I Love My Job: Joel Burgess, Video Game Designer (Video)

Joel Burgess As you watch your children spend hours playing video games, don't think they're rotting their brains. They could be laying a solid foundation for a future high-paying job. An entry level video game designer makes, on average, $46,000. And there's a better chance you're playing the game and not your kids! The average age for video game players is 34, according to the Entertainment Software Association.

Joel Burgess, senior designer at Bethesda Softworks, gets to play and design games for a living. A game Burgess worked on called Fallout 3 sold an estimated 610,000 copies its first month. You can bet he loves his job.

It is a real job

Burgess didn't get to where he is by being a couch potato with a computer. He actually studied digital media at the University of Central Florida. A good friend studying game animation at the time introduced him to the field.

Working in gaming is not unlike working in film production or other creative fields that try to entertain and stimulate the senses. Like in film, Burgess's work gets reviewed and critiqued by both fans and detractors.

"It's certainly with a mixture of excitement and horror that I dig into reviews," Burgess tells AOL Jobs. "It's tempting to become defensive about the criticisms some reviews raise, but they present a useful lesson in humility. Once the game has shipped, it doesn't matter what your intentions were -- only the impression made on the player matters."

Day to day

Two days at work are never the same for Burgess because he influences many parts of these intricate video games.

"I may be called upon to create visuals, work on difficult scripting problems, write for in-game books and dialogue, work on AI [artificial intelligence] behavior or anything else that may come up in the development process," he says.

While his work is literally fun and games, there are challenges as well. Games are very creative in nature, and much like an artist who paints, it can be difficult for Burgess to decide that a game "is done."

"I think I'm like most creative people in the tendency to look at my work from time to time, decide that it's all junk, and want to blow it up and start over," says Burgess. "This is a tempting impulse to indulge, but a dangerous one when dealing with very real deadlines."

But his hard work paid off when he earned praise from one of his role models in the business. The acclaim came from designer Harvey Smith, who is known for his work on Deus Ex, a game almost universally praised in the industry as one of the greatest games ever.

So you want to be a game designer ...

Burgess says it's hard to get a foot in the door in the gaming industry, but that's the key.

After that, he suggests:

  • Be willing to do any work at any development studio that will take you, anywhere in the country or the world that you can go
  • Constantly improve your portfolio
  • Work on side projects
  • Solicit advice from absolutely anybody that will listen

It also helps to play well in the sandbox. Even if you're sitting in front of a computer, games are a team effort.

"Personality is sometimes overlooked, but the vast majority of games are made in highly collaborative team environments," says Burgess, "and a good developer needs to interact well with other people."


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