What You Need To Learn To Work In The Game Industry

Many young people (and to me, college-aged is “young”) tell me that they want to break into the game industry yet have no clear idea about what work they actually want to do in it. All they know is that they “want to make games.” Unfortunately for them, positions in the game industry are highly specialized, and you need to have the right education, experience, or portfolio of work to be considered for them.

Here are some of those positions, and what’s you need to learn if you want to pursue them.

Programmer: You can obtain an entry-level games programmer position if you have either an excellent knowledge of the required programming languages — C++ for console/PC games and objective C or Java for mobile games — and a portfolio of examples to back this up. Most big companies require you to have a Bachelor’s Degree, preferably in Computer Science or Software Engineer, although self-taught programmers are sometimes hired if they impress the hiring managers with their knowledge and skill.

An entry-level position is normally that of Junior Programmer. In this position you will often be implementing other people’s designs under the watchful eye of a more experienced software engineer. It is unlikely that you will remain in a junior position for too long as the games industry is very dynamic and it is possible to rise through the programming ranks very quickly. Many programmers specialize in certain areas such as engine programming, tools programming, AI, multiplayer, audio, client-server interactions, and so on.

Artist/Animator: Artists are needed not only to create the graphics needed in the game itself, but also to do art for packages, promotional materials, and websites. People interested in becoming artists should get a four-year degree as an arts major. You should be adept at using art software such as PhotoShop, Illustrator or Maya, but just as important, you should be trained in traditional art concepts and theory.

Hiring managers look for a spectacular portfolio when interviewing artists, so you should be creating a lot of game art on your own. Employers also look for passion in their artists. If you just create some art because you “have to” to get a job, you’re not going to get very far. The successful artist is constantly drawing, sketching, animating… and talking about comics, cartoons, animated films, anime, manga, even classical art.

Designer: Game designers don’t just come up with the idea for a game — anyone can do that! — they create all the content and rules for creating the player experience. Large-scale games ames need several designers, focusing on particular aspects of the game such as the levels, game economy, user interface, and artificial intelligence. The lead designer is an experienced designer who also has managerial skills.

Game Designer is not an entry level position. That means that if you do not have any prior experience working in a game company, you’ll likely not be hired for the position. You do need a four-year degree — although it can be in a wide range of majors such as Art, Film, History, Computer Science, Economics, or English, since a game designer needs to know a little bit about everything, anyway.

There are schools that offer degrees in Game Design, and this will help you build up a portfolio needed to get you an entry level job — although, as I said, most likely not as a game designer. Game designers usually start out in Level Design, Q.A., Production, Programming, Art, Audio, Customer Support, or Marketing.

To prepare to embark on a career as a Game Designer, you should play a wide variety of games, analyze them as to why they are fun or not, and make games or game levels on your own. You don’t need to be an expert programmer to be a Game Designer, but it helps to know a bit about game programming, so it helps to download Game Maker, Game Salad, Unity or Unreal and learn how to use them to make games from the wide variety of online tutorials available.

Audio: A career in game audio also should begin with a four-year degree. Study music, the physics of sound, even psychology. Learn about musical instruments, acting, directing, and how speakers are constructed. Learn about computers.

Sound engineers in the game industry handle the creation and recording of sound effects, music, and voice-overs in games, as well as tinkering with sound files to match corresponding animations or laying down tracks in a cinematic. So, skills.

Most sound engineers in the game industry are freelancers, going from one contract gig to another, so you do need to also have skills in selling yourself.

Production: Producers (or Development Directors, Project Managers) oversee the entire development process. The producer’s task is to both get the game done, but also ensure that it’s fun. That means constantly balancing resources and scope to hit schedule, cost, and quality goals. For big projects, the Producer may have one or more Associate Producers and Production Coordinators helping take on the workload

This also is not an entry-level position. You typically need at least 2 or 3 years in the game industry to be a producer. Producers often get their start in the game industry in QA, programming, art, design or even marketing, or even game design. The producer cares about much more than just the budget, the schedule, and the personnel management. The producer’s task isn’t just to get the game done no matter what – it’s a big balancing act. S/he has to not only get it done, but also make it fun.

Writing: Game writers need to know how to write and write well, both creatively and technically — character biographies, game world descriptions, missions and quests, dialog, player instructions. Most hiring managers look for game writers who already have experience writing (published) stories or (produced) television/film scripts.

Quality Assurance: Testing is an entry-level job, and it is how many people break into the game industry, particularly if they don’t have a degree in programming, art, or business. Hiring managers look for testers who not only play a lot of games but also have good observation and communication skills and who are diligent despite long, tedious hours and low pay.

The game industry also has positions available in Accounting, Finance, Marketing, Sales, Human Resources, Information Technology, Office Management, and other roles you would find in most other businesses, and these all require the relevant degrees and/or experience.

This is where a more general degree in Game Production or Game Design may come in handy.

Just remember that whatever job you want to get in the video game industry requires you to actually know something beyond just how to play them.

Now, you can enter the game industry as a generalist, but that often means working at a small company where the chances of success are even smaller than working at a large studio or publisher. You need to have a broad range of skills, and perhaps in each one being only “good” instead of “great”.  This is where a more general degree in Game Production or Game Design may come in handy.

Just remember that whatever job you want to get in the video game industry requires you to actually know something beyond just how to play them.



About David Mullich

I am a video game producer who has worked at Activision, Disney, Cyberdreams, EduWare, The 3DO Company and the Spin Master toy company. I am currently a game design and production consultant, a game design instructor at ArtCenter College of Design, and co-creator of the Boy Scouts of America Game Design Merit Badge. At the 2014 Gamification World Congress in Barcelona, I was rated the 14th ranking "Gamification Guru" in social media.

Posted on October 19, 2015, in Career Advice. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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