Leveling Up In The Gaming Industry: How Josh Hughes Played to Win for his Family
His company seemed to have come out of nowhere and was founded in the middle of nowhere, but Josh Hughes found a way to level up in the gaming industry. A video game designer with Add-A-Tudez Entertainment Company out of Great Falls, Montana, he's doing a job he’s wanted to do since kindergarten. Hughes was always obsessed with video games and in high school, a friend started to teach him about game design online.
As Hughes was graduating from high school, his brother failed the physical to take part in sports three times. He ended up needing emergency surgery due to severe kidney failure. Medical bankruptcy came next and Hughes' family lost everything. They moved in with his grandparents and after years of working normal jobs to make ends meet, Hughes realized something had to give.
"I finally told mom that normal wasn't working, we needed to try crazy," he recalls. For Hughes and his brother, crazy was turning his love of video games into a job. Someone in small business development in his community offered entrepreneurial advice from pitching to presenting. From that came a gaming company, the first in Montana to become PlayStation and Xbox certified and to attend E3 Expo on their own credentials, with two games in development. Just like his company, Hughes' brother is doing well, now on dialysis three times a week.
The company is a bit of an anomaly in an industry where gaming studios tend to be centered in big cities like Vancouver or LA. Starting a gaming studio in Montana was pretty much unheard of and that meant Hughes and his company had something to prove. He likes to tell people, "If you want to work in games, no matter where you are, no matter who you are, you were not born the wrong person. You were not born in the wrong place. You can bring your own unique voice to the game industry."
“Being where you are and being who you are has a power with it. You can bring that power and that lens to places like the game industry, and help make it broader, more inclusive and tell more vibrant stories. Don't listen to voices that say that, including when it's in your own head. Make sure that you keep saying, ‘I have just as much right to be here as anyone else’ because you do,” he continues.
To get where he is now professionally, Hughes did a lot of learning on his own. When his brother got sick, he wasn’t able to go to college so he had to figure things out by himself. To balance out what he hasn't been able to learn, he has a talented team.
He encourages aspiring game designers to get their hands on game development tools early on, like Fortnite Creative, LittleBigPlanet or Roblox. “There's tons of free tools out there that you can learn game development in and figure out where your strength is, whether it's creating 3d art or writing or programming,” he urges. YouTube is a great source of online learning he recommends and he has tutorials on his website that can help, too.
“If you have the opportunity to go to college, absolutely do that. But in our industry, it's not absolutely required,” he explains, noting that employers in the gaming industry are usually far more interested in your portfolio and how well you work in a group setting than which educational institution you attended.
When it comes to entrepreneurship, he’s found lots of people think game design is all “fun and games” but he knows firsthand that there are parts of the job that aren’t fun. He has a good win rate for grant funding, but he doesn’t enjoy doing that part of the job. ”You still have to do the parts you don't like to get to the parts you do like,” he explains.
On a regular work day, Hughes is working on grants, writing stories for games, and coordinating with the team. “The joke I crack is that my official title is professional herder of cats,” he smiles. His job is to make sure everyone is working together to get things done, because game design is a team sport.
“When you play a game, it feels like it's the artistic expression of a single person but it was actually the work of anywhere from dozens to potentially hundreds of people,” Hughes relays. His team is up to 25 and as a leader, he makes sure everyone’s work fits together into a single cohesive product.
Networking is something he considers to be crucial for budding game designers. “Even if you never end up working directly with them, you could learn from them just by having them in your circle,” he shares. Knowing how to share the idea of your game and why it deserves attention succinctly is an important skill. That’s part of what goes into a “pitch deck”, a PowerPoint that explains why your gaming idea should get funding.
Pitching can be intimidating at first, he confides, “The first couple of times you start to do it, you're freaking out going, ‘Oh my God, all my hopes and dreams rests on this.’ You have to learn how to get past that and be comfortable and confident in presenting your vision and being honest about where you're at currently with it and what you need to get it across the finish line and get it out there into the world.” Hughes suggests practicing in a controlled environment to build confidence.
To unwind from his work in gaming, Hughes indulges in his obsession with roller coasters. He’s part of a group of avid riders who hold annual conventions and spend time riding roller coasters together. He doesn’t just ride coasters, he also likes to watch videos of them or play games about them.
Starting his own company was a rollercoaster of its own, and came with its own kind of thrill. His gaming studio came out of nowhere and was founded in the middle of nowhere, but Josh Hughes found a way to level up in the gaming industry. Instead of beating bosses in video games, he’s now the boss of a video game company and through his love of gaming, he found a way his family could win together.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
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