How to Get a Job in the Gaming Industry

10 tips from the inside on how to break into the biz
By - Thrrrpptt!

C'mon, admit it. Even if only in passing, you've dreamed of a job in the gaming industry. Not everybody decides to pursue those dreams, but many do. The first workshop to take place at Quakecon 2001 Thursday was entitled "How Do I Get Your Job?", and was moderated by id's Paul Jaquays. The intent of the talk was to give aspiring artists, coders, game designers, and developers tips on how to break into the industry. In addition to Jaquays, five other professionals from around the industry were on the panel:
  • Graeme Devine, programmer and game design with id Software
  • Brian "Bobo The Seal" Jones, artist with Ritual Entertainment
  • Drew "Rogue 13" Risch, Architect and level designer for Sony
  • Jim Hughes, game designer for Raven
  • Pat Jones, 2D Artist with Ritual
Want to know what you can start doing right now to better your odds of breaking into the industry and stay there? Read on, as I've summarized the talk into 10 handy tips.

Tip #10: Be persistent
The value of being a pest cannot be overstated. "You've got to keep bugging them." said Brian "Bobo the Seal" Jones from Ritual. Persistence pays off. Jones said he sent email after email, with links to his portfolio website, telling developers whenever he had something new and great to show them. While you've got to be careful to not cross the line into being intrusive or irritating, keeping focussed and making sure that potential employers don't forget about you is important.

Tip #9: Never stop learning
If there was one thread that ran through all five presentation, it was this: Never ever stop learning. Use all the tools at your disposal to learn how to hone your craft and improve your skills. The list of resources for this is almost endless -- tutorials on the Internet, books, other artists or coders, feedback from developers, and whatever else you can find.

"What's good about the 'net is that it's world wide," said Jim Hughes from Raven. Jim learned the value of this first hand by releasing his Quake 2 maps out to the community and getting feedback on how to improve them from people around the globe. Ritual's Pat Jones also stressed the importance of learning the fundamentals of the gaming business from the folks he worked with as a tech support rep. "It was the bottom of the barrel," he noted, but it was a fertile learning ground for someone new to the biz.

Some of the best feedback available to any aspiring artist or coder comes from their future employers themselves. Several of the participants stressed that they would hang on every word of feedback they received when showing their portfolios, and would take it all to heart.

Finally, if nothing else, you can learn by doing. Pat Jones mentioned that he learned a lot simply by cracking open the source code and documentation that id made available for its games. "They give you the whole recipe for a game in there," he pointed out, stressing how valuable a contribution to upcoming members of the industry.

Tip #8: Finish what you start
Several of the panel members also noted that it was important to actually finish the projects you start on. When you show someone your portfolio, it obviously helps to have a variety of high quality and finished works to advertise your talents. "You've got to release FINISHED stuff," emphasized Raven's Jim Hughes. "Get your stuff done." It pays, in other words, not to get distracted by the next big thing or the next new tool until you've finished with the last one.

Tip #7: Build a good reputation (i.e., don't be a tool)
Though a solid reputation as a skilled professional doesn't hurt, that's not exactly what some panelists meant by this point. "What goes around, comes around," noted Sony's Rogue 13. "Don't be an idiot. Be professional. Be respectful of others and treat them fairly."

This advice is particularly relevant when interacting with other members of the gaming scene in IRC or messageboards. You never really know who you're talking to, or who will oversee the "conversations" you have with others. A solid reputation as a fair guy or gal who would be nice to work with can go very far. You're going to have a much more difficult time getting hired if everyone thinks of you as a total tool.

Tip #6: Be ready to work really hard
You're going to work hard in this industry, so depending on how you look at it, now is the right time to either a) start working late nights honing your skills and learning your trade, or b) get your sleep in while you can. Everyone on the panel nodded glumly whenever someone else mentioned long hours at the office or sleeping under their desks during crunch time.

Everyone on the panel said they were used to these conditions, though, having already learned to sacrifice their evenings, weekends, and other spare moments a long time ago. Just about everyone spun a tale about how they would do skins, programming, modeling, or art whenever they could find a few minutes away from other responsibilities. It's good advice, and good practice.

Tip #5: Do your homework
This goes hand-in-hand with tip #9, "Never stop learning." But to take things a step further, make sure you do your research and learn the right things. Graeme Devine from id mentioned that one of the things he looks for in programmers is not only the ability to solve problems, but to be able to do so with established tools that don't require you to waste time "recreating the wheel."

If you're a modeler or artist, learn the tools of your trade. The 'net is chock full of free resources to help you do your research. Tutorials, messageboards, and other documents are relatively easy to find, and well worth it. Keep tabs on what's going on in the scene, and be ready to talk about it if you find yourself in an impromptu interview.

Tip #4: Network
It helps to know the right people in any line of work, and the gaming industry is no exception. Several panel member stressed the importance of networking and getting to know as many people on the scene as you can. "Network!" said Jaquays in his summation remarks. "Go to conventions like Quakecon, E3, and whatever else you can." It's here that you'll meet peers and potential employers on less defensive terms. You can talk to them and introduce yourself without having to try to get past receptionists or get authorized on their ICQ lists.

Graeme Devine furthered this point by encouraging everyone interested in working in the gaming industry to join the International Game Developer Association, or IGDEA (www.IGDEA.org). This is a professional society of game developers and those who hope to become game developers, and it provides meetings and forums where you can network and make yourself better known.

Tip #3: Put a portfolio together
You won't make it far on the job hunt without an organized collection of your work to show off. Two of the artists on the panel described their online portfolios in detail. A good way to go with such a collection is a webpage where you can offer online examples of your work and even just put your files (such as skins, maps, or models) up for easy download.

"Only show your best stuff," said Ritual's Brian Jones, and others agreed. Give a sample of the best work that you're capable of, but show as much variety as possible. Jones described how he had multimedias, pencils, inks, colors, downloadable skins, and other files available in his online portfolio.

Tip #2: Use your previous jobs and skills
Many of the presenters came from jobs that were totally unrelated from gaming, but they all mentioned how they took skills from their previous jobs and applied them.

Rogue 13 was an architect before moving to Sony to be a level designer on PlanetSide. His experience there served him well, and he was even asked to show examples of his architectural work as part of his portfolio for Sony. Brian "Bobo The Seal" Jones took his experience doing comic book art and used it to help him build an impressive portfolio. Even Pat Jones owned his own tattoo shop in Dallas before working for Ritual as a 2D artist.

Tip #1: Get involved with the community
Another strong theme that ran through many of the presentations was that getting involved with the community, especially a mod project, was a great way to get a jump start into the gaming industry. Several of the artists mentioned getting involved with mods like Quake 3 Fortress or others in order to learn, network, and build an impressive portfolio of work.

Even if you don't get involved with a mod group, it's a good idea to get involved with the community somehow. Submit maps or skins to be reviewed. Help out on bulletin boards with coding problems. Write tutorials and post them. Create a website dedicated to whatever it is that you do.

If you have something that you can point at and say "I did this, and it was good," then you're way ahead of the competition.

So there you have it! Ten easy (or not so easy) commandments straight from the experts to get you on your way into a dream job in the gaming industry. What are you waiting for? Get to it!

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