So how do I find a job?
So I'm making games, that's great and all ...
But once I'm doing that, what's next? What if your main ambition is to work in the game industry in a professional capacity?
Finding a job
Is a totally different type of conversation!
Firstly, this was never a section I intended to include in this site. I originally wanted to keep this site simply as an inspiration for those looking to take their first steps into making games. I didn't really want to muddle the message with advice on job-seeking ... but ... one of the loudest and most common pieces of feedback I got when I launched the site was requests to add a section on finding a job in the industry
So ... game design jobs ...
Most of what I will mention here is from my perspective as someone who has hired hundreds of designers, but I'm not especially experienced with other disciplines, so bear that in mind as you read on!
There are many ways into the game industry. Honestly it mostly depends on the type of job you are looking for. Some require technical backgrounds, as is the case with coders and technical artists. That's not really something I can advise on. Those specialist roles require specific knowledge and if you don't have it then it is unlikely that you will be able to land one of those roles. So I'm going to presume you have some of the relevant skills and are eager to break into the games industry.
Journey #1 The Indie Route
As this site is kind of dedicated to, being good at playing games alone, or knowing a lot about them, will rarely be enough to get your foot in the door. Just like an artist, having a good portfolio of things you have worked on is a great start. Mod projects, independent projects, student projects, web based games, or personal projects can all help demonstrate the skill set you might have.
Taking part in something like that also demonstrates you have dedication to the process, as most of them require quite an investment of your free time. In the case of mod projects and such it can also show that you have an understanding of what it is like to work in a team.
As you might have guessed, this is something I stress to everyone who asks, the best way to demonstrate to a potential employer that you think you what it takes to be able to make games is to be able to demonstrate that you have already done so.
JOURNEY #2 GET A DEGREE
There are quite a few good solid game design degree programs springing up across the world. A good education is never a bad thing, and we have hired a few people over the last couple of years from such programs, and the knowledge they are entering the industry with is growing more and more impressive as these programs mature.
With the industry getting more and more competitive, the academic approach is a very sound one. A good degree program from one of the established institutions really offers a comprehensive platform from which you can move into the industry.
However, there is a flip side to the increased popularity of 'game design' programs. if you are ultimately looking for one of those specialist roles I mentioned earlier, in code, or technical art, you might be better off keeping to one of the many excellent degrees in your chosen field. Those roles require specific knowledge and skill sets and by trying your hand at a more generalist 'Game Development' program you might be doing yourself a disservice. That's something you have to assess for yourself, but is worth bearing in mind. If you want to become a network programmer, render programmer, or a 3D animation specialist it is most likely that you are better of sticking to a degree program that is specific to the relevant role.
Many of the larger studios have post-grad and intern programs that are then worth checking out. For example you can find information about our students programs at Blizzard right here
One other note that may be important here is that for many countries a Bachelors level degree is a precondition of getting a work permit or visa. So if you aim to work abroad in the future this may be essential.
JOURNEY #3 FOOT IN THE DOOR
Starting out in another department with the view to becoming a designer later. Most look at roles in quality assurance for this purpose. While it is definitely possible, and does happen, you should also be aware that quality assurance is a job, one that requires focus, dedication and isn't to be taken lightly. In many ways a good QA specialist is just as important to what we do as any other role on our teams. If you come in expecting quick promotion to 'the fun stuff' that is exactly the attitude that will probably see you fail to progress.
Good quality assurance is an under-appreciated role, but is vital to what we do. If you want to take that route and are serious about progression you had best be ready to be serious about being a good QA professional first and foremost. That also goes for applying for any other position to get your foot in the door, maybe project management or marketing. It is very unlikely you will get many opportunities to cross over unless you are serious about the role you have been given in the first place.
Journey #4 THE PIVOT
If you have skills, knowledge, passion, and professional experience, but lack specific experience in the games industry, never be afraid to apply.
If you are good enough, and can demonstrate how those skills you do have might transfer (coders are usually tested, artists need a good strong portfolio), then it is never a bad thing to apply. Everyone has to start somewhere and I personally will rarely dismiss a really strong portfolio just because the applicant hasn't worked in games yet, if their knowledge is relevant.
For example experience in other creative industries (like TV, Film, or publishing) might well mean you are suited for certain design roles.
This is the hardest route to quantify as it will vary greatly based upon the roles you are applying for, and the experience you are trying to convert, but it is possible.
Should I have a portfolio?
Let me give you three reasons why ...
It's established practice for artists to have a portfolio and / or demo reel. It's an accepted part of any application process for art positions, be they in the games industry or another creative industry.
But what about game design?
Should a designer have a portfolio?
As someone who gets asked that question a lot, and also assesses hundreds of applications for design positions a year, I'd have to say yes, at least in that it can give you a huge advantage for certain positions.
Sure, it's probably not as important if you're an experienced designer with a proven track record, and a long list of shipped titles, but that's not the majority of applicants for most roles that appear in the wild. Honestly, in the current industry landscape it might not be the worst advice to have one even if you are one of those folks.
Where this becomes vital is for young designers looking to make the breakthrough into an entry level position, or to make their mark as a junior designer.
So why do I say that, and what should be in there? So let's build an example with the help of a handy listicle!
1. It shows you have made games already
I've talked about this before. You want to be a game designer right? So you're already making games right? Of course you have or you wouldn't be applying for game design positions now would you?
A portfolio is what allows you to demonstrate that you have already made stuff! It lets you demonstrate that you are already a designer, and that you are already learning in the best possible way - by making games!
