Pt. 1, Careers in Video Games
It’s no secret that careers in the technology field have grown faster than just about any other field over the past couple decades. As we know, tech is a wide-ranging industry, and the various areas of tech have created several career paths. One of the most explosive growth areas in technology (perhaps even more explosive than the visualization of Mario eating too many mushrooms) has always been the Video Games Industry.
With today’s growth the market will need net-new 188,000 creators this year to enter the games industry. As a still emerging, yet rapidly-growing sector, navigating your career in games can be tricky.
But we’re here to help!
1. The State of the Industry
Did you know there is currently zero unemployment in games? All of those who are unemployed are being retooled and upgraded as technology breaks new bounds. Despite Video Games Industry revenue growth being up by 10% in 2019, no one wants “new” people. If a Studio is going to spend millions building a game, then they want the “best”.
The Video Games Industry currently generates $200+ Billion in revenue each year, with the United States making up more than $50 Billion of that. “Video Game Desinger” was listed as one of CNN Money’s “Best Jobs in America” last year, reporting a median salary of $81,600 and a 10-year job growth of 13%.
(see “2019 Global Games Market” infographic below).
2. Choosing Your Path
A quick look at the Gamesmith Dev Map shows that there are currently 1,098 video game companies worldwide, but there are so many more! A 2017 report from the Entertainment Software Association revealed that there are at least 2,457 video game companies supporting 220,000 jobs in America alone (see screenshot below), but that was way back in 2017! That said, most game industry jobs fall into a particular job “family”, and learning more about these families is important to ensure that you’re on the right career path.
Programmers – Also called coders, engineers, or developers. They use programming languages like most commonly C++, C#, or Java, to instruct the computer on how to take all of the art and other game assets and turn them into a working game. There’s currently an insanely high demand for Engineers in the games industry, and if you have the programming chops, there are plenty of available jobs to apply for.
Artists – The art family includes many specialties ranging from animators, 3D modelers, concept artists, UI Artists, and Technical Artists. It’s one of the hardest job families to get into because not only do you need artistic talent, but you also have to be skilled with complex art tools used to create digital content like Autodesk Maya and Adobe Photoshop. Having a solid portfolio to showcase your work and skills will be important, so get to drawing!
Game Designers – Including game designers, level designers, and content designers, more than any other job in the game industry, a designer needs to have an incredibly broad and deep understanding of video games.
Audio Engineers – This family is made up of sound designers, sound engineers, audio implementers, and music composers. Many studios don’t have any full-time audio staff, and it’s not uncommon to have a single audio engineer covering an entire game studio. They’re usually hired on a temporary contractual basis as needed.
Producers – Every team needs people whose job is to guide and focus the developers, so they can concentrate on doing great work without worrying about other aspects of running a business. For a games team, that person is the Producer. They’re responsible for the daily planning and management of the team, and at some studios they’re also responsible for fostering the “vision” of a game project.
Marketers – From Videos, to Press Releases, to Blogs: Marketers in the video game business need to create genuinely interesting marketing content. Gamers aren’t going to bother with anything less. To break into this competitive field of business, you’ll need some outside Marketing experience or at least a year of working for an advertising agency.
QA / Game Testers – Quality Assurance Testers might be the unsung heroes of the industry. They play the latest under-construction version of a game, and report anything that looks bad or doesn’t work right to the Production team. It’s an important role because if they don’t do their jobs well, it can lead to millions of disappointed fans as they realize the game has bugs, crashes, or (even worse) loses their progress. Testing jobs usually don’t pay well, but starting your game career as a tester is one of the easiest ways to break into the video game industry.
Pt. 2, Leveling Up Your Gaming Career
Now that you’ve gotten a review on the current state of the Games Industry, the various job families that are looking for talent, and some tips on where to find those jobs, let’s move on to talking about all the fun stuff regarding how to enhance your career once you’ve already landed one of those jobs or are moving into a new one.
It’s important to follow your passion, but not if it’s leading you into a life of poverty, ramen noodles for dinner every night, or a coin purse more empty than Sonic The Hedgehog’s after dropping his bum on a strip of spikes. While navigating through your games career, you need to consider the more practical aspects of the job: Will it empower you in a healthy and enjoyable lifestyle? Could it support your current or future family? Can you afford all the consoles and games you want with no added strain to your routine finances?
How do you know if you’re getting paid enough?
The Gamesmith “Game Salary Calculator” is a tool exclusive to Gamesmith.com members that is powered by the people, for the people! Every salary input is collected annonymously and fed intoto the mighty math machine resulting in an honest, adaptive real-time comparison. The more we feed it, the better the results. It’s basically like a giant salary monster.
Now is the time to ask for a Pay Raise!
After you go through the interview process for a new job, or if checked the Salary Calculator and found that you’re not getting paid as much as you should be, it’s time to ask for a Pay Rise or negotiate a higher starting salary. If this is your first job offer, you might be tempted to just take it – after all, shouldn’t you be grateful that somebody is willing to hire you? Well, if you’ve done the research and you know the offer is lower than what others in the position are earning, then it’s okay to ask for more.
Does the idea of asking for more money make you a little queasy leaving you wanting to phone Dr. Mario? Rest assured that it’s not considered impolite or greedy, it’s a normal part of the job offer / advancement process. In fact, some employers are going to offer less than they’re actually willing to pay because they expect candidates to ask for more. And they’ll probably give it to you too, as long as it’s reasonable. For some entry-level game industry positions, you could be getting on average an extra $3,000 to $5,000 per year, but only if you ask!
Start by letting them know that you’re pleased about the offer or job that you’re currently working, and you’d like to discuss compensation in more detail. Be polite but firm. If you’ve done your salary research, be confident. And remember, the company obviously thinks you’re something special, otherwise they wouldn’t have offered you the job in the first place.
Not all employers are willing to negotiate – they might say that the offer is final. If so, you’ll have to decide whether you want to take it, or thank them for their time and continue your job search. Our top advice is this: if the salary is near your target range, and if you like the company and think it will be good job for you, then go ahead and take the original offer or keep plugging away with what you’re doing. Otherwise, keep looking! There are plenty of jobs out there, so make sure that you find a company that you love and will pay you what you’re worth.
Pursuing Higher Education
Getting a degree is not a guaranteed formula for success in the Games Industry by any means. Some people get degrees and end up hating their field, while others find success just fine with no degrees at all. When it comes to working in games: how much education is enough? What types of schooling are helpful? And is it possible to get into games with no schooling at all?
How much education do I need?
New employees coming into the game industry through many different paths, and you don’t necessarily need any formal schooling to get a game job. However, getting a degree or certificate from a college or university, especially a game-specific degree, can often get you hired sooner, and at a higher starting salary. This is because employees who come through video game schools have proven that they’ve learned at least the basic skills, already have some experience in their field, and they usually have a portfolio of projects ready to demo.
Most programming jobs will ask for a bachelor’s degree in a field like computer science, or a related field that emphasizes computer programming.
Jobs in Game Design don’t usually have specific education requirements, but some designers go to a college that has a formal game design degree, while others might get a degree in something like art or humanities. Otheres are self-taught indie designers who made games on their own until their portfolio was impressive enough to get hired at a game company.
Landing a job in art will certainly be easier if you have an Art degree, but more-so than the other fields – your portfolio is going to be the most important thing here.
Game audio engineering is a highly technical field, and you’ll need to learn a variety of hardware, software, and production techniques before a game company will hire you. Most audio engineers learn the basics by taking online courses, or getting a related degree.
The “Self-Taught” Route
There are some careers that frown upon people who are “self-taught”. Most of us wouldn’t be eager to fly on an airplane with a self-taught pilot, or to be defended in court by a self-taught lawyer. But the games industry is so different! We’re not writing software to operate surgical lasers or military weaponry, right? We’re just making entertainment. The stakes are lower, which is why you’re legally allowed to animate a 2D Dragon or write code for an epic boss battle, without getting a Ph.D. from some Ivy League University.
But that doesn’t mean that working in games is easy, or that you can learn it in a weekend. Every type of game job requires a unique collection of skills and knowledge that’s both broad and deep. You may be able to start learning in a weekend, but it takes decades of continued learning and practice to master.
Fortunately, you can learn much about the games industry on the internet, mostly for free – that is, if you’re adquetly self-motivated and not afraid of a bit of hard work. But with such a vast collection of skills to learn, where to start?
Most commercial games, especially ones available for PC, come with level editors and other “modifying” tools you can use to make new characters, missions, stories, or even entirely new game modes! The modding tools are often similar to what the game’s designers used to make the game in the first place, so becoming a competent modder is a great way to learn the professional tools of game development.
- Game Engine Tutorials
Download a popular game engine like Unity, Unreal, GameMaker Studio, or Stencyl, and start tinkering around with already built projects and/or YouTube and Twitch design tutorials to absorb as much knowledge as you can about game design logic and principles.
- Programming Tutorials
There are many different programming languages, but the most commonly used languages in games are C++, C#, and Java. It doesn’t really matter which one of you learn first, because all programming languages work under the same fundamentals. Online resources for learning these languages are plentiful, ranging from books to YouTube videos to in-depth paid courses on sites like Lynda.com or Masterclass.com. And if you get stuck, you can ask for help on any of the vibrant communities of coders helping coders like StackOverflow.com.
Applying for the Dream Job
We all know job hunting can be time-consuming, frustrating, and sometimes a little demoralizing – even for the seasoned game industry veteran. Kinda like dating, it’s all about finding the right match. Which of the many open jobs currently is the right fit for your unique combination of skills, talents, and personality? The process of trying to find out – searching, applying, and probably hearing “no” more often than “yes” can be a blow to anyone’s ego. A good set of rules to follow when you’re trying to decide where to apply:
- Be passionate about the game project you want to work on, and don’t settle for working on a game that you don’t believe in. You’ll be spending years of your life working on their games, and it will be more fun and engaging if you like what you’re working on. You won’t always get to work on games that you love to play, but it makes sense to do it whenever you can.
- Work at a company that’s big enough to offer you various career options throughout your career. You probably won’t want to stay in teh same job forever, so try to work at a company that has several teams and several products, so you can have a chance to change teams, diversify, or even change your job after a few years.
- Most important, work at a company that has friendly, fun, nice people working there. You may be working long hours for days or weeks leading up to big deadlines or releases. It will be much more enjoyable if you like the people you’re working with. Avoid “Tech Bro” cultures at all costs.
Where do I find the game jobs?
LinkedIn.com is a job network and social media website all in one, making it easy for professionals to connect and collaborate. A lot of Game Studios post jobs here these days, but the problem is this has become a well trodden path for job recruiters of all types. The sea of recruitment agencies sloughing their job listings again and again makes it hard to find relevant opportunities. In addition, agencies typically offer little value, are very poor on feedback, and are generally avoided by game studios. With dollar signs in their eyes, they just want their fee above any of candidates/clients actual welfare. Cut out the middle man, and don’t make the mistake of getting LinkedOut.
The Gold Standard for Video Games Industry recruiting: Gamesmith.com is a discovery platform focused on showcasing the top tier of the industry talent working across the games spectrum. Highlighting only the best working in games today, every maker and studio is vetted before being invited to create a profile, and the high barrier for entry coupled with each maker’s “personal score” ensures that you can sufficiently stand out to your favorite game studio. Apply for a free profile here, and then find your dream job using the jobs page.
- Indeed Jobs
Indeed.com is a job aggregator, so they crawl many different job posting sites and combine them all into place for time saving convenience.
ArtStation.com Jobs is the industry’s largest job board for media & entertainment art positions, enabling studios to promote job opportunities to the world’s largest community of professional artists. Create a profile, post up your portfolio, and browse away. Many of the top elite games industry studios already browse this platform and post new jobs regularly, but you’ll need to look elsewhere if you’re looking for jobs in other diciplines.
Toptal.com is a marketplace for top Unity or Unity3D developers, engineers, programmers, coders, architects, and consultants. Top companies and start-ups choose Toptal Unity or Unity3D freelancers for their mission-critical software projects. If you fit these disciplines and want to connect with one of the many studios looking for talent, create a profile here.
Keeping Your Resume Fresh
Submitting your resume or CV is often the first step in your job hunt, and it’s an important document because it’s your chance to tell hiring managers around the world who you are what you can do. Here are some guidelines to help make sure your resume is in tip top shape:
- Start with a brief summary
Some hiring managers like summaries, and some don’t, but studies have shown that adding a summary is a best practice because it gives the reader context and piques their interest in reading the rest of the document. Try crafting a single sentence that addresses the proper job family, your education level, specific experience, and passion for the game industry all in one. IE, for a programmer: “Computer Science graduate and lifelong gamer geek with experience building a mobile indie game from the ground up.
- Accomplishments > Responsibilities
For each job you list in the “experience” section, it’s common to include job titles, dates you worked there, and a list of key responsibilities you had at the job. But don’t stop there! If you make the responsibilities the meat of your resume, you’re going to miss the opportunity to tell a cool story about your accomplishments. Hiring managers in the Games Industry tend to care more about what you’ve accomplished, and not just what you’ve been assigned to do. For each job you list on your resume, include 3 to 5 bullet points that clearly state what you’ve accomplished at the job, and why that accomplishment was important for the company. Include numbers whenever possible to help quantify your accomplishments in an understandable way.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Get somebody (or several somebodies) to proofread it for you, and give you suggestions on spelling, grammar, and other content and structural improvements. This step is particularly important because if a hiring manager finds typos or grammar mistakes on your resume, it hints that you might be a sloppy worker who doesn’t pay attention to detail, and some hiring managers might even just throw your resume out entirely!
Building Up Your Portfolio
So what’s the best way to prove to hiring manners that you can accomplish the work? This is where your portfolio comes to the rescue. When you link to it from your job application, it shows the hiring manager some of your best work. Whether you’re an artist, programmer, designer, or anything else: building a great portfolio should be a top priority. Usually it’s as simple as putting some of your best work up onto a website, and sharing the link for others to browse.
If you’re a level designer, show off some clever and interesting levels that you’ve built. If you’re an artist, your portfolio should have a video showcasing your concepts, models, effects, and animations. If you’re a programmer, how about an interactive version of your coursework such as AI pathfinding or rendering effects along with the source code?
Here are a few guidelines to consider when putting your portfolio together:
- Only show your professional-level work if you expect to be paid to do a professional-level job. Even one bad-looking image or a line of janky code is all it takes to detract from the whole, and sometimes that’s all it takes to remove you from consideration.
- If you’re hosting your portfolio on a website: set it up with tabs to demonstrate multiple skill sets, because being diverse in the game industry is valuable. Makers in the game industry are currently retooled. None of the studios want the “new” talent, they want the “best”.
- Navigation should be clear and easy. The fewer clicks it takes before your work is presented, the better.
- Always push yourself, and get critique and feedback from the most critical person you know. If you apply for a job and get rejected, ask for feedback and take it seriously.
- Whatever you do to feel the most creative and inspired – do it!
- If you’ve worked professionally on a successful AAA game before, and have any work or assets you’re allowed to share from those (careful with the NDAs), feature those first as they’ll likely be the most familiar to the hiring manager.
What if I worked on a game in the past and got left off the credits?
It’s a scenario that most of us have unfortunately seen at one time or another: a game maker puts months or maybe even years into a project, gets into a disagreement with his or her Producer, or maybe even the Publisher – and when the game ships, a design credit is nowhere to be found. What can you do? Stand up and say: “POW! I made this.” Take the ownership back by joining up with Gamesmith.com, finding the game you worked, and joining the team so that you can list your credit. The best part? You can ask your peers to verify your credit directly on the platform so that you never get left off those credits again.
Network, network, and network some more!
Career networking. If you learn to do it, and if you do it consistently, and if you do it well, there’s no end to the opportunities that open up throughout your career.
Career networking is simply the process of making personal connections with people in your industry, with the hope that you may have the opportunity to help each other out someday. It’s usually done through short meetings over coffee or drinks, or at industry events like conferences and meet-ups.
Get yourself out there in person and attend events like GDC, XRDC, and E3.
Check out career events at your local college or top Game Design universities like Full Sail. When meeting potential candidates in person, being personable and inquisitive is better than leading with a business card and firm handshake.
Being casual is excellent, but always lean towards “business casual”. A good rule of thumb you should follow is to not to think of any of this as “work” or else you’ll get stiff – try to have fun!
Consider Relocation Options
In the old days, young people dreamed of escaping the backwater confines of their small town and moving to Hollywood to “make it big” in music or movies, and we all know that can be a tough road. Fortunately, the game industry is more stable and predictable than the dog-eat-dog (and slowly declining) music or movie business, but similar in that most game jobs are located inside some of the world’s largest cities. The thought of uprooting your life and moving to a new city to take your first game job can seem scary, but it’s often the best strategy for starting your career.
Most Studios today understand that the best talent for them isn’t always on the same side of the world, and are willing to cover Visa sponsorships and relocation costs if you choose to take the leap.
Final Boss: The Job Interview
You made it! It’s time for a job interview. Job interviews can be super stressful, although usually it’s the anticipation of an upcoming interview that’s much worse than the actual interview itself. As nightmarish as it may seem, you need to ace your interviews if you want to land your dream job.
- The Phone Interview
Your first and best chance to make a strong personal impression, we can’t overstate the importance of this step. 1st Impressions are everything. Come up with a “unique sales pitch” for why you’d be a good fit for the company, and use it to help the interviewer understand how your specific skills and talents will help you succeed in the job.
- The On-Site Interview
The interview you’ve been working toward and waiting for! The on-site takes place at the game studio, and can last anywhere from a couple hours to an entire day. It often starts with a tour of the studio and team areas to “warm you up” for the interview and when the interview portion starts, you’ll usually be seated into a conference room with either a single person or a group of people. This is where the hard questions begin! If they ask questions that you can’t answer, do your best to talk through it, and be upfront about what you know what you don’t. It’s okay to get a few questions wrong, and sometimes there really isn’t a “right answer” anyway, and the interviewer just wants to understand how you think about a problem. At the end, you might be asked if you have any questions for the interviewer. Always ask at least 1 or 2 questions, whether it be about studio culture, or things the interviewer likes about their job/company.
- The Follow-up
After all the interviews are said and done, it’s a good idea to send a thank-you note. You can send it by email, but mailing a hand-written thank you card will stand out and leave a good impression. Whatever you do – don’t wait. Send it the very next day.
Free Resource Tools
Put your Studio on the map for professionals to see: Gamesmith Dev Map
Reddit / r/Gamedev / r/GamedevClassifieds
Create your studio account and look for engineers on Gamesmith.com