How to get into the game industry, by Fighting Fantasy author and Brunel professor Steve Jackson

Steve Jackson co-founded Games Workshop with Ian Livingstone

“Getting a game industry job is about a mixture of being presented with the right opportunities and using your abilities, as much as anything,” Steve Jackson, professor of game design at London-based Brunel University, tells us. Few people could be better placed to opine on that subject, or create such opportunities.

For as well as his own overflowing inventory of game design and business experience, Jackson is – to say the least – rather well-connected. His most successful collaborations have seen him blaze a trail alongside two of the most famous and influential names in games. Back in 1975 he co-founded Games Workshop with Ian Livingstone, now life president of Eidos. With Livingstone he went on to pen the Fighting Fantasy choose-your-own-adventure books which interwined fantasy staples and interactive narrative on an industrial scale. In 1997 he embarked on another major project, helping Peter Molyneux launch Lionhead Studios.

Since 2005 Jackson has been a professor at Brunel University, teaching the “practical and vocational” side of game design alongside, among others, theory specialist Tanya Krzywinska. His role has pretty much been self-determined and includes elements he admits might seem “dreary”, such as project budgets and development contracts, but overall his focus is engaging and crystal clear. “I set my brief for myself,” he says, “and that is to help as many graduates as I can get a job in the industry.” And judging by the statistics he’s not doing too badly – Brunel claims that around 60 per cent of postgraduate students go into a job in the game industry.

“There are a lot more opportunities now than when I started here,” says Jackson, reflecting on his eight-year affiliation with Brunel. “Previously it was all about triple-A games and getting into a team. We still teach that, but it’s a lot more geared towards smaller teams and individuals. The industry changes so quickly it’s difficult to predict how things will look in the future.”

Jackson’s bulging contacts book has attracted several legendary industry figures to speak at Brunel University

Jackson studied Psychology and Biology at Keele University, though his extra-curricular life betrayed the passion that was to make his name. During his student days in the late 1960s and early 1970s he was a founding member and president of the university’s game society. Now, as then it would seem, he is aware that academic credentials alone are no guarantee of employment.

“The industry is tough to get into because employers go for experience rather than qualifications,” he says. “And working on a triple-A game from start – or even from the middle – to finish is an experience which can’t be replicated in academia. We certainly explain this to students, and that they are facing something of a chicken and egg situation and it’s not a level playing field.”

That’s where Jackson – and his contacts book – come in. Guest speakers at Brunel this term alone include former European head of PlayStation Chris Deering, Mediatonic CEO Paul Croft, and Jackson’s old writing partner Ian Livingstone. “People always seem willing to come in to talk to and recruit students. The Game Day event, which is a simulation of the industry where students act as publishers and developers on indie-type games, is so well attended. Industry people come along and listen to the students do their pitches, and that range of people has got broader since the course started.”

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