How to break into a game development career
Do you have a passion for gaming? Have you stayed up long nights navigating dungeons and shooting zombies only to think; what if I could do this forever? Maybe you, like many others before you, have considered turning your passion into a real-life, money-in-your-pocket job. Well, hold your horses there, John Marston. Making games is a hell of a lot harder than playing them. There is a high rate of drop out for those who go into gaming careers with the hopes that it will be as easy as pressing triangle on a cut scene.
Don’t worry, we’re not going to try and talk you into having a better, easier dream. If you want to be a video game programmer, that’s fantastic. Video games have become an integral part of people’s lives around the world, providing escape, entertainment and high doses of serotonin in a world that desperately needs it. Making games can be just as gratifying as hitting a high score, but the video game industry is a very competitive field and, depending on your skillset, you might have to fight harder than your gaming alter egos ever have. Metaphorically speaking of course.
If you’re serious about kickstarting your video game career, we have some handy tips that can help you turn this side quest into a main one.
Get a College degree or Diploma
Ugh, I know, this is not what you want to hear. Going back to school? With teachers? And homework? Well, get your head in the game, dude, because getting formally educated as a video game programmer or designer can be incredibly helpful. The good news is, there are a lot of options. You could go with a gaming related field such as a bachelor of arts in game design, or bachelor of science in game design and development. If you’re more interested in getting a degree with a broader skill set, a bachelor’s degree in computer science or design will be full of transferable skills. Of course, school can be expensive and, sometimes, geographically challenging, so it’s also worth checking out online schools like Gnomon that can give you what you need to get started.
School takes time and dedication, which means that earning your degree or diploma proves to employers that you’re willing to put in the effort. The credentials also demonstrate that you have the necessary background knowledge and experience to do the job.
With that said, it’s important to remember that while having a degree is useful, it does not guarantee you a job opportunity. There’s no cheat code for good old fashioned work experience. Be prepared to get your hands dirty with some low budget solo projects after graduation, or look for a program that provides you hands-on training.
Okay, so you have the skills. Gold star for you! Now, focus up, because you’re not done. It’s time to enter the real world and get yourself some hands-on experience.
First of all, ask yourself what you might want to focus on. “I’ll do anything” isn’t the selling point that you may think it is. Specialists are more likely to get hired, so knowing your area of expertise will help you hone your talents and propel you forward. Choose a specialty and then go find yourself an internship.
Becoming an intern is an easy way for an employer to assess your skills and competency. It’s not glamorous. It may even be annoying. Sometimes you’ll be doing the work of your dreams. Other times you’re going to get coffee. Humble yourself, keep your head down and soak up all the knowledge you can.
Sure, sometimes it doesn’t pay much or at all. That can be tough, especially if you have a difficult financial situation. With that said, internships can really pay off in the long run. They may mean sacrificing a lot of free time, but they also provide you with experience to build your skills and to get much needed training in a low risk setting. If your school doesn’t offer an internship, take some initiative and consider volunteering some time. Worst case; you’ll learn something new and put on your resume. Best case; the company sees value in you and offers you a position upon graduation. Win-win.
Creating an indie game
Most jobs require that you have previous experience in whatever field you are applying for, which can feel like a catch-22. You can’t get experience without having experience, right? Wrong. One of the best ways to prove that you have what it takes to make a video game is, you guessed it, to make a damn video game.
Creating your own game, no matter how simple, can be a great addition to a resume and a portfolio. If you’re diligent, you can even try different games in different genres, which will teach you an enormous amount and impress the hell out of people looking to hire you. Making your own games will require you to dive in head first, and make a bunch of mistakes, but you’ll do it in a safe environment without the added pressure of deadlines. If you’re lucky, you may even get recruited based on the quality of your work. If you’re really lucky (and really damn good), your independent games may find an audience, like Edmund Mcmillan’s “Super Meat Boy”, or get picked up for development, like the former student project turned smash hit, “Portal”.
There are quite a few game engines available if you’re willing to learn them. Unity 3d and Unreal engine are versatile tools that have hundreds of online tutorials to help beginners learn. With some creativity, tenacity and a whole truckload of patience, you can create anything, from puzzle games, to FPS’, to the gorgeous, gory, hack n’ slash of your dreams. The trick to making this work? If you hate walking simulators, don’t make one. Make a game that you want to play. You’ll have more fun, work harder, and it will make a difference to the quality of your end product.
Getting an entry level position
Another way to get your foot in the door of a game company is to score an entry level position. Look for job postings for game testers or quality control positions. If you manage to land one of these covered positions, you’ll be sent to work to play test new games as they’re being developed, running through levels, looking for bugs and recording them for the developers. If you take initiative, work hard, and keep an eye on your long-term goal, you may have the opportunity to transfer into another department. Keep in mind, if this is the route you choose to take, that even game-testers need some credentials. Teach yourself some programming, design or other technical skills. This will make you a more versatile hire, and increase the odds that you may be able to change departments.
You’ve come this far, so I’m going to tell you a secret. Having a job in games? It’s awesome. With consumers clamouring for fresh content, gaming jobs are in high demand. As long as you dedicate yourself to your craft, the sky’s the limit. It may be difficult to get a job in gaming, but like most of the games you love to play, the journey is well worth it. If you’re serious about getting started, becoming an intern, getting an entry level position, creating an indie game, and/or getting a college degree are all time-tested paths to get your foot in the door. Regardless of which route you take, you’ll develop your skill-base and portfolio, and learn everything there is to know about your craft. At the end of the day, it comes down to how hard you are willing to work. Understand your skillset. Maximize your potential. Be resilient. It will make all the difference between you and the next person.