Behind the Keyboard – Hugh Jeremy: Carpenter
The games industry has grown in leaps and bounds over the years. It’s grown from a lone few dedicated coders to encompass a wide range of positions, from coders and artists to economists and experimental psychologists. Then there’s Hugh Jeremy, who from following his exploits, appears to be the games equivalent of James Bond. I was able to catch him whilst playing a game of high stakes baccarat, and ask a few questions about how it all got started.
For the readers who don’t know you, tell us a little about yourself.
Five foot ten. Male. When not taking long sunset walks on the beach, I am fortunate to be part of the wonderful, upstart, and inspiring team at Unknown Worlds Entertainment.
And you started out as an accountant making youtube videos!?
Yes, YouTube videos are what happened every night after accounting. Every night, I would go home from my job late at night and make videos out of the alpha builds of Natural Selection 2. I was inspired to do this by Husky and HD Starcraft. Those two guys tweaked something in my brain: That games are not just isolated instances of content consumption. They are a shared experience. One might play football in the park with mates, and then go to a stadium and watch football with tens of thousands of others.
‘Video’ games, ‘computer’ games, ‘electronic’ games – All these terms are outdated and irrelevant. There is no substantive difference between passing a football and executing a six-pool. There is only a difference in society’s perception of them. Husky and HD woke me up to that fact. From the moment I first discovered their Starcraft 2 beta casts, I knew I had to get involved in games.
For a while you were making videos almost every day. How important do you think that consistency is?
Content is king. Consistency is queen. Together they are utterly unstoppable. Create great content, deliver that content on a regular schedule, and you will gather an audience. There are very good reasons why Game of Thrones is shown at a set time each week.
If you are considering creating content, create a schedule. Publish the schedule along with the content. Tell people when and where they should be for more. Stick to the schedule like Babblers to a Gorge.
What is the exact title of your role, and what does it involve?
According to my business card, it is ‘Carpenter.’ This is a name that stuck after I built the NS2 PAX East 2012 booth out of 2x4s in Boston. It might sound stupid, and some more stuffy business people turn up their noses, but it is indicative of the type of business I am in and (figuratively, but for PAX) the work I do.
On any given day, everyone at Unknown Worlds is engaging in a multitude of activities. Some of them are directly related to their primary expertise. Some of them are not. For example, Brian might squash a game-code bug in the morning. He might then (and often does) spend the early afternoon interviewing a fellow game developer from another studio live on Twitch.TV.
In their widely idolised handbook, Valve calls this being ‘T-Shaped.’ Be very good at something, but be able to learn, understand, and do lots and lots of other things. Charlie is a brilliant game designer, but also has a fantastic eye for the art of business. Max is an inhumanly skilled programmer, but truly excels at, inspiring, teaching and steering the rest of the Unknown Worlds programming team.
It is this multi-disciplinary, distributed-responsibility model that means that job titles are utterly redundant at a business like Unknown Worlds. So I’m the carpenter. I build things.
What would you say are the main challenges working in the games industry, and in your position?
The games industry is an immature teenager struggling to understand its place in the world and what it is capable of doing. The greatest challenge of working in it is dealing with this immaturity, and trying to help it grow and develop.
Many industries have been around for long enough for a generation of leaders and professionals to have risen, passed on their skills to a new generation, and for that new generation to repeat that feat, drawing from and improving on what has come before. The games industry is too young for that.
It is full of people striking out in new and unfamiliar territory. It is so young, so up-and-coming, so fascinating and exciting, it can stumble over itself in a rush to treat any established business practice as obsolete and irrelevant. Sometimes they are: See job titles. Sometimes they are not, but are poo-poo’d anyway: See discounted cash flow analysis.
Time and again we hear about the ‘inhuman hours’ worked by game developers, or the ‘industry shame’ of crunch. As if either of these things is somehow unique to game creation. No one anywhere in the world doing anything remotely disruptive is working a 9-5 job. Some concrete needs to be consumed.
Studio closures are treated as indictments on the industry, rather than separated from the short term pain they cause to individual people and recognised as creative destruction that will grant immense strength to those people and the industry in the long term.
… End rant!
Now that you’re working on the game full time, do you get much play time with Natural Selection 2?
Absolutely. It is essential to play your own game. If you are not having fun playing your own game, how can you expect others to? I absolutely love NS2. It is my favourite game of all time. Everything it stands for excites me and I continue to rack up many hours of playtime every week.
What kind of skills and attributes do you think are the most beneficial to have in a position like yours?
Have the skill to learn from others, and cultivate attributes that encourage people to share their skills with you. Your skills are always a subset of a team: Do everything you can to support, grow, contribute to, learn from and encourage that team.
Where do you see this role taking you in the future?
Who knows. I would very much like to return to Australia and contribute to local game development. It is very frustrating that there are so few sustainable game developers in Australia. There are many people studying game-related fields, and then suffering shock when they see just how few game-related jobs are available. Especially in the hardcore PC space, and that really irks me.
If someone were interested in getting a job like yours, what can they be doing right now to get themselves noticed?
Game development is a growing sector. There is a shortage of skilled, energetic people willing and able to contribute. My specific circumstances will not be applicable to anyone else, but if you want in, now is the time. Learn lots, meet people, produce interesting content. Always grow your skill set, share that growth with others, learn from others constantly.
Charlie, the co-founder of Unknown Worlds, always says ‘Make a game, right now, any game, no matter how simple.’ People that do things are much more valuable than people that just submit resumes.
How important do you think your social media presence (I hesitate to use the phrase ‘personal brand’) in getting you to where you are now?
‘Personal brand’ is fairly close to the mark. Perhaps a more accurate description of the importance of social media is ‘entity accessibility.’ Branding could imply some sort of image management, even insincerity. That’s not what effective social media is about.
Social media allows an entity to connect with people. Those entities can be companies, products, individual developers, and anything in between. If an entity is doing something interesting, people will want to engage with that entity. Not using social media to do is a tremendous waste of opportunity to build community and engagement.
Of course, social media can be done very badly. No one gives a shit about what you ate for dinner, last night’s lack of sleep, or how hard your day was. Everyone’s life is hard: Big whoop. People want to engage with the interesting content an entity produces, not the banality of your personal life.
An individual starting out in the games industry should strongly considered curating a blog, tweeting, and engaging with other media. It is not easy: Especially when no one is reading or following. But having a long, deep trail of quality content behind you gives depth to your professional presence, and can make you more valuable to studios.
You ended up moving to America in order to take this position. Did you ever worry that maybe you made the wrong choice?
In moving to America, I made a few decisions that I will always regret. But the overall experience has been overwhelmingly positive and life-changing. If I had my time again, I would do it again.
Do you think you would have gotten as far as you have if you didn’t have such a passion for gaming?
If a person does not truly believe in what they are trying to achieve, they cannot rally people to their cause. If they cannot rally people to their cause, they cannot achieve anything.
If you can give one piece of advice to people looking to get into the games industry, what would it be?
Discovering a coal seam in a hillside could be hugely lucrative. Secure rights. Negotiate environmental approval. Raise capital for drilling shafts and leasing mining equipment. Lay railway tracks to the mine and do a deal to get the ore onto trains. Go into a joint venture to build a dry bulk terminal. Ship the prize out of said terminal to whatever part of the world has the hungriest generators.
There are some businesses that require a lot of stuff to happen. The barriers to entry are high, and if they are not high they are daunting. There is only one barrier to entry in the games industry: Determination. Platforms like Steam allow for instant global distribution of a product created in a rented flat in an unknown town. Do you have a programmer friend? An acquaintance that dabbles in drawing? A family member that plays lots of board games? Sounds like a development team.
Get in, do it now, do not wait for someone to tell you it is ok to make things. Do not think too much about traditional structures such as ‘career’ and ‘which company you work for,’ just make stuff happen now .
Will you ever go back to being an accountant?
Accounting cops a bad rep. I genuinely enjoyed my job as an accountant. It involved visiting new businesses every week, meeting highly successful people, and generally learning lots of great stuff. People think ‘accounting’ and immediately think hard-nosed, penny-pinching bean counters. In a well-run business, nothing is further from the truth. Accounting is a language, an information system that facilitates creativity.
This is a roundabout way of saying that even though I doubt I would move back into the pure accounting profession, I will keep using those skills every single day. Even as I learn other awesome skills from the talented people I have the immense fortune to worth with. It was one stop on the endless road of learning, as valuable as the last and contributing to the next.
Working in the video games industry. It’s a dream that many of us aspire to, but one that is difficult to achieve. What do you need to know? What kind of courses or experience should you be getting? Which position would be right for you? And where do you even begin to start?
In Behind the Keyboard, these are the kind of questions we aim to answer. By talking to professionals already in the industry, we’ll ask the hard questions to get you the inside knowledge on getting started in the industry, as well as letting you know what is involved in each role. We hope to bring you interviews with a wide variety of industry figures, and if you happen to be one or know one that would like to talk to us, please drop us a line at email@example.com