How to get a job in the games industry: Crush your enemies

Gears Of War 3 gallery


Epic Games’ art director Wyeth Johnson has unveiled a five-point plan for those looking to land a job in games. His first tip? ‘Crush your enemies’.

In Johnson’s 13 years in the game industry – seven of them at Epic – he has done his fair share of hiring and has seen waves of wannabe developers make the same basic mistakes. Speaking at Teesside University’s Animex animation festival, Gears Of War 3’s lead artist explained his list of dos and donts. “We are lucky if we can find one good person a month,” began Johnson. “We are fanatical about hiring, and pore and obsess over people. We fight and craft the process to get the right people.”

Crush your enemies

“It’s a universal constant that your first crack at presenting yourself will be terrible. There’s a hidden trap when people first show their work. The trap is that you isolate yourself from industry and get buried in the microcosm of your peers. You compare yourself to the success in the group, but you should use resources such as ZBrushCentral and Polycount to compare yourself with what everyone in the universe is doing. The other people doing it are your brothers and your enemies. Absorb their power and, if your work doesn’t look like theirs, keep going. You have to crush them.”

You are always being judged

“Every one of those steps in the process of getting a job is a touchstone and you are being judged. When people write at the start of an email in which they are applying for their dream job at a company ‘To whom it may concern’… that won’t make me not hire you, but that makes me wonder about your sense of taste. This is the thing you want most of all and you’re saying ‘who cares if i’m not a good communicator?’ Remember that every one of the steps you take – from turning up on time to creating a portfolio – works like a multiplier.”

The five-second rule

“Your portfolio is like a Cheeto – or a cheese-flavoured crisp, you might say. It has to adhere to the five-second rule. If it lands near a cockroach, but not on a cockroach, you should eat it anyway if it’s been on the floor less than five seconds. Portfolio websites are a universal problem. Make sure I see something awesome in the first five seconds. Then after than there should never be a point at which I am not happy clicking to see the next page.”

Only show your best work

“This advice can fall on deaf ears, but it’s mandatory – only show your best work. One bad piece can ruin everything. If you want to show me a skill, and for me to value it, a mediocre drawing at the back of your portfolio will not do it. It comes back to your taste level. We look at something bonkers and wonder ‘did they have to do ten of those to get one of these good ones?’. Consistency is the key. There’s a consistency metric that’s an undercurrent to everything we are analysing. And remember you can’t edit your own portfolio. You need to find people who are better, faster and more talented to tell you what sucks. You are connected to it. Your creative capital is in there, so you value work more than people who edit objectively.”

Woo games companies

“Tailor your portfolio site specifically to the company you are applying to. It’s a real competitve advantage if you are applying to a racing game company and the first thing a person sees is relevant. As a junior artist you don’t need an entire portfolio. I know it takes more effort, but that’s how you stand out from the other guys who didn’t have a car up front. If I have three good portfolios and I worked for a company which predominantly makes racing games I’m going to call the guy who likes cars. I think of game companies as turn-of-the-century French courtesans. They like to be wooed. We are all full of loathing and self-hatred. You should use that by saying ‘I don’t just want to make games. I want to make your games.'”