How to Develop a Gaming Career
In chatting with the developers for the Origins story, many of them acknowledged how lucky they were to be in the right place at the right time. I pushed it a bit further to see what advice they'd give to aspiring videogame developers.
Gabe Newell (Valve Software): The most important decision you will make is who your colleagues are. They more than anything else will determine how much success you have and how much you enjoy going to work each day.
Sid Meier (Firaxis Games): Get a good well-rounded education first, take advantage of internships, play lots of different video games and get together with other folks who want to make video games and make a prototype -- that's the best way to show your skill.
Ted Price (Insomniac Games): Look for a company you respect and try to get in however you can. Personally I think it's better to start in a lower position at a great company than to go for a senior position at one which you think isn't so great. And when I say "a company you respect" I'm talking about having respect for both their games and their culture. How do you find out about a company's culture? Read interviews and postmortems from their folks. Check out their website. Talk to your friends who are already in games -- chances are they know someone at your target company. There are also a lot of fantastic game-centric schools and curricula out there today. Graduating from one of the more respected schools can definitely make a difference in whether or not you get noticed. Graduating from any college is a plus.
Brian Reynolds (Big Huge Games): The way to get a job in the industry is to show companies you can directly and immediately start contributing to their current projects with a near-zero amount of training. There are several common ways to accomplish this:
- Be a completely bad-ass C++ programmer. Send executable samples of your own programming work, preferably as bad-ass as possible.
- Go to a well-known art school and study 3D animation. That's where we get most of our artists.
- Design some amazing levels/scenarios/mods for your favorite games, and use their inherent coolness to apply to those very companies.
- Apply to the QA / Playtest departments at local videogame companies and get your foot in the door. You'll learn a lot about the nitty gritty of how games are put together.
Lars Gustavsson (DICE): This totally depends on what discipline you are going after but education is never wrong. The first thing I look for when we hire people is cheer passion, then personality, experience and education, in that order. So get educated, start up your own project/portfolio to show that you can perform and keep going after jobs. Don't give up. I don't know how many people I know in the industry that are in here because they refused to give up.
Chris Taylor (Gas Powered Games): Take whatever skills you have, whether it is programming, art, design, and go deep with it. Find others to make games with, whether they are simple or complex, casual or hardcore. I discovered the Mac and the incredible suite of tools a few years ago, and have found them to be incredibly sophisticated. The great thing about the Mac is that it's the platform to develop for iPhone, which is rapidly becoming one of the key handheld platforms for gaming. There are huge opportunities here for people breaking into the business.
Randy Pitchford (Gearbox Software): Try hard and keep trying. Build a skill and do it great. Commit. Never give up. And, when you think you’ve learned some things and have something to offer, find a studio that can help you with the catch-22 problem of not being able to get a gig without experience and not being able to get experience without a gig. Gearbox Software, for example, occasionally runs programs to give three month contracts to up-and-coming talent to give them a chance to prove themselves. There are some awesome developers that came into the industry through Gearbox Software's program, so people hoping to join the industry should visit the gearboxsoftware.com website and look up the contacts page.
Greg Zeschuk (BioWare): In our 15 years of time in the game industry, we have never seen a period comparable to the current market where anyone can literally make a game, put it up on the iPhone App Store and simply see what happens. Getting into, and being successful in the industry requires passion, dedication and a love of the craft. It's also a good idea to get education or training in the field you want to work in (though it isn't absolutely required as there are plenty of successful self-trained people in the business). Learn how to make games, and then make something; that's the most sensible way into the business today.
Ken Levine (2K Boston, formerly Irrational Games): It's tougher to get in now, I think. Our industry is the only one where you can get an entry level job that exposes you to all aspects of the creation of our product: QA. But get a QA job onsite at a developer, where you are working moment to moment with game developers. You've got to absolutely love games. I know that goes without saying, but it still needs to be said. A huge turn-off for me in an interview is when I find a narrow field of interest. The more stuff you're passionate about, the better. I like omnivorous nerds.