How to Get a Job in the Games Industry
Welcome to my two part series on how to get a job as a game designer!
Here’s the thing, I don’t even know if I am the right person to discuss this. My own path towards game design was, uh, non-linear. However, for some reason people want my advice, so I will pretend to have good advice and write this blog and then when you get your awesome design job you can write me a letter and I’ll pretend that I was useful and you weren’t just going to get that job anyway.
Here’s my advice, in two parts:
PART 1: How to get a job at a video game company. (this blog!)
PART 2: How to become a game designer. (next blog!)
If you already have a job at a game company, congratulations! You can stop reading now! Actually I’m curious why you even read this far.
Tip #1: Play video games.
THANKS CORPORAL OBVIOUS. But seriously, play a lot of them. Be up-to-date, but also play the classics. Play Plants vs Zombies. Play Chrono Trigger. Play Frog Fractions. But above all, play games made by the company you want to work for. Hiring teams often ask what games you’re playing right now. What are your all-time-favorites? They’re generally looking to connect with you and see if you are a good fit for their super fragile culture of awesomeness. Letting one non-awesome person in could change a tight-knit team into a soulless cube-farm of employees.
Tip #2: Don’t be a fan-boy. (omg I hate that word)
Despite wanting to fill every position with awesome nerds, most teams probably don’t want anyone who might start drooling and twitching when their nerd-crush uses the stall next to them in the bathroom. Solemn admiration is acceptable. :)
Tip #3: Be reasonable.
Somehow ‘reasonable’ people are WAY more rare than you would expect. Hyper-reasonable people have no ceiling. You can be anything you want. There are so few of you that you can just come up to me and tell me you’re interested in a job and I’ll be like, “oh shit THIS PERSON IS REASONABLE - HERE, HAVE A JOB AND A MEDAL,” and there would be literally no sarcasm.
Tip #4: Apply for any job you can get.
If you’ve never worked in games before, apply for an entry-level position in QA or Customer Service. These are challenging and often fun jobs, with coworkers who are as nerdy and cool as you are. It’s a great place to learn the culture of the company you are interested in, and make a name for yourself as “that reasonable guy”. Or maybe you are interested in a career in these departments? If so, you’re in luck; it’s easier to get your foot in the door, at least. I was once a QA Analyst and I loved it!
Tip #5: Find a way to stand out.
If your cover letter is a 30 second video of a dance routine that somehow demonstrates how good at level design you are, I am WAY more likely to want to bring you in for an interview. (Although now it’s not original because I said it, so you’ll have to think of something else.*)
Tip #6: Be technical or artistic.
You are not the only one who wants these jobs. Find a way to be better than the rest. Learn to paint or 3D-model. Get some programming skills. Programming skills are awesome and if you have them you are awesome.
Tip #7: Get lucky.
This one is the most important and the most frustrating. You can achieve nothing without luck. The fact that you are alive and can afford video games already means you are way luckier than most. Here’s the awesome secret: Hard workers can make their own luck. Sometimes when development teams think of the job duties for a new position, they might decide, “hey maybe we should add ‘knows Photoshop’ to the list of requirements,” because we know there is a girl in QA who knows Photoshop and would be good at the job, so we can make the position more specific knowing candidates already exist. That girl is now hyper-qualified in a unique way, because she’s a badass. She made her own luck.
In 2002, when I was working at a tiny cellphone-games startup, I became friends with a dude who worked there. He got a job on the Night Crew in QA at Blizzard, working on Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne. He knew I was also working at a pizza joint, so he convinced the Night Crew to order from us and I would come deliver the pizza. I got to know some of the people on the crew and eventually convinced them I wasn’t crazy (ha!), and I got a temp job as a Game Tester. (I had to take a pay cut from the pizza place.) Check out how lucky I was: I just happened to live a few minutes from Blizzard, happened to have met someone who showed me a path to the job, happened to be at a time in my life where I could afford a pay-cut, etc. It was all luck, except for the moments I had to convince people I was capable. Use your moments when you get them, and you’ll end up with more and more great opportunities.
Do you feel more prepared now? Gosh I hope so otherwise you wasted a lot of time reading my nonsense.
If you want to get a job in game design, I have a few more tips. Go ahead and check out Part 2.
*I accept no blame if you get turned down for a job for writing a cover letter in the form of a pastry or architecture or something.