“Don’t let yourself be held back by doubts about whether you’re good enough or whether or not you can do it. Just dive in and things will start to happen.”
Dan Bahan is an alumni of SchoolCreative’s Video Game Design program. Currently, he is completing a Game Programming diploma and working for Vancouver’s LCB Studios.
What made you want to make video games for a living?
Like many people in the gaming industry, I’ve had a lifelong passion for games. But I also enjoy interacting with people, seeing how they respond to games and new features, learning what frustrates them and what makes them happy. That combination of being a gamer and being interested in how other people experience games is what ultimately took me in the direction of wanting to pursue a career in game development.
So this was something you’ve wanted to do for a long time?
Definitely. That being said, I never took any ambitious steps toward getting into the industry until a friend told me about SchoolCreative. He was preparing to enter the Screenwriting for Film and TV diploma program when I was working as an assistant manager at Subway in Kamloops. I had thought about my broader career options of course, but I hadn’t really stepped out and taken any action. When he told me about what SchoolCreative offered and was clearly making moves of his own, it inspired me. It felt like the perfect opportunity at the right time to go after something I really liked. So I applied to SchoolCreative’s game department, joined my friend, and here I am.
What was it that made you feel this was the time?
Like I said, I’ve never been a particularly ambitious person. When I get into a comfortable lifestyle, it’s easy for me to become content with that. But I always knew in the back of my mind that I didn’t have much a future with Subway. So when life handed me this opportunity to do something different, something I was passionate about, I felt I just had to take it. To at least try and pursue a career I wanted for myself. I’ve always been fairly good at seeing opportunity and seizing it when it comes and I thought, if not now, when?
My friend spent quite a while with SchoolCreative’s admissions people at a local career fair and was immediately impressed by the school’s philosophy, its programs, and its genuine passion to set students up for professional careers in performing and media arts. I also became fairly meticulous in my research and came to the same conclusion. Those things, combined with the program being quite affordable, made it clear that SchoolCreative was my best option.
Since coming to SchoolCreative, you’ve completed your Game Design diploma and are currently working on a second diploma in Game Programming. Do you feel that what you’ve learn has prepared you for a successful career in game development?
Absolutely. Though my talents and interest definitely lie more in design than programming, I feel both have been extremely important. Our instructors have done a great job of making sure we understand the core concepts and professional creative skills, while effectively setting us up our future careers in the industry. And they’re always there for us personally when we need them. On more than one occasion, if I was ever struggling to understand a concept or technical process, I asked to sit and review with instructors. They’ve always been flexible in their teaching and willing to do whatever it took to make sure I was getting it. That speaks really well for the instructors here when they’re willing to go the extra mile like that.
You’re still studying at SchoolCreative and you’ve already been hired within the game industry. How did that happen?
I recently began working for LBC Studios in Vancouver, a relationship that was facilitated by one of my instructors who has been a professional designer for years. Early in my Game Design program, as part of our quality assurance training, he brought students on board as testers for one of LBC’s new games. Our job was to help identify and work out bugs in the system, which was a fantastic opportunity to work on a real game as well as to network with industry developers and managers. The instructor also knew that JBC would be looking for new workers in the near future and he felt I would be a good fit. So, wanting to get my foot in the industry as soon as possible, I applied for a CSR position and got it, even as I continued my studies in programming. It’s been amazing.
Did your instructors help in any other way with your new placement?
Initially, LCB brought me in on a part-time, sub-contract basis. Which was great at first since I was still in school, and I appreciated the flexible schedule they allowed me to work within. However, they also knew I had an interest in working with them full-time. Before long, they were impressed enough with my performance that they offered me a full-time position. At that point, video game department head Matt Jenkins became instrumental. With his assistance, I was also able to negotiate a better contract with a higher rate of pay, and with fewer restrictions on my own personal projects and relationships with future employers. Which also means I’ll be able to pay off my student loans sooner. Huge thanks to Matt for that.
Looking at your current position in relation to your broader career goals, how important do you think it is that game developers have experience in customer service while they work towards becoming top-level designers?
It’s huge. People naturally want to become a senior designer on day one, but getting first-hand experience in quality assurance and game-specific customer service, learning what problems are commonly faced by gamers and becoming an expert at solving them, is absolutely critical to becoming a great developer. I’m not in a hurry. I love what I’ve been hired to do and I recognize it’s value in my personal and professional growth.
What words of wisdom would you give to students?
If I were to give any advice to students thinking of getting into the industry, I’d say you need at least two things to be successful. The first, in my opinion, is patience. Patience to wait for the right opportunity and to start taking active steps in the meantime, which includes getting trained, putting yourself out there, networking with colleagues and clients, and just becoming a part of the action. Do that and you significantly increase your chances of being in the right place at the right time when companies are looking for what you have to offer. The second key to success is seizing opportunity when it comes, seize it with both hands. Don’t let yourself be held back by doubts about whether you’re good enough or whether or not you can do it. Just dive in and things will start to happen. You’ll find a way to make it work, discover what still needs to be learned, and get the experience you need as you go.
To find out more about SchoolCreative’s 12-month diploma programs in Video Game Design and Video Game Programming, click here.