So You Want To Get Into The Game Industry – Advice From Indie and Industry Developers

So You Want To Get Into The Game Industry – Advice from indie and industry developers at PAX 2011

By Lee Guille

PAX 2011 was, as usual, an amazing event filled with geeks, gamers, developers, and a fair number of hopefuls trying to transition into a career within the industry. Some of the most popular panels from the event (excluding the mega-panels such as the Penny Arcade Q&A, Skyrim and The Old Republic demos, and Dragon Age panel) were those offering advice to get into the gaming industry.

*Please note that the following pieces of advice are summarized versions from panelists, not actual quotes. Hit the jump to continue reading the article.

The Big Three:

1. Networking is key! Getting into the industry is all about who you know. Don’t spend all your time harassing major players in the industry, start with your peers. Develop a group of like-minded individuals and support each other in getting a career.

2. Hone your skills. Whether you’re a writer, artist, or developer the skills you learn are what sets you apart from the rest. Your personal projects make great portfolio pieces and may develop a life of their own!

3. Be persistent. You might not have got the job on the first time around, but your resume may have stuck. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback and informational interviews.

General Advice:

  • Consider moving to an industry hub. Living in Podunk, capital of Nowhere isn’t going to help your job prospects.
  • Don’t be a dick – the community of game industry professionals is still fairly small and a bad reputation will come back to haunt you.
  • Learn how to drink responsibly – being a drunk or a loudmouth jerk won’t get you far.
  • Help with other people’s projects –experience and contacts are valuable!
  • Don’t be a stalker – balance your need for information with their need for privacy.
  • Play games! You need to know and get excited about what the company you’re applying for produces.

Advice From The Indie Community

  • A degree might not automatically get you a job, but school is a great place to hone your skills and build a network of friends who may be able to help you get into the industry later on.
  • Try self-publishing – you can build a portfolio and keep your IP.
  • Consider the outlet you build for – some markets pay better than others and may be glutted with the same sort of product you have.
  • If self publishing, be aware that your work may be copied.
  • Community is important! Don’t work in a vacuum, seek out other developers in your area and get their feedback (mom and dad don’t count!)
  • Don’t quit your job until you have a working prototype.
  • Be prepared to suck and make revisions
  • Manage your scope – work with the resources you’ve got.
  • Prepare before you talk about or pitch your game.
  • If you’re going to be indie, consider moving somewhere cheap. Your first couple years are likely to be lean.
  • Look for grants – you never know what kind of free money is out there.
  • Embrace your “indie-ness.” Take advantage of your creative freedom – who knows what kind of quirky genius lies behind your experiment!

Advice For Artists From Art Directors

  • Focus on your long term goals. Decide where you want to be and who you want to work for, then start building a portfolio towards that.
  • Find art you admire and learn the skills needed to recreate it. Experimenting with different styles helps you build your own.
  • Consider a renting a studio space with others – human communication will keep you sane and help your work/life balance.
  • Include only your best 12 to 15 pieces in your portfolio – if you feel a need to explain something or are unsure. Leave it out.
  • If you’re sending an updated portfolio to an art director make sure to send them only new work that is better than your previous portfolio.
  • Always give the client what they want, it’s what you’re getting paid to do.
  • Communicate – if you’re going to miss a deadline, let your art director know.
  • Art directors HATE surprises – if you have a better idea do a second piece and include it or better yet, contact your Art Director and communicate your ideas.
  • Web portfolios MUST load quickly, no amount of flashy design will take an art director’s attention away from sloppy work.
  • Never assume you’ll get a second chance – always put your best foot forward.
  • Produce your best even for your worst client, as you build your brand you’ll get better clients that pay more.
  • Focus your portfolio on a specific discipline. Yes, you want to show you can do everything but an art director will often give assignments to those who excel in different areas.
  • Don’t get discouraged, an art director will often love your style, but just won’t be able to use it. Good art directors keep a list of artist portfolios going back years.

Advice For Marketing And Communication Professionals

  • Know your SEO – having a clue about web analytics gives your application a serious boost.
  • Be a part of community – knowing how to manage and communicate in a forum is an important part of your skill set.
  • Mastery of social media applications is now an expectation in the industry.
  • Public speaking – your job is to communicate, learn to share short bursts of information in exciting ways.
  • Dress for moderate success – don’t expect to wear a suit in this industry. A nice pair of jeans and a snappy dress shirt will be what you’re wearing day to day. (The interview’s a different story though!)
  • Be a gamer – don’t like games? Why are you here! Be excited about the games you want to promote – enthusiasm is contagious.
  • Get a start writing for gaming websites and magazines. PR and journalist are flip sides of the same coin.

Advice For Writers From Writers

  • Writers write, writers edit, and writers finish projects.
  • Be prepared to make changes and write around problems – the writing team is on the hook for keeping a story together even when entire scenes are cut.
  • Organize! Learn how to map characters dialogue and how it will affect cross-game story.
  • This is especially important if you want to work on multi-path RPG’s.
  • Build a varied portfolio – writers in the gaming industry may work on everything from dialogue to exposition diaries. You will be called to work on a variety of projects so be prepared.
  • Bid for contracts – many writers in the industry started out by writing gaming guides on contract.
  • Write anything game related – start a blog, write for gaming websites, find an indie developer and write for them. Any experience is better than no experience
  • Learn the basics of design – in many game companies writers are also developers. Even if you’re not being called to design levels or script events, a basic knowledge of what your developer counterparts are doing will help your career.

If any of this advice helps you in your journey to become a video game industry professional, let me know and be sure to remember the folk at JTM Games when our resumes come across your desk!

For more in-depth insights into getting a job in the gaming industry, I suggest ponying up the time and money to drag your ass to PAX, GDC (Game Developers Conference), or your local chapter of the International Game Developers Association.


About Lee Guille

Gamer, writer, marketer, husband, oppressed slave to cats. Follow me on twitter: Writeleewrite

Posted on October 22, 2011, in Game Careers, Opinions And Editorials and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Pingback: Canada Is Now Hiring – Major Game Studios in Canada « JTM GAMES

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