GDC & FGS 2010: Career Opportunities In Social Gaming

With Flash Gaming Summit (FGS) and Game Developers Conference 2010 (GDC) now over, we’d like to take the opportunity to reflect on some of the key takeaways. One of the most discussed areas was career opportunities in the gaming industry, particularly in the area of social gaming. Here’s a few of the opportunities gleaned from various sessions, panels and interviews last week.

Entrepreneurial Track.

If you want a career in social gaming, how much experience do you need? According to the panel of speakers of “Why Are Gaming Veterans Flocking to Social Gaming?” at GDC 2010, the money seems to be in social games right now, and veteran game developers are starting to drift into the social gaming space, careerwise. What do they offer over new developers? Here’s what the panel said:

  • Understanding of games in general, regardless of platforms, graphics, hardware. E.g., board games, of which some social games are slightly reminiscent.
  • Ability to adapt to different platforms. Many of veteran developers have been through a variety of platforms, graphics, etc. Social gaming is a young area, maybe 2.5 years, according to veteran game designer Steve Meretsky. Development cycles are very short in comparison to other types of game software. Younger developers might be cheaper, but they are not necessarily more productive or effective.

However, you don’t have to be a veteran game developer to have a career. If you’re relatively inexperienced, create your own opportunities. Social networks make it so much easier to be a small-scale game developer, and not only will you gain experience but you could earn money from your efforts. Take the advice of veteran game designer Steve Meretzky. Meretzky says that there are over 500K Facebook games, but most are designed by inexperienced developers. To stand out, you just need a little more thought in your game design. Learning everything you can about game psychology, social features, and platforms. Do that, appeal to players, and it’ll be much easier to take advantage of some of the new in-game ad networks and virtual currencies.

Development Funds.

If you’re looking for funding, Mochi Media, who hosted FGS 2010, recently announced their GAME Developer Fund of $10M to help “promising Flash and social game developers.” Selected developers will receive sponsorship, licensing and publishing deals. Funds per developer can be anywhere from $1K to $100K. Mochi media also announced their Mochi Social Platform, which gives developers a single API with which to access Facebook, MySpace and Twitter networks, as well as a variety of social features.

Of course there’s always other investors who are looking to fund the next hot social game. Mochi Media is simply one company out of many looking to fund the creative ideas of game developers.

Social Gaming and Mobile Platforms.

If you already have your own mobile social game and need some tips on marketing on a budget, here are five key steps from Michael Powers, Founder/CEO of MPlayit:

  1. Have a strong web landing page.
  2. Embrace video – both your own presentations and in getting video reviews.
  3. Learn to love PR – hire or do it yourself.
  4. Chase the review blogs. Make sure you give out promo codes.
  5. Connect your users. Integrate social networking APIs so that existing users can recommend/ share info about your game to their friends, thus helping to drive traffic.

If you have not ventured into the mobile space, take note. Apple’s Steve Jobs might be standing firm on not supporting Adobe Flash on iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad mobile devices, but Flash is coming to other mobile platforms, including Palm WebOS and Android, and game developers will migrate. You could go Flash, or you could make your game client-technology-agnostic and make your code more portable between device platforms.

Salaried Career Opportunities.

Evan Weaver, Manager of Infrastructure at Twitter, was in the audience during “gaming veterans” panel, mentioned above. At the question session afterwards, he revealed that the company is hiring. Specifically, they’re looking for game development veterans who have the skills to help build out Twitter to become a social gaming platform. I’ve personally seen nothing official, and Evan hasn’t returned my email, but this news came from his own mouth. If you think you have the talent, seek out Evan wherever appropriate: Twitter profile, website. This news comes at an interesting time because another social media expert said earlier that morning that he didn’t think Twitter was a social gaming platform, but my feeling was that it certainly seems possible, even now. Of course, you’d have to wrap a layer around Twitter streams, the social graph, and add game rules, media, etc. Anyone daring enough to venture into this territory? Know of anyone who has created a social game using Twitter as the platform?

Another company hiring right now is European game studio Bigpoint, who were a sponsor of GDC 2010. CCO Nils-Holger Henning mentioned in an interview that the company is setting up a San Francisco office and hiring around forty staff. While half those positions are close to being spoken for, there are still jobs in the SF office, and not just for game designers. The company has some exciting games coming out that I managed to get a sneak peak at, including one game that can be played both online and on an iPhone or iPod Touch.

Are you a social game developer? What have your career experiences been like so far? Do you work for yourself or a studio? Share your advice in the comments for anyone seeking a career in social gaming.