Ethan Levy is currently a student at The University of Southern California, and holds an intern position at a game development studio which shall be known only as Super Duper Fun and Happy Game Co. for security reasons. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is the first of a five part series on breaking into the games industry.
Part I: Building a Strong Foundation
Growing up, I never wanted to be the President of The United States, an Astronaut, or a Professional Baseball Player. Nope, ever since I first picked up a tiny, rectangular piece of plastic and saved the world from the evil grasp of Dr. Wily in Megaman 2, I’ve wanted to make videogames. As I grew older, I’m sure my family thought I was full of it: expecting that someday I would cash in my dreams of living a life of escapist fantasy in exchange for a more lucrative career as a doctor or lawyer or businessman. But I’ve proved them wrong. I’ve landed that all important entry level internship at a videogame design company.
So, how did I do it? How did I become the number one college intern in my specific postal district? Through these articles I’ll share my holistic approach to finding your first job in the videogame industry, so that you too can spend your days taking down despots with no regard for civilian casualties, fragging alien scum, and finally taking the Cubbies to the World Series. It’s my goal to help you prepare your mind, body, and spirit to live the dream. So, when your friends complain about their summer days spent filing papers or flipping burgers, you can say “I helped to forge a lasting intergalactic peace at work today.”
Know the Business
In my mind, research is the very first step to getting any job. It is imperative that you have a strong foundation of knowledge on which to base your career moves and important life decisions. That way, instead of making any premature mistakes – like throwing away a bundle of time and money on a game design education only to discover that you were only following a passing whim – you will be able to carefully plot out your own road to success.
The first step is learning to understand the business, not only from a gamer’s perspective but more importantly from a company’s perspective. Doing this sort of in depth research can eat up a lot of time and money, but it will save your ass down the road. Since I’ve done plenty of leg work already, I’m here to help you avoid those weeks and months spent getting four hours of sleep and eating ramen for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
In order to understand a gamer’s perspective, I would suggest reading the free content on websites such as GameSpy, Gamespot, and Adrenaline Vault. Also, if you have Tech TV watch X-Play, and if you are lucky enough to have G4, watch it all the time. To better understand a company’s perspective of the game industry I would suggest a number of key sources. First and foremost, become a member of Gamasutra. It’s free and easy, and it will provide you with a great source of daily news, in depth articles, industry events, job openings, and weekly email updates. And, on top of all that, it allows you to receive a free membership to Game Developer Magazine. What more could a college game fanatic ask for? I would also highly suggest joining the International Game Developer Association. A student membership is only $35 a year, and the benefits will quickly offset the reasonable membership fee. If you have any free reading time after all of that, I recommend going to the websites of your favorite gaming professionals to see if they recommend any books. These vast tomes, such as Game Design: Secrets of the Sages or Game Architecture and Design can come with a hefty price tag, so I suggest finding them at a library or buying them used on Ebay or Amazon.com.
In order to see yourself the way a job recruiter will view you on paper, you should create a realistic resume. If your college provides the service, get help from a career planning and placement center. They can provide important help with formulating a resume to represent your current experience and skill level. At this point in the game, the resume is just for your use, so don’t embellish it with experiences you don’t have or skills you don’t know. It’s my belief that if you ever lie on your resume, you’re only going to be hurting yourself.
Use what you’ve learned about the inner workings of the game industry to get a feel for where you would envision you would like to work. Take what you have learned, and create a list of career goals. Feel free to be as idealistic as you please when deciding upon your ultimate goals, but it’s important to create a reasonable roadmap to reach them. For instance, I may want to be the next David Perry, but I know that I will not be heading a company like Shiny anytime in the near future. I envision many years of hard work and dedication, moving up from my current position ironing my superiors’ pants as a lowly intern through jobs such as tester, designer, middle management, pencil pusher, money pincher and the like, ultimately culminating as Supreme Water Buffalo of my very own firm. And in the end, my true career path will probably bear little to no resemblance to my initial route. Still, to create the strong foundation for success that you need, it’s important to know where you’ve been and where you want to go.
- The Adrenaline Vault
- TechTv’s X-Play
- G4 TV
- International Game Developer Association