Career | Learning

Beyond Code, Art & Design

Roles in Games for the jack of all trades

June 28, 2019

Beyond Code, Art & Design

In games, everyone is welcome! One of our Product Managers on the Idle Miner Tycoon Team, is a self-identifying jack of all trades. In this edition, she explains how everyone can find their place in our industry by looking beyond the boundaries of programming, art and game design…

Around April last year, I finally set my mind on pursuing a career in games. I had engaged with the games industry in different ways for a couple of years and was excited to connect with like-minded people. When I registered for the Womenize!, a simple question by the event staff nearly threw me into an existential crisis:

“What profession do you want us to add to your event badge?”

After a second of awkward silence, I asked the staff to leave the spot blank.

Even though I had made all these experiences in the industry, I didn’t feel like claiming any title for myself. At the same time, I was hesitant because I didn’t really want to commit to a single role — I wanted to do them all!

Fast forward to today… A little more than a year later. I’m a Product Manager at Kolibri Games. I work in a position that combines all my talents without leaving out one, that allows me to put all my past experiences to use and where I feel like being a jack of all trades is actually an advantage.

How did I get here? All it took was a shift in perspective on what it means to be a generalist. This shift in perspective helped me to identify and debunk a couple of limiting misconceptions I had about my own skill set and about working in the games industry.

Re-defining what it means to be a generalist

My biggest problem with the term “generalist” was that it had a primarily negative connotation to me, even though it described me so well.

“A person with the attention span of a goldfish” — that’s how I would have defined the term back then. Today, I like to go with much more empowering and enabling ones. The term “multipotentialite” really speaks to me here. Emilie Wapnick coins it in her book “How to Be Everything”, where it describes the act of embracing your different interests and potentials.

“A person with knowledge and interests in a wide array of different fields.” — that’s what generalist means to me today.

Debunking limiting misconceptions

To fully appreciate my generalist-superpowers, I had to debunk further misconceptions about working in the games industry that were holding me back.

“Everyone has their one, true calling.”

I felt incredibly pressured to find that one thing that I was destined to do. I believe that pressure is in many ways culturally reinforced by the idea that only if we find our one true calling, we will be truly happy. Eventually, I realized that, yes, there are those who do have one true calling and who are happy when they find it, there are others who don’t and that’s perfectly okay. For some, their “true calling” is even to have no true calling. Instead, they excel at being versatile, covering many basics and having a holistic understanding of subjects.

“There is no real value in fragmented experiences.”

I used to think that I had wasted time trying out all these different things in different fields within the games industry, instead of focusing on just one thing and trying to become better at it. Today I realize that this weird cocktail of gaming-related experiences shapes my very own, unique understanding of games and our industry.

Now I know that I should stop looking at them as wasted time. No experience is ever a waste and can always be applied in new contexts.

“Games are only made by specialists.”

I thought that games were only made by specialists. Clearly, you need exceptionally talented people with a really particular skill set to make great games. To me, that left no space for generalists.

Today I know better: generalists are a crucial element in making great games. Just keep in mind the following: Having all these different specialists, schooled in totally different crafts, working and focusing on one single aspect, creates the need for someone with the bigger picture in mind, someone with the ability to connect the dots and represent the overall vision for the game. An artist’s focus might be aesthetics or beauty, a programmer’s might be efficiency — a generalist excels at bringing all this together.

Generalists as specialists

Having debunked all these misconceptions, I would even argue that generalists are indeed specialists at certain things.

Generalists are incredibly adaptable and versatile. They know how to jump on new topics and learn quickly because they have been beginners many times before. They are good at seeing the bigger picture, connecting the dots and thinking outside the box, which is precisely where a lot of innovation can happen. They have insights into various disciplines, allowing them to discover details that people with a more narrow view can’t spot.

On top of that, they are good at facilitating communication across disciplines.

At Kolibri Games, I get to put all these skills into practice. As a Product Manager, I am responsible for the overall business success of our game and the tasks I have to fulfill in order to achieve that goal are super versatile.

In only one day, I might have to prioritize tasks for the Development Team, communicate with external partners, or coordinate sound & music production. I might have to plan in-game events for our LiveOps schedule for Idle Miner Tycoon or brainstorm new feature ideas or analyze KPIs.

Today I’m extremely thankful that I can draw back on my wide range of industry experience in solving all these different tasks.

“I’m a generalist! now what?”

You read all this and thought: “Hey, this is me”? Great! Here are some tips on where to start looking for your perfect job in games as a generalist.

My role at Kolibri Games simply serves as an example, but in general, roles close to the product, such as Product Manager or Producer, could suit your strengths as a generalist.

So-called “hybrid roles”, such as Technical Artist or Technical Writer, that combine two or more fields can be a good option as well. Yes, those require you to become a specialist in a certain area but allow you to at least break out of the boundaries of that field.

Outside the workplace, Game Jams are also an excellent opportunity for generalists to wear many different hats and explore their interests further.

As a generalist or jack of all trades, all you have to do is start looking beyond the strict confinements of disciplines such as programming, art and game design to find your place in our industry. You are versatile, you are adaptable, so don’t shy away from your inner chameleon!

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