Musings of an Eon...

Story: League of Legends

Published 2021 Jun 29 @ 20:31

After my first full-time job with Sony Online Entertainment I interviewed for a number of other jobs, all within the gaming industry. At the time I was big into League of Legends, having played since the start of their private beta back in college. I thought it would be awesome to help build the very game I loved so much and so I went to the extreme in trying to stand out despite a very limited work history up to this point. I sent my resume and a very well-written (if I do say so myself) cover letter to the CEO and a short time later got a call from one of the internal recruiters saying that the CEO dropped my resume in front of him and told him to give me a call. Success!

Keep in mind, I was applying for an entry-level position, and so you would expect that my experience and skill set would be based more off potential talent than actual field experience. And for the most part that was true, but there was at least one, maybe two, that went into the interview biased because I (a) didn’t have a ton of work experience and (b) didn’t at least have a college degree to “make up for” the lack of work experience. Nevermind the fact that I was answering mid-level engineering questions easily thanks to the scope of work I assisted with at SOE and the fact I was helping to maintain software services that ran globally and required a minimum of 99.9% uptime. But thanks to these biases, which they made clear in the interview, I couldn’t achieve enough consensus for even just an entry-level developer position.

Was I crushed? Not quite, but close. It wasn’t necessarily my dream job but it was up there in the rankings. However, whatever sadness I had felt at not getting the job was later replaced with anger and frustration when a news article was released detailing a “volcano-themed map” that was in-development. It teased more emphasis on smaller skirmishes that required you to take the environment into account. Why did this anger me? Despite being fairly devoid of any solid features of the map, most of what did end up being divulged matched a response to a question I was asked by one of the game designers I had interviewed with previously.

In our conversation, he revealed that a lot of people have ideas for maps and champions and items and whatnot and that the design team was really open to discussions on those topics, and I mentioned I had a number of ideas especially surrounding map design that I would love to contribute to the game. When asked for an example, I told him about my concept for a volcano-themed map. Now, a volcano-themed map was not a new concept in League of Legends, they had the general idea already, but to my knowledge (and from the response I got from the interviewer), they certainly did not have my exact ideas regarding what such a map would look like. Small paths with impassable lava. Lava flows that could change at random points throughout the game to force players to dynamically alter their strategy. And “global” events like rock hail from an eruption or ash fog that reduces visibility.

Now, it’s possible that Riot Games, the developer of League of Legends, already had some or maybe even all of these ideas. The interviewer’s responses suggested they didn’t but maybe he was just very good at misdirection. But I would have actually preferred the interviewer to have either not asked that question or to have cut me off before I went into much detail. Why? I felt as though my ideas had been stolen. After all, I gave very detailed descriptions of my ideas for this map, and not only did they not hire me but I never received any kind of compensation for my ideas, even though my ideas could have potentially been used to build out this new map and drive up revenue for the company.

Again, this might not have been the case and it could have been pure coincidence that the first new map they decided to release in years was going to be a volcano-themed map that was eerily similar to the one I described during my interview. Or it could be that, as is rather common in the gaming industry, they publicly announce something that is far more ambitious than what the resulting product will eventually be. I doubt either of those were the case here, but it’s possible.

After I got over the initial anger, I was able to reflect and take away an important lesson. If you interview with a company and you ever have the chance to discuss solutions within their active problem domain, don’t. Let’s say you go to work for a company that makes database software and they ask you how you would solve a specific issue with indexing. Give them answers that already exist, don’t solve problems with new solutions. If they ask you to not try and use an existing solution, ask them to pay you for your answer up front or through royalties in the event any part of your answer makes it into their software.

As a candidate, you should never provide a potential employer with new intellectual property unless they are offering compensation beyond your employment. If the interviewer refuses to accept that you want to keep your intellectual property to yourself, they are not a good for you.