10 Proven Ways to Break Into the Video Game Industry

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on RedditShare on Tumblr

Break into a video game career

How can you get your foot in the door, if the door won’t open?

Does the video game industry seem like a black box, with no way to break inside? All you need is a foot in the door, but how do you get it to open in the first place?

It can be done. All you need is a solid strategy.

But it’s time to stop searching for “the right way,” because there’s no one “right way.” Instead, there are many ways to get your first job at a game studio. To discover the best strategies, it takes an understanding of how the current batch of professional game developers started out.

Here are 10 strategies you can use to break into your first job at a video game studio, along with examples of pro developers that have done it. It worked for them, and it can work for you.

1. Post your work on discussion boards

If you’re an aspiring game developer, you might spend a lot of time lurking around discussion boards and soaking up as much knowledge as you can. But you know who else reads those discussion boards? Professional game developers do.

That’s why it’s a perfect way to get your work seen by game studios, which can help you build industry connections and could even lead to a job offer.

Caleb Parrish is a Game Art Director, but he didn’t start out that way – he was an unemployed artist trying to land his first game job, and spent his time posting his work on discussion forums. Caleb explained, “Early on, I would post a lot of the work I was doing on forums like CGchat.com (now GameArtisans.org) or Polycount.org. Eventually I got good enough that someone noticed and offered me a job.”

Stop lurking, and start posting. Engage with the other participants on the boards, many of which are professional game developers looking to hire somebody new. You might just end up with your first job in games.

Find game schools near you

2. Start a gaming blog

If you’re gunning for a job writing about games or running a gaming community, the best way to get started might be to just… start.

Jason Van Beveren was working a typical corporate job when he realized that what he really wanted was a job in games. “I started writing an online gaming blog. I had hopes that I’d catch someone’s eye. I also wanted to know if I was any good at it. It only took a month before I was noticed by Parris Lilly, who asked me to run a gaming website he was co-managing.”

Just a few years later, Jason is now Head of Player Experience at a game studio. Where could you be in a few years, if you get started now?

3. Build your own indie games

I’m constantly asked the question, “How can I get experience making games, when game studios won’t even hire me unless I have experience?” Well the answer is simple: Make a game, and then – voila! – now you have some experience.

Dan Posluns programmed little games for his Apple IIc and his TI-85 calculator, and kept making indie games until he was noticed by an established game studio. He told us, “I actually spent some time working on websites before being pursued and ultimately recruited by a game company. They had noticed my homebrew Gameboy Advance work online, and got in touch to offer me a job interview.”

There are more, better, free game dev tools available now than ever before. Dan created his first indie games on a calculator! With everything that’s available for you to download and start creating video games today, you’re officially out of excuses.

4. Get an entry-level job as a Game Tester

Of all the jobs in the game industry, the job of Game Tester is the easiest to get. Why? Partly because most testing jobs don’t require a college degree or 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 fill in the vacancies.

Merric Shank started out as a game tester: “A few years and a few companies later, I was still in QA. But I made sure that my boss knew I was interested in learning more about production and that I was eager for more responsibility. After a while, I was given the opportunity to help out on a game – and after a successful trial run I was promoted to Associate Producer.”

READ  Art Degree vs. Portfolio: What's More Important?

Kelly Toyama, now a Senior Game Designer, also started out as a game tester – but he didn’t let that job title stop him from contributing to design on his game team, and that caught the eye of his bosses. He says, “I started in QA but design has always been my passion. Game design is a funny thing: Just because you have the title doesn’t mean you can do it, and not having the title shouldn’t stop you.”

The game industry is full of programmers, artists, designers and others that started out as entry-level video game testers. The thing is, once you have your foot in the door, it’s easy to learn more about game development and how a game studio works from the inside out. You make connections, you learn, and you grow. From there, the opportunities are yours to take ’em or leave ’em.

5. Get an internship at a video game studio

If you have a skill that can be used in game development such as programming, art, or sound design, you might be able to get a job at a game studio even if you’ve never built an actual game. Not every studio has an “official” game developer internship program, but most are open to the idea of a part-time, temporary, inexpensive (or free) worker that could help them finish their game.

Jaclyn Shumate got her start as a game audio intern. She says, “I was curious about audio engineering so I signed up for some classes… and I fell in love with it. I looked around for internships at game company startups, which seemed like the most interesting avenue to explore for me, and was fortunate enough to find one. That was eight years ago. I’ve been happily employed in many different roles in game audio ever since.”

You want a job in games, and game studios want inexpensive workers. Get in touch with a game studio near your home and find out if they have an internship – it might just be a perfect match.

Find game schools near you

6. Get a video-game related college degree

Mandi Grant got a Bachelor’s Degree in Game Art & Design, and was recruited directly out of school to work at a game studio. She went on to ship several major titles as a Designer and Lead Designer, but she says simply having a degree isn’t enough: “Crafting an experience requires critically looking at your own work and improving it. You have to step into the role of a new player over and over again, even as you yourself become very familiar with the level you’re building.”

7. Get a traditional college degree

If you browse the job postings from various game studios, you’ll notice that many of them say “Bachelor’s Degree required” – but they don’t specify which Bachelor’s Degree. In most cases, it doesn’t have to be a game-related degree, as long as you’ve learned skills that can be applied to game development.

Brandon Fogerty got his Master’s Degree in Computer Science, and worked as a programmer at non-game software companies until he landed his first job making video games. The key is to always be growing: “Technology is always changing and improving. I believe engineers should always be learning, and willing to push themselves outside of their technical sphere.”

Nathaniel Hubbell is now a Video Game Special Effects Artist, but he started with a traditional art degree focusing on animation for film. He transitioned to a game job by leveraging his professional network: “I went to school for animation, making several of my own short films. Through some connections I found a job in the game industry. There I started off doing character animation, but because I also had a general background in 3D art I often helped out with the effects as well. After a while, my supervisors approached me about doing effects full-time.”

READ  LinkedIn Etiquette: Requesting a Connection

If you’re skeptical, take a look at all the different degrees that could get you a job in game design. Game Designer education requirements are as diverse as game designers themselves.

8. Get a job at a gaming studio in a non-gamedev position

It takes a variety of jobs to operate a successful game studio, and many of those jobs aren’t directly involved with making the game. Even if you’ve never made a video game, you could still apply for jobs at game studios in non-development roles such as information technology, tools development, or other support staff.

Brian Gish was working as a database engineer when he landed his first job at a game studio in a non-gamedev role. “I had just been laid off from my first job out of college at a database/computer backup reporting software company. A recruiter contacted me about a testing tools contract position at Microsoft Gaming Studio working on Fable 2. I had always wanted to work in the games industry so it was a dream come true! Since I had my foot in the door at that point, I was able to get a job at Sony Online Entertainment as a tools programmer after my contract ended.”

Frank Rogan was on a path to become a website designer, and one of his jobs took him to a game studio to design their website. Once his foot was in the door, he started helping out with game design – and the rest is history. “I realized I was the game designer that was really wrangling the work of the other game designers, and they call that person a Producer.”

Smaller game studios don’t have as much support staff, so focus on the larger studios and game publishers if you want to pursue this strategy. The bigger the studio, the more support jobs there will be for you to target.

What Where

9. Participate in game jams

I’ve heard anecdotes about people getting job offers after making something cool in a game jam but, personally, I’ve only met one person so far who successfully followed this path.

I’m including it here because I do think it’s possible – it does make sense. After you do a game jam you’ll have something for your portfolio, you’ll have developed some skill working with a team under pressure, and you will have expanded your professional network by meeting new people – many of whom might be professional game developers that could help you get a job someday. I think it’s worth checking out, if game jams are your jam.

10. Be persistent, and don’t give up

Is “persistence” a strategy? Like most anything worthwhile in life, developing your skills and getting a job in the video game industry isn’t going to be easy. You might feel like you’re banging your head against the wall – you might get discouraged. We’ve all been there.

But nobody has felt it more than Tony Ravo. Today, Tony is a Lead Animator at a major game studio. But his first game job didn’t come easily – it came after many months and many rejections. Tony’s advice is this: “Those who get the jobs in the industry are those that keep working on their reel and keep applying even after those first rounds of rejection. I still have my Disney rejection letter, but I learned I needed to improve my life drawing skills so I worked on that. Each rejection I received motivated me to work harder until I was eventually able to get my foot in the door.”

It doesn’t feel great to have your job application turned down. But just remember that you have to fail before you can succeed – each rejection brings you another step closer to landing your first game job.

Image: Rachael Towne, flickr

Read my new book!

