How to Break into the Video Game Industry

The video game industry is exploding, which is good news for those hoping to turn their passion for games into a full time gig. A love of video games—the stories, the strategies, the look and feel of them—propels many people to seek out careers as video game designers, artists, and producers. However, to break into this highly competitive industry you need more than 75 hours a week of WOW on your resume. Here are some of the most effective strategies to break into the gaming industry:

1.    Get educated
Whether you choose an industry specific school or a more traditional university, getting a degree will greatly increase your chances for finding employment.  Industry specific schools offer extensive hands-on experience with the latest technology, something you probably won’t get at a traditional college. For example, Recording Arts Canada offers degrees in digital media that include intensive lab classes in 3-D modeling, simulation, and interactivity. If you follow the traditional university route, a focus on math, programming, or art will make you more marketable.  

2.    Develop a portfolio 
Breaking in as an artist is next to impossible without a portfolio, and this is one of the things schools and universities can help you develop. Tim Coman, Art Director at Day 1 Studios, said, “It’s important to have a strong portfolio that shows your work is on par or better than the work the company is currently doing.” 

3.    Network  
You have to have the skills to back it up, but leveraging contacts will help get you that first interview. Get an internship at a gaming company.  Attend gaming conferences like GDC, SIGGRAPH, or E3 to meet industry insiders.

4. Learn to use the tools of the trade
It is especially important for aspiring artists to be able to use one or more of the 3-D modeling software programs.  Game Designer Tim Fields said, “Master as many different types of content building software as you can. Every one you learn will make learning the next one easier.”  The hot new tool may be obsolete by the time you get your first job, so you need to be flexible, adaptable, and eager to learn new software and hardware.

5.    Pay your dues
Many people get their foot in the door of the gaming industry as Quality Assurance testers who make about $25,000; these are the folks that play games continually to look for bugs.  In many companies, these jobs serve as a kind of informal apprenticeship for becoming game designers.  If you do manage to get a QA job, demonstrate a good work ethic and learn everything you can.  You never know who might be watching you to see if you have what it takes to be a designer.

6.    Play a variety of games
You might love playing role playing games, but end up getting an interview for the hot new baseball console game.  Position yourself for success by becoming familiar with how all games work—not just your favorite kinds.  Game Designer David Beyer said, “Try different platforms and take notes as you play. Your ability to dissect a game and describe what makes it successful is crucial.”

7.    Have realistic expectations
Making video games can be very lucrative, but the salaries start off modestly.  According to the 2006 Game Developer Salary Survey as reported on the Gamasutra website, entry level artists’ make around $46,000, but lead artists with 6 or more years of experience more than doubled that at approximately $99,000.  For game design, entry level jobs paid on average $43,000, while more experienced lead designers made around $89,000.

Works Cited

Gamasutra. “2006 Game Developer Salary Survey Reveals Industry Trends.”  http://www.gamasutra.com/phpbin/news_index.php?story=13352