At the Eurogamer Expo 2012, renowned game writer Chet Faliszek spoke about the best way to get into the game industry. It wasn’t doing ten university degrees in computer science or knowing fifty programming languages. It wasn’t being able to quote sales figures of the company you want to work for, or having used every operating system in history. His solution was far simpler:
That was it – his point was short and sweet, and it’s easy to imagine that it opens up a lot of questions for those who wanted a more detailed plan, but that is really how simple things are. You can have all the top qualifications in the world, but if you have no proof of being able to use them to actually make something, then you’re not as attractive a prospect to a company.
That’s not to say that your skills are worthless – far from it. In fact, your qualifications are a good way of showcasing your abilities in a validated environment. Any software can run well, but if the code behind it is hacked together and very inefficient, it’s hard to tell, so providing examples of finished, clean code alongside your software, or just coding techniques you’ve blogged about are good ways of supporting your portfolio with additional information.
When it comes to the software itself, it doesn’t matter how simple or derivative your ideas are – it just matters that you’re able to finish something and get it out of the door, preferably free of bugs. A lot of development is being able to take something from start to finish, and you need to be able to set yourself apart from the legions of developers who started something great and never finished it.
You don’t have to do it all yourself, either – if you’re a designer, join a team as a designer and add your designs to the game. If you’re a programmer, do the same but as the coder. There are a thousand and one projects out there, but if you can do all of it to some degree, it’s worth considering it, as sometimes a team of people joining up to make something that might not even sell often isn’t as motivated as they could be.
A good way to do this is to take a look at the various development communities and offer your services. There are a lot of “ideas people” out there, but if you’re a developer, you’ll never be short of offers. If it’s unpaid work it can be frustrating and demotivating, so if you’re working pro bono or for that ever-elusive “revenue” being shared about across the team, ensure the project can be easily finished – you don’t want to explain to someone that you spent two years of evenings working on something stuck forever in development hell. Paid work does exist, however, so don’t be afraid – make some small projects yourself, and start applying.
Asking questions to game developers may also help get more visibility and insight into the game development industry. Plarium games developers are one of the places where you can go and ask questions related to game development. If you do not find your answer then try a google search and other popular forums like StackOverflow.
You could even be extremely creative, whether you’re applying for roles on community projects or your end target, that elusive industry role at a larger developer. For example; you’re applying for a job at Facebook, why not code a Facebook plugin that tells the story of your career and shows them why you should be hired? Don’t limit yourself to software that’s just “good” – take your software and have it actually display something relevant to your application.
Of course, a la the Facebook example, you need to pick relevant projects. While being able to make a Twitter app is great, it’s not going to look as impressive if the new job involves making sat-nav software or a video game because it won’t be relevant to the requirements. This is a crucial part of the job application process that a lot of people miss – if you can’t follow the instructions on a job application and don’t think about the best approach to getting the job, then there’s a little indication you’d be able to fulfill the role you’re applying for.
Think carefully about what qualities they want from you, too – if they’re looking for someone with an eye for design, ensure that’s the best part of what you’ve made. If they want someone who can oversee younger designers, you should take things into your own hands and begin to develop software with newer staff under you to demonstrate your ability to teach and run a project.
When someone applies to be a journalist, nothing matters beyond their experience and writing portfolio. It’s the same with game development – if you can demonstrate both of these things to a high standard, you’ve answered all their burning questions without saying so much as a word. At that point, your interview will simply give them an idea of your personality and ethics. But you’ve already done the bulk of the work. Want to make software? Show you can!
Don’t be intimidated, either – there are so many people out there with unfinished projects that those who can actually finish something are pretty rare. It’s a good way to stand out in a community, and if you can garner respect and actually get to a point where developers at the companies you’re aiming yourself at are aware of you or your work already, most of the work is done. But manage your reputation, too – no matter how good you are, being an arrogant member of any public community will raise red flags for those considering hiring you.
Chet Falizsek got his job by writing about games and then started writing for games. He demonstrated a solid writing ability for years, and he was rewarded. Everyone can talk a big game when it comes to development, but to succeed you must back up these claims by actually taking on the task and completing it multiple times before you even apply. So go and make some software, and prove to these companies that you’re more than just another hopeful application – you’re a ready-to-go asset to the company.
- Updated on June 2019: Fixed broken links and updated HTTPS links.