Author: Chris Swain, Chair, Game Design Department, New York Film Academy
First, the good news: the game industry continues to grow as more and more people turn to interactive entertainment on their phones, tablets, handhelds, consoles, and PCs. The top grossing category in the Apple App Store and Google App Store is games. All this means that demand for talented and passionate game designers is as high as ever.
Now the not so good news: Lots of people want those dream jobs. There are a handful of best practices that differentiate the people who break in and those who don’t.
Best Practice: Portfolio
The number one thing that will help you break into the game industry is proof that you can build good games. To do that, first make a personal website at yourname.com. Next, start posting your projects to your site.
With portfolio sites ‘more is more’. That means post your pictures of your paper prototypes, links to your mods, design notes, concept art, and anything else that shows that you are a real builder.
Pro tip 1: Playable games count much more than concepts. If you can make your game play in the browser (versus as an EXE) more people will actually play it. Likewise, providing game play videos of your projects will make it easy for prospective hires to see your work.
Pro tip 2: The people who want to hire you are really busy and won’t play more than a few minutes of any one of your games. That means it is better to make a variety of short games than one long game.
Best Practice: Network
Starting right after you read this post start a LinkedIn profile. Then, add your portfolio site to it. It’s okay if you don’t have much work in it at first. Networking takes time.
Next, join a number of LinkedIn game groups and become an active participant.
Finally, go to Meetups, IGDA events, game conferences, and any other events where game developers congregate. If those things don’t exist in your town then start your own Meetup. If you can’t afford to get into a conference then a) contact the organizers about being a volunteer conference associate and/or b) lobby crash.
Even getting a gig as a volunteer takes time and is competitive, so look at the calendar of events for the coming year and start contacting people now. “Lobby crash” means hanging out in the lobby and talking to people. You will find out about parties and events.
Pro tip 1: Get business cards printed that include the URL to your portfolio site. Do not get cheap paper. High quality cards are available at low cost these days from online printers. It’s economical to order small runs of cards – e.g. a box of 100 at a time. Check out Moo.com, 4over4.com, and Overnightprints.com for prices and design templates.
Pro tip 2: Every time you meet a game developer give her a business card and follow up with a LinkedIn request. I mean every single time. In short order you will have a legit network that you can call on for job recommendations, informational interviews, internships, etc.
Best Practice: Hard Skills
The fact is people with hard computer skills have an easier time getting jobs than those who don’t. Examples of hard skills are Adobe Tools, programming languages, SCRUM master certifications, etc.
The reason is that when companies are hiring for entry level jobs they want you to help them execute on their vision for a game. Much later – once you are established in a company – you can be the one that comes up with the vision. In the meantime, being able to show that you have hard skills – on your portfolio site – will differentiate you from the competition.