Do you feel like the video game industry is a closed-off, locked-in black box? It takes only one foot to get into the door. But how can you open it?
Game development is an option. A solid strategy is all you need.
You don’t have to search for “the right” way. There isn’t one. Instead, there are many paths to your first job at a studio. Knowing the origins of the current crop of game developers is key to understanding the best strategies.
Here are 10 strategies to help you get into your first job as a developer at a game studio. Also, see examples of professional developers who have succeeded. It worked for them. It can work for you.
1. Post your work on discussion boards
As a game developer, you may spend much more time reading through discussion boards than developing games. However, you might need to find out who else uses those discussion boards. Professional game developers do.
This is why it’s a great way to get your art seen by game studios. It can help to build industry connections and even lead to a job.
Caleb Parrish may be a Game Art Director. However, he was not born that way. At the time, he was an unemployed artist looking for his first job. He spent his time posting his work to discussion forums. Caleb explained that he used to post on discussion forums such as CGchat.com, Polycount.org, and GameArtisans.org. I became good enough to get a job offer.
Post instead of lurking. You can interact with other board members, who may be professional game developers looking for a new employee. You may land your first job in gaming.
2. Start a gaming website
You can start writing about games or managing a gaming community.
Jason Van Beveren was employed in a traditional corporate job when he realized he was looking for a job in gaming. “I began writing an online gaming blog. I wanted to attract someone’s attention. It was also important to me that I could do it well. Parris Lilly saw me for a month and asked me to help him run his gaming website.
Jason was appointed Head of Player Experience at a video game studio just a few years ago. What could you do in the next few years if you get started now?
3. Build your indie games
I am constantly asked how I can get experience in creating games. Game studios will only hire me if my understanding is sufficient. It’s easy to answer: Make a game. You now have some experience.
Dan Posluns developed little games for his Apple IIc and his TI-85 calculator. He kept creating indie games until he got noticed by an established gaming studio. He said, “I spent some time working with websites before I was pursued by and eventually recruited by a gaming company.” They found my work online for the homebrew Gameboy Advance and contacted me to give me a job interview.
Today, there are many more and better free game development tools than ever before. Dan created his first independent games using a calculator. There are no excuses for everything you have available to you.
4. You can start as a game tester, which is an entry-level job
The Game Tester job is one of the easiest in the industry. Why? You can apply for most jobs in testing without a college degree. Many game testers end up moving into other roles on the game team. This means that there is always room for more testers to fill the gaps.
Merric Shank started as a game tester. I did my best to let my boss know that I was interested in production and was ready for more responsibility. After working for a while, I could help with a game. A successful trial run led to my being promoted to Associate producer.
Kelly Toyama, who is now a Senior Games Designer, started as a Game Tester. But he didn’t let this job title stop him from contributing to his game design team. This caught the attention of his bosses. “I started in QA, but designing has always been my passion,” he says. You don’t have to be a game designer just because you have the title.
Programmers, artists, designers, and many others are part of the game industry. They all started as entry-level game testers. Learning how a game studio operates is easy once you’ve got your foot in it. You make connections, learn, and grow. You can select whether you want to use them or not.
5. Do you want to intern at a game studio?
You can get a job in a game studio even though you haven’t built a single game. While not all studios offer an internship program for game developers, most are open-minded to hiring temporary workers who can help them finish their games.
Jaclyn Shumate began her career in the game audio industry as an intern. She says that she became interested in audio engineering when she signed up to take classes… and fell in love. I was looking for internships at startup game companies, as it seemed the most exciting avenue to explore, and I was lucky enough to find one. This was eight years back. Since then, I have enjoyed many roles in audio game production.
A job in gaming is what you want. Game studios need cheap workers. Find out if there is an internship at a nearby game studio. It might be the perfect match.
6. Get a video-game-related college degree
Mandi gained a Bachelor of Science in Game Art & Design. She was hired straight out of school to work for a gaming studio. She was a designer and lead designer on several essential titles.
