Saturday, January 5, 2013

Looking for a job in Japan *Part 1*

Around the end of my time at EA, when FIFA 13 was soon to be released, I began working on the FIFA 13 Marketing website with a creative agency in Japan. My Project Manager put me on this project partially because I wanted to do it, and she knew I spoke Japanese.

 At first I was supposed to just coordinate their efforts along with the Canadian office, but because they weren't doing a very good job, I naturally began giving them directions. I had lots of skype conference with them, and little by little I wanted to go and work in Japan for a while. It helped that I knew Japanese(and Chinese).

I requested a skype call with the Managing Director of EA Japan. This was kind of nerve wracking as Managing Directors are basically CEO for the sub-branches. During the skype call, he called me arrogant(not in a bad way, in a sort of "you're too young to understand" way). That was kind of fun. He continued to tell me that there was no position open at EA Japan office, so he'd refer me to Head hunters to help me get hired somewhere. That was good, very good indeed.

After I resigned from EA, I stayed in Tokyo for 2 weeks for interviews(paid entirely by one of the companies). This time was great. I met up with a lot of people from the industry and had conversations over lunch/dinners with them. Of the 4 companies I interviewed for, I got 4 offers(+ an extra verbal one from another company). Result was great.

Some fun stuff that happened while interviewing in Japan

-One of the interviews was with a COO from a social game company. He used to work for Apple and Konami. He wanted to interview me informally at a local coffee shop. I got there like 20 minutes early, so wanting to look a little classy, I ordered a Mojito(they serve liquor everywhere in Japan) and drank that at 3PM afternoon. I think that was the first thing the guy noticed when he met me. We had a good 2 hour chat(was supposed to be 1 I think), and in the end I appealed well enough that he actually paid for my first Mojito and bought me a second one before he left. I ended up getting this job.

-There was an interview with a startup social game company. The first interview was at the lobby of the building, and not in their office(it might've not had enough space? They were expanding a lot, so had more people than space). First interviewer was nice, and our hobbies really matched(omg he likes Legend of Galactic Heroes!). We chatted for 1 hour or so, and told me that he'll let me know about the result later on. I told him I was going back to Canada the next week, so he brought me into their office right away for a second interview with another Game Director(ex SEGA). He asked me "Why do you want to work for us?" I answered "Because you're website was designed in 8 bit.". He loved the answer. I passed the second round(after 2 hours of interviews, I was really thirsty so I asked for water but apparently they ran out... lol). At this point I was starting to get a little uncomfortable because I was really thirsty, but immediately after the second interview, they brought in the CEO for the finally interview. This one was kind of easy as it's really just a "do you have any final questions?" type interview. One thing that I curiously asked was, "Who do you think will win? GREE or DeNA?". This CEO used to be an DeNA employee but he was objective in his opinion. He said "I know I used to work for DeNA, but because they've diversified their business more, they're less likely to fail than GREE, who just has 1 business model."

It irritated me when he said that. He used some business-y words but really all he said was "DeNA does more things than games. GREE only does games. If games fail, GREE will fail but DeNA won't". It's like he told me "If you cut off someone's legs, they can't walk". Well no fucking shit... Anyways I countered his answer by saying "Yes, I understand that, but what I'm thinking is that there's definitely someone in GREE who's 'smarter' than both you or I. And that person is smart enough to understand that too. So what I'm asking is, with the expectation that GREE will diversify into another route(calculating whatever that route may be), who do you think will win?". He looked pretty red faced, and didn't have much of an answer. Later he walked me to the door and bowed as we said good bye. I ended up getting the job offer. lmao.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Game Industry Issues #1: Outsourcing Software Engineers in a Game Company

I'll just tag this post as "Game Industry Issues" so that I can better organize my opinions by topics.日本語は下です。

You'll often see "Excellent Communication skills" as part of a job requirement. Most people usually brush that aside thinking it's just about how well you can articulate yourself. That's a wrong assumption, this is a specific example of why communication is so valued in any company, and why it's so hard to do well.

Being Labelled Incompetent Just Because They weren't Around

It took about a week after joining EA to hear the most critical of the opinions around my team. It was always directed in one direction - our Outsourced Software Engineers. This is probably one of the saddest, and most easily curable issues that occur in any software development companies. It's not special to game development.

Let's start from the end. Our web development team had about 12 engineers(IIRC). 3 were onsite programmers in Canada(1 was an intern). 9 were outsourced to an external company in Argentina. They worked with us over Instant Messenger, and each day we had 1 phone conference to sync up on the development. Of the 9 in Argentina, 4 of them decided to quit together during the project. 3 others quit around the same time as well. We got 3 more as replacements, 2 of which quit soon after. All this within the span of 1 year.

Why did this happen?

