no degree, another who studied art or software engineering. I hear that you already try to create your own games. That’s great, because that’s the one thing that we all have in common. Keep it up.
  • Getting into game design is hard. Games are fun, and almost everybody plays them these days. People fantasize about being able to make the things they love for a living, but for a variety of reasons, a lot of people aren’t able to make that fantasy a reality. How many young people wouldn’t want to make games for a living? Not many. This means that there are way more aspiring game designers than there are game design jobs. It’s competitive, and you need to meet the right people and learn the right things to have a good chance. Over the coming years, find ways to connect with other game makers and industry professionals to learn from the best. Stay focused on your dream, and make sure you learn the required skills: mathematics, graphic design, psychology, statistics, software engineering, creative writing.
The most straightforward way to make games professionally is to study software engineering. It’s one of the most in-demand jobs in the world because every company, from a game studio to a shoe store, uses software and digital applications to run their businesses. If you graduate from a good school with a degree in computer engineering, game companies will fight for a chance to hire you. Once you’re in a game company, even as an engineer, it’s much easier to move into a game design position than it would be if you were trying to transition into design from the outside. If engineering doesn’t interest you, game design degrees are available from some great schools, and these degrees will provide enormous help preparing you for your career, teaching you the skills you need, and helping you find your first position in the industry. 

It’s a good time to be a young game fan. Video games are played by more people today than ever before in the history of the modern world. Everyone from kindergarteners to grandparents play games on their phones now. The games industry makes more money than the movie industry, and the production value of games now rivals it as well. You have the pleasure of experiencing 3D, high res worlds, connecting with other players from around the world online, and growing up when movies and games full of dragons and wizards aren’t “nerdy”, but rather the coolest, most epic, most popular entertainment out there!

I’ve worked with hundreds of game makers over my career, and every one of us has a story. At some point, we all decided that we wanted to make what we love, to be true to ourselves about our passions, our skills, and our dreams, and to do whatever it takes (a lot of hard work and focus) to make our dreams come true.

I’ve pasted some book and website recommendations below to help your learn more about game making. I hope this was helpful!

Recommendations

Game design websites:
Books:
Th first book is highly recommended. The author runs the best game design university program in the world at CMU in Pennsylvania:
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