How to get a job as Game Designer at Electronic Arts — A look behind the scenes.

by Tobias van Schneider
first appeared ✍🏼 on my personal blog

In this series I talk to people at some of the most admirable companies and studios out there, simply asking: How do I get a job at your company?

Our third conversation in this series is with EA, aka Electronic Arts

EA is one of the oldest video game companies in existence, founded in the early 80s. I’ve been a fan of EA for a while — I mean, how can you not be?

EA is responsible for wonderful games such as the FIFA series, Battlefield, Need for Speed, The Sims and of course the classic Command & Conquer, as well as newer franchises such as Crysis or Titanfall. The list is endless.

One of EA/DICE recent game releases, Battlefield 1. I played it & loved it.

And as I recently played through the new Battlefield 1, admiring not only the interface and gameplay, I couldn’t resist reaching out to EA to include them in this series. Here we talk to Erik Ortman, one of the Lead UI / UX designers on the BF1 team, which is part of the DICE team, a subsidiary of EA since 2006.

Hey Erik, let’s get right to it. Assume my dream job is joining the Electronic Arts design team, but I don’t know where to begin. These are the questions that come to mind — some are so basic, they might surprise you, but we’d love to hear your answer.

Looking at your current design team, how many of them came through internal referrals and how many came through the traditional application process?

It’s a fairly even split between internal referrals, active recruiting and traditional applications.

A lot of traditional applications also come through people at the studio sharing open positions on different social channels and reaching out to friends within the industry.

Would you say the majority of designers you hire are pre-selected and head hunted by your team, or do you get a lot of cold applications as well?

A healthy mix of both. Also worth mentioning is that the talent acquisition team at DICE is really active with reaching out to potentially interesting candidates on many different channels. Being present at student work conferences, gaming conventions all over the country and other type of events have played a big part in finding and hiring great designers.

How important is a visual and complete portfolio for you? Can I get away with not having a portfolio when interviewing at EA?

It depends a lot on the type of design job you are applying for. Portfolios can be an important way to your foot in the door, especially if you are working in visual design. It’s a quick way for employers to get a feel of your skills, and as a junior designer it is the best way of showing off your potential when you do not yet have a lot of industry experience.

If you’ve been working on large teams and projects, it’s hard to judge where you have made an individual impact, given that there is likely a team of talented artists and developers working together with you on your designs. If that’s the case, it is even more important to have portfolio material so you can show off your own individual passion and potential.

Some of the game UI Erik & team worked on for Battlefield 1

Now we know it’s important, tell us one thing you never want to see again on a portfolio. Anything you wish you saw more?

Don’t make me think. Convoluted portfolio designs that try to be edgy by challenging the way you interact and navigate with them can be a fun design exercise — but when your users are people who want to find out as much about your skills in as little time as possible, it misses the mark. Clear and readable wins the day.

Something I would like to see more of is visualization of the entire design process, not just the result.

I like that. Don’t make your portfolio a piece of art. But besides having a portfolio, do you like the idea of designers being very invested in other things? For example being active bloggers, or otherwise outspoken in their community?

One of the great things about working in games is the amazingly creative and outspoken communities that come with it. If you are interested in getting into game design, one really meaningful thing you can do is get involved with those communities, and share your work and ideas.

At DICE we have hired several people who showed their design skills through the community, either by creating great video content or simply by engaging in great design discussions online.

Having said that, we will always value doers over talkers. Building your skills and expertise is more important than being active on Twitter.

What are the top mistakes you see designers make when applying for a job at EA? Are there any specific things that keep bothering you? Please complain to us! (:

Showing a bunch of great designs without being able to talk about the process of getting there. Or maybe even worse, showing your design process as a bunch of bubbles or rectangles in a diagram. Actual, tangible examples is what matters at that stage. Show the ugly napkin sketches. Show the discarded wireframes.

Also, simply trash-talking any game will not get you far. If you feel something is bad, be ready to back it up with solid arguments and insights.

If you are a junior designer, it is important to show why you are interesting to us even if you do not yet have a lot of industry experience or a large portfolio. Some people miss the important step of writing a good cover letter that tells us about why they are passionate about design and games, and why they would be a valuable hire.

OK, let’s say I make the first pass and get invited to an interview. Can you describe the interview process as briefly as possible? How many interviews are there and how long would the average interview process last?

The interview process at DICE is actually quite straight forward compared to many other large companies. Of course it varies depending on level of seniority and many other factors, but here is the general look of it:

It generally starts with a phone interview, together with talent acquisition and possibly someone from the team. If that goes well, you will be invited for an on-site interview to meet different members of the team and talk about your role, and games in general. Depending on the position, and whether you are a local applicant or flown in from another country, that might take anywhere from a few hours to an entire day.

The next step is usually some kind of practical design test, which varies a lot depending on what we are looking for. Once that is complete we review the results and invite you back in to talk about your process and the results.

