Thursday, January 12, 2012

Video Game Development School

Happy 2012, everyone! It's a new year and for a lot of us a new year signifies new beginnings. Some of you may be graduating from high school or college this year, others may be looking for a career change and are considering game development. For those of you who are thinking about going to school for game development, I've put together some guidelines and a list of several relevant schools here to help jumpstart your research efforts.

Keep in mind that many, many universities and trade schools other than the ones on the list below offer game development courses (or other relevant courses, such as 3D Art). If you are not close to any of the game dev schools you want to attend but are unable to relocate, check with your local universities and colleges to see if they offer any relevant classes (they might!).

Also keep in mind that there is a wealth of education available online, including downloadable tutorials, forums, videos, blogs, etc. Although schools can provide a great foundation and networking opportunities, you can also enhance your studies and/or teach yourself these skills through books and online research, regardless of where you are geographically or in life. If you are already attending school, you should be working to teach yourself and improve your skills in your own time, regardless.

Questions To Ask Yourself Before You Start Applying To Game Development Schools:

- What do I expect to get out of school? Working in the video game industry as a developer can be extremely rewarding on intellectual, creative, and even emotional levels. If you are pursuing a career in games, you are in for an amazing experience with some of the most talented, creative, and bright people in technology and entertainment. Regardless, it's not a bad idea to deeply research the career you are interested in and make sure that your expectations are realistic. If possible, talk to professional developers who do what you want to do. Attend industry events, watch "behind the scenes" videos, read developer blogs, etc.

Sure you want to pursue a career in games and are thinking about school? It's best to research options as much as possible. You will have a lot of factors to consider, including a school's reputation, cost, location, financial aid options, industry relations, job placement assistance, on-line vs in-person, curriculum, and student body, to name a few. You may even decide that attending school is not the best option for you and that would would rather teach yourself.

Whatever you decide, know that there is a lot of competition for jobs in the video game industry, so make sure that you willing to work hard and are getting into this for the right reasons. Those who choose to study video game development because they think it will be "easy" are in for a rude awakening. A degree from a video game development or art school does not ensure a job. Make sure that you are serious about your commitment to your craft. The very passionate are more likely to find both school and working in games to be enriching and deeply rewarding experiences.

Not sure if you want to dive headfirst into a degree program? Try taking individual classes to start. There are on-line classes available and many schools offer extension courses. Experiment with on-line tutorials, books, and videos. These options could be especially useful for those of you who already have full time jobs but are considering a career change.

- How driven am I? How hard am I willing to work?  Just because video games are fun to play doesn't mean that they aren't extremely challenging to create. Even the most naturally gifted developers have put in loads of time and effort to enhance their skills and they continue to do so for the rest of their careers. This is not going to be an easy ride, and once you get to the end of your training, the competition is going to be scary. A degree does not guarantee a career and not everyone in your class is going to find a job in the industry. You will need to work very hard on your skills to ensure that you are one of the ones who does.

- How much time am I willing to dedicate? Video games aren't made in a day and your training is going to require a lot of time and effort as well. Ready for some late nights? If your answer was, "Uhhh, how late is 'late,' exactly?" then you are in for a reality check.  This is going to be a lot of hard, time-consuming work. But the good news is, the work should be a lot of fun, and the time put in is an investment in your future. If you are passionate about what you do, you're going to look forward to putting in those extra hours. Keep in mind that once you land a job at a game company, chances are you will be required to work overtime at some point (perhaps even on a frequent basis).

- Am I open to relocation? Some of you may be young, single, and ready to move to a new town at the drop of a hat. Others may have family or financial commitments, or other roots laid firmly in the ground. Unless you live in an area where there is a concentration of game studios, you may need to really consider whether or not you are flexible in terms of relocating for work. This is an industry where people do move for work all the time, and the more flexible you are in terms of location, the more likely you are to find work. Once you are established you may have more options, but it can be tough to land a first job. You will be competing with candidates that are local as well as those who are willing to pack up and move out.

- How much money am I willing to invest? Private trade schools can be really expensive. Research and compare costs as well as finiancial aid options. Make sure you know what you are getting into. If you know you are only going to take school half-seriously, think twice about whether or not you really want a hefty amount of debt at the end of it all.

