Are you interested in landing your dream job in the games design industry? If you love video games then there might be nothing better than spending your days creating them for a living. But this is a sector that is notoriously difficult to break into. So, what can you do to get an edge over your competition and find a role at a games studio? Here are some of our top tips for getting your break in game design.
Play lots of games
We will start with the easy part – if you want to get into the games industry, you’re going to need to play a lot of games! This is an intensely competitive sector with lots of people who are very passionate about creating games that are as good as they can be. To understand how to make great games it is first important that you have plenty of experience playing great games (and playing mediocre and poor games too).
That doesn’t mean just playing the one game you like over and over – it’s vital for you to experience as many different styles and game mechanics as possible. This can provide an almost infinite degree of inspiration and keep you up to date with what has been done before and what is possible within game design.
It is also important that you don’t limit yourself to one genre. Even if you’re obsessed with first-person shooter console games and only imagine yourself working designing them, it’s still important to try out everything from driving games to MMORPGs – you never know what kind of ideas you might discover.
Study computer game design
If you’re interested in breaking into the games industry, there’s no doubt that what will get you there is not going to be your academic qualifications. Show a degree certificate to someone hiring for a computer games developer and they will tell you that it’s very nice, but then need to actually see what you can do. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t study computer game design – in fact, computer game design courses can equip you with the kind of skills you need to develop a portfolio that will truly impress employers.
There are actually a surprisingly large number of universities offering degrees in games and game design. Staffordshire University offers a broad BSc in Computer Games Design and Programming, while the University of Southampton provides a different route in their BA in Games Design and Art. Even an institution as prestigious as Imperil College London offers a games focused Computing MEng.
The majority of major games firms will look favorably on applicants with technical degrees in areas like computer science, so it’s definitely beneficial to attend university if you want to make it in the industry. But it could also be the case that you have already been to university and studied something different. In this case it doesn’t mean that you have no chance – you will just need to get creative on your route into the trade. There are plenty of courses available below degree level that can give you a grounding in the skills required for computer game design.
Network at conferences
The phrase ‘it’s not what you know but who you know’ certainly holds some water in the games industry, and if you are serious about landing your dream job it can be very valuable to get out there and meet people who do this for a living. The best way to do this is to attend games development conferences. These conferences are full of games producers, designers and people in hiring positions. Getting to know people can be hugely beneficial both as a way to understand what you need to get a job, and the chance to get inside information from those already in these positions.
The are many different conferences around the world that are well worth attending. One of the most famous is the Game Developers Conference, known as GDC. If you’re in Europe and can’t make the American event, there is one that runs in Europe that it can be well worth going to.
Take a look into the conferences that run near you and try to fit it into your schedule to attend as many of these as possible. Aside from the fantastic networking opportunities you will also benefit enormously from the insight you will receive into industry trends and listening to talks from games professionals..
There are some extremely valuable resources that it is worth investing in. Games designers and developers have written a fantastic array of books covering everything from the theory behind games design to practical advice and guides that can really help anyone aspiring to make it into the industry. One of the most popular is Jesse Schell’s invaluable text The Art of Games Design. This looks into the basic principles of games design – the kind of things that will be useful whether you want to design for AAA video games developers or just produce mobile apps.
Other recommended reading for up-and-coming designers include Game Feel: A Game Designer’s Guide to Virtual Sensation by Steve Swink which takes a look into incorporating human perception in an attempt to establish feeling in a virtual scenario. For those more interested in the technical side of game design, the fascinating Games Programming Patterns takes an in-depth look into game loops, scripting engines and design patterns.
While this can’t directly lead to you getting a job, getting this kind of reading done can really set you apart from other candidates looking for jobs in the industry. And it can put you that step ahead in terms of your understanding of theory and putting it into practice.
Develop a specialism
In the games industry it is a mistake to assume that you need to develop a broad range of skills that can be useful in any job. The kind of games that are produced today are extremely complex, and games developers hire staff for specific rather than general roles – especially at the lower levels of game design and development. This means that if you want to get into the industry, you need to have a specialism.
Effectively there are three areas that you can specialize in the game industry: design, programming and artwork. If you can demonstrate fantastic in skills in one if these three areas then you will be well equipped to land a role. It’s worth pointing out that there are also tertiary areas of the games industry that you develop in such as audio engineering, script writing, quality assurance (QA) testing and marketing. But these skills are typically more easily established outside of the industry before you move into a role in a games company.
Build an online portfolio
Remember that it’s not just having the skills that is important to companies – it is your ability to showcase them. So, make it as easy as possible for games developers to recognize your talent by having a portfolio of your work available online. This could come in the form of a website that displays your artwork or it could even be a showcase of games that you have created in the past to make it clear to anyone hiring that you have the talent that they are looking for.
A good portfolio should succinctly show off the very best of your abilities, displaying the breadth and depth of your work. This is why it is vital that, if you are doing some sort of your course, you should keep hold on any material you produce from it. Showing off your work in a convenient location online makes it easy for you to direct companies to your page – you can even put in a link from your LinkedIn profile so that recruiters searching for people with your skillset can see what you have to offer.
Whether you are a games artist, a programmer, a writer or a designer, you will benefit from a portfolio, and while it might in itself not land you a role, it will certain make it easier for you to be considered and taken seriously.
Get some entry-level industry experience
One of the tried-and-tested ways of landing your dream role as a games designer is by putting in the hard graft. Many games companies take on entry-level staff in roles such as QA testing, and this can be a brilliant position that allows you to get a feel for the industry, and a foot in the door to work your way up.
Now, being a computer games tester might sound like a dream job in itself, but it is important to recognize that there is a huge difference between playing computer games and testing computer games. QA testing can be a real slog – you are effectively trying to break the game, and then producing reports for exactly how you were able to do it, so that a programmer can reliably recreate the problem and fix it.
Working as a QA tester can somewhat suck the fun out of gaming, and it takes someone with a fastidious mindset to enjoy it. But remember that if you can get a job in a games company this can be a fantastic way to see how the business works. You will also naturally be aware of any openings in the company and the kind of skills that they require from staff in more senior positions.
Apply for an internship
Another way to get a chance in the game industry is to offer to work as an intern. Internships can be a challenging thing to be a part of as you are effectively offering your skills for free. But remember that there is an end goal. Working as an intern not only provides with the chance to shadow games industry professionals and learn more about what they do and the skills that they require, but it also puts you in a position to get a real, paying job when the company you are working for starts hiring.
Internships can be somewhat controversial – especially if you are asked to work for a long-time without offering you any kind of pay in return. Be aware, however, that you typically are getting something out of the internship too, as a company will be providing you with their time as a method of training and helping you attain skills.
If, on the other hand, you feel like you are purely being used to work for free this is not fair and you should be expected to dedicate hours of your time without any prospect of a job at the end of the internship or any kind of pay structure.
Make your own games
Finally, there is no teacher better than actually getting started with the job that you want to do. Whilst you aren’t in a position to be making AAA level games on your own, building small independent games has never been easier and it is something that you can start doing in your spare time.
If you already have a decent command of programming, you can get started on making your own games. If not, and you are more focused towards games design or artwork, there are many different game building tools that you can use to work on your own games. Yes, your first games may be very poor, but this will be a truly invaluable learning experience, and one that can help guide you to help you realize what kind of role that you are best suited for in the industry.
Software like Buildbox Game Maker and others make it simple even if you have no programming experience at all. So, use some of your spare time getting started on game creation.