After a long, unexpected hiatus we’re back with another Industry Insight! This time we are pleased to have the lovely Amber Green of Activision, who you might all recognize and remember as @ATVI_Amber on Twitter. Not only is she an avid gamer, and a tough Blur opponent, but she knows all about providing good customer service to the community. Read on to hear some sweet pearls of wisdom!
Marooners’ Rock: What is the first game you remember playing?
Amber Green: The first game I remember playing was the gold cartridge Zelda for NES. My mom got the console for Christmas, and I must have been about four or five. I remember sneaking out into the living room before dawn the day after Christmas and playing with no sound and the lights all off, because it was not my toy and I was not supposed to use it without supervision. Of course, my mom the grown- ups were playing the day before, so I never got my turn. I distinctly remember how difficult and fun it was. Looking back, I never got beyond the first level at that age, but I am pretty sure I played until my mom woke up and laughed at the guilt on my face.
MR: When did you first realize that you wanted to work in the gaming industry?
AG: I thought I’d give it a shot after moving back to Los Angeles after living in Scotland for a year. I never did really know what I wanted to be when I grew up. It was nice to find an industry where it was understood that I don’t have to. (Credit goes to a fun conversation with Dan Amrich that helped that be articulated properly. )
MR: How did you get into the gaming industry? Did you have any friends who helped, or was it all based on your credentials?
AG: I went to school for jr high and my first year of high school in a small town in Kansas. One of my friends from there had ended up in Los Angeles as a tester, and I always thought that was the coolest thing ever. He was a really smart guy and was a major influence on me as a gamer. We’d lost touch, but I remembered that worked for Activision, so they were at the top of my list when I wrote my gaming industry cover letter and began sending out my resume.
MR: When you did start looking around for jobs, were there any companies you were hoping to land a job with?
AG: Nope. I just wanted my foot in the door. Activision was of special interest to me, though, because of the friend I’d mentioned above.
MR: What was your first game related job?
AG: I was hired to answer phones for what will forever be “Guitar Hero: World Tour Christmas.” The department always ramps up during the holidays, so I got in during one of those times. Doing well allowed me to stick around this long.
MR: If you could give one piece of advice to our readers who are looking to get into the industry, what would it be?
AG: Try to find what you’re good at and will have fun with and then shoot to work in that area. Remember that the gaming industry needs all kinds of people, so you can do a lot of different things. I think that some people want to work in gaming so much that they think they’d be willing to do anything, but trying to “just get a foot in the door” may just lead to frustration.
After all, even though I loved the experience, I really didn’t enjoy testing games. I don’t want to be a part of making them, but I do love helping others and solving problems. When testing, I felt like I was finding problems, but I wasn’t able to actually resolve anything. In Customer Support, I feel like I’m more of a solution. I keep people playing, and for me that works really well.
MR: Did you have to go through any special training, or obtain any specific degree to help land you your first gigs?
AG: No, though a degree never hurts to get in the door. Mainly, I needed to be well spoken, write well because I’d be sending emails, and know games well enough troubleshoot.
MR: Would you mind telling us what kind of duties and responsibilities your current position entails?
AG: Until recently, I was a part of the social media team that worked with customers via Twitter, Facebook, and forums. It was a very different world; the direct interaction with the community was challenging in a way I’d not experienced before, while providing a new outlook on how Customer Support can be done successfully.
A couple of weeks ago, I moved back over to the call center, where I help customers directly over the phone and via emails. It’s been a lot of fun to get back to the call center, because I enjoy PC troubleshooting and taking ownership of a problem and seeing it through to the end. Hearing “… my game crashes…” is never fun, and as a gamer, I totally understand how frustrating it is. However, hearing “…it’s working!” is as equally exciting and satisfying, so I get little victories all day long.
MR: There are a lot of people out there who think that industry jobs are glamorous, or that not a lot of work is involved. On average, about how many hours do you work in a single week?
AG: During slower times of year, we work 40 hour work weeks.
MR: Does that sometimes increase during various times throughout the year?
AG: Absolutely. Basically, when others might be having fun playing games is when we’re needed most. Clearly, the big November release of Call of Duty has increased our workload a lot during the years I have been around. Also, of course, Christmas and after are very busy. We may work up to 60 hours a week, and it’s a mandatory thing to work during holidays. Of course Christmas and New Year’s Day weren’t mandatory, but we were open this year and many of us worked those holidays.
MR: Other than the Activision titles you’ve worked on, do you have a favorite game?
AG: Absolutely. Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty has been a total obsession of mine since the beta. Now, I did take some time off, but it’s really been a huge part of my life over the past few months. Admittedly, I’m not great, but with as much as I’ve been putting in, I’m hoping to keep improving.
MR: Is there a particular game, or franchise, you wish you could’ve been a part of?
AG: Crazy Taxi. Man, that game was so much fun, and the fact that the console iteration was a blast just like the arcade version was really cool to me. I actually got my Dreamcast to play that game when it came out. Also, the sound track was awesome.
MR: Who in the industry to you look up to?
AG: There are a few. McKenzie Eakin at Microsoft is an incredible person to look up to; she’s proof of how successful community interaction can be. Also, Dan Amrich. That guy cracks me up, but also he’s been in the industry forever and has a lot of wisdom.
MR: What are some of the perks of your job?
AG: It’s certainly good that you only asked for some, because it’s really been great. Clearly, things like access to E3 make it awesome. But really, my coworkers are probably one of the best things about the job. I’ve never worked with people that are so much fun, and by fun I mean geeky. Being able to completely nerd out about not just gaming, though that happens a lot, but also anime or books or technology or comedy or whatever could become the topic of conversation makes coming to work a great experience.
MR: Are there any drawbacks to working in the industry?
AG: The biggest drawback that I can see is that it’s volatile and one really needs to start at the bottom of the totem pole and work their way up. This is especially true in Quality Assurance and CS. Most people that end up as producers, for instance, start out as testers somewhere.
MR: Do you have any final thoughts for our readers or anything you’d like to plug or promote?
AG: Listen to the One of Swords podcast. It’s fun and informative. It makes me laugh, and honestly, it’s one of the better ones out there.
MR: Thanks again Amber. It’s been a pleasure to ask you these questions. We appreciate your time and perspective.