Things To Do While You're In School Besides Attending Classes and Doing Homework:

- Make friends. Hey, this is college after all! You should be having fun. But the people you meet will also help you grow in your field. Work together and teach each other tricks of the trade. Your fellow classmates may prove to be useful sources of information, referrals and references for future jobs, and overall valuable members of your professional (and personal) network.

- Work on personal projects and teach yourself. Even if your teachers are game development geniuses, the only person you can depend on for success is yourself. The more mileage you put in during your spare time, the better you will be at your chosen profession. Becoming a better artist/designer/animator/coder/etc will make you more employable and better prepared for a job that requires professional level work. I really cannot stress enough how important it is to put in extra time on projects outside of your classwork. Most developers will tell you the same thing.

- Take relevant jobs and internships. The whole purpose of school is to help prepare you for the working world, so if you have the opportunity to intern or otherwise gain work experience in your field while you are in school, by all means go for it (or at the very least give it serious consideration). An internship may lead to a full time job at the place you are interning, and any professional development experience on your resume is going to be more appealling to hiring managers than none at all.

Relevant Schools:

A couple disclaimers...

- I have not personally attended any of these schools and am not endorsing any in particular. These are some of the more well-known schools and I have hired and/or work with alumni from many of them. However, this is just meant to be a place for you to get started with your own research. It will be up to you to determine which school is right for you, whether it be a school that is on this list, one that is not on this list, or any school at all!

- This is a very incomplete list. These are only several of the many schools that offer game development training. I am not including schools outside of N. America, smaller programs and/or those that I am not very familiar with. But feel free to let me know if you think I have left any important schools off the list!

In alphabetical order...

Academy of Art University
San Francisco, CA
3D art, animation, vfx, etc.

From their website: "Academy of Art University transforms aspiring students into professional artists and designers. Building a strong foundation, instructors at the art school guide students to cultivate their individual style and prepare them to do what they love for a living "

Animation Mentor
Online only
Animation specific

From their website: "Our Character Animation Program teaches you the art and craft of animation. You learn directly from the best and largest pool of course instructors and mentors in a production and studio environment and you graduate ready to pursue any animation discipline . Our program also offers dedicated Career Services, Student Care, and more to help you be successful in pursuing your animation dreams."

Art Center College of Design
Pasadena, CA
Concept and 3D art (entertainment art, industrial design, etc).

From their website: Learn to create. Influence change. This is our mission at Art Center College of Design. For more than 80 years, we’ve achieved an international reputation for our rigorous, transdisciplinary curriculum, faculty of professionals, strong ties to industry and a commitment to socially responsible design. At Art Center, we prepare artists and designers to be make a positive impact in their chosen fields—as well as the world at large.

Art Institutes
Many locations nationwide
Game art, animation, and design

From their website: "Here, our instructors will use their current gaming industry experience to create a learning environment that resembles the world you’ll be entering. Traditional and digital art fundamentals such as drawing, color, design, and computer applications will give you the background you need to start learning the techniques of animation, storyboarding, 2D and 3D modeling, lighting effects, and texture mapping. And you’ll also learn how to apply the principles of gaming, balance and usability to plan and devise game rules and mechanics; create the entire gaming experience; and develop games that can be used in industry-standard engines through every stage of the production pipeline."

Digipen Institute of Technology
Redmond, WA (also Singapore and Spain)
Game art, design, programming

From their website: "DigiPen Institute of Technology is a dedicated, world-renowned leader in education and research in computer interactive technologies. DigiPen has a unique approach to education, with a hands-on, project-based curriculum designed to reinforce core academic and foundational coursework in the areas of computer engineering, software development, production animation, and game design."

Entertainment Technology Center - Carnegie Mellon
Pittsburgh, PA
Game art, design, programming

From their website: "The Entertainment Technology Center (ETC-Global) at Carnegie Mellon University offers a two-year Masters of Entertainment Technology degree, jointly conferred by Carnegie Mellon University's College of Fine Arts and School of Computer Science. Carnegie Mellon is relatively unique among universities in being able to offer this kind of degree, as we have both top-quality fine arts and technology programs."

