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getting a job?

how to get a job in video games!

Ron Alpert, Blogger

September 17, 2007

13 Min Read

  (An email i wrote to a guy who I was trying to help get a start in games - I eventually helped him get hired as an intern at Obsidian, after a period they hired him on fulltime)

  Hey what's up kevin, this is ron - i met you at kurt's bday last weekend.
sorry for the delay in emailing you, it's been a busy week! and another one coming up.. dammit time to go back to it already! whew, anyway... BTW I apologize in advance for a super-long email, here goes.

  So I checked out your website, I wanted to drop you a note real quick. we talked briefly about how it can be rough to get a foothold in the industry, so I wanted to pass on a couple of links and info that might be useful to you. take as much (or as little) from it as you feel is necessary - i can only give you my perspective from what I have seen and dealt with in my own endeavors..

  First things first, if you are looking for jobs you need ot hit som websites pretty steadily. VFXpro.com is the first one I was telling you about, on their main page there's a sidebar with a link to a jobs forum. know this link, make it your best friend!!
just opening it up you'll see tons of openings for all manner of positions, in all areas of the world.. long term stuff, short term, you name it. even looking for a second I see plenty of interesting opportunities across the board, though of course as i sad they are for different disciples of varying levels of experience. At this point I say dig through the listings of the past month (and then some), see which look like they are on your mark or even near to it - the first step is to make some contact, even if the job could be something out of your range you could still get a good contact out of it (and who knows, they might have another position open that is more relevant to what you are specialized in). Anyway, that's the first step...

  The other site you should check for jobs is gamasutra, I think you need to register with them (it's free, no matter) to view the detailed listings/contact info. everyone in the industry should be pretty familiar with gamasutra anyway, it's pretty muh one of te number one sites for all general game industry news without much fanfare or fluff. not prety but easy to digest and you can keep up to date with who is important, and why. Also, just "living" on their job boards is a good way to learn what companies are located where, what types of jobs they "usually" hire for, stuff like that. it sounds kind of petty/secondary but it's a really good way to learn a lot of the "backed" that you need for looking for work (and being able to properly represent yourself when dealing with the business guys, etc). mind you applying to jobs on these sites is no guarantee that you'll even get a response, unless you've got a sharp resume - TONS of people read the gamasutra listings everyday, probably thousands of folks i'd wager... still, "anything is worth an email," you never know who it will end up with.

  Other than that.. i have seen a few other sites with job listings of various quality, nothing i have looked back at in recent times though (but it's always good to do research and keep a lookout for the dark corners of the internet, if you get my drift). i have known people who have found work on craigslist, stuff like that.

  There's a couple other websites I must plug as well. you don't wanna approach these as job-source, but thy are invaluable regardless (if you're super-lucky you might get job leads to whatever degree, but that's not the point). maxforums.org is one of the most useful sites I have found on the internet.. it's just a big forum where people hang out and yakk about 3ds max all day long. users of various skill levels, hobbyists and industry people.. yeah, it's pretty nerdy, but honestly i have learned so much by hanging around on that board. there's such a great community, loads of talented and smart people, everyone's always posting works-in-progress and doing critiques and all of that. it's daunting (a lot of it is WAYYY better than anything i will ever make!) and therefore humbling, but the people are friendly and helpful. if you need help with something, and you are polite and patient, you can usually get some kinda help with anything obscure you throw at them, tech-wise.. or a least pointed in the right direction of where you should look. Seriously, my education in 3ds max pretty much came out of spending a solid year buzzing around that website. so many of those people will take the time to write super-detailed tutorials on how to do.. EVERYTHING. the point is, it's a strong community witha lot of people who are eager to help each other, share the wealth. i possibly wouldn't be working today if not for that website.

  Another good site that is pretty important is neogaf.com, their forum is one of the most popular "game discussion websites" in the whole world. if maxforums was kinda dorky, THIS site is 110 percent off the charts fucking supreme dorkiness.. but again.. it's sort of the first line for a lot of important information in "what's going on in the industry." You get a lot of mega-game nerd fanboys on there (most of it, actually) but there's a healthy representation of game developers who post on there as well (usually under anonymity, but if you stick around and pay attention you can weed them out). this site has gotten some heavy notoriety lately as some higher-level project leads (and studio heads) have been posting pretty high-profile shit in here in the past year and change.. which is pretty remarkable. at the same time they are starting to let too many people into the membership, so it's getting kinda diluted... but still it's worth sticking to, you'll find all game industry news pretty well covered in here. yeah i know i keep saying it, "this all sounds pretty dorky" to be hanging around all these gaming messageboards and stuff... but it is vital, this is where the business happens ad is reported these days, for obvious reasons. it's messy and kinda cryptic, but if you want to know what's going on you sort of have to give a good shit about it. Even if you have the attitude "hey i just wanna work in production, i don't care about the politics of it all, leave that for the suits to worry about.." that's small thinking, because the business and politics of it colors everything. it's been the beginning and end of careers for all of us, really, like it or not. if you really can't care about it, then it will probably bite you in the ass sooner or later.

  So there's my website info crap, that's the beginning of it anyway. there's a little more, but no sense heaping on all the secondary shit at this point - if you can get into this much, and go with the flow, then you are on a good roll for damn sure, ad you won't have much trouble finding your own way where to go next..

