Eric Doty - Editorial, Generalin
MAKING A CAREER IN VIDEOGAMES
A while back I wrote an article on how to get a job at Microsoft for soon-to-be college grads. Overall, my advice really came down to knowing what you want to achieve and making sure you are looking in the right places. This also serves as my general advice for anyone that asks me how they can get a job in the video game industry. It’s usually delivered to someone close to graduating high school who wants to be the next Cliff Bleszinski. While my advice is true, I always feel like it’s the cheap and easy answer. It comes off as “figure it out yourself” which is unfair to someone who doesn’t know how the professional world works.
My own place in the industry was gained by taking chances and being in the right place at the right time. Education looks good on paper, but my career path was mostly built on being willing to learn every system and tool my employers could throw at me. Countless hours of gaming did not get me a job. It just drove me to follow that opportunity to interview at Xbox HQ, 2600 miles away from home, and hope for the best. It’s difficult to tell someone this when they’re obviously looking for actionable advice and they usually aren’t even at the point of starting their career yet.
Here is my new advice to gain an edge on getting your dream job – stop viewing the video game industry as something special. I’m not saying these early years of interactive storytelling aren’t something to be excited about. What I mean is stop looking at potential jobs at game studios and publishers as a place of fun and games. Approach it as you would any other professional industry. Would you go to an architecture firm looking to be hired, and lead with “I’ve visited the lobby of every building you’ve designed and reviewed them on my personal blog”? Likewise, would you walk into a veterinarian clinic to tell the staff that you like to poke roadkill with a stick and put pics of it up on your Tumblr? No. You’d lead with your education and/or a reasonable amount of experience that puts you ahead of other peers who are competing for the same position.
Being a professional comes first and being a fan should be a close second. While passion is very important (in fact, highly encouraged) having the skills and critical thinking ability to back it up is key. It is possible make it in the video game industry without a college education. The same is true for many industries, however, it’s very dependent on your career goals are and the specific entry position you are shooting for. Put simply, a college education never hurts. However, it’s also important to have a portfolio of projects to demonstrate your abilities and proficiencies. If you have spent countless hours building mods for PC games, teaching yourself how to program indie games, improving your writing, etc., then you have a better shot than most of your peers. Go into every learning experience with the same enthusiasm you have when trying to beat the boss battle of your favorite game and you will quickly build the foundation for success. Whether it be through institutional learning or self-taught skills, you will constantly improve your odds.
Once you feel comfortable with your ability, do a ton of research. Figure out what types of jobs and careers you are interested in. Community management is much different than designing a game. Being an artist is different than being a producer. It may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people have the dream, and yet they do no research. Gamasutra has a fantastic multipart piece on how to break into the industry, which includes information about many popular roles and links to more resources about the subject. Also, look into similar industries that build software or entertainment experiences. Your first job may not be in video games, but you can build skills that you can leverage later on to get that job you’ve always dreamed of.
So, how do you get a job in the video game industry? No one has the definitive answer. Be enthusiastic about learning, work with your peers in a positive way, be flexible, and be a networking rock star (read Effective Networking in the Games Industry if you haven’t already) and you’ll have a great head start.
Remember, it’s possible to work in the game industry with knowledge of technical systems and no knowledge of video games, but it’s much more difficult to get your foot in the door the other way around.
This is a highly unusual stance for someone working as a community manager. Yes, it’s true that being a professional means work comes first, but this field in particular needs to be led by passionate individuals who are in this first and foremost because the games industry is something special to them.
Having this stance, it can be very easy for people to fall into considering their work monotony. Passion breeds excellence, even if it seems juvenile or unprofessional. Nobody gets into the video game industry by accident, we all want to be here. Forgetting that is the worst thing you can do.
Then again, this is a Microsoft employee speaking.
I think you misunderstood a bit. Always have passion. Even if you aren’t into video games, you should be passionate about creating great experiences and delivering products to be proud of. I know plenty of fantastic writers in the game industry who don’t play games. They just want to tell a great story. My point is don’t let your passion blind you to the fact that you need maturity and skills to supplement it.
Passion breeds excellence even if it seems juvenile or unprofessional? No. No. No. That is so wrong. If it seems juvenile or unprofessional you won’t get anywhere in ANY role in ANY industry. People won’t respect you and you’ll fail. I’m only guessing, but I reckon you’re not the CEO of a major company – or anything meaningful in the industry – because there’s no way you could have that stance otherwise.
Well said! This especially: Being a professional comes first and being a fan should be a close second.
Being a rabid fan will surely get you noticed, but not considered to be a part of a team.
Great article, Eric. I hope to have success in the industry and your words have set me on the right track. Wish me luck (and thanks)!
Many jobs in the gaming idutsnry are for computer developers. Your best bet is to learn as much about programming languages and software developing as possible. Obviously there’s a huge range depending on experience, company, position, etc. But the more skilled you are, the better you get paid.
Thanks for the article! Useful 🙂