February 9, 1998

Getting into the Industry

There's probably not a day that goes buy that someone here doesn't get an email from someone wanting to know how to get a job here or in the game industry. Scott Miller spent a few minutes writing the following answer, which he posted in his plan file last week. I decided that the information was worth reposting here, since it might be very helpful to wannabee game designers:

How to get into the game industry as a developer:

1. Unless you love to play games, don't bother. Unless you've played a hundred plus games, you'll have little chance. Playing games, studying their gameplay, strengths and weaknesses, is like going to game developer college. I've spent 22 years in this college, and I'll never graduate--no one ever does. Don't feel like you've ever learned all there is to know about game design.

2. Pay your dues. This includes playing games, but it's much more. If you want to be a level designer, then design levels. If you want to be an artist, then draw art. If you want to be a programmer, then learn C, and program things that interest you, like small games and graphics demos. Most of the best game developers I know learned very little about their craft in school, they were mostly self-taught. This isn't to say school/college isn't important, but the best developers, those who are passionate and would be doing it anyway as a hobby, extended their talent and knowledge by being self-motivated and by devouring, learning and living their passion on their own time. For example, would we ever hire a programmer who doesn't own a computer at home? I think not.

3. Take the initiative. It's up to you to develop friends and contacts within the industry--a people network. If you look at most of the people who have been hired (especially off the Internet), they were people who were proactive in letting it be known they had talent and were available. They got involved with the game community somehow.

Try to get involved in game development on a amateur level. Release your work (levels, mods, art) freely on the web. Contact game sites and fan sites to distribute and write about your work. Doing this is a great way to get noticed by real development companies.

4. Sending samples and/or demos is the key to getting hired! A programmer must have several impressive demos to show, an artist needs a portfolio, and a level designer needs at least four to six impressive levels. Without samples and demos, you're not going to make it far at all. (Don't send ideas, game concepts, or other text only treatments. Publishers and developers are not looking for idea people, instead they're looking for people with the talent, desire and means to implement these ideas. Ideas on their own are next to worthless in getting you a job.)

Scan developers' web sites to see what's available, and what projects are getting underway, then send them samples of your work.

Send your samples in a way that's easy to review. For an artist, for example, it's best to send hardcopy samples, a burned CD full of samples, and even a video tape showing animations. The hardcopy work will be the first impression, and determine whether looking at the other material is worth the effort or not.

5. Visit game design sites, participate in newsgroups about game design, and join game design organizations. Here are a few sites worth checking out:


Also, there are magazines, like Game Developers magazine, and plenty of great books that cover game design, but too many to list here.

Overall, the important points are to play games and learn from them, be proactive in networking with others in the industry (build up a list of contacts), and spend much of your time bettering your talents and building a portfolio. Do these things, and luck, the final factor, usually works in your favor. :)

Posted by Joe Siegler on February 9, 1998 at 1:00 PM | Permalink
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