  Now-- as for your website. I checked it out, i looked at your demo reel, your resume, etc. This is one area that I take very seriously, because at the end of the day this is all you got, man. your website will pretty much represent all that you are, in the world, to your potential clients - so you better do a damn fine job of conveying to them what you are about and why they should hire you. websites and portfolios are difficult, for obvious reasons.. not only do you have HUGE competition (so many shmoes out there have half-decent websites), but at this point the people you want to view your website are so burned out on looking at that shit that it's gonna take something done -just so- for them to even register a blip on their radar. for this reason, you really need to follow the program and learn how to develop a perfectly polished, well-representational website. this extends to all aspects of it, from the user interface, to the way you lay out your resume, to the way you setup your demo reel video. it's a little maddening and obnoxious to have to deal with this - not only doing your work, but the complete other world of how ot present every little detail of it.. but like i said, we live in a world where there's so much competition on the middle ground that it's really the only way to be considered on a professional level.

  Fortunately, making a decent website and portfolio presentation is pretty far from a shot in he dark. Because there are tons of really well-put together sites out there, it's pretty easy to fish through a handful of them and figure out what to do (and what not to do). Off the bat you can see some basic design principles going on - simple design, super easy to navigate, "less is more.." Really the people who look at your stuff don't want to deal with animated menus, exotic fonts, slow-downloading animated GIFs, pages and pages of info to delve thru, stuff like that. just easy and to the point, letting the work speak for itself. that's not to say that style should be ignored, just downplayed, simplified.

  In my website, I wanted the main page to be the main interface - all of the images are available as the first thing you see, you can tell what I have worked on/who I have worked for right away, what type of stuff i specialize in. Ii tried to trim it down as best I cold (I probably am still showing more than I need to), but hey you don't wanna spend forever criticizing the shit out of it. it's always easy to get back to the main page, the email button actually launches into an email, blah blah. it's stupid and simple. I started a website probably seven years ago, which looked horrible but I have revamped it and made it better every couple of years since (maybe 3 or 4 big overhauls) - but always the same general principles which I have seen on lots of other peoples websites. the best thing to do is get a working version, then send it out to all your buddies and tell them to critique the hell out of it. you'll hear plenty of half-assed advice, but always some great ideas too.

  When I apply for a job -- depending on how interested I am in the job - I will email them to see what's up, and send a little paragraph about myself (what i do, where I live, who I have worked for, what projects, what software, my specialty.. brief and to the point). this is usually going to some HR person.. but if i know they are looking for an artist, i will do some digging and find out the art directors email address (usually not very hard, just do a little research online - pretty fucking easy). i'll email that person too, and then I will also send a physical package to the art director in the mail with a CDRom with like 10-15 jpegs on it (stuff from my website, plus maybe some more delicate stuff that i don't wanna post publicly for whatever reason), and a copy of the cover letter w/ all my contact info on it too. not hard to find the mailing address of any company, and just send it to art director's name c/o that company.. it will definitely wind up on their desk, at least. After being laid off from neversoft last fall, i went a step further and dd something new for the 1st time in years, I made an actual video DVD to show off my reel. probably super simple, but I never did that before (that you could stick in a regular standard DVD player) all nicely edited and etc. i had an editor buddy who helped me out, there's tons of people in town who will help you put that shit together if you're not able for relatively cheap.. again, just gotta do some research, ask around, etc. If you are applying to some bigger houses (FX and stuff) they refuse to look at jpegs and websites, they are kinda arrogant.. they only want "video DVDs or nuthin'"

  So, yeah, there's my piece for ya, do with it what you want. I know getting a job in this industry is tough, like any industry where there is a decent level of competition - and that sucks, but really it's not THAT bad that it's "almost impossible" or something. it just requires a lot of love and a lot of dedication and honestly being the guy who's gonna dig under rocks for a little while to cover all the bases. none of this stuf is even THAT hard, it's just sense.. and time, really. it sucks to have gone thru school, to have even had some work experience, and then after that, you sort of feel like "you've pad your dues" already and desere some job stability, on-the-job-training, something.. well, you don't really get that stuff in the entertainment industries. basically you either get lucky, or you're naturally crazy talented, or you're the guy who has the effort and the motivation to say "screw it, i will take however long it will take to get myself established, and when it kicks my ass out a few times, i will keep crawling back." Of course, it DOES get easier, as you do learn stuff on the job, and make contacts, and build up your reel, and your rep. But it takes time. A couple years sounds like a pain in the ass, but considering how many of the years of your life you will actually WORK, a couple years is nothing, just a blip on the radar...

  So yeah, I know this was an absurdly long email, and it's probably a little crazy "why the hell does a guy i don't know write all of this stuff?" Honestly, I have been there, and it's only 'cause there have been other people (on those forums, who I have met, worked with, etc) who have done the same for me, clued me in on where to look, what to do with my work, etc. What comes around, goes around.. kind of.

  Lastly, after all of that, I didn't even get to critiquing your actual work.. ha! But the same rules apply, you have heard all that before anyway. I offer my friend jim's website as a great inspiration for what a great anim portfolio looks like.. I have seen this guy rise from humble origins, he is super-successful and a great guy also - jimjagger.com

  Alright man. good luck!

-Ron Alpert
2D/3D Environment artist

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