There is No Them

Lessons on leadership from the world of game development

DSGA Applicant Review Findings

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(I’ll be bouncing between posts that are about leadership overall vs those that are specific to the DSGA – this is a post specific to the DSGA.)

After speaking with many of the applicants for the Denius-Sams Gaming Academy I came to a sobering realization – I would not have been accepted into this program when I was at the same place in my career as our applicants. Clearly the bar has risen significantly in the video game industry, and this is a good thing. This realization, as well as some of the other important lessons learned, is what I’ll share today.

Multi-discipline is more prevalent than expected.

Given that most existing video game development programs tend to reinforce the notion that one must specialize into one discipline to be successful in the video games industry, we expected most of our applicants to be single discipline. Instead what we found is that most of our applicants are multi-discipline, and have been frustrated in the past by being labeled as one thing or another. (This is in large part why my younger self would likely not be accepted. As a Producer/Designer I had no real programing skills, no art skills, no audio skills, no business development skills, and would have a hard time standing out amongst a group of applicants that are much more multi-discipline than I was.)

Having led both large and small studios I understand both sides of the specialization vs. generalization argument. Speaking to our applicants it was exciting to find that they tended to want to generalize early in their career, but that when it came to their long term aspirations the applicants were pretty evenly split about whether they ended up as a generalist or as a specialist. Curiously, even those that saw themselves specializing over time were sometimes not sure which of the various skills they might specialize in (art or programming, for example).

More Indies then Traditional.

Our applicants are falling into three broad categories with regards to their experience; those with student experience, those with traditional industry experience, and those with indie studio experience. It turns out we are getting more of the indie folks than we initially expected. We discovered that many of our applicants want their time at the DSGA to help them lead their own studio more successfully.

We expected those with traditional experience wanting the DSGA to help them grow in their careers, but didn’t expect so many of the more entrepreneurial type. This was an exciting realization, and has allowed us to improve our planned curriculum to better address the needs of those that are more indie minded, while continuing to address the more traditional career paths as well.

The traditional video games industry has a poor employment reputation.

Virtually every one of our applicants mentioned their trepidation at joining the video game industry, given all of the terrible things they hear about what the typical employee experience is like. A significant portion of the applicants I spoke to asked if we will talk about crunch. Many asked about diversity in the industry. Some wanted to hear my thoughts on some of the unscrupulous business practices the industry has seen in the last few years. Of those with industry experience many had stories of working for terrible bosses.

It was clear that while many are still willing to commit themselves to working in the video games industry they do so knowing they must navigate an industry known for how poorly it treats the typical employee. One direct response to this concern was how many of the applicants have decided not to pursue a traditional studio job, but to instead start or find a small independent studio. Whether true or not, the expectation seems to be that the large studio systems are the worst of the worst when it comes to employee treatment, and that a smaller studio would treat them better.

Given these concerns our goals with the DSGA seem ever more urgent. We will need to prepare our participant’s with the tools to survive in any organization they find themselves, and enable them to go beyond mere survival to improving their situation. Ultimately our goal is nothing less than to be a part of transforming the industry by creating a supply of leadership-ready individuals, who will enact the change they (and we) want to see.


Getting confirmation that many of the expectations we had about our likely participants proved valid was beneficial. It means much of the planning we have already done, and the overall approach we are taking, is in fact appropriate. The things we didn’t expect also turned out to be useful, helping us course correct our plans in small but important ways. Our belief in the need for the kind of program we are building was validated again and again. We are about half way through our applicant review and acceptance process, and I look forward to what additional lessons learned may still be out there for us to discover.


Written by joshuahoward

June 3, 2014 at 8:38 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. […] of expertise put the candidate at a significant disadvantage. Several weeks ago I mentioned that many of our candidates were multi-discipline, and it turned out that single discipline candidates were overall less successful in getting one of […]

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