The ABCs of Getting a Job in Game Development
“Do what you love.” And if you’re like most professionals in the game industry, you want to work with games because you love playing them. Game development jobs are competitive – you’ll need the right skills, experience, education, and knowledge to break into the industry.
Here is an overview of roles you might want to consider and skills that will give you the upper hand before you jump in with both feet.
Ask questions of professionals who have been in game development. Interested in game marketing? Attend gaming conventions and find the person who is rolling up promotional posters at a developer booth. (I met the VP of Marketing for a major game publisher that way – I offered to help him roll posters in exchange for asking questions about video game marketing.) Have a friend in video game testing? Ask them what skills they needed to get where they’re at. You never know what you will learn or what relationships you will build.
Our bustling game industry is made possible by serious business: it takes a budget of both time and money to produce a game. Explosive game industry revenue growth over the last several years has surpassed movie industry revenue, garnering attention from bigtime investors. But that doesn’t mean funds are unlimited. Gaming companies survive by sales exceeding investment. Keep in touch with industry financial numbers to know what is in the realm of game development possibilities–and your career.
Community managers are a critical role at a game developer: at once they are the face of the company to the public, the customer advocate for the company, an event coordinator, a relay for players’ product feedback, and so much more. They monitor and moderate social media, forum posts, knowledge bases and other locations where game information is shared. Community managers are also mediators: they help resolve disputes among the community. If you love being social online and have a passion for games, community management just might be for you.
Game design is essential to game development. The game design process is a continuous one throughout the development process but particularly important at the beginning of the project. The design team creates the roadmap for the game and any documentation that points the development team in the same direction. Design sets the standard for game rules, mechanics, and more. Learn more about game theory online for free through Stanford University.
Is a formal education or degree required to work in the game industry? The short answer is ‘no’: where you want to work, what types of games you want to develop, and prior experience can carry you into the industry. For example, knowledge and drive are some of the most important qualities when developing an indie game. If you have worked in other industries in a complementary role such as a community manager for a business software company, you can call upon your experience to make an impact in gaming. However, a degree can help get your foot in the door at many game studios. It’s truly up to your own learning style. Interested in going the degree route? Check out our guide on the top gaming schools.
Communication is essential to create a breakthrough game. Game developers at every stage must be empowered to share their opinions. This way, every team member contributes their expertise and can catch issues before they spiral out of control. Learn how to give and receive both positive feedback and negative feedback.
Graphics, 2D and 3D
Game graphics have come a long way since the early years of Atari. The realism of 3D renderings have come increasingly closer to imitating real life, while the 2D graphics of side scroller fame have made a comeback during the Indie game revival of recent years. Graphics begin with concept designs created by 2D artists. Character designers come in next with character-specific renderings, either 2D or 3D. Level designers create the look and feel of levels through the games, while user interface designers create the status menus and other tools gamers use to interact with the game. In-game graphics are heavily dependent on the game engine used.
The game industry is competitive for employment: there are more passionate and talented game enthusiasts than there are game development positions available. If you’re feeling adventurous, forge your own path by creating an indie game that just may become a hit. Prefer a stabler and more predictable schedule? Apply to a game development company. You must have both passion, drive, some gaming knowledge, and most importantly, you have to know your stuff. Check out Big Fish Games’ Careers in the Games Industry post to find resources on how to get ready.
Game development innovators are pushing the boundaries of gaming as an expressive medium and changing our relationships with games. But you don’t need to reinvent a genre to make your mark: you can bring innovation to your own game development teams. Use your knowledge to solve design problems and become indispensable. The Internet is filled with advice on becoming more innovative, but in general: 1) Understand your discipline. 2) Keep up on trends and news. 3) Watch people and companies that inspire you to be more creative.
Game development isn’t all about coding: it takes a team with a variety of roles to get the job done. Sound design, art, QA (quality assurance), marketing, programming, and project management are just a few of the jobs that you’ll find available in the game development. There is something for everyone with a passion for gaming.
Once you figure out what your game development passion is, you will need to “know what you know and know what you don’t know”. What are game developers expecting you to be familiar with? Don’t limit your knowledge to programming languages and software use – soft skills are just as important. If your job will eventually lead to managing people, understanding project management and conflict resolution will be essential. Review many job postings and ask many professionals to get a sense of what you will need to know.
