Is the videogame industry like a closed door? You only need a foot to get in the door. But how do you get it open?
It is possible to get involved in game development. You only need a solid strategy.
It’s time to stop looking for the “right way” because there is no “right way”. Instead, there are many options to get your first job in a game studio. Understanding the origins of the current crop of game developers is key to determining the best strategies.
These are 10 ways to get your first job in a videogame studio. We also have examples from professional developers who have done it. It worked for them and it could work for you.
1. Post your work on discussion boards
You might spend a lot time on discussion boards if you are aspiring to be a game developer. You don’t know who else is reading those discussion boards. Professional game developers do.
It’s an excellent way to get your work noticed by game studios. This can help you make industry connections that could lead to job offers.
Caleb Parrish is now a Game Director. But he wasn’t born that way. He was an artist who was unemployed and trying to get his first job. Caleb said, “Early, I would post a majority of the work that I was doing on forums such as CGchat.com (now GameArtisans.org), or Polycount.org. I eventually got good enough to be offered a job by someone.
Don’t be a lurker, start posting. Get to know other members of the board, which often include professional game developers who are looking for new hires. It’s possible that you will land your first job as a game developer.
2. Start a gaming blog
The best way to start if you are looking for a job in the gaming industry or writing about them, is to just… get started.
Jason Van Beveren had been working in a corporate job when he realized what he wanted. “I started an online gaming blog. I hoped to catch the attention of someone. I wanted to see if it was possible. Parris Lilly noticed me and asked me to manage a gaming website that he was co-managing. It took only a month.
Jason became Head of Player Experience in a game studio just a few short years later. If you start now, where could you be in a few more years?
3. Build your own indie games
It’s a question I am constantly asked: “How do I get experience in making games?”. Game studios don’t hire people without experience. Now you have some experience.
Dan Posluns was a programmer for his Apple IIc, his TI-85 calculator and kept making small games until he was discovered by an established game company. He explained that he had spent time on websites before being approached and eventually hired by a company. They were impressed by my online homebrew Gameboy Advance work and reached out to me to arrange a job interview.
More, better and more free tools are now available for game development than ever before. Dan made his first indie game using a calculator. You have no excuses when you can download everything and get started creating video games right now.
4. As a Game Tester, you can get an entry-level position
The job of Game Tester, among all those in the gaming industry is the most easy to obtain. Why? Because most testing jobs are open to anyone, you don’t need a college degree. There are always vacancies for testers, as many game testers move on to other positions within the team.
Merric Shank began his career as a game tester. “After a few years and a few companies, I was still working in QA. My boss was aware that I was interested learning more about production, and that I wanted more responsibility. After some time, I was offered the chance to assist with a game’s development. I was then promoted to Associate Producer after a successful trial.
Kelly Toyama is now a Senior Designer. He started his career as a game tester, but that didn’t stop him from contributing to the design of his team. That caught the attention of his bosses. He said, “I started out in QA, but design has always been a passion of mine.” It’s funny how game design can be so difficult. Just because you have the title doesn’t mean that you can do it.
Learn more about Career Networking in GamingThere are many programmers, artists, designers, and other people who started as video game testers. Once you get your foot in the door it is easy to learn about game development and how a studio works. You learn, you make connections and you grow. There are endless opportunities for you to make the most of them.
5. Internship at a videogame studio
Even if you have never created a real game, a skill that is applicable to game development might help you get a job at a studio. Although not every studio offers an official game developer internship program they are open to working with part-time workers that are temporary and inexpensive.
Jaclyn Shumate started her career as an intern in game audio. She shares that she was intrigued by audio engineering and signed up for classes… and fell in love. I searched for internships in game startup startups. It seemed like the best avenue to explore. It was eight years ago. Since then, I have been happy to work in many roles in game audio.
Game studios are looking for cheap workers if you’re interested in a job in the industry. Contact a local game studio to find out if they offer internships – it could be the perfect match.