The critique was harsh in our team, even the nicest members would bash these Engineers behind their backs(They were a continent away). You'll hear about the Outsourced Engineers messing up the code, making it inefficient, or spawning bugs that obviously should never have been there. I remember one day my boss Producer(usually a very classy lady) opened up our website, took one look, noticed how badly messed up the site was compared to the original design, and said to herself "We need to tell them to FIX THIS SHIT."

She was right. At one point in our project, we had 300+ bugs for a single website. Yeah, holy crap. That did not look good - for my boss or for anybody else. And this is at one of the most well recognized, most talented, and most funded Game Development companies. Fffffucccck...

On the surface, the bashing made sense. Our website was slow as hell due to CSS being overwritten over another, and even the most obvious features like "make this image appear here" were ingeniously skewed with bugs. At first I had no idea why this happened either, and didn't think much of it and joined in on the one-way bashing as well.

Until I started developing the website myself.

One time I had a foot infection and I worked from home. At the time I didn't have the complete documentation with me to develop a page from top to bottom, so obviously there were a lot of questions I had to ask my team members.

I talked with them on the phone sometimes, but mostly messaged via Skype. Everytime I had a question, it took about 3 minutes for my team member to answer it, and that spawned further questions from me, because every developer knows that when you're coding, there are "if" codes, where you have to specify every edge case. So for every little thing on a webpage, I had about ~15 minutes worth of IM messages. When you're working in an office, nobody has 15 minutes to spare all the time, so I had to avoid talking to them as much as possible. It was partially not wanting to annoy the other person(I can't waste 15 minutes of their time constantly), and partially not wanting to look dumb.

What did I do?

Well, for every feature I developed, I assumed using my best knowledge. This was a terrible idea. Sometimes another developer would have done parts of it already, and unknowingly I would break it. Other times I would be totally off the ball and waste hours of my time, or at times I purely wouldn't have enough assets to develop a feature and I had to start on another feature. It was a logistical nightmare in every sense of the word. Without a complete documentation, let alone being able to ask questions, I was left working at 20% of my usual pace. In fact I wasn't even sure if I was doing the right task for the little progress I made.

It was all about communication, and not knowing exactly what my team mates knew. I had little access to any knowledge at the workplace because I was away from them.

When they say knowledge is power, it's quite true. Though that's not the only power that you can have. Imagine knowing every little detail and history of the financial industry, and how wall street guys make money. You will be a millionaire in no time. Or if you knew that boy/girl in your class liked you, wouldn't it make it so much easier for you to ask them out? Wouldn't it make Starcraft so much easier if you had a hack that removed the fog of war? Crude example but true. Having knowledge vastly increases our ability to put things into action.

These Outsourced Engineers had the same problem. They were severely impeded from "knowing stuff".

Whenever there was a feature that needed developed, our team usually just emailed them a link to our documentation and said "go make this, and ask me if there are any questions". Then whenever they asked questions, we replied on IM. This was inefficient because, well, we had to type, which is slow, and we couldn't really "describe" the feature all the time(especially if there's animation). Plus their english weren't perfect, and we didn't know spanish. So voila.

After I realized this, whenever I was given the task of explaining a feature to the Engineers, I always did Screenshare via office communicator so they can see my screen while I'm explaining to them. Wherever there were animations on a feature, I madly moved my mouse around so they can see what movements I was describing. Though I kept the chat on IM and not VoIP(IM gives ppl time to think before responding), it made things a lot easier for both parties, and features were getting made with less bugs.

I suggested to our Project Manager to do this during scrums(daily meetings), but she kept shooting the idea down like I was fucking crazy or something. It was frustrating, the response was usually in the line of "screenshare? meh, don't know how that would help.". Needless to say I had big professional incompatibilities with this PM throughout my time at EA.

Around the crunch time of our project, we flew 3 of the engineers to the Canadian office to maximize communication. Deadlines were approaching and we needed to be able to communicate with these guys fast. So that's the decision our Project Manager made. The difference was night and day. They were just as good as the peeps in Canada in terms of Programming.. One of them even became the lead later on. And these were the same people that our team was calling "terrible, inefficient, incompetent" before they flew in. Our PM and team praised them for their efforts. I felt the same, but in the back of my mind I was wondering why the PM couldn't find better ways to communicate with these guys when they were in Argentina. It would have made the project run a lot smoother earlier on, and this crunch might've not even existed at all. To me it felt like University students doing group projects the night before due date, fuelled by non other than pure frustration and redbull. Then when the project was over, they high five each other and do the same again for the next project. Do you guys never fucking learn anything?

This is the sort of problems that a Project Manager needs to solve. Identifying bottlenecks like these in your project. It slows down the project, lowers team morale, and is just miserable for all of us when it comes down to crunch.

