Team Bungie is an elaborate machine, propelled forward by a maze of moving parts. To keep that machine in good working order, we need stewards who understand all of its functions. Production staffers like Joey Gibbs are like the grease between the cogs. They make sure that artists, engineers, and designers are operating in perfect mesh. To learn more about how we keep ourselves from breaking down, I cornered one of our newest faces in the studio.
Who are you, and what do you do at Bungie?
My name is Joey, and I’m a Production Assistant at Bungie. I like to think of myself as the guy in the cartoon rowboat who tries to plug all the leaks with his fingers - with mixed success. I help the real Producers by taking care of the little things so that they can focus their attention on bigger issues, like making sure that we ship on time. This involves doing all manner of things, ranging from the small and menial (like scheduling meetings, taking notes, and logging minor bugs) to the large and utterly terrifying (like organizing the design test process, running studio meetings, and managing the logistics for our internal Bungie Day). I was hired on to work specifically with our World & Activities team, and I do for the most part, but I also do a lot of things that require coordinating with groups from all over the studio.
You must be a man of many talents to be tackling such an array of challenges for us. What are you coordinating when you are outside of the studio?
Well… [checks Facebook profile] Oh yeah! I do a little bit of everything, really. Lately that’s involved going to the gym (yes, I have been working out), reading (sci-fi/fantasy, for the most part), painting (I’m not as suck as I used to be), catching movies (there’s a theatre across the street, which is awesome), and of course, playing games (lately a ton of Diablo 3 with a little Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning sprinkled in). I love RPGs and anything that’s heavily story-driven. I am also a Ninja. No, seriously.
If that were true, you would never boast about it. So, let’s talk about what is true in terms of the jobs that you may or may not have had before you came to us.
I’ve done a lot of interesting things for money. Okay – that sounded better in my head. At separate points in my life I’ve been a caddie at a golf club, a camp counselor at a zoo, a pizza chef, a convenience store clerk, an office assistant, a commercial roofer, and a server/bartender. Those experiences together taught me three very important lessons: First, delicious pizzas are made with love, not magic. Second, being severely dehydrated, horrifically sunburned, and covered in fiberglass insulation is even less fun that it sounds. And finally, spend some time working hard labor and/or in the service industry. Not only does it build character, but it will absolutely make you more empathetic and, consequently, a better human being.
Since it is highly unlikely that you used to daydream about fiberglass and sunburn, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Batman. But in a surprise lack of childhood foresight I told everyone about it, effectively ruining the whole “secret identity” thing. Um… Oh. I think I wanted to make movies for a while. Not direct them, per se, not act in them or film them, but make them. I’m not sure how that translates to a real profession. The truth is that I don’t think I ever actually knew what I wanted to be. You know, besides Batman, but I kinda dropped the ball on that one. My problem has always been that I like doing a lot of different things. I don’t think that at any point my brain ever said, “That one.” And, never in a million years did I think I would end up making videogames professionally.
Well now you make video games – and it took much less than a million years for you to break in to the industry. How did you prepare yourself for this career on which you are embarking?
Two years ago I was sitting in an LSAT prep class at the University of Michigan planning on taking my liberal arts degree in economics and political science with me to law school. Somewhere between learning even more obscure vocabulary terms and practicing effective techniques for solving logic puzzles, I realized that the legal profession wasn’t really something I was interested in. On a whim, I picked up a copy of Ernest Adams’ Breaking Into the Game Industry: How to Get a Job Making Video Games. I read it cover-to-cover over a weekend and decided that, someday, I would be a producer at a AAA game studio. Two years, three Game Developers Conferences, one IGDA Leadership Forum, two professional certifications (CSM and CAPM, if you’re interested), and one master’s degree from Full Sail University later, and here I am working as a Production Assistant for Bungie, a studio that I have loved since I was 13.
We’re glad you made it. Tell our readers how you got your foot in the door…
Lots and lots of footwork. There’s a Thomas Jefferson quote, “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find that the harder I work, the more I have of it.” Super true. When I was studying at Full Sail I went out of my way to go to industry events like GDCs and IGDA meetings to network with and learn from people in the industry. This required a lot of extra time and a decent amount of extra money, but I kept at it because I knew that meeting the right person could make all the difference in the job hunt. Then, in October 2011, I got lucky.
I was busy working as a conference associate (an extremely fun and awesome way to network and cut the cost of GDC admission – I highly recommend it) at GDC Online 2012 in Austin, TX. I had a break early in the afternoon and decided to hit the career pavilion, resume in hand. I was pleasantly surprised to see that Bungie had a presence there, albeit a small one. Bungie was one of my stretch goals – Yeah it would be awesome to work there, I thought, but right out of school? No experience? Fat chance. I stood in line with the rest of the hopefuls and when my turn came, struck up a conversation. We’re not hiring entry-level producers right now, she said, but we might be in the next six months or so. She told me to keep an eye on Bungie.net and to let her know personally if I saw anything interesting. I felt good about the conversation, but I knew that I was just one of hundreds of faces that she’d see over the course of the show. I stopped by the Bungie booth to say hi once or twice more throughout the remainder of the week, but I didn’t get my hopes up.
A month later the production assistant position opened up on Bungie.net. I immediately sent in an application, making sure to put the HR rep’s name on the top of the cover letter and to tailor it, referencing our conversation from the month before. That was the very end of November 2011. Bungie didn’t get back to me until midway through February 2012, almost three months later. But when they did, it was to schedule me for an interview with one of their executive producers.
Ah, yes! The interview! This is always my favorite part of the story. Was yours as hard as the horror stories we have heard?
To be honest, the interviews themselves weren’t all that bad. I’ve read a lot of these Breaking In stories on Bungie.net and every single time I do I thank the good lord that I’m not a programmer. Yes I went through a day-long gauntlet of interviews, but I’d been through so many other interviews (eight to ten at that point, if I recall) that the process was kind of old hat. All of those industry conferences, all of those conversations, and all that studying had left me pretty familiar the current state of production in the industry - woefully inexperienced, yes, but relatively well-informed. Of course, it didn’t hurt that I’ve been a huge Bungie fan since I was a pre-teen. Being able to talk passionately about Bungie’s games and its awesome studio culture certainly didn’t hurt.
The worst part of the interviews was that I was horrifically sick that day and had loaded up on Dayquil just to render myself functional. It was just one of those things – I felt it coming on during the plane ride over (I’m from Detroit, by the way) and hoped desperately that I was just nervous. Not the case. I survived the interviews on Friday, but I spent most of Saturday lying prone on a sofa in the dark surrounded by clumps of used tissue and empty cans of ginger ale.
It was nice of you to create your own uphill battle, since we seemed to have gone easy on you. What is the most rewarding thing about the work that you do for Bungie?
A truly massive portion of my job is spent staring at Excel spreadsheets and Outlook calendars. It’s not always the most entertaining thing in the world. I nerd out a little bit when I learn new Excel functions, and I secretly love sitting in meetings, but it’s definitely not as glamorous animation or as magical as design. I went to Harry Potter world at Universal Studios two or three (read: 20-30) times while I was living in Orlando. Every time I walked through the gates I looked around and thought to myself, holy crap. This, all of this, used to only exist inside some British lady’s head. And now it’s right here. I am literally walking through somebody’s imagination. It’s one of the coolest things ever.
Describe a day in the life of working in our own imagination foundry.
My days are never the same. One of the best things about being a producer is that there are always weird, quirky problems that need solving. Yesterday, for example, I spent most of the day frantically organizing rules and rosters for our new playtesting initiative. After six hours of wrangling, scheduling, and putting out fires my reward was a thorough face-rolling at the hands of our heartless test team. The pride hurts, it’s true, but all the exposure and feedback are definitely going to lead to a better game in the long run.
Do we do enough to nurse that pride back to health? Chronic face-rolling can lead to permanent damage to the psyche.
Bungie pays for a membership to the gym across the hall. It’s literally across the hall. Oh, and apparently the studio just bought out a show at the movie theater in town so that we can all watch Prometheus opening night. That was cool. And have I mentioned the snacks? Oh, the snacks…
Those snacks are part of a secret plot to make sure that we use that gym membership. While you are a relatively new kid on our block, has there been a moment that made you feel like you have what it takes to go the distance at Bungie?
The last team meeting I ran went perfectly. We have a long history of challenges when it comes to these monthly meetings. Sabotage has been suspected on more than one occasion. In our defense, it’s not easy to corral hundreds of grumbly game developers and make them sit still for an hour on a Friday afternoon. But, thanks to the efforts of the team meeting brute squad (who deserve all the credit for the real work involved) everything just worked. I received congratulations and thanks from people who I hadn’t even met yet for days afterward. The whole experience still gives me the warm fuzzies…
Warm fuzzies are a great start, but we are never done challenging ourselves at Bungie. How you plan to make yourself more and more valuable to our (not so) secret agenda of world domination?
I feel like I keep coming back to industry conferences like GDC, but they’re really important. Doctors have to attend current best-practice seminars to maintain their licenses - I’m a big believer in treating my work the same way. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I’ve learned by talking to other people in the industry. Every single studio is different and every single studio approaches solving similar problems in different ways. You might not always agree with the way another group does things, but at the very least being exposed to different views and methodologies will make you take a look at old problems from new perspectives.
We are lucky to have a man for all seasons in the form of you, Joey. Assume that your story has inspired other eager young minds to follow the trail you have blazed. What else would you recommend to them?
Playing games is a given. If you’re really serious about breaking in, I highly recommend attending industry conferences like the Game Developers Conference (GDC) and joining the International Game Developers Association (IGDA), especially if you don’t have much prior work experience. There is simply no better way to network and to learn what life is really like on the inside. Go to the conferences, talk to people, be humble, and ask intelligent questions. Print out some business cards, polish your resume, make a LinkedIn profile, and build a web site filled with information about you and your side projects. Above all, be professional. Everyone loves passion, but fan-boy/fan-girl-ism is best left at appropriate venues like PAX and E3. Oh, and don’t forget to smile.
You’ve been a delight. Time for the final question: Experience, Work Ethic, or Talent? Rank them in order of importance to your role.
Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. There will always be people out there who are more talented than you are, but if you really want to, if you want something bad enough, you can out work just about anybody. Experience is nice to have, but you don’t get experience unless you’re willing to put in the effort. I don’t consider myself to be particularly talented. On June 9th 2012 I’ll have been in the industry for a grand total of six months. So much for experience. I’ll put my money on hard work every single time.
The reward for hard work at Bungie is more hard work. Following that logic, we are very fortunate to have people like Joey committed so passionately to our common goal. If this brand of labor sounds like the stuff of your dreams, you may find your calling in this industry. Of course, Production is but one of many disciplines that keep our people engaged. You can learn about the other components of the machinery that manufactures the games you want to play in our Breaking In