oday I want to answer one of the most asked questions I've received over the years of writing this column. And after that, I'm going to let you know of an opportunity that might interest you.
Dear Doug Beyer,
I am personally quite interested in MTG and its design process. I thoroughly enjoy exploring the mechanics and design processes behind a set; I find the creative process of MTG enthralling. This led me to wonder: How do I get a job like that? What sort of credentials are needed in order to get on the Magic creative team, the design process, or even on playtesting? I mean, obviously, for writing columns, journalism or education in English/writing would be welcomed, and as for artists, being able to actually make art. But for that behind-the-scenes stuff, how does someone get a job like that?
tldr: How do I get a job at Wizards of the Coast within Magic: The Gathering?
Thank you for your time,
Thanks Michael! Yep, this question comes up over and over, and for good reason. If it sounds like we have fun at our jobs, we do. If it sounds like we're all a bunch of people who work here because we love Magic, we are. Today, we're talking about what paths might lead you to working here.
Judging by the frequency with which we get this question, there are a lot of you who want to know what it might take to get in the door. If you ask me, three principles—strategies to follow that will help make you the best candidate—come up over and over again:
- Be the person who fills a need
- Prioritize the aim rather than your particular path
- Start working here before you start working here
Let's talk about each of these, one by one.
Be the person who fills a need
A lot of people approach getting a job—any job, not just one at Wizards of the Coast—with what I consider the wrong attitude. It's the attitude of "What can your company do for me?" rather than "Here's how I'm going to solve the problems and fill the needs your company has identified." From your perspective as the job-searcher, yes, you're looking to find your dream job, and you do need something from the company in order to get it. You need to get your foot in the door, you need that desk and that chair inside the company's walls, and you need that cool set of responsibilities the company can provide you.
Morphling | Art by rk post
But the company isn't thinking of it that way. Although every company wants employees who are motivated to work there, a company isn't making hiring decisions in terms of granting wishes for the good of the candidate. You'll be more successful if you think about it from the company's perspective. And its perspective is: It has a problem that needs to be solved, and it will be interested in you to the degree that you can help to solve that problem.
In a way, a company's job opening is a plea for help. Think about why the company has posted a job opening—it's not because it's hoping to spend its money and time to make your dreams come true. It's because the company has a problem to solve it can't solve with the staff it currently has. A job listing on a website is a crystal ball that lets you glimpse a little bit into the needs the company has. If it didn't need someone, it wouldn't have posted the position. What you have to do is use that information to become the person the company needs.
I chose your particular letter, Michael, because I think you're already on the right track in terms of your attitude. You're asking "How do I become the person that Wizards of the Coast would want to hire?" rather than "I want to work on games, so how why hasn't Wizards figured out a way to pay me to do so?" This brings us to the next point. Exactly what should you study or work on?
Prioritize the aim rather than your particular path
I work with people from a zillion different backgrounds. Since there's no major in "Magic creative text" or "trading card game design" (that I know of), everybody's route to Wizards of the Coast is different. To get a few perspectives on this, I asked my fellow creative team members about their trajectory to this team.
The manager of the Magic creative team, Brady Dommermuth, worked as a proofreader and editor in the Midwest before coming to work at Wizards. He had played Magic with a group of friends during his lunch hours, and when he saw a post in The Duelist for an editor for that magazine, he applied—but that position was eliminated before he could get an interview. However, his application impressed the executive editor enough that she held onto Brady's file. Nearly a year later, another editing position opened up and he got that job, getting him inside the walls of Wizards. That led to a series of Magic-related positions writing and managing teams until he became the man in charge of the creative team.
Jenna Helland, one of my fellow writers on the creative team, had a different path to this team. "I studied history and journalism, and both have helped me in my job here at Wizards," she says. "Journalism school helped me become a better writer, helped me produce copy on a deadline, and impressed upon me the importance of copyediting skills. My degree in history filled my head with skeletons of stories: wars, dying empires, politics, and religious zealotry have all been grist for the worldbuilding mill."