Full Sail University
Winter Park, FL
Game art/anim, design, programming

From their website: "More than 30 years ago, Full Sail began as a dream to create a place where people could learn how to take their passion for entertainment and turn it into a career they loved. It started with music and sound, but our dream quickly grew to fit the dreams of our students until it was bigger than we could have ever imagined. Film, design, show production, games, animation, web design, the business of the entertainment world … as the years go by, the dream continues to grow, and we are humbled by the success of our graduates as well as the passion of our teachers and mentors, all of whom contribute to making this one of the most unique educational communities on the planet."

Gnomon School of Visual Effects
Hollywood, CA
Art, animation, vfx for film and games

From their website: "Gnomon School of Visual Effects is an innovative training facility that stresses the importance of creativity in computer graphics. We believe, that while technology offers new tools to create your visions, it is our ultimate goal to allow you to interact transparently with the software. At Gnomon, we know that it is not the technology that drives results, but the artist. Therefore, our instructors are industry professionals with traditional backgrounds who started using the technology to bring their imaginations to life."

Guildhall at Southern Methodist University
Plano, TX
Game art, design, programming

From their website: "The Guildhall at Southern Methodist University is the premier graduate video game education program in the US. Many of the school’s founders are industry icons, and classes are run by industry veterans. Since 2005, the program has graduated nearly 400 students and alumni are working at more than 140 video game studios around the world. Our program offers a Master’s degree in Interactive Technology and a graduate Professional Certificate."

Ringling College of Art + Design
Sarasota, FL
3D art/animation for film and games.

From their website: "Ringling College of Art and Design is a private, not-for-profit, fully accredited college offering the Bachelor's degree  in 14 disciplines: Advertising Design, Business of Art & Design, Computer Animation, Digital Filmmaking, Fine Arts, Game Art & Design, Graphic & Interactive Communication, Illustration, Interior Design, Motion Design, Painting, Photography & Digital Imaging, Printmaking and Sculpture."

USC Gamepipe
Los Angeles, CA
Game art, design, programming

From their website: "USC covers the entire spectrum of education with respect to videogame development. If you are engineering-oriented, gameplay design-focused, or artistic, we have a degree program for you!"

Vancouver Film School
Art, animation, vfx, and design for film and games

"VFS offers 13 world-class post-secondary programs spanning every aspect of the entertainment arts. Our unique educational model balances theory and hands-on production so that, after just one year, you're prepared to launch your dream career. Faculty at VFS are established, award-winning professionals who work for top studios, and our Advisory Boards of industry leaders help shape curriculum so our programs stay current."

Friday, November 11, 2011

Question #3: How do indie games help a portfolio?


My friend and I in college are starting a studio to develop indie games while we are in school. We are likely going to start in the mobile market and hope to get a game or two published onto the Xbox Live Arcade for our portfolios. From your personal experience, do these actions benefit a resume in the industry? How do you personally view indie games and small teams when you are looking for future employers?

My response:

It kind of depends on what you want to do, but really I think that any game development experience is very valuable when it comes to looking for a job in the industry. Creating an indie game on your own or with others shows that you are ambitious and motivated, and will give you a chance to show what you can do (writing code, thinking up good gameplay ideas, etc).

If your goal is to become a software engineer and are programming the games yourself, the games you make will show off your programming skills and will allow you to create a portfolio. If your goal is to be a game designer for mobile and/or indie games, then these games be will extremely relevant to your portfolio.

However, if your goal is to become a game designer making AAA console games, those developers will want to see level design and/or scripting using a relevant engine. Mobile games will probably not tell them what they need to know about your game design skills. Same goes for 3D art and animation. The indie and mobile games are great additions for any portfolio, but if you want to be an artist you may need to create more sophisticated art pieces in order to get noticed by employers.

Regardless, all game development experience is beneficial and will give you something to show and talk about with potential employers. Good luck with your games!

Question #2: Choosing Between Opportunities

The job titles and locations have been changed to protect the reader's identity, but the changes don't affect the subject matter.

