Finding a job in videogame development may seem like a dream
to some, but it is a dream that is realizable. If you are looking to work in
the videogame industry, one of the most important things to recognize is
that development teams are often quite large and diverse. This is a boon to
someone who wants to break into the market because there are many job
opportunities in a broad range of fields.
Today, those opportunities are more prevalent than ever, as
the industry is currently in an era of unprecedented growth.
For instance, the US Bureau of Labor predicts that the
growth of software publishing, of which videogame development is a part, will
expand by 67.9 percent between 2002 and 2012. This makes it the fastest growing
industry across all sectors. In fact, revenue from computer games now
exceeds that of Hollywood box office, and this will likely continue —
that's because players can now get a feature film's complex and lifelike art
with which they can interact.
Regardless of the industry's growth, a job in the videogame
industry is very desired, and competition is cutthroat. While the career paths
listed below are nearly always present in a top team, they are not the only
ones available. Understanding the types of jobs that are available will help a
person get started quickly on a rewarding career.
KNOW THE TERRITORY
What are the magical career fields that add up to a
videogame development team? The primary ones are: programming, visual arts,
audio, production, design and quality assurance.
The first four usually require extensive training and/or a
degree in the field. To get anyone's attention within the industry, programmers
must know more than just the basics of object-oriented programming — usually
more than can be learned in the average school. Artists must demonstrate that
they can produce quality work with Adobe's Photoshop and, quite often, with 3D
packages like Softimage|XSI or Autodesk's Maya or 3DS Max. Audio people must be
ready to produce and record the myriad sounds used within a game and/or be able
to compose drop-dead musical scores to compliment the action within a game.
To make things more confusing, or intriguing perhaps, there
are more advanced positions like technical artist (something akin to an artist
and a programmer combined) or an audio programmer (someone who is able to make
the audio inputs work within the game's engine). Quite often, these are careers
that someone attains only after learning and growing for a period within the
The last two positions on the list are jobs that are
less specific and more magical.
Designers come from a wide variety of sources, but they must
be passionate about the way games play and be interested in devising new ways
for users to play them. In most game shops, designers must also be able to
use or learn to use software-based tools that help establish gameplay modes and
Quality assurance in the context of a videogame development
team means game testers. Testers are hired because they can demonstrate an
ability to play a wide variety of games, to categorize various aspects that
don't work or need improvement, and to validate aspects of a game that work
exactly as they are expected to. It is common to see the best testers
moving up into designer positions.
KNOW THE INDUSTRY
If you're not in the industry, how can you possibly know it?
Don't despair. First, be a voracious reader of industry Websites such as
Gamasutra.com and of trade publications. They chronicle the ups and downs of
the industry, provide information and reviews of industry-standard
software, and provide an idea of which companies are hiring and what the
requirements are. (An updated job board, for instance, can be found on the
Website of Post sister publication CGW — www.cgw.com)
Second, network your butt off. Chances are that if you apply
the "six degrees of separation" rule, you know someone, who knows someone
who works in the industry, and it's up to you to find that contact. Don't worry
about being a pest; a lot of people working in the industry are pests — and now
you know why. Shy people only make it into the industry if they have a Ph.D in
applied physics (or something geeky like that). So get out there and find that
person who will give you a break.
What are you good at? Do you sketch in a notebook? Do you
doodle out a more elegant piece of looping code on a napkin at a posh
Well, that may be enough, but probably not in an industry
that is increasingly packed with very competent job candidates. Compared to 20
(or even 10) years ago, there now are myriad schools that not only provide
training within art and programming, but actually offer courses and majors to
help students make the direct jump into the games industry. So, if you truly
aspire to a job in videogame development, identify your skills and work out a
direct path to obtaining demonstrable skills that will help you to shine.
WHERE TO GO, WHAT TO
As mentioned, there are many houses of learning with
programs of study dedicated to the videogame industry.
Videogame artists are born, but they are also trained.
The first place to start is by reviewing the numerous Websites, books and
magazines to find examples of character and environment designs. This
information is more prolifically available than at any other time in history,
so take advantage of it. If you need to, get yourself into a degree program
that will also help you to produce a portfolio of your work.
The Art Institute, for instance, has outlets in most major
US cities, and it offers a comprehensive degree program in Game Art and Design,
as does the Savannah College of Art and Design. Such institutions are a good
place to start on the pathway to becoming a videogame artist.
In fact, a large number of colleges provide degree programs
that will enable a person with the appropriate skill set to learn what is
required in C++, DirectX and OpenGL programming. In addition, programmers with
the "right stuff" can sometimes obtain internships with large videogame
developers, an opportunity that allows them to hone their skills in a
real-world environment prior to graduation.
I want to emphasize this again: don't be shy. Once you are
armed with a good resume and samples of your work, get yourself and your work
in front of employers as quickly as possible. There are jobs out there
available for people of all skill levels, but the benefits don't always go to
the best, but rather to the quickest (and the loudest).
While it is always possible to blanket the world with
resumes and to contact every recruiter on the planet, one of the most
valuable tools that anyone (even someone who is still in school) can use is
called the "informational interview." You conduct an informational interview to
enlarge your professional network, but sometimes it leads to employment.
Here's how. First, identify the occupation you're seeking
(hopefully it is one of those mentioned above). Assess your own interests,
abilities, values and skills, and evaluate labor conditions and trends to
identify the best fields to research. Read all you can about the field before
the interview. Decide what information you would like to obtain about the
occupation/industry, and then prepare a list of questions. This preparation
helps expand your knowledge of the industry even before you conduct the
Second, identify influential people within that industry who
would be beneficial to interview. These can include, but are not limited
to, friends you already have in the industry, working professionals, or members
of industry trade organizations.
Third, schedule your interviews. Contact the resource
person, preferably by telephone or letter, although you can also have a mutual acquaintance or friend make
the appointment for you. Above all, be professional, and be sure to follow
up a written letter with a phone call — many industry pros are too busy to
respond to a letter.
Last, never ask for a job during the interview. It's
entirely possible that if you are prepared, organized, and professional
during the interview, the interviewee will think highly enough of you to offer
you a position sometime at a later date. However, remember that is not the
express reason for this type of interview.
Informational interviews (and job interviews) have many
benefits. They allow persons to obtain information about a specific career
field, expand their network, gain insight into hidden jobs that might be
available, become more savvy about the hiring process that company executives
go through, and gain confidence in themselves as well as their capabilities.
In summary, be organized in your training, prepare a resume
and portfolio of your work, and approach employers — in the end, this will help
you realize your dream and stop it from turning into a nightmare.
Paris-born Patrick Jamaa received a MSc. in Computer
Graphics. Four of Jamaa's six years in the videogame industry have been spent
with Rockstar Games; he has worked on Grand Theft Auto 3, Grand Theft Auto:
Vice City, Midnight Club3: Dub Edition and Rockstar Table Tennis. Today, he is a Senior Artist with Rockstar Games (www.rockstargames.com). He can be
reached at: Patrick.Jamaa@rockstarsandiego.com.