Jenna had both writing experience and gaming experience when she had an opportunity to apply. "I was a freelance writer and stay-at-home mom in a little town in Missouri. I'd played Magic for years and had just started playing Dreamblade when I saw a job posting for a 'creative editor' at Wizards of the Coast. After I sent in my resume, everything kicked into high gear: writing test, phone screen, interview in Renton. I was literally walking in the front door when I got back to Missouri and the phone rang. It was Wizards offering me the job."
Adam Lee, my other fellow creative team scribe, had a path that was stranger still. He was working as a greeting-card writer and artist for greeting-card companies, both doing in-house and freelance work. Adam's first contact with working on Magic was contributing flavor text for cards. "I started writing flavor text for Magic as a freelancer back during Coldsnap," Adam says, "and I pretty much worked on every set after that for fun—the key word there being 'fun.'"
Adam already had a background writing quippy one-liners from working on greeting cards, and he had his foot in the door by contributing text for Magic cards. After a few years of flavor work, he was able to turn that toehold into a full-time position. Adam continues: "Around the Prerelease for Rise of the Eldrazi, I told my wife that I was getting out of the greeting card biz as I was burned out. I had no idea what I wanted to do, but I knew that I wanted it to be fun and rewarding. Strangely enough, a week later I got a call from Brady Dommermuth to see if I wanted to come in for a six-month internship at Wizards. I never thought that I would get in to Wizards and had only considered it as a 'sooper long shot.' Anyhow, I figured it was a sign from the Cosmos." Adam and his wife had to work through a year of "intern uncertainty" before they could settle in Seattle permanently. "It was tough but worth it. Brady put me on the team and that's how I wound up in R&D."
Adam goes on to lay out the four-part moral to his story:
- Do what you have to do to survive.
- Give that up as soon as you can.
- Follow the weird path (the path of "fun" always seems weird).
- If you have a partner, make sure you have an understanding one who wants you to have your dreams come true as much (or more) than you do.
Magic's senior art director, Jeremy Jarvis, had a BFA from Pratt Institute. That led him to a career as a freelance illustrator, mostly working in fantasy and gaming, including illustrating for Magic. Jeremy's shot at working inside the halls of Wizards came when a spot opened up for a lead concept artist for Magic. He jumped through the necessary hoops and came on at Wizards, taking the lead on the style guide for the block that would become Time Spiral. He proved his mettle on art commissioning, and when the previous art director moved on, Jeremy took over as art director. He now commissions the lion's share of art assets for the Magic brand and guides the look for every new setting.
Before concept artist Richard Whitters got to Wizards, he was managing a team of web developers, graphic designers, and instructional designers for a company that provided online training for various industries. After Jeremy Jarvis moved out of the concept art gig and into art directing, Magic needed a new concept illustrator. Richard, too, was a graduate of art school, but it was his years of loving Magic, D&D, and fantasy in general that primed him for the day when he got his opportunity. The creative team had a competition to find a new concept artist, and Richard's well-thought-out pencil sketches blew everyone away. Richard had such a mind for building worlds that felt lived-in, detail-rich, and interconnected, that he made us feel like we'd be sad not to get him in the building. We're glad he can focus on elves and dragons now instead of interface design and project budgets!
I went to school for philosophy and computer science, and got my foot in the Wizardly door on the web team, twelve years ago. While working as web developer, I contributed flavor text on the side, starting with Odyssey, and eventually made my way to R&D to work full-time on Magic creative text starting with Future Sight and Lorwyn. Before working at Wizards, I worked as a contractor making web pages for IBM and for various college web sites, but I've been playing Magic since 1994 and games of all stripes since I can remember.
The point of all these stories is that the wiggly trail that leads you here doesn't matter as much as your perseverance and goals. I work with people who used to be engineers, painters, teachers, graphic designers, and food service technicians—people who majored in everything under the sun and had all kinds of weird stepping-stone jobs before working here. You should certainly get as much experience as you can in a field that has some relevance to one or more departments at Wizards of the Coast. But if you're committed to working here, then keep an eye on the job postings, watch for opportunities, and, in the meantime, make yourself ready.
