Hardcore video game enthusiasts and curious Annenberg students gathered in Annenberg Auditorium on Monday night to listen to experts discuss what it takes to succeed in the modern video game industry.
The conversation featured Chris Metzen of World of Warcraft and Starcraft II and Flint Dille of Diablo III and Transformers.
The evening began with a look back at Metzen and Dille’s early careers and how they first developed a passion for games. Though their paths to their current careers differed, Metzen and Dille agreed that it was Dungeons & Dragons, the fantasy role-playing game released in 1974 that provided the initial spark of interest that all artists thrive on.
“From fifth grade to around the time I jumped in at Blizzard, my friends and I had an ongoing D&D campaign,” Dille said. “It was the track of our youth.”
When pressed on what made the game so special, Metzen and Dille cited its open-ended nature.
“Rules are there to facilitate what you want to do, but everything resided in the realm of your imagination … it was the organic component of sitting at a table with your friends and making it up as you went along … that made it so special and unpredictable,” Metzen said.
Dille said the experience of playing the game became a phenomenon.
“Nobody ever made a game where it’s all in your imagination,” Dille said.
What began as simply having fun with friends ended up becoming an important source of inspiration in Metzen’s and Dille’s professional careers.
“That D&D spirit — that feeling that D&D gave us as younger gamers — was something that we’ve always been chasing, that we’ve always wanted to feel again,” Metzen said.
Dille agreed with Metzen’s sentiment.
“You spend your whole creative career chasing stuff that excited you as a kid … you have certain interests and they never go away,” Metzen said.
Dille and Metzen, however, were quick to point out that passion alone does not translate to career success, especially in today’s competitive gaming industry.
Developing specialized skills while in school could be key for students hoping to get into the gaming industry, Metzen said.
“These days, the industry moves so fast and the arc of technology goes up so fast and so high that we are looking for real specialized skill sets,” Metzen said.
In the long run, however, succeeding in the video game industry is no different from succeeding in any other field. It takes networking skills, hard work and a sense of identity.
“Managers are hiring people to join a team, a family. That sense of chemistry and who you are is important,” Metzen said. “Just be really clear on who you are. … Be specific about what geeks you up.”
As competitive and as high-octane as today’s industry is, newcomers actually have it easier, according to Dille.
“You guys have a huge advantage. In the old days, there were seven studios and they controlled all the cameras,” Dille said. “Now if your content’s good enough, you can make stuff with your iPhone. You can put it on YouTube and Machinima.”
Ali Timnak, a first-year graduate student studying game development and intelligent robotics, initially came to the event to listen to Metzen speak about his work on World of Warcraft. From the event, he took away career advice that he believes will be useful after he graduates.
“I learned how to present myself to managers and employers on my portfolio,” Timnak said.
When asked if he would recommend similar events in the future to his friends, Timnak did not hesitate.
“Yes, definitely,” Timnak said. “I just came here to take away anything useful I could get, and I learned a lot.”