Five Great Reasons to Start your Games Career in Middleware

A developer journal by Chris Doran, COO and founder of Geomerics.

Posted By | On 12th, Nov. 2012 Under Developer Journals

By Chris Doran, COO and founder of Geomerics

There are a lot of talented students coming out of game development schools these days. Most are hoping to work in a studio somewhere, getting hands-on experience working on a game. It’s hard to fault that ambition. But, I would like to present all you students with another option – one you may not have thought about before: working for a middleware company. Here’s a five great reasons why you should consider it:

1. You get to work with a lot of different developers on many different games. This is tremendously exciting. One day you may be working on settings for a map in Battlefield 3, the next helping fix issues in a totally different game like Quantum Conundrum. At a purely practical level, when it comes to writing your CV and listing titles, you can instantly boost that score if you start out in middleware. Furthermore, you get the chance to establish relationships with all of these developers, which can easily lead to opportunities down the line.

As a manager at Geomerics I suppose I shouldn’t be advocating working in middleware as a stepping stone to a career in development! After all, we work hard to keep our staff. But I am proud of the fact that when people do chose to leave they invariably go onto good, high-profile positions at some of the world’s top developers.

2. You get to work on and refine new techniques and technologies. The essential reason that middleware took off in games development is that the industry needed to find a way to give developers time to think more deeply about technical issues. It is very hard to take time out from the treadmill of producing games to do technology ‘right’ if it slows down development of the title you are on. Of course, for many people the thrill of working on a game and seeing it released is the whole point of being in the industry. But if you are driven more by the technology, then often you find that you have more freedom to research techniques and deliver them in a proper, thought-out manner when working in middleware.

Of course, it is not as simple as just working on exciting new technology all the time. Developers license middleware for multiple reasons, but one of the key ones is that it removes some pain from their work. Typically this means that we have had to think about every awkward corner case, on every platform, before delivering a product. Developers are quite unforgiving if the piece of middleware they have allowed into their engine causes more problems than it solves. So you have to be disciplined in your approach to problem solving – engineer the solution properly, and do not cut corners. That way you can see your innovations make their way into many games and see those results first hand.

3. You get a more holistic understanding of game development. Typical middleware contains two components – a runtime piece and a set of tools. Enlighten is a classic example of this offering. You provide tools to make the development process more efficient, and these couple to your runtime code which is optimised across all platforms. This means you have to develop technology that integrates smoothly into multiple types of game engines and pipelines. This gives you a really good high-level understanding of how games are made, which is something most developers only pick up over years of working their way through the industry.
4. You get to see what works and what doesn’t. As well as picking up a broad understanding of games pipelines, you start to develop a more detailed understanding of how individual developers work. Of course, you cannot in any way abuse trust that is placed in you, but most developers are fairly open about their work methods. It is their design ideas that they are far more guarded about. You get the chance to talk to many developers about their chosen pipelines, and the decisions that led to where they are today. And as you do that you can start to form your own opinions about which developers are adopting the best approaches to given areas, and which have developed a problem due to past decisions. This knowledge can be powerful, and can help you come across as very impressive in interviews, making your next steps in game development much easier.

5. You get to travel the world! Many middleware companies offer onsite support as part of the package. That is particularly true of companies like Geomerics, who offer a complex product that requires some careful integration. Customers usually benefit from having some direct on-site advice in the early stages to set things up in an optimal manner. We also need a presence at most of the international shows, of which there are now quite a large number. This all adds up to many opportunities to travel and, if you are starting out on a career and are keen to travel, there can be many opportunities to gain experience of other countries.

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