That brings us to my final point.
Start working here before you start working here
So, now you have the right attitude about being the person the company needs. And you recognize there is no one necessary major to take in school or one required prior job that will make you the perfect candidate. So what can you do?
Mind Unbound | Art by Jason Felix
My best advice is: Even if you don't have a job here, start working here anyway. What I mean is, don't wait to be hired to take action on your passion. Get started now. If there isn't currently a job opening at Wizards—a problem you'd be great at solving for us—then get started making cool things anyway. You'll notice that through all of my team's stories, there's a common thread of an active interest in fantasy and gaming that went beyond traditional fandom. Show Wizards that you can't help working on the game you love, even when you aren't inside the walls of the company. While you make your way through school or make ends meet with your day job, create stuff. Show it off on your website or in your local gaming group, and get noticed doing so.
Excited about Magic set design? Dream up a game of your own. Take notes. Make some mockups as a proof of concept. Get some friends and playtest it. Better yet, make ten games. Hone those skills as you go. Find out what makes individual cards or game mechanics or top-down flavor fun. Discover what gets people excited. Learn what makes games as good as they can be—and what makes you the best designer you can be. Share your thoughts online. Show that you're an expert who demands attention.
Excited about Magic development? Play lots and lots of Magic. Show your mastery of understanding formats by placing at tournaments and by writing about the theory of developing sets. Be the kind of person we'd want to work with every day. Give abundant evidence that you already possess the set of skills required to break formats. Show that you know how to focus in on cards and mechanics with broken potential or how to make recommendations that can make the game more fun. Demonstrate this by getting started doing it already.
Excited about Magic creative? Design a world! Design ten worlds. Weave a story that can serve as a backdrop for a fantasy game and share your ideas on how mechanics and flavor can interrelate. Think about what kinds of nomenclature you would use on those worlds and how the tone of the world will come across in flavor text. Think about how you would make each world feel different from the last, yet still deliver the hard-edged swords and sorcery (heavy on the sorcery) that makes Magic so magical. Figure out how your worlds can serve the needs of the card designers who need a setting for their designs, serve the needs of the brand managers who need a theme for their marketing campaign, serve the needs of the artists who need guidance for what to paint, serve the needs of the writers who need a story to tell, and, of course, serve the needs of players who need a cool world to obsess over.
Excited about other areas and roles at Wizards of the Coast? Maybe you would be terrific at it. Try it now.
There's not going to be a premade after-school program or correspondence course that teaches you how to master the skills we're looking for at Wizards of the Coast. You'll have to develop your expertise on your own time and on your own initiative. Show us your obsession and your devotion, and how your obsession and devotion led you to roll up your sleeves and take action. Show off how you've cranked out project after project that basically show us that you're already one of us, who just happens not to work here yet.
Thanks for your question, Michael.
Finally, I'd like to share an opportunity with you guys. We have a problem that needs solving. Think you might be the right person to help us solve it? Think you might like to... be my boss?
Magic Creative Manager Position
My current boss, Brady Dommermuth, has enough work directing Magic's creative identity that there's not enough time for him to also manage schedules, delegate projects, improve processes, and guide careers for the members of the creative team. As Magic grows, Brady will be offloading some of those responsibilities onto a new creative manager position while he focuses on making those creative calls for Magic. Do you think you're the person to work with Brady while helping us manage our projects and the day-to-day workings of the creative team? Do you think you want to take on this team of me and the other (and I say this with love) chuckleheads I've mentioned above? Then check out this job posting for this new creative manager position. We know there's an awesome candidate with the perfect set of skills and passions just waiting for this opportunity—is it you? Then here's your chance!
For a complete list of the current jobs available at Wizards of the Coast, go here.
See you guys next week, when we'll focus once more on a certain Cathedral in Innistrad, and on a certain chunk of celestial silver, and on a certain angel who lurks therein.