I decided to write down some thoughts on how to get into the games industry since I keep getting asked this once in a while by some hopeful individuals. I hope you will find this useful!
Yes, games are a hot, sexy and innovative area of business. Many people dream about a job in the industry, but only a few have the right skillset and mindset for it. Let’s talk about this. Actually, let’s start over. Maybe the question you should be asking is:
What should I do in order to get a job in the games industry? What does it take?
When I joined a games company in fall 2004, my merits were that I had actually pumped up some game development while working for a new media company during the late nineties new media boom. Those games were developed to give some added entertainment value to a carrier marketing web site (company websites were a new thing back then). I had dated a game developer who’d had some sort of a hit game at the end of eighties. And on top of that, I had played all the first TV console games in the seventies (thank you dad!) and Donkey Kong, Tetris, Nokia Snake, Doom and such. But otherwise I barely recognized that something was happening in Finnish games industry. But it was quite enough to get a job – at that time.
Now after all these years and some 400+ recruitments later, I have a hunch of what it takes to get a job in games. Below I have selected some descriptive words to give you few tips on how to prepare yourself if you – REALLY WANT THIS!
Passion – The most talented developers start early. They may start sketching some game concepts simply with a pen and paper. Or start programming and drawing when they can just about manage it with a mouse or a pen.
Training – There are some talents that have managed brilliantly without formal training, but only for the reason that there hasn’t been anything applicable available (many new, innovative concepts and businesses are made through trial-and-error, you see). Unless you are an exceptional talent, a formal training is much appreciated. If you manage to get to a school where you can actually study game development your opportunities have just gone up by 50%.
Practice – No matter if you are in a right school or not, you need to break through with the “learning-by-doing” -method. Like passionate musicians all the best people practice and do what they “have to”. They hang out at game jams, demo events and spend hundreds of hours developing their own concepts alone or with some similarly spirited individuals.
Portfolio – The first question that a recruiter asks is: Do you have a portfolio? What does it mean? It means that you’ve got a website or something similar with some well thought out game concepts, demos or graphics that looks like game art. Photos of your oil paintings do not usually help you, it has to be digital. And the best artists draw live models regularly. For a programmer it may be an own game running on his/hers device or on an emulator.
Continuous learning – It takes a lot of motivation to learn and to master your profession. The world of games is in a state of constant change. Self-study, game conferences or lectures given by the industry experts for example at the Aalto University are OK. This works especially in the non-developer roles where you need to demonstrate your business understanding and your interest in games (like product management or data analytics roles).
Play games! The more the merrier!
Look for help and feedback – Introduce yourself to the local games community when you stumble towards your goal. In Finland you can start with IGDA, Assembly, Game Jam, Mentor group for ladies, or Finconauts. Ask questions no matter how stupid you may feel. You will get feedback. No shame no gain!
Ability to work under pressure and cope with uncertainty – This applies to project schedule too but for the record, most of the games companies are start-ups. Companies come and go and you are really lucky if you have a chance to work in a same company for longer than three years. Even a solid giant or a household name may fall, downsize or merge. If you cannot handle this fact, please do not join.
Persistence/dedication – Whatever you do, do it well and put your heart into it. If you succeed in your work and in your team, people won’t let you go. You will be asked to join the next project. You may even be one of those who will be seeking for funding for your own games venture.
Meritocracy – Please keep in mind that games industry is driven by meritocracy, not per calendar or through who you happen to know.
And finally, this may sound hard but this may be a thing that a recruiter does first. When you compose your CV, run a word check and make sure that the word GAME(S) is there in an appropriate context. If the CV doesn’t contain “the word” you can forget about a job unless you are applying to a Controller position at the finance team. The other roles that you can apply without direct games experience are related, for example, to cloud computing, network operations, localization or other post-production jobs. In these types of roles a minimum requirement is a positive attitude towards games. You really need to think about your motivation since you are surrounded by developers and gamers that live and breathe games 24/7.
It may be hard to get into games, but when you do, it will be one of the most rewarding environments loaded with clever people, new business ventures, great events and great games. On top of this, Finland happens to be one of “the games hubs” on earth. A true place to be! This is unique!
Arja Martikainen HR Manager at Digital Chocolate Helsinki (ex Sumea Interactive) 2004 – 2013
Senior Consultant – games talent acquisition at Games Jobs Finland, Barona IT 2013 –