Whether you plan on leading a team of 50 or one (yourself), leadership skills are essential in the fast-paced industry of game development. Focus, determination, knowing how to listen and give feedback, being able to solve problems under pressure, project management, and time management are important skills and qualities to possess as a leader. Begin honing yours now.
“If you build it, they will come” does not apply to most products. Every game company is competing for gamers’ attention–early marketing helps drive the success of a game once it’s ready for primetime. And if you’re building an indie game, you might need to start marketing even sooner. (But don’t try to do it all yourself: marketing is a busy job!)
Time to make friends! It helps to have an “in” at a game development company but quality relationships take time to build. Start now by attending in-person and online game development meetups through communities like One Game a Month and Game Development Meetup Groups.
It takes only one opportunity to get your big break into the game development industry. Sometimes that means a more circuitous route such as applying your skills in another industry first. For example, many game programmers got their start in software development. Increase the chances of finding opportunities by staying plugged into your local game development industry and subscribing to industry job boards.
Many skills are required to make a game, but one of the first that come to mind is coding. Programmers make among the highest salaries in game development. The territory comes with years of learning new languages. Understand which programming languages you will be required to learn and keep on top of code trends to stay current.
Finding a job in the game development industry requires meeting the right qualifications. Each developer will expect different skills depending on your role. While you’re not always expected to have a college degree, having formal training through a game development school helps get your foot in the door.
We’re lucky that the Internet is one vast resource for game development. Thanks to the self-published indie game movement and the free sharing of knowledge, your favorite role in the gaming industry most likely has more resources than you can spend your time consuming. Want to make your own game from scratch? Lisa Brown, designer at Insomniac Games, has made public a large list of tools. Love games and the people who play them? Learn community management from the experts at The Community Roundtable. You can even take online certification programs from reputable game development schools such as Full Sail.
Sound design and Soundtrack production
An excellent soundtrack and sound effects can make a game iconic–behind those aural treats are a team of audio professionals. Love music? Composers write the original music to accompany a game. Audio producers and managers are responsible for all audio content in a game; they oversee all activity from sound effects to musical themes. Sound designers create the ambient sounds in a game. A background in sound recording or a certificate in sound design for games are useful.
Let’s face it: before you apply to a job in the game development industry, you have to prove your mettle. That means you have real-world examples which illuminate the amazing talents you’ll bring to the table for the developer’s next project. Plan out where you’ll get your training ahead of time. Get practice with online tutorials, take development classes where you can build your own projects, and work with a group of friends on your own indie game.
User experience designer
User experience designers use research and data to provide the product team with input on how to create a positive, engaging gamer experience. They’re right at home with numbers and can translate them into qualitative ideas about how gamers feel. What’s better than making sure people are happy while they play?
If you were one of those kids that loved to use different voices growing up, you might enjoy voice acting. A voiceover actor gives a vocal soul to the characters in a game. Like many acting jobs, you’ll need to get your experience before jumping into the industry. Training through workshops and classes helps you build your demo reel that will be essential to landing your first opportunity.
There are many roles a writer fills on a game development team: a technical writer for manuals and other documentation, a narrative writer to drive the character dialogue, a concept writer to outline the story behind the game, and more. But getting into the field isn’t as straightforward as you might expect. And even if you don’t plan on writing for games, you will need to write emails in any role you take. Writing for game development communication is essential. Sharpen those pencils!
Game development is a competitive industry. Your portfolio is the story of your skill and the key to your first game development job. Even if you’re fresh out of college without real-world game development experience, you can begin developing your own portfolio based on your work both inside and outside of the classroom. Spend free time learning new tools and skills. Build something representative of your capabilities and you will shine beyond the competition.
YouTube is a veritable repository of game industry knowledge. Some game developers use the vast video game recording repository of YouTube to watch the gameplay of other titles to refine their own. Prospective community managers can learn what obstacles they have to overcome before they land their dream job. Programmers can watch tutorials about a language they are learning.
Zealously play lots of games
OK, I stretched a little on “Z”. But really: all of the game developers I have spoken with said you need to play a lot of games to be a game developer. This doesn’t mean sticking to your favorites or the Top 10. Get comfortable with playing even bad games so that you can learn what not to do. Play genres you typically consider boring. Think about them critically as you play: how would you make them better? And of course play the games you love: what do you love about them?
Now that you have an idea of the roles, skills, and knowledge you’ll need to learn, what’s your path? Which game development career path do you want to pursue? And when you’re ready, Big Fish Games is hiring!