There are other issues with Outsourcing in general too, like:

-Indirect line of promotion. For instance, the Outsourced engineer must impress the client, and the client must pass that down to the manager of the Outsourced Engineer, this "middle-man" makes it harder for Outsourced Engineers to get noticed for their achievements.
-Lowered motivation because of the significant gap in salaries. The pay difference between the Canadian SE and the Argentinian SE was somewhere between 3~7 times higher for the Canadian. Cheap labour is the prime reason we outsource, but it does take a toll on the outsourced member's mind. They're doing the same job.

There are probably a lot more. But I think all of us at times need to step back and think, "Maybe it's not their fault, maybe it's mine."

Especially the Project Managers. Otherwise we'll never improve and shit will keep happening. Admit your mistakes.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

How I broke into the Game Industry

Happy New Ye... whatever, I'm too lazy for this. 新年明けまして・・・ああもういいや。いつも通り日本語文は下です。

It's a new year, and by now I should have already started my Game Designer job at DeNA(ngmoco), but due to some unforeseen VISA errors, my employment has been delayed until Jan 21st. That in itself has been a really frustrating experience. I already ordered my flight and prepared to move to Japan before Christmas... but oh well.

If anybody's ever thinking about finding a job in another country, research VISAs first. This is a must, or it will be a huge pain in the ass later. That story's for another time.

I think it would be good to start off my blog with a shortened intro of my career so far.

How I first got into the Game industry, then got promoted(during university), then decided to move to Japan *Part 1*

I actually never wanted to work for the game industry. Or that thought just never came to me until I started at EA. Initially, I wanted to be a high school teacher of some sort, but the opportunity came by randomly and I took it.

Here's my career path so far. (Age in brackets)

Dishwasher (18) -> Paintball Referee (18) -> QA Game Tester (18) -> Assistant Producer (19) -> Game Designer/Director (21)

After writing this down, I didn't realize how fast it progressed (Dishwasher! Dishwasher!). For the past 2 years, I always busted my ass off for that 1 candy placed in front of me. Sort of like how you would madly grind to beat bosses in an RPG. And by the time you finish the game you're suddenly level 50.

My path isn't actually too unique. Lots of people get their foot in the door as a QA game tester. As a QA, you touch on all portions of the game development cycle. So as people's career progress, they tend to evolve into their own colors. From what I've seen, most people either get hired from another industry(most typical for SE and Designers), or move up from QA positions. If you have no specialized skillset like programming or visual designs, this is probably the easiest method for you to set your foot in.

One of the things you realize after entering the industry is that they always need people. Not only that, they always need good people. I hadn't been more surprised to find out how inefficiently things run, or how incompetent some people are at their work(of course there are those that are excellent). I should probably remind you that you're more likely to be better than at least some people in each company you apply for. The difference between a job offer or not is how well you can market your strengths to the company. Anyways, let's move on to the first part.

First step into game testing at EA:
Place was Vancouver Canada, year was 2010.

It happened when I was 18. I just finished 2 full semesters of university degree, and was taking a long winded summer break, not really doing anything productive. This tended to be the case for unmotivated, non-goal driven individuals who enter higher education just for the sake of it.

Eat, sleep, play games, maybe hang out or maybe work out. That was the routine.

My parents were nagging me to stop wasting my fucking time(a huge virtue I'll learn later btw), and to get a job. I had a side hobby for collecting replica BB guns. To fund this and to make my parents shut up, I started looking.

I didn't have shit on my resume at first. Seriously. The best I had was 3~ish months of taking pizza order calls at Panago call centre. This was during high school and my friends were the ones who referred me to it. I ended up getting fired from this job for being absent without notice most of the time. They didn't scream at me or anything, it seemed a lot of their employees hated working there. My friends quit 1~2 months in.

At first I was shameless enough to actually apply at this Pizza Chain again (haha), then since I couldn't find anything anywhere, I began looking on the local Japanese Classifieds(since lots of Japanese restaurants wanted people who were bilingual). This was a good place, there were lots of waiter and restaurant related jobs. I preferred retail but I just took the first thing I could.

So I started Dishwashing at a local Japanese food retailer. This shop was relatively famous for making good pre-packaged Japanese food(real Japanese chefs). I travelled 1 hour each way from home to wash dishes for 50 cents above minimum wage. At the time, most of my friends couldn't get a job doing anything at all, so this was better than nothing. People I worked with in the Kitchen were very nice to me, but you can imagine it being quite boring shoving sanitizer at dishes for 8 hours.