I can't speak for every person who looks at applications, but for me this is the main thing I'm looking for. I want to see that you are already at least knee deep in design decisions, and learning how games come together. We know from experience that this is where the real knowledge comes from.
Playing games is all well and good, maybe even DMing the odd D&D module here and there is fine and all, but nothing, nothing, beats the process of actually having to make a game in terms of starting to learn the craft. We want to see that you are already on that road
How do you do this? Simple. Have a short section for each game project you have worked on. Preferably with some visual material from the game in question. Screenshots, and videos if possible.
This is important even if you aren't involved in the art, or you are embarrassed by how it looks because it was a student project. It shows what kind of games you have worked on, and by extension an experienced designer assessing your portfolio can then make some judgement as to what kind of design decisions you have been exposed to, which leads us to ...
2. It tells us more about you ...
... and by this I don't mean where you went to school, what tools you've been exposed to, or what your high school GPA was. No, here I mean that it gives you the opportunity to show what kind of a designer you are. Your portfolio should describe, honestly, your level of involvement with each project.
We want to be able to gauge what kind of design you've done so far. It doesn't matter whether you have created something deep and complex, or a simple flappy bird clone. What we are looking for is whether you have followed a process through from start to finish, and what you might have learnt along the way.
Here is where many fall into a trap. There is a temptation here to go overboard and include lengthy documents or details on what exactly you did on a project. Resist that temptation! Whoever is doing the hiring is looking at a lot of applications, and their time is precious. Don't bog them down, or give them the opportunity to skip the rest of your portfolio. You don't want to distract them from seeing all you have to offer.
You don't have to oversell the project or your skills, we are mostly interested in what you might have learned. We also know, from experience, that design documents are only a starting point. The true lessons of any game project are derived from the process of iteration and change that lead you to the games final form.
This is also where many portfolios miss out one very important factor that can really push an applicant over the edge ...
3. It can show you know 'WHY' you've made design decisions
A portfolio is actually a great opportunity for you to highlight any important design lessons you have already learnt.
I love it when it when I see a short section (try to keep it to a single, short, paragraph) that sums up what you believe that particular project taught you. It's a chance to demonstrate some design maturity and a little bit of critical thinking.
This is something I don't see all that often in applications, so I appreciate it all the more when I do. It can be as simple as those few lines, or could be an opportunity to go a little deeper.
Don't be afraid to take it to the next level here, but only if you can do so smartly and succinctly. You still have to be mindful of the warning in the previous section about going overboard, but this is an area where a little extra can set you apart.
Video is a great option here for separating yourself from the pack. We live in an ever more visual age, and using modern tools to help sell your design considerations is a great opportunity to demonstrate your critical thinking skills, something hard to put across in a project description.
If you designed a multi-player map for example, and have a demo video with a fly through, why not record a voice-over track that talks through some of the design decisions you made? Talk to the 'why I did this' of your design, and not just the 'what I did'.
Use free tools, capture your game, talk about what your learned. Then you can also embed the video to save space, and it is there if the person assessing your application wants to dive deeper.
Do I need a cover letter?
Yes, yes you do.
This is one that even those doing the hiring don't agree on, so here I am purely talking from my own perspective.
A cover letter is a vital part of any application for me. It is an opportunity for you to let me know what might separate you from the other candidates. Resumes tell me a bit about what you've done, but they rarely shine much of a light on your passions or your ambitions. See the cover letter as an opportunity to tell me your story! Sell me on why I should care about your journey to this point.
I don't mean just a repeat of your resume, or any assurances about how hard you'll work (I presume you want to work hard!). What I want is a glimpse of what matters to you, and what lessons you have learnt from your life experiences up until now.
Again, I want to hear your story!
A bad cover letter on the other hand can be catastrophic for your application. Don't use form letters! I know you're applying for many positions, but nothing is worse than getting a cover letter that is clearly a template. If you are serious about landing a job with my company, use the cover letter as an opportunity to demonstrate your passion for what we do.
Try to personalize the contact to the studio you are applying for. Look on this as an opportunity to tell part of your story.
A good portfolio and cover letter can really set you apart from other applicants. If you have a set of game projects to show off, then make sure you do so. There are also a whole plethora of website and graphic design templates out there that are free, or cheap, that can help you create a portfolio site that looks good quickly and easily.
Its an area often overlooked, or seems to be an afterthought for many applicants, but it's becoming more and more important these days, so take some time to consider whether your have the best portfolio you could possibly have, and whether you are selling me on your story so far.
Another thing you can start to do, regardless of the routes above, is to build up a network of industry contacts. In this age of social media and community engagement you do not have to go far to find experienced industry folk who might be willing to chat and provide some advice.
Don't be pushy or obnoxious, but with the right approach and respect for people's time, you will be amazed how many relationships you can foster with a little effort. Even if it is just for advice it is worthwhile, and you never know when the right connection might yield you a lead on a job in the industry. It's no guarantee, but having a network of contacts never hurts!
THE WAITING GAME
Then there is one last thing worth mentioning. This one is more pertinent at the moment than ever before. You have to have patience...possibly a lot of patience...
A lot of people want to work in games, on top of which the current global economic situation has been hard on the industry. There are a lot of talented and experienced people out of work right now. Many studios have gone under and many others have had to cut staff. That means there is a lot of people looking for jobs which rather obviously means that at the moment the competition for positions is even higher than it has been in previous years.
So you will need to be patient. Keep working on your portfolio or other projects and keep trying.
...it is a job worth persevering for...