Microsoft Game Studios UCSC Presentation

Microsoft Game Studios Logo

A little more than two weeks ago (on January 18 to be exact), Microsoft Game Studios (abbreviated MGS… which, by the way, doesn’t mean Metal Gear Solid) representatives visited UCSC to talk about their employment and internship opportunities as well as their experiences in the gaming industry. Although I wasn’t interested in employment or internships since I’m still a first year, I went anyway to see how Microsoft runs their gaming branch and what things I should look for when I graduate and seek a job in the gaming industry. Hopefully this post can help out other people looking to get into the game industry or, more specifically, work at Microsoft Game Studios.

The first to talk was Cordy Rierson who is director of college hires and internships for Microsoft Game Studios. Her previous experience was in the movie industry, but she eventually moved onto the gaming industry for reasons I’m unsure of since I didn’t start taking notes until the middle of the presentation. (Doh! I’ll try not doing that again!) She first talked about what kind of positions were available in the gaming industry, and the categories listed on her PowerPoint presentation were:

  • Server
  • Hardware
  • Graphics
  • Tools
  • Audio
  • Systems
  • Game play
  • AI
  • UI/Natural User Interface
  • Network

After that she talked about Microsoft Game Studios’ internship program. To apply, you have to go to Microsoft’s job listings website. The strange thing is that the internship for the gaming branch is listed under “User Experience” which is a pretty ambiguous term. Yeah, I can see why gaming can fall under user experience, but since the gaming-related positions take up most of the category, they should just create a separate category specifically for games instead.

Anyway, internships usually go from May to August, and it’s best to apply in the Fall. When applying, Rierson emphasized that applicants should really have website portfolios. On top of that, resumes should show more than just work and reflect the applicant’s non-gaming interests, just so the recruiter can kind of get a better idea of who they’re hiring.

Applicants that are looking for a job instead of the internship program also use the same website to apply for jobs.

I have to admit that the Microsoft Game Studios internship program sounds really sweet! It really gives you the opportunity to meet up with real game studios as well as gain valuable, hands-on experience in developing games with the professionals. To top it off, it’s a paid internship with housing and transportation covered!

The next presenter was Rick Martinez who is also director of college hires and internships. He shared valuable information about his experiences in the gaming industry as he worked with Lionhead Studios on the famous Fable franchise. Here are some of the questions asked by people in the audience along with Martinez’s respective answers:

Should you get a master’s degree after you get your bachelor’s degree?

It really depends on what you are doing, what your goals are, and how the job opportunities are during your graduating year. A good indicator is if the job opportunities are a bit closed for the year. If they are, then try getting a master’s and wait for the job opportunities to open up the next year. It really isn’t absolutely necessary to have a master’s though.

Will crap games in your portfolio ruin your chance for employment?

For the majority of the time: NO. Yes, there are exceptions, but the recruiters definitely understand that no one makes triple A scores and massive amounts of commercial success for every game they make. Even if the game is crap, if you can support that your part of the work in the game is distinguishable, the recruiters will consider your experience on the game as a plus. He also noted that some of the best experience on games is actually from working on bad games since it essentially teaches you what NOT to do. Of course that doesn’t mean that you should try to work on crappy games, but if you have no choice but to work on a bad game or a game doesn’t turn out as well as you hoped, remember that the experience you gained from the project is what really matters.

Do first year undergraduate college students have any chance of getting into the Microsoft Game Studios internship program?

Yes, but it’s not very likely since most first years don’t have that much game design experience. If a first year does already have a decent portfolio of games, he/she should definitely apply though. However, even if a first year’s portfolio is lacking, he/she should consider applying anyway, just so the company can get to know him/her.

How much money can you get at Microsoft Game Studios? How are the medical benefits?

Microsoft pays very well and usually pays 5% more than other game studios according to generated salary reports. Also, apparently Microsoft has the “best healthcare in the world.”

How does a person good at both design and programming fit into a gaming studio?

People good at both design and programming are definite pluses. Sure, in bigger studios there aren’t many people that are doing both design and programming, but it’s still a very valuable asset to have and is very welcome. Most of the time design and programming hybrids work on both aspects in smaller gaming projects. (Ex: Games designed for a mobile platform.)



(Note all of the questions and answers are paraphrased.)

The final presenter was Jeremey Lee who is senior manager and director of college hires and internships… I think. He didn’t say his name as far as I can recall, but that was the remaining name on the PowerPoint slide, so I’m assuming it’s his. (Martinez never said his name either, but a simple Google search confirmed his name for me.) Lee, like Martinez, also boasted amazing experiences in the gaming industry as he worked for Bungie. At Bungie, he originally worked on the only game that wasn’t part of the Halo franchise, but eventually he was thrown onto Halo 2 when Bungie was rushing to meet Microsoft’s deadlines. After Halo 2, he continued to work on Halo 3 and eventually left Bungie to work at Microsoft Game Studios. He now works mainly on Facebook and mobile games.

After the presentation, I have to say that I’m very glad that I went. I left with a lot more knowledge about the gaming industry, and now the Microsoft Game Studios internship program is something I’m very interested in. I’m considering to apply for the summer between my second and third year or the summer between my third and fourth year since I don’t think I’ll be doing anything during those time periods. If I could, I would try to get in this summer, but unfortunately I 1) missed the Fall application time period, 2) have to take summer session to catch up on classes so I can graduate in four years, and 3) don’t really have a game design/development portfolio yet. Man, that internship program really does sound dope though!

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