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Seeking a job in the games industry - part one: The application process

Seeking a job in the games industry - part one: The application process

In this two-part series, Game Dragons consultant Philip Oliver offers advice on getting a job in games, from the application process through to the interview stage.

We have been lucky enough to have worked in the games industry for our entire working lives. We don’t take that for granted – we know how fortunate we are to have been able to do that.

Whilst it wasn’t something other people wanted to do, or even understood, in the early days, as every year goes by it becomes a more aspirational career choice. There are a huge number of students at universities now studying courses to help them learn the skills required to enter the games industry.

This article is written for those people, particularly in the UK. As an industry we are expanding and love to welcome new creative, passionate and talented people to help create the games of the future.

Having the passion

Having a passion for creating games is essential, and that's different from a passion for playing them. You almost certainly love games, but it's important you dedicate more of your time to learning the skills required to make them than you do to playing them.

You need drive and ambition to acquire the skills and, ultimately, to get into the games industry. Once in, the learning continues, and since games are so technical and the art is continually evolving, you can expect to keep learning your entire career. If you have that passion for making games, this is something you’ll look forward to.

Gaining the skills

The best place these days for learning the skills required for an entry-level position is by going to university. It’s not impossible to succeed without doing this, but it’s certainly far more difficult.

You need drive and ambition to acquire the skills and, ultimately, to get into the games industry.

There are now many courses focused on the different disciplines, primarily programming, art and design. These courses can teach you many of the skills required, and also provide you with the tools, time and direction to help you succeed. If you're not already at university you can find a list of all these courses on UCAS.

It’s important you find the one that’s right for you. The games industry trade body TIGA also has an accreditation scheme to help ensure courses are focused on what industry requires, with industry experts examining and verifying the course syllabus and quality of the output and engagement with the industry.

Find more details on the TIGA website.

Do your research

It's important you research the games studios you could potentially work for. Consider what part of the country you want to work in, what type and size of studio you’d like to work at and what type of games you would like to make.

That’s not to say you’ll necessarily get to work at your favourite or most desired studio, but you’ll stand a better chance if you know what you are aiming at.

There are maps of UK game studios on the Made in Creative UK website and the UKIE & NESTA Games Map.

Most studios list vacancies on their websites, so you can see what they say about the roles and what they expect from applicants. Some go into a lot of detail, so you can work out exactly what skills and knowledge you need. Make a list of questions as you look through - they’ll come in handy later.

At some point, you’ll feel you have the qualifications, skills and portfolio and are ready to apply for your first job.

Do not underestimate the hurdle! It’s a big risk for a games development studio to take on someone who has never worked in the industry, including costs (salary, hardware, software, office space) as well as time spent mentoring and supporting you.

Taking on someone with experience is far less risky. That’s tough for you now, but it means that once in, it’s easier to move if you need or want to.

The first company you join is your entry point. Plan to stay there a while. There’s a moral responsibility to see a game through before moving on if you can and the industry isn’t keen on perpetual movers. Hopefully, you’ll be very happy there for many years, but also be prepared for the unexpected.

The games industry is volatile and studios come and go, expand and downsize, so it’s unlikely you’ll be in the same studio for your entire career.

Preparing your CV

Studios get inundated with applications. You have to ensure yours stands out for all the right reasons. You need to come across as enthusiastic, passionate and proactive.

Be concise and focused in the personal statement, career goals and ambitions section of your CV.

Be honest. Most studios will now ask for evidence of qualifications, work experience and previous jobs prior to you starting with them, and a job offer will be conditional on them seeing all this. Be creative and show that you actively seek opportunities and make the most of them and that you are eager to learn.

Be concise and focused in the personal statement, career goals and ambitions section of your CV. It’s these few paragraphs, together with the overall presentation and portfolio, that is your opportunity to stand out and show your enthusiasm for creating games for a living.

Remember, you’ll be joining a team of talented game developers, so use language that shows you are keen to work as a team member and learn fast. Check spelling and grammar and have someone else proofread it for you.

Importance of the portfolio

The games industry is highly reliant upon portfolio work to assess your ability. Without this, you are not going to be considered. So what does your portfolio need to include?

Aim for quality over quantity since you'll be judged on your best and worst pieces - therefore it’s best to leave your worst pieces out. We recommend five to ten pieces that demonstrate your skills, relevant to the studio you are applying to. If those are great, they will know you can do more work to that standard.

A common error is to create one CV and one portfolio and send that to all prospective studios. Whilst they may include your best work, some of it may be irrelevant to the specific studio or role. If you are an artist, hopefully you have a broad range of skills and styles.

Think what each studio would like to see. If you are applying to a company that only does cartoon style games, it won't be those gritty horror pieces you have.

If you are a coder and can use Unity, Unreal BluePrints and C++, and you are applying to a studio that only does Unity games, there’s little point including demos that aren’t in Unity. Obviously your CV lists the additional skills.

Don’t expect people to load and run your demos — just provide videos and/or links to them on a website. It’s important to make reviewing your portfolio quick and easy.

The best way is to put your best work into one master folder and then create a folder per studio you want to apply to. Put in copies of the most relevant work and a version of your CV tailored to the games they create and the location of their studio.

Making your applications personalised and focused

Create a document or spreadsheet to track who you apply to, including notes on each studio, their focus, your research, thoughts, etc. Record the unique URL you’ve assigned to them, linking to the cloud storage location (Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive etcetera) or web page where they can access your CV and portfolio work.

As you send out each application - either by a form on their website, email, or even snail mail - make sure you make it clear when you are available to start and the position you are interested in.

Work placement

If you are looking for work placement opportunities, all of the above applies, as well as the duration of time you are able to work.

Create a great LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn is an important tool for professional connections and network building.

Don’t expect to be paid much, or given much responsibility, but it can be a good foot in the door. It’s your opportunity to gain experience for later applications, and if you impress them they may ask you to stay!

Investing to improve your chances

Create a great LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn is an important tool for professional connections and network building.

Ensure your Facebook profile is private, and that your Twitter and Instagram feeds represent you in a positive light. It’s not funny to retweet racist, sexist or offensive tweets, and this will lead to no interviews!

We think all game developers, whatever your discipline, need good all-round digital media skills. Show off your layout skills in your CV.

Create a video to showcase and sequence your portfolio work, and finally present it within a website - sites like Wix, Square Space or Wordpress are easy to use and cheap or even free. Artists can also use ArtStation, and you can have separate pages, only accessible with a private URL, for each studio application.

In the video, a voice-over can be useful to guide through what you are presenting and why, and if you’re confident, you could also appear in the video yourself.

This can communicate your personality, passion and enthusiasm - but have some honest friends review this to ensure it’s working for you and not accidentally against.

Use of employment agencies

Employment agencies have their place and you should consider them, but you should understand how they work. It costs you nothing to sign up with an agency and they will then promote your CV and portfolio to studios they have a relationship with.

Only sign up with one agency, and ensure you tell them who you’ve already applied to, so they don’t double up.

If you are taken on via this route, the employer will pay a commission fee to the agency for introducing you. Because this is the business model, a lot of studios prefer direct approaches; but since they are also keen to find the most talented people, most studios will also use them.

For you, it’s harder to have a personalised approach to each studio, but they will work for you, give good advice for free and find opportunities you weren’t aware of.

Only sign up with one agency, and ensure you tell them who you’ve already applied to, so they don’t double up, and then charge their fee if you get that role. They will also need access to your full portfolio.

What’s next

So that’s taken us through qualifications, preparing your portfolio and CV, and making the applications. In the next article, you’ll find tips for the interview process.

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