How do I break into the industry as a game designer or producer?
The number one question I get asked when I go to comic and gaming conventions is “How do I get into the games industry as a Designer and/or Producer?!” There doesn’t seem to be one proven methodology per se, but I can give some leads that can help someone looking to get a job with a game company. I won’t sugar coat it, as it isn’t always easy, but here are some ways to break into the industry:
Start from the Bottom!
I have lots of people approach me with no experience wanting to immediately get into a Design/Production position. If a person hasn’t worked at a game company before, there is a TON to learn. It is EXTREMELY (all caps and italicized) rare that people without experience are hired into a designer/producer position immediately and with no experience.
I’d suggest starting in Quality Assurance (QA), Production Assistant (PA), or Internship positions. There are hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions, that would do absolutely anything to get into the games industry. As a result, companies can afford to be picky as to who they hire. If hired into a QA, PA, or an Intern position, work hard and don’t be a jerk. I can’t stress those points enough. Eventually there may be a point when the design or production teams have a position open, and that’d be a great time to apply.
It’s possible that a position may not open up, even after working for years at a game industry job. This may be a good time to start looking at smaller companies for design positions. Smaller companies are usually more open to hiring QA, PA, or interns into Design/Production positions.
Do I need a Bachelor of Arts degree to work in the industry?
As a Designer? No. However, to work as a producer at Disney, it’s required. At other publishers it’s becoming more of a prerequisite, and will likely become a requirement in the coming years. I personally have a BA, but it has nothing to do with what I regularly do in the games industry. If anything, a Bachelor of Arts degree proves that you can stick through and finish a challenging endeavor… so don’t worry if you have a Sociology degree, there’s still hope!
Do I need a Video Game Design School degree to work in the industry?
Nope. I know plenty of people that have gone to game design schools and they are some of the best designer/artist/producers I have ever met. I also know plenty of people that are some of the worst designer/artist/producers that have gone to the same schools. Learning scripting languages and 3d engines certainly can help, but these schools are often tens of thousands of dollars, and it won’t guarantee a new graduate an immediate job, despite what they tell you.
There are plenty of companies looking to hire people at GDC. Make sure to bring a card, a resume, and try to make a positive in-person-impression with each company representative. Standing out amongst the hordes of applicants is critical. Ask to speak with any devs there (if there are any), and ask them what they look for in candidates. Attending panels and learning about the industry is another great use of time while at GDC.
How bad do I want this?
There are questions that I asked myself when I first started out in games:
“How bad do I want this?”
“Is it worth commuting long distances to work?”
“Is it worth moving to another state or country to take a new job?”
“Is it worth making less money now to make more later?”
“Can I work on titles that I normally wouldn’t play to get experience on my resume?”
If these are questions that can’t be reconciled, it might be hard to get a job in the games industry.
Resume and Cover Letter
Please, for the love of all that is holy, PLEASE keep resumes and cover letters to one page each.
I have yet to receive a resume or cover letter featuring prose that has changed my life, yet people feel the need to write massive paragraph, upon massive paragraph about their previous jobs. Just get to the point, because the people reading these resumes are typically busy people. (Why else would they be looking to hire more employees?) Make it easy to access the information.
A cover letter should illustrate passion for the position, the company, and the reason why the applicant’s experience and skillset would be perfect for the position. A paragraph should be plenty to explain these points.
I would recommend that resumes should have the following:
- Applicants name, address, phone number, and email address at the top of the page.
- Objective: One sentence dictating the applicant’s goal (to obtain a job) and why the applicant is optimal for the position.
- Skills: This is a list of computer programs known, languages spoken, or any certifications attained.
- Career Experience: List the company name, position/title held, and the dates employed, then 1-3 sentences describing work, achievements, and accomplishments while employed at the aforementioned company. Career experience should include internships!
- Education: List out college degrees and the emphasis along with the graduation year.
- Recommendations/References: List out three references from previous jobs that can vouch for the applicants amazing attitude, skills, and work ethic.
To increase chances of visibility, getting a resume on various job websites is essential. I had updated my resume online when a recruiter found me for my first job at Disney Interactive Studios.
Linkedin.com, Monster.com, Gamasutra.com, etc. are all great places to start uploading resumes.
What can I improve to make myself more desirable to game companies?
As a designer, I feel that there are multiple ways to improve the craft of designing.
Playing and studying other games, is the easiest and most enjoyable. What did I like about a level in a game? What feels good about the mechanics? Why do I like the story? Why are these characters memorable? I’d recommend figuring out these answers, and start applying them towards future work.
There are also multiple game engines that are free/cheap to learn available now. Unreal, Unity, Crytek etc. all have tutorials online, and are fairly straightforward to use. Studying and understanding the various tools within these systems will certainly help a resume become more appealing. Scripters are also highly sought after as well, so learning scripting languages will certainly make applicants more viable.
As a producer, there are plenty of books regarding project management.
There are different management styles and project management techniques.
Waterfall, Kanban, SCRUM, etc.
Companies are typically run with these styles of management, and it’s good to get a solid understanding of how these work. There are also some great TED Talks on the subject of facilitating with teams to get projects done.
Get out there and do it
I like to ask other game developers how they got into making games. The interesting thing is there are often wildly varying ways in which people started in the industry. This blog post won’t cover every bit of detail, but I certainly think that it’s a good start to... uhhhh... getting started. Check out some Game Dev Studios when you are ready to get out there and look for work. Good luck and remember to not be deterred by rejections, unanswered emails, or hiccups along the way. Start small, work hard, and don’t be a jerk.