At this very moment, many students are knee-deep in their search for their first job at a video game studio. But if you’re one of those job-seekers, you’ve likely smashed head-first into a very tricky problem: How can you get a job that requires “prior experience,” and how can you get experience if nobody will hire you?
Chickens and eggs
This paradox is lovingly referred to as the “chicken and egg” problem. And if it’s ruffled your feathers, you’re not alone – millions of students face this challenge every year.
That’s where internships come in. Your instructors may have told you that doing an internship is a great way to transition from game-related schooling to a real world job making games, and that’s exactly right. But it’s not always straightforward. Different internship jobs have different pros and cons, and each position has a lot of competition from other students in the region.
Are there any tricks you can use to find game studio internships? The answer is, yes! Read on, brave poultry. Let’s solve the chicken-and-egg problem once and for all, and get you an internship at a game studio faster than you can say Colonel Sanders.
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What is a video game internship?
What is an internship exactly? An internship is simply a special type of job that you can only get if you’re a student. It’s a win-win for both you and for the game studio, because you get on-the-job training while you finish school, and the company gets some cheap, or – can we be honest here? – free labor.
Who can get a game internship?
Most internships are for college or university students only. Some degree programs require that you do an internship, so you may not have a choice, but you should receive degree credits as well as a great experience working in the real world.
Some companies offer internship programs to high school students. It’s rare, but if you’re an aspiring high school game developer and want to work at a game studio, it’s worth your time to call or email your local game studios to see what’s available.
How much do internships pay?
Internships can either be paid or unpaid, depending on the type of internship and the local laws. Some areas require that interns be paid if they’re doing actual project work, while others don’t. So if you’re expecting a paycheck, be sure to find out before you apply.
According to anonymous salary reports on GlassDoor.com, paid internships at game companies in the US range anywhere from $15 per hour to over $30 per hour. But remember, the goal of an internship isn’t to make a bunch of cash – it’s to get a bunch of experience. So don’t rule out any opportunities simply based on pay (or lack of pay).
How long does an internship last?
Internships are temporary positions, and they sometimes last only for a few months or even just a few weeks. Many internship programs are run over the summer months to allow students to work during summer break, but, again, it varies from company to company. It’s best to have an open mind and a flexible schedule.
What are the benefits of a game studio internship?
Despite the fact that most internships are part-time, temporary, and sometimes low-wage work, there are several compelling reasons to make the effort.
- You’ll often get to work with a real game team on actual projects, which is an excellent way to learn about the industry from the inside.
- You’ll make your first professional connections in the game industry, which you can leverage later on when you start looking for full-time jobs.
- You may end up with work that you can put into your professional portfolio, which will help you get a full-time job later on.
- Some game studios use internships to “try out” potential employees. If you do well during the internship, they just might hire you for a full-time job after you graduate.
Will I be hired after my internship?
Getting hired full-time after an internship is not guaranteed. But if you do a good job during your internship, there is a high likelihood of the studio offering you a full-time job.
Even if you don’t get hired, don’t feel bad – some companies simply don’t have a policy of hiring interns. The fact that you’ve completed an internship will still give you an edge over all the other entry-level job seekers who don’t have any real-world experience. It’s a clear advantage when it comes time to look for a job after graduation.
What’s it like day to day?
If you were already aware that companies have internship programs, you might have imagined a formal, structured process. But in most cases, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Often, your coworkers on the game team are too busy with their own jobs to spend much time mentoring you in a structured way. It might be up to you to sink or swim on your own.
But that’s also a realistic preview of what it’s like when you start a real full-time job later on – you’ll likely be left to learn on your own, because most game studios don’t have a formal onboarding or training process. So just take the work that you get assigned, do your best, and be sure to ask your manager or your lead whenever you have questions. You’ll do great!
How to find a game studio internship
Companies with formal internship programs will post their open jobs on internet job boards, just like any other job. So you can check game industry job boards like Gamasutra.com or GameJobHunter.com, or use the video game jobs metasearch on this site.
One thing to keep in mind: Only the biggest game companies or publishers have formal internship programs – companies like Nintendo, Microsoft, EA, and Ubisoft, with thousands of employees globally. So you may not see published internship postings from smaller studios.
But if you live or go to school near some smaller game studios, you might be able to apply directly on their website – look for any internship openings on their Jobs page. If they have an internship program, they’ll often post details on the Jobs page and explain how to apply.
How to find un-published internship positions
What if there’s a smaller game studio you’d like to intern with, but they don’t have any published openings?
In that case, there is one weird trick you can try. It takes some effort and a little bravery, but it could really pay off. The trick is to find out who the hiring managers are at the game studio you’d like to intern with, and contact them directly to ask about unpublished opportunities.
Here’s how to do it: Go onto LinkedIn.com and search for managers, by doing an Advanced Search with the name of the studio, the company name, and the word “director.” Game company hiring managers usually have the Director title, so you can use that to locate department heads who are likely to have internship positions.
For example, if you wanted to do an art internship at Riot Games, you would search for “Riot art director.” Once you find the profile of the director that you want, email them using LinkedIn and ask whether they have any opportunities for an intern in their department and, if so, how you can apply. Here’s an example of what you might say:
Note: if LinkedIn doesn’t give you access to emailing the director, you might need to upgrade to a paid account.
Have a successful internship interview
Once you get your first interview for an internship job, the pace may be fast and furious. Here are some tips for making the most of your experience.
- Be flexible on the timing. Most studios could use the help any time on just about any projects that they’re currently working on, so you’ll want to let them know that you can start whenever they need you and finish whenever necessary.
- Even though you’re “just an intern”, you still need to add value to the team. Make sure you have skills that are helpful on a game team, and prove that by showing your portfolio if you’re a game artist, or by passing a code challenge if you’re a game programmer.
- Be somebody they want to work with. Come across as friendly, positive, hard working, and self-motivated. Your team may not have much time to train you, so help them feel confident that you can learn quickly on your own and get work done without much hand-holding.
Getting a job with no experience may be a hard egg to crack, but you can avoid the chicken-and-egg problem by starting your career with a game studio internship. Use the above tips to find an internship and make the most of your experience. Your new career as a video game developer has just begun.