Finding a game industry job – even with a good undergraduate or postgraduate degree – is not straightforward. But if you are looking to work in the game industry there are ways to stand out and land your dream job – or at least the job that will get you onto the ladder to your dream job.
Professor William Latham, co-director of Goldsmiths College’s MSc in Computer Games and Entertainment, gave us the following expert advice on how to give yourself the best possible chance of breaking into the game industry.
He should know, too: Goldsmiths’ postgraduate course boasts a 100 per cent employment record over the last two years, with all of over 30 graduates going to work for game firms or in technology posts within months of receiving their masters degree. Goldsmiths alumni have gone straight to work as full-time employees or paid interns at Ideaworks, Splash Damage, Supermassive Games, M&C Saatchi, We R Interactive, Roll7, Climax Studios, and Hand Circus.
Latham is also CEO of Games Audit, a company which audits projects in the game industry and finance world, giving him a formidable contacts book and an intimate knowledge of current working practices in games. Here are his top ten tips for making yourself an employable games graduate.
It’s important that you can operate commercially as well as program or create great art projects. In the real world you won’t be building everything from scratch. One of your key tasks will be evaluating middleware and engines. You should remember that being commercially aware also involves diplomacy skills as you will need to disagree with colleagues at times. Make sure you can point to examples of your ability to assess middleware when you speak to potential employers.
Keep a risk log
Whether it is part of your course or not, in a group project you should create a risk log. That means breaking down the risks associated with your project, grading them and identifying mitigation strategies. When a potential employer interviews you they will be keen to talk about this, and by being able to point to a risk log you demonstrate you can think objectively and anticipate problems.
It’s hard for students to do cold networking, but you have to hustle in life and the game industry is no different: you need to be able to communicate with people and talk to them. Graduates should remember that people won’t come to you, so you have to find people through forums and the like to gain visibility. It’s a good idea to use your lecturers’ networks, but you have to demonstrate that you will follow through and do a good job.
Be selective with your portfolio
If you are an engineer you must have a demo you can run with some source code you can discuss. You need to show how you are tackling hard problems, so it’s not about flashy graphics; it’s about explaining your core algorithms, and showing off some AI is good for this. If you are an artist, have four or five pieces that are really good – and cut out any rubbishy life drawing. If you’re an animator, remember that people like simple animations which are tricky to code. Even a wireframe of someone climbing over a gate will be impressive. But whatever your field, remember to be highly selective and only include your very best work.
Show you’re a team player
It’s easy to say this, but if you can point to a group project and discuss exactly how you worked with a team and overcame challenges you will be far better placed. You can have the best programmers in the world, but if they are not team players they will make life difficult.
Work on your core skills…
… but have another string to your bow. If you’re applying for a programmer job you will sit a programming test which will reveal your flaws. You have to work on your core skills and be very good at what you do. It’s helpful to have secondary skills such as Max modelling or even being able to prove you are very well-organised.
Be a good presenter
Standing up and giving presentations is a critical skill in many jobs, especially in the game industry. Every week I give my students a topic and at the start of the following week they have to give a five-minute presentation. You should practise your presentation skills, and make sure you can deliver within a very tight timeframe.
Get honest feedback
Use your lecturers or independents at trade shows to get a view on your work, rather than family and friends. And make sure you ask everyone who assesses you to be absolutely blunt. You have to get feedback, but it’s of little use unless it is completely, brutally honest.
Know about your employer
Employers hate it when someone turns up for the interview and its clear they don’t know what the company does. Often, it’s seen as an insult, but the checks go both ways. As well as knowing about the company and where you could fit in and make a contribution, look at any deals they’ve signed recently and at investments they’ve secured. You should know your potential employers are on a financially sound footing and can afford to hire and pay you.
Don’t worry about fixed-term contracts
If you are applying for a job, be aware that fixed-term contracts are becoming far more common as the game industry begins to mimic movies where freelance workers move from project to project. Make sure you negotiate a higher pay rate if you are being employed for a fixed period, rather than on a permanent deal.