Game Developer Autumn Scruggs '20 on the New World of Game Developing

Game developer Autumn Scruggs has a creative spirit, prodigious technological skill, and a powerful will. Here, she discusses her path to success.

Autumn Scruggs ‘20 is an Interactive Arts and Media alum with experience in game design, development, and an eye for making collaborative projects a success. We sat down with her to find out about her path and what’s next for her as a game developer, writer, and programmer.

What made you choose Columbia?

When choosing a college, I wanted something that wasn’t too far from my hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, but also had a program in Game Design. I bounced between a few options in Atlanta and the surrounding states, but ultimately chose Columbia because of its friendly atmosphere and location. Chicago is a big, bustling city with tons of diverse people, and I wanted to broaden my horizons and explore it. 

Have you had any mentors here who have helped you on your career path?

I am a huge introvert and self-reliant. I try to figure things out on my own before asking for help, and the same goes for my career path. I never made use of the career services that Columbia offered, and mainly used word of mouth suggestions and information from fliers posted around the school. All my professors were incredibly helpful, and I am beyond thankful for their expertise and advice, but the true heroes and mentors that got me where I am today are the friends I made. Working with people with the same interests on projects we were passionate about taught me more than anything a classroom could. We all gave each other suggestions on where to go next in our future and lifted each other up. 

What was it like being in the IAM department? Did you have any projects that you were particularly proud of?

The IAM department was always an adventure. Something was always going on in the computer lab or a new game was showcased on the monitors. It was always fun to see what was happening. A collection of creatively and technically talented people gathered together – it was all brand new for me. I am the only tech-savvy person in my family, so I was astounded when there were others like me and betterthan me. It was so fun to learn with everyone, even if it was just through observing their project demonstration or listening to them talk. Each project I made in the department I was proud of, because it was a sign that I was improving. It was proof that I could do what I set out to do and gave me the motivation to keep going. But if I had to pick a few of my favorites: How to Human, Save the Zoo, and Smile.

How did the idea for “Save the Zoo” come about?  

Save the Zoo was one of the first collaborative projects I worked on in the department for the class Simulation and Serious Games with [Interactive Arts and Media Associate Chair] Janell [Baxter]. We were tasked to create a simulation game that had a persuasive topic and evoked a reaction. We decided on a zoo and the idea of exploiting animals for the sake of a profit. Animals are a soft spot for many people (including myself), which allowed us to explore a business simulation with a negative side.

What was the transition like to the workforce after graduation?  

I was scouted at Manifest by a company called Blue Street Studios, so the transition was very quick for me. I started working for them just a few weeks after graduation remotely, and then moved to Alabama a few months later. It was very exciting to get a job right away, but also stressful to jump into things so soon. I worked on a mobile music game there called MuzArcade.

What are the biggest challenges of working as a game programmer/developer? How do you overcome them?

One of the biggest challenges that I face personally is imposter syndrome. I question myself and whether or not I belong, constantly wondering if my work is good enough. I deal with this especially as a woman in a male-dominated industry. But I overcome it by focusing on my strengths, trying my best, and telling myself that if I didn’t have the skills, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Other than that, there’s the constant challenges of staying up to date on new technologies and news in the gaming sphere, which are much easier to fix when you have time to do it!

What is next for you, professionally?  

For me, professionally, I plan on staying a Wizard as long as I can. I want to grow as an engineer and get to the level of my peers, who have been doing this for many more years than I have. I also want to learn about the business decisions and motivations behind games – what are the best choices to make at what time and why? Once I’ve become a seasoned veteran of the industry, who knows where life will take me then!

What advice would you give for students who want to follow in your footsteps?  

Here’s my advice for any up and coming students: believe in yourself. If you have worked on at least one project that you are proud of, you can already call yourself a game developer. Start making your portfolio early and keep it filled with your best work. Don’t question whether or not you’re good enough, because you are. Keep trying your best and that’s plenty, especially in these hard times. The school has resources for you, but the most important resource is the experience you gain by working with others and the friends you make along the way. Another thing – don’t slack off on the classes that may not seem directly related to your major. I gained some of my most valuable inspiration from classes in social studies and creative writing. I still hold on to some of those notes and assignments even now.

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