6. Get a video-game related college degree
Mandi Grant received a Bachelor’s degree in Game Art & Design and was immediately hired out of school to join a game studio. As a Lead Designer and Designer, she shipped several major titles.
She says that a degree alone is not enough. “Crafting an experience involves critically looking at one’s own work and making improvements. It is necessary to constantly assume the role of a new player, even if you are already very familiar with your own level.
7. Get a traditional college degree
You’ll see that most job postings for various game studios say “Bachelor’s Degree Required” – but don’t specify what Bachelor’s Degree. It doesn’t necessarily have to be related to games, provided you have the skills to apply them to game development.
Brandon Fogerty earned his Master’s degree in Computer Science and worked at non-game software firms until he got the job he wanted. It is important to never stop learning: “Technology is constantly changing and improving.” Engineers should be open to learning and ready to challenge themselves beyond their technical field.
Nathaniel Hubbell, now a Video Game Special effects Artist, started his career with an art degree that focused on animation for film. Through his professional network, he was able to transition to a job in the game industry. “I went to school to animation and made several short films. Through connections, I was able to find a job within the gaming industry. While I initially worked in character animation, I quickly realized that I had some experience with 3D art and was able to help out with effects. My supervisors suggested that I take on effects full-time after a while.
You might be skeptical about the various degrees that can lead to a career in game design. The education requirements for game designer are as varied as the game designers themselves.
8. You can get a job in a gaming studio as a non-gamedev employee
A successful game studio requires a number of jobs, many of which aren’t directly related to making the game. You can still apply for non-development jobs in game studios, such as support staff, information technology, tools design, or other technical roles.
Brian Gish was a database engineer at the time he got his first job as a non-gamedev employee at a video game studio. “I had just lost my first job after college, which was at a computer backup reporting software company. I was contacted by a recruiter about a contract testing tool position at Microsoft Gaming Studio, working on Fable 2. It was something I had always wanted to do, so it was an amazing opportunity! After my contract expired, I was able get a job as a tool programmer at Sony Online Entertainment.
Also see Should I accept a job in a videogame industry I don’t like just to get in the door?Frank Rogan was determined to be a web designer and his first job took him to a gaming studio to design their website. After getting his foot in the door, he began to help with game design. “I realized that I was the game designer who was actually wrangling other game designers’ work, and they call this person a Producer.”
If you are looking to make this strategy a success, focus on larger studios and publishers. You will have more support jobs if you target larger studios.
9. Participate in game jams
There are stories of people who get job offers for making something in a jam game, but I have only heard one such person.
It’s possible, and it makes sense. You’ll be able to create something for your portfolio after completing a game jam. Additionally, you’ll have learned some skills working under pressure with a team. Furthermore, you will have expanded and strengthened your professional network through meeting professionals who could help you find a job. If game jams appeal to you, it is worth looking into.
10. In-game apps
If you don’t want to work for a gaming company, there are other ways to make a living from games: Build apps that improve multiplayer games.
Amit Tsur, a developer, created Dota Plus as a Dota 2app. Dota Plus is almost half a million downloaded so far. This has allowed Amit to quit his job and focus on game app development full-time.
Matt Hawkins is another example. He built in-game apps for games Apex Legends, and Fortnite. He began by creating HaloTracker, a single app. He was so impressed by the app that he made it a full-time job . also hired additional developers to create more apps.
11. Keep at it and never give up
Is “persistence” a strategy? It’s not easy to develop your skills and get a job as a videogame industry worker. It might seem like you are banging your head against a wall. You may feel discouraged. We’ve all been there.
Tony Ravo is the one who has experienced it most. Tony Ravo is currently a Lead Animator for a major video game studio. His first job in the game industry was not easy. It took many months and many rejections before he got it. Tony says, “Those who get jobs in the industry are the ones that continue to work on their reels and apply even after the first rejection. Although I still have my Disney rejection letters, I realized that I needed to improve my drawing skills. Every rejection motivated me to keep working until I finally got in the door.
It’s not great to be rejected for a job. It’s not great to be rejected for a job. However, each rejection is a step towards landing your first game job.