It’s no secret that the gaming industry is one of the most difficult to start, and maintain a career in. Hence, why comradery and networking are so important to developers. When starting a career as a developer, one has many questions and paths to take, but ultimately, no direct route to anything and no guarantees. It’s easy to give up and lose hope.
But that’s just one of many reasons why more established developers provide advice to the newcomers. There’s also the fact that having more developers in the industry means more games, more networking opportunities, and a stronger industry.
So what kind of tips do developers share with those just starting out? What is the most useful and most commonly distributed information?
Putting it simply, being social means you establish more connections. Establishing connections means you actively hear about job openings, and might even get an advantage of knowing someone important within a certain studio. It may sound like cheating, but ultimately who you know is just as important, if not more so, than what you know.
Yes, it is crucial to know what you’re doing. After all, there is fierce competition in the industry. But knowing someone who vouches for you, and is willing to help you expand your skill set, puts you at an advantage. Ultimately, you should keep practicing your craft, while making connections that could help you expand on it.
Build A Portfolio
It’s common sense, and yet, at this year’s GDC 2016, there was one session that proved this is a major point. “Audio Bootcamp: Why I Rejected You – Observations from a Hiring Manager,” with speakers Jessie Harlin and Michael Kamper made it clear that many developers are doing a poor job at building portfolios and applying to positions. Many tend to email their resume to hiring managers and nothing else. No cover letters, no portfolios. Truth of the matter, hiring managers, studios, large and small, all want to see what you’re capable of. They want to look through your portfolio and get to know you over a cover letter.
Resumes only get you so far in a creative field like gaming.
So, build a portfolio and add the link to your resume. It’s really simple and yet so important. Even if you don’t have anything to showcase for it yet, start yourself on Twine or any other program that lets people make small projects for their portfolios. There is a misconception that everything on your portfolio has to be related to a serious game you’re trying to release to the public with a team, but that doesn’t have to be the case. It can be a collection of things you’re working on as a hobby.
No, not the game by the same title, but really…don’t starve. Getting into the industry you have to keep in mind it’s one of the toughest to really get into. If you think you’ll land a great job, enough for a cushy living right out of the gate, you’re wrong. Get another job and combine it with the gaming.
It sounds harsh, but that’s the reality for most developers starting out: instability. It is a rare day when someone fresh out of college lands an opportunity with a well-known studio. It’s luck, timing, and connections. Rather than count on that happening, it’s best to take up a side job to feel financially secure, but still work on games as well. If it sounds difficult, managing both, it’s because it is.
But that comes with the territory. The test is do you want a career in gaming as badly as you claim?
Always Keep Learning
Learning doesn’t just end when college does. In an industry where everyone knows how to do more than just one thing, you need to be prepared as much, if not more than they are. Learning should be an integral part of your life, picking up new skills over time, both in and out of any team projects. Join game jams and use your knowledge to be an asset to the team. But also, learn from them. There’s always room to grow, there’s always new things to learn.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Ideally, when you’re not learning through a game jam, you should be practicing your skill set anyway, whether it’s alone, or in a team setting, like an indie studio. Most of what you do should revolve around gaming. It doesn’t mean you won’t have a life outside of gaming, it simply means it needs to be a priority, much like any relationships, day jobs, and the like. To have a career in games, you have to be dedicated. Never get rusty. Always move forward.
Keep in mind, learning is one thing, and practicing is another. You can’t truly learn anything if you don’t apply it, and improve upon it. That’s where practice comes in. Once you do something enough times, it becomes second nature, so you can focus your efforts on the things that you don’t already know.
It may seem intimidating at times, going into an industry with countless of talented people, all aiming for the same thing as you: work. Tips such as these vital and often shared within the industry, both to newcomers and those who may have simply lost their way a few years into the field. They’re shared for a reason, because they work. To earn employment, and gain the positions, you have to put in the effort.
But at the end of the day, it is possible if you’re dedicated.
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