One of the most common questions we get is what advice we have for people who are thinking about getting into the games industry.
Here's what I usually tell people:
1. That thing about parachutes and colors
First, realize that there are lots of different types of career paths into and through the games business. There's game design, programming, art, animation, audio, marketing, advertising, testing (QA), project management, etc. Even on small teams like ours games are usually made by multiple people, each contributing something unique.
Identify your area of interest: What skills do you already have? What are you passionate about? What do you think you could be good at? If you feel like you have options, you might also want to consider how hireable/desirable different professions are. Programmers have an easier time getting hired and typically get paid more than, say, game designers. But of course it takes more time to train up your skills in programming.
It's not a bad idea to get a college degree. I know you hear stories all the time about people getting into the tech business without a degree, but trust me, it's easier if you have one. Recruiters and interviewers will just take you more seriously, and in a competitive industry like ours every little bit helps. It doesn't have to be from Harvard or anything -- there are a lot of vocational schools these days that have great game design departments.
Your degree doesn't have to be game-specific. I have found my B.A. in English to be extremely useful to me throughout my career; it helped me move from production artist to lead artist and creative director. I would not be where I am right now without it.
3. Show your skills
Equally as important as a college degree (maybe more important) is your portfolio of work. Of course that makes sense if you're an artist, but it applies if you're in other disciplines as well. Looking to get into programming? Roll your own rendering engine or physics demo. Designer? Create level layouts and spreadsheets with ability/stat balancing for an RPG. Marketing? Write up analysis of a popular game franchise and create marketing plans for how you would launch the next iteration in the series.
One piece of advice I have about portfolios: It's better to have just a few really high quality examples, than a bunch of mediocre examples. Be a ruthless editor and don't include anything that doesn't measure up.
When you're first getting started, you won't have a lot of on the job experience, so you need to create your own experience. The best thing you can do is team up with other people from other disciplines and try actually making some small games. Mobile, PC mod, whatever. Don't be too ambitious, just concentrate on small, quick, fun games that you can learn from, set aside and start a new one. Every game development experience, even the bad ones (sometimes especially the bad ones) is a learning experience. And employers in the future will love to see that you're motivated and creative enough to do stuff on your own time.
4. Job? I don't need no stinkin' job!
You'll probably ask yourself at some point: Do you even need to get a job? There are a lot of opportunities for small indie game developers these days. You can make your own stinkin' job, right?!
Technically this is true. But remember that are 1000's of games released every day on mobile and PC, and 99% of them don't make any money. Of the remaining 1%, 99% of THEM maybe make enough money to buy themselves a coffee every day. I know it's tempting to skip getting a job and go straight to founding your own mobile development studio. And that might work for you. But if you can manage it, getting a job at a major company like Zynga or Kixeye or EA or 2K is an invaluable experience, and one that will give you a big leg up on the competition if you ever do decide to try the indie thing.
When you do get a job, here's some random bits of advice:
- Be humble and realize that there's a lot to learn even from the most basic or mundane-seeming gigs in the industry.
- Look up from your desk and absorb as much as you can about the process of making games that's happening all around you.
- Meet people outside your discipline or department. Learn what they do.
- Ask questions.
Above all be patient, it's a competitive industry to get into but it can be an incredibly rewarding one!