How to Get a Job in Video Game Design and Win!

How many bosses must you kill to score a gig in video game design? Just one.  The one that will hire you!

And trust me, I do contract work with Electronic Arts in Los Angeles, and video game company culture is a blast.  The bigger studios call themselves “campuses” and working on-site is a great experience, between collaborating with amazing artists, producers, animators and writers, as well as enjoying the perks, like free passes to E3 (while getting paid to be there)  or using the campus amenities, like the cafes and gyms or amazing discounts at the company store!

Just like a video game, a video game company has many levels.  And you’ve got to navigate through them to score a job. To get a career in video game design, you must think of yourself like a first person shooter. You’re going after a set of targets.  Think of the kinds of games you like and what companies create them.  These are your target companies.

Level one is the detective work. Established game companies have websites. And there are lots of game industry job websites.  CreativeHeads.net is just one example. And you can find great video game design jobs here on our job board (click on “Get a Job” and key in the words video game design and the city you’re interested in- or just go to http://artschool.jobamatic.com – i’ve already keyed it in for you- go ahead- just click on it-). Find companies in your local area, or in an area you are planning to relocate to very soon. If you are finished with your education, and you are looking for a job in the game biz, you need to live in a city with gaming companies. If you don’t live in such a city, seriously, you need to move. Preferably BEFORE you go for a game job. Heck, i never would have gotten on Spielberg’s dev team at EALA if I’d have stayed in amish country in PA!

Don’t get lost thinking about just one specific target company. Find multiple companies to contact. Find out names of people to contact at each company. If you know someone who knows someone at a game studio, get in touch them now and find out to whom you should send your resume and/or reel. If you don’t know anybody who knows somebody, call the company and ask for the names of the Human Resources heads- they fill the positions at the company. And here’s a cheat code: Another technique is to actually READ the names on game credits. Google those people.

Most companies will have you apply online these days. The importance of an online portfolio and well written resume cannot be emphasized enough. While it’s always best to be yourname.com, it is somewhat acceptable to have a deviantart page, etc.  You can find tips on branding yourself in my free download from THE ART STUDENT’S GUIDE TO THE REAL WORLD, available here on whatyoudidntlearninartschool.com -If companies want to receive a physical portfolio, include about 20 pages or so.

So you apply and what do you do while you wait?

Learn the real “language” of development and check behind-the-scenes stories. Add Gamasutra, GameDev.net and AltDevBlogADay to your daily news feed. Pay attention to the developer blogs section. These sites also provide public job boards in the industry –check out what studios are actively seeking in candidates.  Industry peeps post on everything from technical aspects of the process to corporate culture at the studios.

Read Game Design Workshop by Tracy Fullerton and Go Make YOUR OWN Games!

If you want to be a game designer, the best thing in the world you can do is actually working on a game. It doesn’t have to be the best game ever made – and being a newb, it probably won’t be, but you’ll learn more from making a mistake or two or three or more. All that matters is that you’re doing it.

Find an engine that works for you. Like the cheaper/free options: Unity (super popular free license 3D engine), HTML5, Flash/Flex, GameMaker, GameSalad and Adventure Game Studio are total winners.

Follow up, but don’t be a pest.  Bonus points to you when you score an interview. Don’t do a 3-piece suit. Nobody in a game studio wears a suit, except maybe “the suits” at the top. Wear clean, presentable clothes. No shorts to the interview.  Look the part of a creative, but keep it together – No holes in your shirt, except maybe the ones for your head and arms to stick through. Bring your portfolio, a digital version on your laptop is great and makes you look tech-y, but have something printed out to leave behind with samples and make sure your name and contact info is plainly visible on it.

The main thing you bring to the interview, is yourself. Make eye contact and be energetic, but don’t be a freak. Your goal is to get in and hired. Find out what job openings are available. Focus on openings suited to your skills and interests. Accept a job, any job, so you can move forward to being a real live game designer. Don’t think you’re going to get a senior position at a super high pay grade…yet. Sometimes even starting out in QA ( quality assurance, i.e., game testing) is a step in the right direction.  Getting paid to play all day ain’t so bad!

And here’s a reality check : Since you are starting out, you will NOT be remote or telecommuting; you will be showing up to the actual office for work every day. Only the very experienced industry veterans manage to work out the elusive telecommuting arrangements. You are still a newb.

Good luck-  Let me know how you do!

4 Comments

  1. Great article Renee. Definitely should help the newcomers.

    • Renee Reeser Zelnick |

      Tom- SO nice of you respond- I’ve been blessed to freelance in all sectors of media arts, i really LOVE game art and animation- these are the folks that really live in imagination 🙂

      • Fantastic article! Thank you! I am a freelancer who works mostly for Disney Consumer Products but am looking to expand my clientele. I specialize in character art, I do both traditional and digital and I used to work in the game industry several years ago~how would I go about getting back in on a freelance basis? I am no newbie and would love to do something like what I do now~art which goes on packaging. Is it possible that you can take a look at what I do on my blog and make a suggestion? Thanks, Renee, I will read more of your articles! Thank you for being so informative and supportive for this industry!

        • Renee Reeser Zelnick |

          Hello Kimberly!
          I used to work at DCP all the time! Before computers lol- i’m releasing a few ebooks soon this very subject- Breaking into any new industry segment relies on relationship building and research. Start looking at the forums and hitting the conferences to connect. LOVE your blog- especially the skectch of the chihuahua geisha!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *