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Getting Serious Pay for CD-ROM Fun and Games

August 26, 1996|KAREN KAPLAN | Karen Kaplan covers technology and careers

There's good news for kids (and for those who are kids at heart) addicted to high-performance CD-ROM video games: The thousands of hours spent trying to beat the bad guys and get to the next level are valuable experience for employment in the growing video game industry.

Just ask Jeremy Airey, 23, whose parents used to complain that he was wasting his time playing video games. After he graduated from high school, Airey got a job testing games for bugs at Interplay Productions in Irvine. In less than a year, he was promoted to game designer, then assistant producer and finally producer. Now he's creating CD-ROM games--and making more money than either of his parents.

Once the province of neophyte entrepreneurs in garages and college dorm rooms, the CD-ROM game industry has begun to grow up. In addition to young game addicts like Airey, companies are hiring veterans of the entertainment and aerospace industries and snatching up well-trained graphic artists and programmers straight out of school.

Salaries are growing too, said Michael Bright, a senior account executive with the Canoga Park-based high-tech headhunting firm Independent Resource Systems. Testers and other quality-assurance personnel start out with annual salaries of $18,000 to $26,000. Junior-level programmers and artists can earn $30,000 to $45,000 to start, then see their incomes rise an additional $25,000 within five years. A producer can make $100,000 or more.

Schools such as the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia and the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena are admired in the industry for their ability to turn out skilled commercial artists well-versed in the language of multimedia. Individual skills also can be acquired through university extension classes and private schools such as SiliconStudios/LA in Santa Monica.

Many game makers prefer to hire people who can use 3-D Studio by Autodesk or software packages from Alias/Wavefront and SoftImage. Knowledge of Windows 95 or Unix and experience using Silicon Graphics workstations are major advantages for a job applicant.

Once artists draw the game scenes and create the characters, programmers must combine them into a seamless interactive story. Game companies look for people who can program in the C or C++ languages. Experience creating CD-ROMs, even for educational or marketing purposes, is an added bonus.

And, game-playing abilities aside, programmers and computer-aided manufacturing and design engineers are often recruited from aerospace, medical imaging and other industries. Having team members with that kind of experience is necessary to keep games on the cutting edge of technology, said Stephen Poehlein, president of Class6 Interactive in Hollywood.

But the most important qualification, says Michael Pole, an executive producer at San Mateo, Calif.-based video game giant Electronic Arts, is less tangible: "You need to have people who love games and love technology. They need to have an appreciation for games in order to enjoy themselves."

Karen Kaplan covers technology and careers. She can be reached via e-mail at karen.kaplan@latimes.com

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