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From the Farm to EVE Online: A Story of Breaking into the Industry

Updated Wed, Dec 16, 2009 by Cody Bye

by Cody Micajah” Bye, Managing Editor

What do you want out of your career? Glamour and prestige? A constant struggle to keep abreast of new information? Financial security? The means to travel all around the world? Fame? Fortune?

To many video game aficionados, the gaming industry represents all of the ideals listed above and more. Learning the behind-the-scenes info, finding out about games before they’re even announced, knowing secrets that would cripple a company; all of these scenarios flash through an individual’s head as they wait for their big break, that one shot that could lead them to the career of a lifetime. It’s an industry that’s hard to get into, but once you’re in…

Cody Bye converses with CCP's Valerie Massey.

My own personal story isn’t spectacular, but it rings very similarly to another individual in the industry who has moved her way slowly up the food chain by being diligent, hard-working, genuine, and enthusiastically passionate about the games she works with. The person in question is Valerie Massey, currently the Public Relations and Communications Director for CCP Games (the developers of EVE Online), and she stopped to chat with us about her rise up the ranks and how she broke into the industry.

“First off, Cody,” Valerie began with a laugh on her lips, “You’ll never be able to make it into this industry. I won’t let you.” As our chuckles died down, Val began the story of how she rose through the industry and eventually landed in her place at CCP.

To start, it’s important to know a bit about Val’s background. When she began this journey, Valerie Massey was living in a tiny town in the middle of Texas known as Jewett. “I think there were 635 people that lived there at the time,” Valerie said. (Editor’s Note: The number later increased to 861 according to the 2000 census). “Where the men are men and the sheep are scared. Obviously it’s not a place I worry about going back to, anytime soon. However, if I ever found out that I had a terminal illness, I would go to Jewett because everything moves so slow there, it would feel like I had months.”

In Jewett, Valerie was playing the part of the stay-at-home house wife, raising a child and taking care of her bed-ridden grandmother. Not surprisingly, she felt totally disconnected with the rest of the world. But when she finally got the internet in 1997, the world opened up before her. “One of my cousins in Houston was playing Ultima Online,” Val continued. “It had just launched, and he went on and on about this game. He let me play on his account for a few weeks and told me that if I liked the game, he would buy it for me.”

Valerie started off as a serious Ultima Online player.

 And that’s when it all started. After playing UO for a while, Valerie volunteered for Stratics and became a UO volunteer. As the fates aligned, Val ended up with a fantastic opportunity presented to her. “A guy I had played UO with ended up working for GT Interactive,” she said. “It was Mike Wallace, who later ended up being the original producer of EVE Online. Mike offered me a job because I had this experience as a volunteer and along with being the editor of my college newspaper. And that’s how I got my big break!”

Of course, not everyone can be as lucky as Val nor can we have the opportunity to play with future developers/producers of our favorite games. That said, Valerie also had advice for people trying to get into the industry and aren’t as lucky as some folks are. “I personally always tell people about the biggest DO and the biggest DON’T you can make when looking for a job in the industry,” Val said. “And there’s a very fine line between the two. The biggest do is networking. Attend events. While many of the events have really expensive ticket prices, but a lot of the events have volunteer programs where you can volunteer and you can get in for free. It’s huge because then you get invitations to parties and can network from there.”

“The biggest don’t,” Valerie continued, “is equally as difficult. Don’t be a fanboy. Don’t be scary. There’s a difference between being passionate games and game design, and sending up that warning signal that you can’t separate yourself from your game. There was one guy that I met recently at our Fanfest who really want to come work for CCP. While we hear that a lot, this particular instance stuck in my mind.”

She took a breath then explained herself further. “He seemed like a nice enough guy and didn’t seem like an axe murderer, but he wanted a marketing position and was telling me about all his accounts and computers and all this other stuff,” Val said. “And it’s hard for us to hire someone like that because we have had allegations of favoritism in the past, so somebody like that who we think may be a little to into the game reduces their chances.”

Now Val works with the developers at CCP Games.

According to Valerie, the best way to increase your chances is to be well-versed in a wide number of games and really have specific reasons why you liked or didn’t like certain games. Let the developers know which particular portion of their game wasn’t what you enjoyed, and explain how it might be better. “Somebody who wants to go into design or production could even write up little essays for themselves that will be solid sample material for an application later on in their career,” Val added

As far as education goes, Val noted that it really doesn’t matter that much in the end. “It’s all about what you know and what you’ve done,” she said. “Even someone who didn’t finish college or never went to college even has a shot of making it into the industry. It’s all about how good you are at what you want to do.”

Finally, Val acknowledged that it’s really important to have an end goal in mind. “If you want to be the lead designer of a particular game,” Val said, “make that your goal. Find any way to get in that you can. Stay on the not scary side of the fan spectrum and you’ll make it in.”

Do you think you have what it takes to be in the game industry? Why or why not? Let us know on the forums!
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