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.

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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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Carol Berman

Carol Berman

Editor

Carol Berman, an award-winning journalist, writes the blog, The Scribble Lounge, a unique take on current events and pop culture. She's New York bred and now lives outside Philadelphia.

Over more than 15 years, she spent many years in broadcast journalism as a producer, followed by a short award-winning stint in public relations and now makes a happy return to journalism.  An avid news junkie, Carol is also a runner, a recovering triathlete, and dog lover. She loves to bake for friends and family and volunteer with different non-profits.

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earthling

Harder than it seems

April 22 2011 at 9:27 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
chiyoko

MAKING a game and PLAYING one is very VERY different.

April 21 2011 at 5:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
J

I'd be happier for him if my Fallout 3 didn't crash constantly.

April 21 2011 at 4:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
The Boy

Games are assigned ratings based on violence, language, etc..etc.. just like movies. If you are so concerned with your sweet innocent children playing these games then don't buy them!!!!

April 21 2011 at 3:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Adele

He's horrified at reviews? He should be horrified at the extreme violence, lack of respect for human beings and disgusting content, of some video games.

April 21 2011 at 3:03 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Adele's comment
chris

Oh shut UP!

April 21 2011 at 3:40 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
smob

Another deceptive main page tag line by the creative geniuses at AOL: "The 'horrifying' aspect of his job"

Really? Horrifying? Is that a word you use to get us to click the tag? When I search, I find no mention of the term "horrifying." Cause it isn't. It's just a cheap AOL editorial trick. Happens every day.

April 21 2011 at 2:40 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to smob's comment
arvig

To quote from the article: ""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."

Please note the use of the word "horror". Reading comprehension is your friend.

April 21 2011 at 2:53 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
Danny

My concern is that MOST of the video games for children involve killing and distruction. Although, I'm sure it takes more thinking and Ingenuity to come up with an action game without the bedlam, it looks like, at least some of the programmers, would have the Intelligence to do it.

April 21 2011 at 2:37 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
4 replies to Danny's comment
armthehomeless86

The video game industry is definitely the funnest to work in, which is why I went into it.

April 21 2011 at 2:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
SEEER4078

Do you know Clevercomm You should sir They can help you clevercomm.com

April 21 2011 at 2:15 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

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