At the same time I still looked around for better jobs on Classifieds(mainly craigslist). After a month I found a paintball referee position at a new paintball field down in nearby city (1:30 hour trip). With good amounts of motivation, I wrote a bitching cover letter and sent it. Later I had a quick interview. It turned out that the employer liked me, and we were off to a good start. At the time of the interview, they were still building wooden houses in an indoor hall (imagine your high school Gym, but 4 times larger, with a city inside it). One of my best friends worked with me as well, but after 2~3 shifts, we were laid off as the business itself wasn't taking off. I'm sort of unhappy to say that they are now doing very well haha.

Now without a job and 1 month left before school, I needed to do something. There really isn't a job that will hire you for 1 month. I looked into Craigslist again anyways, and coincidentally. Very coincidentally, I found a job posting for a game testing position. It didn't say which company candidates would work for, but sure, I liked games, I wanted to play games, and getting money at the same time? Fantastic.

I pursued this opportunity furiously. I wrote a 600 word cover letter where I talked about how I liked this game, that game, and why I would be an asset etc. Miraculously, it made sense. But I didn't think anybody would read it from top to bottom. After a few revisions, I sent my application via E-mail anways. (later I realized they didn't read it, they just liked the length).

A week later, on a Friday morning, I got the call. The lady recruiter wanted to interview me within the hour at the EA Canada office nearby my parents' house(10 minute bike ride). Somehow I wasn't too worried, so I walked for 40 minutes there.

Lots of surprises when I got to the office. The Lobby was reaaaaally fucking nice(and big). LCD displays everywhere, there's a pod shaped display too. I told the receptionist(who doubles as security guards) that I was here on an interview, and they told me to sign-in on a mounted touch screen computer nearby. I did so, and 5 minutes later I was greeted by the recruiter lady. She walked me around the place, then we literally chatted about the weather for 5 minutes in her office, and I was bracing for the interview to begin. At this point I was getting nervous, because after 5 minutes of chatting in her office, she hadn't asked me any work related questions.

Suddenly, a QA manager poked his face into the office(I guess the HR lady notified him via her PC). He looked at me a few times, asked me if I'd played soccer before(To which I said 'casually with friends'. He asked me this because I would be working on FIFA). He then exchanged some remarks with the HR lady and left. That whole encounter took 1 minute at most - and apparently that was the entire interview.

The HR lady asked me how long I can work for. I lied and said that I was putting off school to work here, so semi-permanently. She then proceeded to hand me the 1 month work contract, told me that I'll be working for FIFA Online, explained my compensation, told me to sign on the papers, and instructed me to come to work the next Wednesday.

Yes, that was it. It wasn't even an interview.

It was so easy, I never took any game design courses, she never asked anything about my education, or really, anything at all. There I was, and my foot was in the industry...

So to reflect, here are the things that I think I did right and I did wrong:

Successful / What I did right
+Always looked above for better opportunities. Opportunities are available if you look.
+If I wanted something, I pursued it relentlessly.
+Never settled.

Failed/ What I did wrong
-Not much in this part.

・Don't try to mimic what your friends are doing. (It's good I never did this). My friends tried to find jobs and stopped after 3~5 failed applications. I just kept going.
・You can achieve surprisingly a lot just by trying. Seriously.

That's it for now. See you in part 2.

Monday, December 31, 2012


It's almost the new years and I thought I might as well start keeping track of my thoughts. Here's where I'll write down mainly about my experience in the game industry. From getting a job to actually working in a multi national company, team politics, hard points, and trying to get my game idea pitched. I'll take you through my honest experiences and opinions. To date I've actually had the opportunity to interview candidates for EA, which I sort of didn't pay attention through. But here are the stuff I'll touch on:

-How to get a job in the game industry (and strategies if any).
-Interview process, resume tips, and what not.
-My reflection on working at some of these companies
-Career and Lifestyle. Salaries, time-off, benefits, and what not.
-Game design theories
-Game industry ideas and analysis

To help you get an idea of what I'm like, here are some specs(yes, treat me like a product):

Age: early 20s
Sex: Male
Education: B to low A in High school. GPA is like barely 2.9 in University. Haven't graduated.
Awards and Recognitions: 0 in my life

Previous work experience:

Electronic Arts
Content Manager / Assistant Producer
1 year and 4 months

Worked on developing and sometimes designing features for FIFA video game website. You can find me in the credits for FIFA 13

Web Production and Marketing:
FIFA Street

Before EA, I worked random jobs like Paintball ref(laid off in like 3 days), Dishwashing, and customer support. I'll get into how I got the job at EA in the next few posts.

Other random stuff about me:
-Speaks English, Chinese Mandarin, and Japanese fluently.
-Can program very little
-Extremely lazy
-Have very low amounts of energy
-Kind of getting fat
-Prefers being alone
-and so and so...

And off we go.....





大学:名門だけどアイビーリーグでは無いしカナダ以外だと誰も知らない。日本で比べると大体早稲田のいくつかランク下? 大学での点数はあまり良くない。