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November 21, 2005

Getting paid for playing around

By Zach Brokenrope

Imagine, just for a moment, that every day when you go to work, you get to play games. Or, if you’re not playing them, you’re doing the art for them, or even perhaps designing them. Sounds like fun, right? For those involved in the industry, it’s a reality.

 Get your game on

If you dream of playing and making games as a career, people in the industry have this advice for you:

* Be creative and come up with an original game idea.

* Come up with rules and work out all the kinks of the game.

* Create a written proposal that explains your game in extreme detail.

* Find a company that accepts game submissions.

* Send your proposal and wait for a reply.

– Zach Brokenrope

Illustrator and graphic designer

John Kovalic, graphic artist and a founder of gamesmaker Out of the Box Publishing Inc., said his job is “everything I could’ve wished for. It’s totally fun.”

Why wouldn’t it be? Since 1998, Kovalic has designed and drawn cover art for Out of The Box, a medium-size game company based in of Wisconsin. He even gets to play the games.

His first “job” as an artist began in the late 1970s when he produced a comic strip for his high school newspaper. After he graduated from the University of Wisconsin, there was no stopping him.

As part of the team that founded Out of the Box in 1998, he’s taken part in the production of every game published by the company. He even designed one himself, a question and answer game called Whad’Ya Know?  It’s based on the public radio show by the same name hosted by Michael Feldman.

But Kovalic’s real job is illustration.

When designing the cover for a game box, Kovalic said he tries to create a “fun and cartoony look” which he said helps games appeal to a wider audience.

“Everything you do is to appeal to people,” said Kovalic. “How well a game sells depends a lot on what it looks like on the shelves.”

Getting into the games business has a basic requirement, according to Kovalic.

“The main thing you need is a love of games,” Kovalic said. “People in this industry are really passionate about gaming, and you need that. But get a college degree, that way you have something to fall back on.”

Game designer

You never quite know where life is going to take you, and in the case of Alan R. Moon, it’s especially true.

In college, Moon majored in theater and English, but it wasn’t until taking a job at a gaming magazine that he found his true calling in creating games.

“I became really interested in designing,” he said.

Moon began working for gamesmaker Avalon Hill and designed his first game, Black Spy.

Since then, Moon’s published more than 70 games worldwide. He’s now able to develop games full-time, partly due to the recent success of his game Ticket to Ride.

The time it takes for Moon to produce a game varies, he said. Some games take as many as four years to complete, he said, while others can reach the store shelf in less then one.

“It’s really hard to make a living,” he said. “There are only a small number of people who do it full-time. I used to work as a waiter a lot.”       

Director of research and development

When Ellen Winter plays a game from her company, Out of the Box, she always understands the rules. After all, she writes them.

Winter helped co-found the company in 1998 after she, her former husband Mark Osterhaus and their son Max Osterhaus came up with Bosworth, their first game.

Since then, Winter has taken part in every game the company’s produced, overseeing all aspects of development.

Often her past career as an educator comes in handy on the job – like when she’s writing the rules for games.

“You have to be very analytical,” she said. “When you’re trying to explain how to play a game to a person you want them to think and develop strategies on their own. Every little word you use is important. You want to be as non-confusing possible.”

Winter also works on the more detailed parts of games, such as deciding what colors and shapes should be used in certain games.

“To get into the industry you have to know as much about games as possible,” says the former educator. “You have to play and be creative.”

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