It’s time to jump into another Learner Success Story! With us today is Jacob Salzberg, a former motorcycle engine engineer turned game producer!
We appreciate you having a chat with us, Jacob. Given you made quite the change in careers, we’d love to first ask you what got you into game development?
My pleasure, thanks for having me! Well, I still remember when I played a video game for the first time (Top Gear/SNES, back when I was 3). It was love at first sight – from that moment I knew what I wanted for my entire life. However, after I graduated, there weren’t many opportunities around here related to game development so I went for an engineering path. As soon as I had some sort of financial stability, I decided to start studying by myself and went for a leap of faith. And it ended up working out well: I’m going to work with games until my last day.
What sort of challenges did you face moving from an engineering position to becoming a game developer/producer?
The largest challenge was actually dealing with people virtually (remote meetings) instead of seeing them every day in the assembly line. From Lead Engineer to Producer, it’s about the same thing: empowering people, working with passion, and building everything brick by brick. As a producer, we’re pretty much a servant leader – our main goal is aiding people with anything; their needs are always your #1 priority.
As a developer, on the other hand, the challenges were plenty: from gears to lines of code, from oil to branches, from motorcycles to game prototypes – it was overwhelming at first.
As we touched on a bit, you originally started as a Unity developer before becoming a game producer. How have these roles differed both in terms of your responsibilities and how you engage with the development process?
Oh, that’s a great question – they’re completely different worlds. As a developer, once the Scrum Sprint started I could literally dwell in my cave for literally two weeks. I’d stare at code, features, and prototypes all day – I had to rely mostly on myself and a bit on my colleagues. Wake up, eat, code, talk a bit on discord, listen to music, code more…
As a producer, it’s all the opposite. Everything is people-oriented and high-level – I barely ever touch anything code-related. It’s like being an eagle: you see everything from above and only interact when needed. Daily activities involve: organizing tasks, solving interpersonal conflicts, motivating people, aligning priorities, removing blockers, organizing meetings/boards, keeping Jira/ClickUp/Slack up-to-date, being sure agile principles are being followed, etc.
At current you’re working on Wonderbox – The Adventure Maker, which was a finalist in the Apple Design Awards. What can you tell us about the project and your experiences working on it?
It’s been great! I have been working on it for the past 8 months!
Wonderbox is a jack-of-all-trades: action, platforming, puzzles, and RPG. It feels like Zelda + Captain Toad’s Treasure Tracker (according to Kotaku). We’ve just released our largest update so far, “Masters of Magic (2.0)” – fiery/icy spells, new skins, new blocks, lots of new items.
We’re working on delivering a polished experience to everyone – it’s all about creating, sharing, and interacting in an endless world of adventures (50k+ custom adventures)! I can’t go into more details as I’m under an NDA agreement, but it’s been a blast! Great things are coming 🙂
Beyond this, you’re also still doing some freelance development jobs as well as upskilling your development skills. What is your process and motivation for handling these opportunities along with your job as a producer?
The process is pretty straightforward: I keep my eyes on LinkedIn 24/7, chat with people directly and when there’s an interesting offer, I’m all on it. It’s important to be all ears but not all hands. You must listen to every opportunity, but once you have some experience, you can filter which ones are worth your time and which aren’t. As for motivation, as a producer job doesn’t involve much coding, it’s really nice to keep hands-on once in a while. I just hope my fiancé is not reading this 😀 – weekends have been really busy.
Adding Zenva courses to my coding portfolio definitely helped me get freelance jobs.
We’re thrilled that Zenva has been able to play a role in your career and learning adventures. Can you tell us in what ways Zenva has helped you with your goals?
I HIGHLY recommend Zenva to ANYONE reading this – like really. If I knew Zenva back when I started, I’d have jumped right on it and it would have saved me sooooo much time. In my opinion, it’s the best game development learning platform today!
My personal favorite: Unreal’s Introduction Course is fantastic! I went from “I have no clue how Unreal Engine works” to “I can follow exactly what my devs are doing, and I can help them with technical decisions.” It was a perfect crash course for a producer working for the first with UE4.
Moreover, the Unity templates you get by following Zenva tutorials are outstanding – they can be used as a portfolio, even at a professional level, with just minor tweaks. I highly recommend any of the available Unity courses at Zenva. If you are an advanced/experienced programmer, the best tip is using the .pdf lessons, which are Zenva’s greatest strength – it’s the only platform with in-depth PDF guides: you can save hours of learning, as text is much faster than video!!
It has been wonderful talking with you, Jacob. We have just one last question: what advice do you have for aspiring developers – especially those changing careers?
My pleasure, you are always welcome. My advice is really straightforward: first of all, pick a great online learning platform. Once you feel confident in your skills, start building a portfolio – mostly on GitHub – but even better if you can take part in game jams. I highly recommend https://itch.io/. Learn how to improve, write better code, and start making friends in the industry.
After you have a solid portfolio, start applying for jobs – but mostly you have to be sure that you’re going to be a game developer because you love it. It’s all shiny from the outside (and it still is on the inside), but it’s also really hard work! You must love what you do.
A big thank you to Jacob for sharing his story with us and the rest of our learners! We’re looking forward to seeing how his work progresses!
Interested in adventures? Don’t forget to check out Wonderbox when you have some time.
You can also review Jacob’s LinkedIn profile to learn more about his current work!