However, she believes that more than just having a degree is required. She said: “Crafting an Experience requires critically looking at one’s own work and improving it.” As you become more familiar with the level of your work, you will need to take on the role of a new player.
7. Get a traditional college degree
Look at the job listings from different game studios, and you will notice that they often say, “Bachelor of Science Required.” However, they don’t specify which bachelor’s Degree. You don’t need a degree in game development to get the job.
Brandon Fogerty received his Master’s in Computer Science. He worked as a programmer at non-game software firms until he was offered a job creating video games. Technology is ever-changing and improving. This is the key to being a good programmer. Engineers must be willing to learn and push their limits beyond the technical realm.
Nathaniel Hubbell is now a Video Game Special Effects Artist. He started with a traditional arts degree that emphasized animation for the film. Hubbell could transition to a video game job by leveraging his professional networks. I was connected to a career in gaming. Although I was initially a character animator, I soon discovered that I also had a background in 3D arts, and I helped with the effects. After some time, my supervisors asked me to make an impact full-time.
Take a look at the many degrees that could lead you to a job as a game designer if you are skeptical. Education requirements for Game Designers are as varied and diverse as game designers.
8. Find a non-gaming-related job at a studio.
To run a successful gaming studio, you need a range of jobs. Many of these jobs are separate from the game’s creation. Even if your videogame experience is limited, you can still apply for jobs in support roles at game studios.
Brian Gish had been working as a data engineer when he was offered a non-game dev position at a game studio. “I had just been fired from my first job as a college student at a company that provides database/computer backup reporting software. A recruiter contacted me regarding a contract position in testing tools at Microsoft Gaming Studio. I was working on Fable 2. This was something that I had always hoped to do. Because I was already a foot in the door, I was able, after my contract ended, to be hired by Sony Online Entertainment as a Tools Programmer.
Frank Rogan was on the path to becoming a website designer. One of his jobs led him to a video game studio to design their site. He started working in game design as soon as he got his foot in the door. “I discovered that I was the game design that was actually managing the work of other game designers. They call that person a Producer.”
The support staff is less important in smaller studios. If you’re looking for this strategy, focus on larger studios or game publishers. The larger the studio, will find more support jobs to target.
9. Participate in game jams
Although I’ve heard stories about people receiving job offers after creating something extraordinary in a jam, I’ve never met anyone who has successfully followed this path.
This is why I include it. A game jam will give you something to add to your portfolio. You’ll also have the opportunity to learn how to work under pressure with a group of people. You can expand your professional network by meeting professionals who might help you land a job. It’s worth looking into, especially if you are a fan of game jams.
10. Create in-game applications
If working for a company in gaming is not for you, there are ways that you can make a living by building apps for multiplayer games.
Amit Tsur is a Dota 2 game developer. He created Dota Plus. Dota Plus has over half a billion downloads, giving Amit enough money to quit his job to develop game apps full-time.
Matt Hawkins was another example. He created in-game applications for Fortnite and Apex Legends. He started with HaloTracker, which was his first app. It was so popular he turned it into his full-time job. He also hired additional developers to help him build more apps.
11. Don’t lose heart.
Is “persistence” a strategy? As with most things worthwhile, it can be challenging to learn new skills or get a job within the video game industry. Sometimes you may feel like you are hitting the wall. This can lead to discouragement. We’ve all been there.
Tony Ravo has felt it better than anyone. Tony is now a Lead animator at a major gaming studio. However, his first job as a game animator was a challenging one. He had to work hard for it, and he received many rejections. Tony said that those who successfully get the job in the industry would keep improving their reels and continue applying, even after being rejected the first time. My Disney rejection letter is still with me, but I discovered I needed to improve my drawing skills. I learned from each rejection I received how to work harder to get in the door finally.
It could be a better feeling to get your job application rejected. Remember that failure is part of learning; you will learn from each rejection.