Interview

Jobs in Games: SYBO's Amy Kalson on how to get a job as a games lead

Jobs in Games: SYBO's Amy Kalson on how to get a job as a games lead

The games industry plays host to an excellent cast of colourful and diverse individuals, from artists and coders to narrative designers and studio heads.

The skills to pull off these roles, however, are complex and differing. With each position requiring mastery in its field.

As such, seeing a game come together is a beautiful thing akin to a puzzle as an overall picture becomes whole.

To highlight some of the brilliant work that goes on behind the screen, and help others who may be keen to dive in, PocketGamer.biz has decided to reach out to the individuals who make up the games industry with our Jobs in Games series.

This time, we caught up with the SYBO game lead and former PopCap creative director Amy Kalson.

PocketGamer.Biz: Can you tell us about your current role and what it entails?

Amy Kalson: At SYBO, I am game lead on one of our new titles.

I’ve been with the company for about a year and it’s humbling and an honour to be with a group with such a pedigree as Subway Surfers.

I’m responsible for the vision, design, and management of the new game. Everything from the budget, staffing and P&L to the overall creative direction.

I spend a lot of time in meetings and talking to people, both on the team and across departments, to make sure everyone knows what the game’s vision is and where we are in the development process and to coordinate efforts across departments and areas to make sure we deliver a great game.

It is my job to make sure all needs and requirements are being met. Half of my job is creative and the other half is management.

How did you first get into games and how did you progress into this role?

In 1999, I was working as a programmer for a dot-com company and writing a column about technology on the side.

I went to the GDC to write an article about women who make games and fell in love with the industry.

My advice to aspiring game makers is to study psychology. We make things for humans so understanding the human mind is vital for success.
Amy Kalson

I went back to school to get a master’s degree, got an internship at Maxis on The Sims and never looked back. I’ve been making games ever since.

Is it something you ever imagined yourself doing?

Designing and making games was something that I always did, from the time I was a kid. I would design elaborate “interactive shows” and would bribe my younger sister to participate.

I programmed my first computer game on an Apple IIe at age 10, an open world text game that wasn’t very good.

As a teenager, I would design and host my own murder mystery parties for my high school friends. It just never occurred to me that people got paid to do this for a living until I went to the GDC.

Two of my cousins are also game developers so maybe there is something in our DNA that favours this profession.

What did you study (if anything) to get your role? What courses would you advise for aspiring professionals in the area?

I have an undergraduate degree from Sarah Lawrence College in Liberal Arts, where I studied theatre, creative writing, architecture, and mythology.

I also have a master’s degree from Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center, where I worked on cross-discipline teams making games and VR experiences.

The most important class I took in graduate school was improvisational acting as it taught me how to work collaboratively and how to brainstorm.

There is still a misperception that women and men only like certain types of games.
Amy Kalson

My advice to aspiring game makers is to study psychology. We make things for humans so understanding the human mind is vital for success.

What part of your role do you find most fulfilling?

Working with other people. Early on in my career, I thought the games themselves were everything and that it was all about what you ship.

Now that I am older, I realize that great games come from great teams of people, and so my focus is now on how to empower my team to do their very best work.

Do you think there are any misconceptions, public or professional, surrounding your area of expertise?

I think there is still a misperception that women and men only like certain types of games.

For example, I spend a lot of time playing Fortnite while my husband prefers Candy Crush Saga. That seems to surprise a lot of people.

Splitting game demographics into defined boxes may simplify marketing efforts, but it is also leading to a lot of missed opportunities and underserved players.

As an industry, we need to learn to view things on a more sophisticated level or we’ll keep missing out.

Is there anything about the job/industry you wish you would have known when first joining?

Making games is always hard. It doesn’t get easier no matter how many games you ship.

Be kind to each other.
Amy Kalson

But it is also beautiful, rewarding and full of learning opportunities.

What other advice do you have for someone looking for a job in this profession?

Like any creative profession, this industry will cost you a lot.

You’ll miss out on things such as birthdays, family, friends and holidays. You’ll have amazing days where you feel like you’ve created something beautiful, and terrible days where you will doubt your entire life path.

However, every once in a while you’ll be on a bus going somewhere, and you’ll look over and see someone playing something that you made and that feeling will be sublime.

The thing that makes all of this truly worthwhile are the people you meet along the way, the ones in the trenches next to you who are going through the same difficult and wonderful process of birthing a new game.

Be kind to each other.

Staff Writer

Iain is a freelance writer based in Scotland with a penchant for indies and all things Nintendo. Alongside PocketGamer.Biz, he has also appeared in Kotaku, Rock Paper Shotgun, PCGamesN and VG24/7.

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