Nailing Your Game Design Interview Questions (Part 1)

If there’s one area of the job searching process that many people find nerve-wracking, it’s the part where you actually talk to a person. More than that, they’ll be asking you questions whose answers may very well determine if you land the job or get a nice ‘Thank you for applying but…’ e-mail the next day.

Fortunately many hirers tend to ask the same questions, so it is possible to prepare an answer. Of course, do your best to avoid sounding like a robot simply reading a script you typed up. Instead, honestly think about the following common interview questions so you have a personal response that reflects on your actual goals and aspirations. If there’s one thing interviewers are looking for, it’s genuine passion and interest.

What games are you currently playing?

We apologize for the lack of statistical evidence but we’re pretty confident that 100% of video game companies expect anyone who applies to actually play games. For a game dev to hire someone that doesn’t play games regularly is like a pet store hiring someone that hates animals or a bakery bringing aboard that has never baked a cake in their life.

First things first, you can’t go wrong with naming games the company that’s interviewing you developed – as long as you’re not lying. If you don’t happen to play any of their games, make an effort to pick it up and play it as much as you can before you send that application.

Riot Games, for example, even has you provide your Summoner name when filling one of their online applications. In fact, they not only ask what games you’ve played the past six months but also ask you to list your ten favorite games of all time.

In case it isn’t obvious yet, game developers EXPECT you to have some knowledge about their games if you want to work for them – just avoid sounding like a fanboy or fangirl.

If you happen to have a huge list of games you’re currently playing, focus on the ones that match the genre or style of the games the company develops. Are you interviewing at a studio that primarily makes first-person shooters? Don’t just mention the FPS games you play but prepare to explain why you think they’re fun or how you’d improve existing ones.

Lastly, some game job hirers admit they prefer when a potential new recruit mentions at least one or more older game. This shows that you’re not just a ‘latest release’ kind of gamer and can appreciate a well-designed game even if it’s five, ten, or even twenty years old.

Why do you want to work here?

This question is mainly asked to see if you’ve done your homework and/or actually know about the place you’re trying to work at. Remember: a recruiter’s responsibility to the team is finding people that will not only fit in but love the games being made there. So avoid terrible answers like ‘I need a job’ or ‘I hate my current job’ and instead make it clear to the hirer that you know what the company is all about.

When the interviewer asks you this question, do your best to reveal how much you know about the company, including their history, games, etc.

Instead of saying “Well, I love RPGs and you make RPGs so yeah”, go for a mix of flattery and knowledge without overdoing it. Mention that you love one (or more) of their game franchises and are greatly interested in using your talents to help take their next projects to another level.

And don’t panic if they ask why you want to leave your current job or left your last one. An interviewer asks this question to try and detect negativity in your response. In other words, they’re likely to assume you’ll be a problem with them if you cite incompetent co-workers or hating your boss as the reason you left, were fired, or want to leave.

Instead, offer a response that doesn’t mark you as difficult to work with. Saying that you left because you were no longer interested in the games they were making or saw no opportunity for career development is an understandable reason for leaving a job. Whether you were fired or left on your own, do your best to answer this question in a positive way.

What will you bring to the company?

This is another one of those interview questions that people find intimidating, mainly because there are several ways to approach it.

How you tackle this one mostly depends on both your knowledge of the place as well as how your talent and past experience serve to benefit them. If you lack either of these then perhaps you’re applying to the wrong place.

Being familiar with the company will make it easier for you to mark yourself as the missing puzzle piece to the interviewer. For example, if you know the company focuses on providing games that have excellent story-driven campaigns, you can answer this question by mentioning how your passion for storytelling in games would help make their games even better as their new Narrative Designer.

You can then bring up your qualities and previous experience to reinforce that statement. The fact that you’ve served as writer for several games before and have a genuine talent for narrative will hopefully convince the interviewer that you are in fact the person they need. They’re obviously hiring because they need someone – convince them that you’ll not only fit in but improve what they already have.

Note that it is possible to answer this question in a way that causes the interviewer to immediately X out your name. For example, avoid coming off as overpresumptuous by suggesting that the company is doomed to failure unless they hire you. Or if you know their games have a reputation for providing terrible multiplayer modes, saying something like “Your multiplayer sucks so I can make it better” isn’t the best idea.

Learn the skills you need before you get the interview. Check out the game design school at the New York Film Academy (campuses in New York and Los Angeles).

These are three of the most common questions you might encounter in a game design interview. Check out a few more in part 2 and part 3 of our series!

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