If all goes well, welcome to the DICE family! :)

You may or may not have to come here in person for your interview.

You must receive a ton of messages from people wanting to show you their work. What kind of message gets a reply? Any secrets for us?

Let your work do the talking. It is at the end of the day an extremely competitive marketplace for designers wanting to work in games, and there is really nothing that can beat high-quality work. If you can manage to convey a true passion for design and games through both your work and your words, that is the secret sauce.

Someone has to test the games, right?

Do you have a favorite story or example of “Let your work do the talking” that really stuck with you?

One that has always stood out to me is another great example of how involving yourself with the community can lead to great things. Luke Mathews (aka Floppy_Ragdoll) had just finished university and was hoping to work in trailer design. He started creating these fantastic trailers for our games, which turned out kind of amazing given the fact that he only had the released games themselves to work with, and other gamers as “actors.”

It got him noticed by the community and eventually also the dev team. Luke recently moved across the globe from New Zealand and joined DICE in Stockholm as a Media & Video Editor working on our trailers.

Would you hire someone who is a cultural fit over someone who has more industry experience and hard skills?

Both are absolutely essential, but skill and experience weighs heavy. DICE is built around highly experienced and passionate individuals who love what they do. If you come to us with that, the cultural fit tends to happen quite naturally. We are all burning for the same stuff.

Pure passion is what drives most game designer & developers

What are the secondary skills you look for in a designer, besides common soft skills? For example, do you prefer business skills over coding skills?

Most designers working with games probably end up dipping their toes in the actual game engines at some point, so being comfortable with that aspect is a really valuable skill. That does not necessarily mean that you have to be proficient in coding, but being able to go in and adjust values or move things around in a level can help you in the later stages of projects when quick iteration times are key. As an example, most of the designers working with UI on my team spend time setting visual elements or tweaking animations in the game engine to get designs visible as quickly as possible.

Obviously you’re developing games, but would you hire someone who has no previous experience in the gaming industry? And if yes, what could get me hired even though I have no gaming experience?

Depending on the role we are looking for and the level of seniority, I would go as far as to say we sometimes actively seek people from outside the gaming industry.

First of all, I believe a great designer is great at what they do regardless of whether they’ve been working on car dashboards or video games. Experience working with design in larger teams and having a solid approach to how you solve design problems has significant value. Having said that, of course there is strength in having lots of experience with the medium you are going to work with as well, especially if you are looking to get into more senior role.

Some of the best designers on my team had never worked with games before DICE, and the journey of seeing them fall in love with the medium is a real treat.

How much does playing games yourself play a role in getting hired at EA?

It plays a role for sure, as we look for passionate people who feel deeply about games. Gaming as an industry is changing rapidly; new ideas and technologies are brought to light constantly, so staying on top of what the current trends are and how others are solving problems in that space is really important. Besides, we have a lot of fun playing games in play tests and during lunch gaming-sessions, so if you enjoy doing that it is a big plus!

And my last question: Do you take on interns? If yes, when and where can I apply?

Sure do! A good place to start is here. Many EA studios also keep job listings on their sites. At DICE you can find all our job openings, usually including several internships, here.

Heads up: You need to be able to beat me in Quake 3 one-on-one. Otherwise you’re out! ;)

You rock, Erik! Thanks for taking the time to provide such helpful advice! Lots of gold here for those looking to work at EA, and your answers make me want to work there myself (:

A few main takeaways:

Nr. 1 — EA is looking for you. They are actively reaching out to people all over — even YouTube, where they found the guy who was creating video game trailers. Which brings me to my next point.

Nr. 2 — Get involved in the community. It’s clear EA seeks people who are passionate about design and the gaming community. Get out there, get your game on, and get your work in front of people. Being part of the gaming community is as important as having the design skills to work in it.

Nr. 3 — EA values doers over talkers. Overall, EA is not playing around when it comes to hiring designers. They don’t want fluffy graphics in your portfolio. They want concrete examples of your process. EA appreciates you being outspoken in the community, but they value skills and experience even more.

Nr. 4 — If you are a junior designer, include a cover letter. If you don’t have a lot of industry experience or portfolio work yet, write a cover letter that shows how you are interesting. Make an effort to stand out even if you don’t have the work yet to back it up.

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I hope this article gave you some good insight into the inner workings of one of the leading game development studios out there. If you’d like to be part of one of their future big games, following Erik’s advice is a great place to start.

Questions? Ask me @vanschneider or Erik @freeortman on Twitter! ??

Keep creating & keep gaming,
Tobias

PS: I usually send out these articles via my personal email list right here. You can sign up anytime, I won’t spam, promise.

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Tobias is a Designer & Maker + Co-Founder of Semplice, a portfolio platform for designers. Also host of the show NTMY — Previously Art Director & Design Lead at Spotify.

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