Playing games before interviews

March 01, 2009

Recently, I interviewed at a very nice game publisher and developer. They were looking for an Executive Producer and my background makes me a good fit for such a position. I didn't get the job, despite the 7 hour interview, mostly due to the fact that the funding for the position had dried up.

They did have one big concern, I didn't seem interested in their title. I didn't download and play their free game prior to the interview. I tried to explain to them why, but I could tell it didn't sink in. Their ego says, he has to like our game because we love our game to be qualified for the position.

Unless I have never seen a title I don't like to play a game prior to the interview. If the game is totally unknown to me then yep I will play it and get to know it so I can speak intelligently on it in the interview. But if I know it well enough to have an opinion, I don't play it again.

But in this case, as is the case often, I had played it several times at E3 and I felt comfortable talking to them about it. When I got home from the interview, I tried to download the game... their custom made downloader informed me that it would take 9 days to download a 2 GB file. When I found a older version to download from another site, it took about 20 minutes to download and install. When their new downloader saw I had the previous version installed, it asked if I wanted to update, of course I do! It took 4 and a half hours to download a 350 MB file.

To add insult to injury, with about 50 MB of the update left Apple's auto-updater popped up with a 110 MB file it needed to download and install. That update, twice the size of the remaining game update, took 6 minutes to download and install. The original remaining 50 MB took 2 more hours. and when the installer tried to update, it crashed.

Had I done all of this before the interview, I would not have been happy. Although I wouldn't cancel the interview, I certainly wouldn't hold these developers in high regard. If asked if I liked the game, I would have said something like: "I'm not sure, its got 8 days left to download". These are not good things to say in an interview.

Its not disinterest, its for your own protection.

I'm starting to think that I shouldn't play games before the interview, because I want to have an open mind about the people. I want to know them before I know their product. If I am to be their leader, I lead the team, not the game itself. I know perfectly well that there are a LOT of factors that affect a games development and that developers are not always responsible for the end result.

Having said that, I think there's a huge benefit to not going in with a negative reaction to a game, and trying to sugar coat the truth when they ask me what I thought of it.

Your thoughts?



Spunkmeyer said...

That seems to make sense in the first way. But its also weird to go to an interview without knowing the product. I don't know, wich way is better...

Maybe you can have a benefit of playing a bad game: Describe in a suitable way, how you would make it better!

But I really don't know.

Mac said...

Its really a no win situation. If I play the game and hate it, I either have to dance around it or tell them the truth... and would you hire someone who in the interview said they didn't like your one game product? Doubt it

If I don't play the game, then I seem to be disinterested. Frankly, in this case, I played it at E3 once and there was no reason to play it again.

weezie said...

Before you go on an interview, learn as much about a company as possible. This absolutely includes playing their games and being able to talk honestly and constructively about them whether you liked a particular game or not. A finished product is not just a reflection of the team who made it, but also the company culture and direction. You don't have to love a company's portfolio before you work there, but it does beg the question as to why you would want to work there in the first place? Finally, a good producer helps facilitate the project leads who (as their title clearly states) actually lead the game and the team. The producer leads the project in collaboration with the leads and the interests of upper management.

Mac said...

That sounds like a headhunter comment to me. I'm not suggesting that someone not learn all there is about a company, or to avoid their product, but I am saying that you have to be very careful.

I think you're glossing over the point that if you in any way say something negative about a company's title, they feel hurt. Their ego takes a hit and most in the game industry aren't mature enough to handle even gentle honest comments.

Its been said to me as a reason to reject a Producer: "He didn't like XXXX title, lets hire someone who loves it and us"

So yes, learn ALL that you can about a company, and play their game if you never have... but beware its a slippery slope to tell someone their game isn't AAA, even if they know it.


weezie said...

I'm not a headhunter (despite my impressive utility belt made from shriveled, human faces). I work in the industry and I've interviewed a ton of people for a variety of job positions. If you haven't played a game my company's developed, that's not necessarily a strike against you. If you have played a game that the company has developed and you don't like it, that's not a deal breaker either. However, if you can't talk to me about why you like or don't like something, then I'm going to lose interest. That's nothing to do with a company's ego and everything to do with a severe lack of preparation on the part of the candidate. The "slippery slope" is thinking that a few moments of your time with a product at E3 is the equivalent of doing some actual research prior to an interview.

Sunny said...

I think that if you understand the job you're applying for you may be better off not knowing all the details of their products... you have some valid arguments for remaining in the bliss of ignorance until after you're hired.

Enjoyed your column. Keep writing!

Mac said...

I'd say you work at a great place with mature people. I think you're lucky to work at such a place. I've worked with some great people, but generally the mood of the team was as I have expressed.

I agree its not the company ego, its the ego of the developers that you risk bruising by saying something negative about the product.

I'll stick to my definition of the "slippery slope" since in my original post I talk about playing it several times at E3, not as you said: "a few moments of your time". Your assumption that it was just a few moments is incorrect.

Anonymous said...

I have sat here and read both the blog and your commentary between each other and I find this interesting as a whole. If you were to go into any interview I feel it would always be in the best interest to learn all you can about a game and the company behind it...

What you do with that information after the fact and how you spin it would relate to who you are talking to during your interview. Select key words could be used to enhance a persons motivation towards their own game. An example might be...

"Have you taken the time to play XXXX in your spare time? What did you think of it?"

While this comment appears very bland, I do not feel the risk of constructive comments worth loosing the job. I would at this point pick out items I did like even if that means talking about the art work or how a single function worked.

In my limited experience I find that people use leading comments when asking about products they are personally proud of. I will state that I could be over analyzing this, but it has worked wonders for myself.

Mac said...

I think you're right, spin is a great word to use here.

I'd like to say again, I'm not suggesting that people shouldn't know the company they're interviewing with and they do need to know the game... but presenting a negative view has to be handled very carefully.

Thanks for your comment!