How can I get my first game job when video game companies require prior experience?

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In this episode of Game Industry Career Guide Podcast, I answer a question from Matthew who asks, “Hey Jason, I was looking into trying to get a job as a QA tester but all companies require years of previous experience. How do I get experience if no one will hire me unless I have it?”

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • Why the “chicken and egg” problem affects every game job
  • How your career can take off once you get your foot in the door at a video game studio
  • Three of the top, proven strategies for breaking into your first game job

If you have a question you'd like to get answered on the podcast, leave a comment below or ask me anything here.

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Hey, what’s up y’alls. Welcome to the Game Industry Career Guide podcast. This is episode number 20. I’m Jason W. Bay from GameIndustryCareerGuide.com and this is the podcast where I answer your questions about getting a job and growing your career making video games.

This week’s question is from Matthew. Matthew left a comment on the blog to ask this: “Hey, Jason. I was looking into trying to get a job as a QA tester, but all companies require years of previous experience. How do I get experience if no one will hire me unless I have it?”

Ah, Matthew. This is the classic chicken and egg problem that many people encounter when they’re first starting their careers. And it’s not just a problem with QA testing jobs or even with the game industry as a whole. It’s a fact that most job openings prefer to hire people who already have some real world experience. It’s just a way for hiring managers to minimize the risk of getting somebody who doesn’t have a track record, and maybe could turn out that they actually can’t do the job. So if you’re new at this, for example, if you’ve just recently graduated from college or if you’re trying to make a career transition into games from a different career or if this is to be your very first game job for any other reason, then how can you get hired if you don’t have any on-the-job experience yet?

If you’re in this position, like Matthew, I’ve got some great news for you. It can be done. All you need is a solid strategy for getting just enough experience to convince a hiring manager that you are worth a shot. Then, once your foot is in the door, you’re good to go. Because once you get that very first game job, you’ll have that professional experience on your resume. After that, your career is ready to take off.

Well then, how can we discover some strategies that actually work for getting your foot in the door at a game company? One great way to find out what works is to take a look at the different strategies that have already worked for other people. How did today’s professional game developers get their foots, get their feet, in the door when they were just starting out? Lucky for you, I’ve already done the research on this for you.

So today, we’re going to talk about three different strategies that professional game developers have used to get their first foot in the door and start their careers. These are strategies that could also work for you, so listen closely. Let’s get started.

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Okay. Strategy number one is to post your work on discussion boards. Now, if you’re an aspiring game developer you might already spend a lot of time reading discussion boards, and you might even leave comments and ask questions. But can you guess who else reads game dev discussion boards? Professional game developers read them. So it’s a perfect way to get your work and your talents noticed by pro game devs that have connections in a game studio. They might even be the hiring managers who are making the decisions about who to interview and who to hire. They’re already reading the groups. Now you just need to get your work in front of them and grab their attention.

One example of a pro game developer who got started this way is my friend Caleb Parrish. Today, he is an art director at a game studio. But when he was just starting out, he was just a budding artist. But he spent his time creating art and then posting his work to discussion boards like GameArtisans.org and Polycount.org. Eventually, somebody at a game studio noticed his work and offered him his first game job. So stop lurking and start posting. You might just end up with your very first job in games.

The second strategy is to build your own indie games. It might seem like a no-brainer but if you want to get experience making games then what better way than to make a game? One example of a pro game developer who got his start by making indie games is my friend Dan Posluns. Dan started making little games on his graphing calculator way back when. Hence, he kept on making his own indie games and posting them online until one day he got noticed by a video game studio. They noticed his homebrew Game Boy advance work that he’d been posting online and they got in touch to offer him a job interview. There are so many free game development tools available now than there ever has been before. You can go online, you can download them for free and you can start making your very first game today. Dan created his very first indie games on a calculator but with everything that’s available for you to build your own video game with much better tools, you’re officially out of excuses. Go online, download a game engine, and make your first game.

The third strategy we’ll discuss today is to get an entry-level job as a game tester at a video game studio. Of all the jobs in the game industry, game tester is probably the easiest to get. Now, that’s partly because most testing jobs don’t require a college degree or any other specialized training, so anybody can apply. But also because many game testers eventually move into other jobs on the game team, so there’s always room for new testers to backfill those vacancies. I know so many people in the game industry who started as testers. In fact, I started my own game career as a tester. I worked as a tester first then later I moved into a game design position. After a while, I took a class at a local college to learn how to do game programming and the rest is history. That started a 15+ year career making video games.

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Now, Matthew’s question still applies. He said, how can you get experience testing games if you can’t get hired unless you have experience? To that, I have two good answers.

First, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. When a company lists their job requirements most of the time they don’t actually require everything that they list. There’s always a little bit of flexibility. So, whenever you find a QA tester job posting that says they want six months of experience or one year of experience, I think you should still apply as long as you fit about 80% of the other requirements.

The other answer the question is that entry-level game tester skills largely have to do with your testing knowledge and you can actually gain most of that knowledge before you get a job. I wrote a book about game testing and it covers everything you need to know to get your first job as a game tester. It’s called, “Land a Job as a Video Game Tester.” You can find it on Amazon.com if you’re interested.

What if you don’t want to be a tester for the rest of your life? Well, don’t worry. This is still a great strategy because once you have your foot in the door, it’s easy to learn more about game development and how a game development studio works from the inside out because you’ll be immersed in it all day long. You’ll make connections, you’ll learn and you’ll grow your skills and from there the opportunities are yours.

Okay. That’s three solid and proven strategies for getting your foot in the door of a game studio. But guess what? There are many more. So if those three don’t seem to apply to you right now, check out the rest of the strategies that I’ve discovered. You can learn all about the top 10 proven strategies on my website. You can read the full article at GameIndustryCareerGuide.com/strategy.

Thanks to Matthew for this question because it’s going to help a lot of people find their strategy for getting their very first job-making games. And thank you for spending this time with me today. I really mean it. I love bringing you this information and I truly, truly hope that it makes a difference for your career. If it has been helpful, please share this post with a friend or stop by the website to ask your own question for me to answer on this podcast. For more information and inspiration on getting a job and growing your career making video games, visit me at GameIndustryCareerGuide.com/strategy. I’m Jason W. Bay. I will see you again next week right here on the Game Industry Career Guide podcast.

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