I’ve worked with some pretty big names in the business but I don’t know if it is appropriate to throw such information around. But I also want the interviewer to know that I am pretty well versed in all facets of games!
This is a great question and there is no single answer to this to say yes it’s ok or no it’s not. There are several things to consider.
As a starting point research what you can and cannot say by checking whether any work you have done is covered by a Non-Disclosure Agreement, known as an NDA. This is usually something you will have signed when you started employment on the project and is a legally-binding contract covering creative and intellectual property elements of your work that belong to someone else. It’s a golden rule that you abide by an NDA and if you are not seen to respect this at interview, the studio might assume you will reveal their secrets too.
If you are not able to reveal projects you have worked on, the good news is that with preparation there are ways and means of putting over the gravitas of the titles and people you’ve with without actually saying the words. This can be a case of careful phrasing so practise how you will word a description of the project; is it a major global sci-fi franchise for a US-owned studio? Is it cutting edge VR tech developed by a UK-based entrepreneur? Even if it’s possible to guess the name, your efforts to be discrete show you are respectful of the studio’s privacy.
If you don’t have an NDA is can be less clear what is appropriate to say so this requires some thought. It’s a good idea to make decisions about what you are and are not going to reveal before you get in to an interview situation. If you are literally saying the name of a person you have worked with or a franchise you have worked on and there is no NDA to say otherwise, this high-level information should be safe. What should be avoided however are details very specific to your studio which are likely to give away competitive advantage, so consider the impact of what you reveal. A good guideline is to imagining whether your current boss would be comfortable with you saying it. If not then you might need to find another way to get your skills across. When it comes to programming, offering up examples of code from live game projects would be high risk and inappropriate to share. Instead, offering to undertake a technical test or show personal demonstrations of code might be the way to go.
One thing to consider is your environment and whether anyone else apart from the interviewer is within earshot. It’s not unusual for early stages of a hiring process to begin with a phone/Skype interview or even a coffee in Starbucks. When in a public domain dropping names is a definite no-no. It’s also good practise to be aware what professional details you are revealing in a more general sense even when chatting to colleagues or even friends on the phone or in a public place such as a train. You never know who might be sharing your carriage! It’s always best to err on the side of being discreet.
The term’ name-dropping’ itself has a connotation that someone is trying to seek gains by associating with the work of someone else. It’s unlikely name-dropping would ever get you the job but it could put off potential employers if this isn’t their style so starting out with a list of names up front is potentially unwise. Studios for whom association is important are likely to ask directly about who you have worked with, so if you are comfortable to share wait until you are asked rather than offering it up front.
In our experience, what an interviewer is most interested in is the personal capability you are bringing to the studio, not who you know. The best way forward is to describe your skills and experience with humility and discretion, using names with caution and only as a means to describe the contribution that you are specifically responsible for. At the end of the day it is your work / code / portfolio which will demonstrate your suitability for the job alongside your fit for the new team.