Making games for a living is an incredibly rewarding career, but it’s hard to break in unless you have insider knowledge. This book levels the playing field.

READ: Start Your Video Game Career

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on RedditShare on Tumblr
Tagged with: , , , ,
Posted in Applying, Networking
10 comments on “10 Proven Ways to Break Into the Video Game Industry
  1. Ryan Bauman says:

    Any advice for someone coming from an outside industry, i.e. Bachelor’s in Business/Marketing with 5 years experience in the sports and recreation industry?

    • Jason W. Bay says:

      Hi Ryan, I do have some suggestions. With a BA in Marketing, you could work in the marketing department of any big game publisher (EA, Zynga, Microsoft, etc.) or at a company that sells gamedev middleware (like Unity, Unreal, or Amazon). Those large publishers also have business development teams, which could be a fit for you. Or, depending on your area of expertise, you could take a look at being a Product Manager on a live online game, especially in a mobile studio, or possibly a Game Producer. Lots of options!

  2. Hi,,i am Ganesh, i am fresher in game development field i am not getting the right path or direction to start my career in game development please tell me how can i start??

  3. Heather Kuzmich says:

    Hello, Jason. I graduated school two/three years ago and fear I cant get back to getting a job in game design due to depression. I got a horrid mishmash of a half-job/half-freelance e-learning job but its not my passion and I have gotten to my breaking point. I teach kids and feel that I cant post anything form my current (and only) job which really discourage me to think that I am not qualified for any job in the industry or any chance to get into the industry. Any advice on where to start for someone who’s been out of the loop for so long, such as where should I look for intern work, how do I go about getting it.

    • Jason W. Bay says:

      Hi Heather, two/three years isn’t long to be out of school or out of the industry. I realize it probably feels like a lot to you, but I don’t think it will be a problem. As long as you have some applicable skills, you’ll be able to find a job.

      I have some advice on finding internships on this game internships FAQ. While you’re searching for a new job, also consider working on your portfolio because it will give you confidence and could help you get hired faster.

      It can be hard to feel confident or successful in your career while also dealing with depression, so please be sure to seek professional support to help you work through it. ♥

  4. Omar says:

    Thank you for the detailed article and examples, I really appreciate it. I am finishing my master’s of Engineering in Computer Engineering program in December this year, and I hold a B.Sc in Computer Engineering as well. I’ve always had passion for games and it is my dream to be able to join the industry and make games. I am graduating with almost no working experience (except for a 3 months internship as an assistant web developer/programmer). I tried to look fo postings in the game industry but it seems everyone is asking for years of experience and/or requirements that I am not familiar with. I have also applied to other jobs and I’m actually about to sign an offer tomorrow as a Java developer in a well-known bank (2 years contract) after I do few months of intensive training tailored for that job.
    Do you think this will have a bad effect on pursuing my goal? I’m concerned about getting forever stuck in the financial industry (which I’m not really interested in) as I will have my first 2 years of experience there. Do you think I can try to build my own games just to remain relevant during those 2 years and then apply?
    I don’t want to turn this offer down because it wasn’t easy to find
    Please advise me what you think
    I really appreciate your time, and sorry for the long comment

    • Jason W. Bay says:

      Hi Omar, I don’t think you need to worry about “getting stuck” in the financial industry, you will be gaining programming experience that will help you in future programming jobs. Also, it’s good to have a steady paycheck. 🙂 In the meantime, you can build small games in your spare time, and/or take online game programming courses — anything to get experience and build your game programming portfolio. Then start applying for entry-level game programming jobs again when you have ~6 months remaining in your contract.

  5. Mana Brown says:

    Good day! Is it possible to have a place in the gaming industry when all my teens I’ve been studying to be in the healthcare industry. I have an associates degree and it does not have any connection to gaming. For these past months, I’ve been fearing that I took a path that I don’t have the confidence to be in. Peoples lives in your hands is something that scares me especially when I was exposed to the field. I just dont think I can do it. I’m sad I realized it late. But yeah anyway, any advice to someone who literally doesn’t have a background in gaming (other than playing games)?

    • Jason W. Bay says:

      Hi Mana, you might be glad to know that many people in the game industry have degrees from unrelated fields of study. The game industry is mostly a meritocracy, so if you can do the work you can get hired. You might like this interview with a person I know who started later in his career. You can also follow the links in the article above, many of those people also broke into games later in life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *