Since I have a little background in gaming folks are always asking me, “How do I get in?”
Which is usually followed by, “Is it worth it?”
First of all, it is. Definitely.
It’s all that you think it is and more. The best part being that all your colleagues are huge fans so it’s like one big gaming fest.
The worst part is working long, and I mean long days. I’m talking about seven days a week for months, no days off. Hours are such that you sleep in the office.
Which is like saying you’re forcing a dolphin to swim. I’ve seen colleagues working 18 days in a row, sick with the flu, on no sleep, and gleeful with joy.
Of course, there are companies with content farms that expect code monkeys, but they don’t dominate the industry.
So if you love gaming, you really love it, then go for it.
Okay, here is the harsh reality: you will start at the bottom. Until you have shipped your first title then you’re out.
Remember, the gaming industry is larger than Hollywood and acts a lot like it. Each game is a project with its own producers, directors, writers, coders, artists, etc.
When forming a new project companies will only hire existing talent, i.e. folks with previous titles shipped (popular resume buzzword). After that they will promote from within. Like moving up assistants to leads and pulling from other departments to be replace those assistants.
Rarely do they bring in talent from other industries. This is because, like the movie business, one flop can ruin the whole company. To make a game it requires all up front capital investment, sometimes tens of millions of dollars. All in the hopes that after they’ve spent this money the game will actually sell (and sell well enough to recover costs). Sometimes if they are lucky the game will go nuclear and then they will actually see profits.
You can see why most companies are hesitant to hire even the most talented coder/writer/artist who has no gaming experience. There is very little room for error.
For this reason I think that, to get in, it’s not who you know but what you have done. If you can’t say you’ve shipped at least one title then you’re out, and reasonably so. Shipping a game is tougher than you think it is.
Most overcome this problem by becoming a bug tester. Which is possibly the most fun and cool low paying job you can find. Companies are always hiring for them, especially around releases. This easily gets you in the door, but you may have to move to where the jobs are and this technically doesn’t count as credit for shipping a title.
The good news is that most bug testers are there for fun and so talent is quickly promoted to lead/manager. From there its just a matter of biding your time, learning the ropes, networking with folks on the project, and proving yourself.
It’s a clear path into the industry but it usually turns most people off. I mean moving a to a new city to become a game tester getting paid slightly above minimum wage!
Sounds ridiculous but like the movie industry where actors are waiters, it does work. In my time I helped four people get promoted from the customer service department right into the game. Within weeks thousands of players were touching what they created.
One was an artist, two were coders, and another was a story writer. Each one was incredibly talented but with no previous game experience. So, they took a job getting paid nothing and bided their time. All the while relentlessly in honing their skills and portfolios. As openings came up they applied and eventually got selected for one.
It didn’t take them long (most under 2 years) but they did get over the problem of how to get in. So, if you love games and are willing to do whatever to get in then here is your roadmap.