Getting into Games
3 steps to unlocking a career in the games industry
“What do you want to do when you grow up?”
“I want to work in games.”
“Kid, you got no chance — there’s no career in games.”
For my generation, this was the reaction I heard almost every time I spoke about wanting to work in games. Parents, family and friends all tried to explain to me how it wasn’t going to be possible. Despite everyone my age running home from school to play games apparently there was no chance of getting a career in this industry.
Good news everyone, in 2017 the games industry is now worth over $100 billion and there has never been more opportunity to get that career in games then right now.
But here’s the challenge: there are more and more jobs, however the quality of the people being hired continues to increase every single day.
So what does that mean for you? If you’re looking for a career in games, what can you do to get ahead and put yourself in the best place to be the one who is hired?
I’m going to try to break this down into three steps that will help you focus and start of the path to success.
Step 1: Find your passion
When I said I wanted to work in games if anyone had actually asked me what I wanted to do specifically I would have been at a loss. I hadn’t actually educated myself on how games are made.
Around the age of 14 I took the steps to get educated. My very first step was discovering a little something called RPG Maker which I began to dabble in and I quickly became aware that if I was going to get into games it would be in programming. From that point on I continued to practice, I picked up more programming languages, and I began to shift my education towards anything that would teach me more and more about programming, eventually leading to a degree in Games Computing.
That was my path. You need to find yours.
And the best thing about the games industry is it’s so much broader than you probably ever imagined. Games companies need developers, artists, animators, but they also need accountants, lawyers, social media managers and on and on and on. There are so many different entry points that if you want it, you can get it.
So what you need to do is discover what your passion is. Experiment with different things and find what connects with you. Programming was the thing that clicked with me, and every day I go to work and love it because I’m doing what I love to do.
And here’s the thing — you might not find your passion on your first try. If it doesn’t feel right, pivot and look around again. Is there something else that’s calling out to you? Well, give that a try then!
Whatever it is, make this the thing you live and breath. Because if you find your passion once you enter that interview it should shine from you and be so obvious to everyone in the room that you are the person they want to hire.
Step 2: Learn your trade
Once you’ve found your passion, the next thing is to learn your trade. Passion is good, but you need to build depth of knowledge.
Depending on your age, one of the biggest questions you’ll find yourself facing is whether you require a university degree or not. And the answer is, it depends on you.
What does a degree get you?
It gets you a structured program for learning; it gets you access to lecturers who you can (and should) glean for as much knowledge as possible; and it gets you access to an absolute ton of resources (that you should make more use of than you probably will — seriously ask most people who have been to University and they’ll admit this).
And at the end, you receive that mythical piece of paper: the degree. This item is said to have magical qualities such as the ability to unlock the doors to HR departments and gain you an interview.
Once in that interview, you are armed with at least three years of learning and projects that you can show off and talk about. You can discuss all the challenges that you overcame and those group projects you worked on and how you were such a good team-player which would make you an excellent fit for their team.
What happens if you can’t get a degree?
While a degree has huge potential for unlocking doors, there are those who either don’t have access to higher education (due to money, grades or your current life situation) or that method of learning doesn’t suit you. However, this doesn’t have to be a blocker to getting a career in games — it is still a very real possibility, however, it will require a different path and set of skills such as self-discipline. You need to stay true to your ambition and sacrifice as much of your free time as possible to learning.
Much of this learning may be similar to a degree but it will require you to seek out this information rather than it being handed to you in a neatly-packaged programme.
Thankfully there’s a wonderful thing called the Internet filled with an unbelievable amount of resources that you can learn from — and the best thing about this is so much of it is free! Unlike university, it requires time and energy on your part to find the resources you require but almost anything you want to know is out there. There are also communities full of like-minded people that you can connect to which allow you to share knowledge.
Regardless of what route you take, this point in your journey requires a large amount of learning to prepare you for a career in games. If you can couple that knowledge with a passion to work in games, it leads us on to our final point…
Step 3: Make something
Obvious right? Wrong.
Unfortunately (or fortunately for you, the motivated individual) people take all this learning and never create something of their own.
Instead they leave their lectures and computer labs and instantly switch off — choosing to spend their time watching TV or playing games, instead of spending any of their time investing in their future.
What better way to show off everything you’ve accomplished then by having a game of your own that you can demonstrate. Going through this process helps you understand everything that goes into game development — from initial planning all the way to publishing your game.
It doesn’t need to be large or even complete — you can present alongside it, explaining what you were trying to achieve. You can discuss how and why you made it the way you did. You can discuss your learnings and how you would improve it if you started again.
If you don’t feel like you have the whole skill set necessary to create a game, there are communities online which allow you to connect to others and build up a team that can work together (more skills that you can bring up in an interview!).
This exercise of practical learning requires self-discipline and sacrifice but all of it helps push you ahead of the pack and shows those in the industry that yes, this is something you truly want and that you are the correct person to hire.
Passion. Expertise. Discipline.
Following these three steps require a huge amount of effort and along the way you will undoubtedly face challenges that made you question if it’s all worth it.
Let me tell you it is.
My whole childhood was filled with dreams of working in games, and to know that I am living that dream now is an unbelievable privilege.
If that is your dream too, then I encourage you to take the steps to achieving it. Good luck.