ALEX WARD – Creative Director, Criterion Games

July 7, 2006 — Leave a comment

David Perry Comments: When we started thinking of the key people that could truly inspire new developers to keep pushing forward on their goals of a video game career, one name kept coming up.  Alex Ward.  As you will read, it was no easy feat for him to get started, but he made it!   If you’ve played any of the Burnout games, then you know his work well.  Another game I loved from his team was Black, it’s a fantastic example of video game immersion, making you feel like you are in an alive (and very dangerous) world.

What did your mother want you to do as a career? Surely, it couldn’t have been to make professional video games!?

Speaking honestly, my Mother is not your â??averageâ?? kind. She has always played videogames. She started with the Commodore VIC-20 and currently she is playing on Xbox LIVE Arcade. My parents always supported me in doing anything that I was happy doing. But, this is a very different sort of occupation than say, working in a bank.

David Perry comment: A video game playing mother!  We need to interview her!  🙂

What would you say to my mother, to get her off my back and let me make professional video games as a career?

I think you have to show her that it is worthwhile and that itâ??s actually a real job. Most people donâ??t take our industry seriously. They really do think that we do nothing else but sit around and play games all day long!

Tell us about your start in the industry. What was your life like when you were younger and hungrier?

After I graduated from University with a Psychology degree I took a job with a local company. My job was to write creatively about cellphones and fax machines. Although I liked working in an office environment and had a fun time, I soon realized that this was not for me. I can clearly remember reading EDGE magazine Issue Nine under the desk during a slow day! I wrote off to every company in the back of the magazine and waited for the replies. I think I only received two. And one of those was a straight rejection letter!

I joined US Gold in Birmingham as a QA Tester. I was excited to join the industry but quickly hated the job and the daily commute. Iâ??m a big believer in trusting your instinct so I realized that QA was not the right place for me either. I then tried to get a job as a games journalist at Future Publishing in Bath and failed spectacularly. I then got FIRED from US Gold and was unemployed for several months. I was feeling pretty stupid by then and had pretty much given up on joining the games industry. I was going to stay on the outside as I really didnâ??t think there was a real longterm career path there or that it really was a mature industry. Whilst moonlighting as a decorator and kitchen fitter I got a call asking me if I was interested in an entry level job at a games publisher in London. I jumped at the chance.

The company was Acclaim Entertainment. I owe my start in the industry to three people. Kim Adcock â?? who called me from the recruitment agency, and Alison Fennah and Larry Sparks from the marketing department at Acclaim.  My job was to answer the Acclaim Helpine and answer post. It really was starting at the lowest position in the company. For the first four months I worked I actually made a loss each month. But I believed in myself and the company and gave it 100%.

It’s pretty tough (almost damn impossible) to get hired without industry experience on a resume. Should I lie? It’s the standard Catch-22, need a job to get experience, need experience to get a job. Imagine you are me, caught in the 22 — what the heck would you do?

You should never lie on a CV. You will most likely get found out. If I was caught in the Catch 22 â?? I would be persistent and impressive. I am always looking for bright enthusiastic people who want to makes games and work hard. Everyone wants to be successful but not everyone wants to put the work in to get there.

People that never went to college in the video games business swear blind that colleges aren’t needed to get a job. Are they for real? Should I burn my books now?

Yes, colleges are for real. Donâ??t burn those books just yet! Unless you really hate them! I have burned all of my notes from college and most of my books. Scarily that is true, and it was a great fire! But that was AFTER I had graduated. I would say that itâ??s pretty much an entry level requirement these days.

How did you get your big break? did you claw your way out of the testers’ pit? Did you sleep your way to the top? Did you sleep at all?

I got my break â?? away from the games helpline and into the neighbouring marketing department through hard work and persistence. My goal was to be the best employee the company had. Period. I worked hard, stayed late and gave my all to the job. Hard work will always pay off, regardless of what career you have.

Tell us about the first time you felt star-struck when meeting a leading game developer (and no, we won’t tell Mr. Miyamoto your real name). Do you even realize that some people will get butterflies in their stomach when first meeting you?

I was lucky enough to get into a position where I got to meet all of the best developers in Europe. I was really excited to meet people like David Braben,  Archer Maclean, the guys from Probe Software, the guys from Iguana all for the first time. I always enjoy meeting people and talking to them about games, even to this day. Just the other week Paul Glancey spotted Tony Crowther in the Criterion office. We didnâ??t even know he worked at EA! We sat and chatted about the Commodore era. It was cool.

Without using terms like "indentured servant" or "voluntary servitude," please describe your ideal protégé.

Someone who will work hard. It sounds like a small thing to ask but itâ??s really important. Also a good knowledge of gaming always helps.

Let’s say I was interviewing with you tomorrow. Short of showing up drunk and naked, what could I say or do to completely ruin my shot? And what could I do to totally win your heart?

To ruin it you would turn up slightly the worse for wear or totally hung over. Believe me this has happened. And of course, they didnâ??t get a second chance. First impressions count. If â??Time Pilotâ?? was your favourite coin-op of all time and you could speak passionately about why Medieval Madness is the best pinball table ever then yes, you would win my heart!

Let’s look several years into the future for a moment. Should I even bother learning today’s skills? Surely they’ll have completely changed by the time I get out of college? What kinds of jobs are absolutely ‘rock-solid’, and will undoubtedly still be around 5-10 years from now? And what new jobs do you think might exist that nobody has quite pinned down just yet?

I think that art, programming and game design will all be around a decade from now. I really believe that online and network play is an area of the industry that is still in its infancy. It is very young and only just beginning to mature. There is lots for everyone to learn in that area. So, I would take a guess that online, networking and community management is an area that will really evolve.

How much stock do you put in the emerging game design programs at universities? Does it matter more to you that an interviewee knows the history of and theory behind The Third-Person Action MMO/Puzzle Platformer Hybrid, or is all about the demo he/she shows up with?

To me, it is not even about the demo. I donâ??t know too much about the game programs out there right now so itâ??s hard for me to comment. Itâ??s all about the individual. I would stress that this business is really team based, and that is something that really isnâ??t for everyone. Just likes sports I guess. Working well on a team is really important, and itâ??s a lot easier to talk about than it is to actually put in practice. Teams will no doubt get bigger in the future so I think that successful teams will be those that work and play well together.

OK, just imagine three companies make me an offer (a guy has gotta dream!). They’re all kinda low-end jobs, and I need to move 3,000 miles to take any of them. How do I pick the right team? What would you look for?

First of all I would look to the leader of that company. Is that person someone I relate to or identify with? This is absolutely crucial. They will be headed in a particular direction. How aligned you are as an individual with that direction will most likely determine how long you would potentially stay with that company. This industry is very fast moving and people think about changing jobs a hell of a lot. Secondly I would look at the formats that company develops for. I have always worked for companies that develop on a lot of different platforms which is fun, interesting and means that there is always something new to learn. Third I would evaluate how much of a â??trueâ?? games company it really is. Youâ??d be surprised at how many developers I have met that donâ??t play games, follow gaming, they just â??earn a living.â?? This is going to be hard for you if youâ??re the sort of person who always buys the latest titles, or has a fondness for Bad Dudes Vs Dragon Ninja.

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