Question 2:

I wanted to get your professional feedback on a potential situation I may face, in the next month or two. Recently two companies called about interviewing me for a temporary contract QA-related position in Los Angeles and a Production-related position in San Francisco. I was offered the position in Los Angeles today and accepted to start two weeks from this upcoming Monday. However, The San Francisco interviews were supposed to have begun by now, but they were delayed. So hypothetically if in a month or so, the other company in San Francisco offers me the job, with equivalent money to Los Angeles and a job in Production, how should I approach that?

Personally, I would say move to Los Angeles, start working and see how things go with the San Francisco interviews. And if they offered me a better opportunity and position, put in my two weeks and go from there. Then again, I am not sure if that is proper etiquette as a professional within the gaming industry and if it would look bad on me for future positions.

My response:

That's kind of a sticky situation, but since you already accepted the Los Angeles position, it makes sense to honor it. If you do get a job offer from the company in San Francisco, you'll need to weigh your options very carefully. For instance, you may be required to pay back any relocation costs to the Los Angeles company if you leave before your contract is up. Also, if it is truly a contracted position and not just temporary employment, you may not be able to get out at all. At that point you might have to seek legal advice from an attorney. Read your job offer and paperwork carefully and make sure you know what you are getting into.

If you do leave a position long before its end date, you absolutely risk burning bridges permanently. They may be the type of people who will be super understanding of your desire for more stable employment and a loftier title. They may even say, go for it. Or, they may not be empathetic to that at all. They may be left in a bind if you go, there may have been other people they could have hired who have now accepted other jobs, they may lose money that they invested in you in terms of your relocation and any flights for interviews, etc.

But at the end of the day, it's your life! If you do get an offer from the San Francisco company and it's an opportunity that you can't pass up, that is your decision to make. Just make sure that you understand how binding your contract is. If you are tied to it, you may have to see it all the way through, and hopefully the other company will consider you for opportunities once your contract is up. 

Q and A #1: Marketing a Marketer

This week I'll be posting some of the questions I've received and answered, in hopes that some of you out there may be in similar situations and might find these Q and As helpful.

Question 1:

I have a great dilemma and I think you might be able to answer some of my questions or point me into the right direction. In order for you to get an idea of my current situation, I feel I should give you a brief background about myself.
I’ve been an avid gamer all my life and my dream has been to work in the gaming industry since I can remember. Knowing how hard it is to get a job in the industry, I decided to get an MBA degree with an emphasis in marketing to improve my chances of landing a business related job for a gaming company. I have had no luck so far and I think I know exactly why. None of my past jobs are related to gaming, although they have all been technology related within the IT industry. I know this results in my resume not being attractive to gaming companies, which is my main problem.

That being said, I know in my heart I should be working for a gaming company. I’m always up to date with latest games, trends and culture. I research and study games and the gaming industry every day and I feel that I know what factors make a great game and what consumers want. I know that if given the opportunity to work for gaming company I can make very significant contributions to developing a great game. I just need to get my foot in the door and show what I can do.

Not being successful in obtaining a job in the gaming industry has not discouraged me. I decided to start my own company about year ago. We are a small team that develops games for mobile platforms and our first game will be released before the end of the year. I’ve been hands on with every aspect of our game development and learned a great deal during this process. I’m even more eager than ever to land a video game related job and continue learning with industry professionals.

My question to you is what can I do to effectively communicate my passion and eagerness to work for a gaming company and the best way to get my foot in the door? All the factors that I feel make me a good candidate don’t really fit well on my resume, except our gaming company, which I feel companies won’t take as seriously because I’m the founder. I know you’re extremely busy but any advice or help you can provide would be highly appreciated. Again, I thank you for your time and I’m really looking forward to hearing back from you!

My response:
First of all, congrats on the MBA and on starting your own company! Both are big accomplishments. But I do understand your frustration. Although it's a tough industry to break into and having previous experience does help, everyone who currently has industry experience started with none. Here are the best tips I can think of sharing given your current situation.

- You may already be doing this, but be sure to explain your passion for games and talk about your games company in your cover letter (just like you did in your email to me). Tailor it to the company you are applying to and talk about the ways in which their marketing strategies have impressed you, and/or how you think you could fill in some obvious gaps, etc.
- Make sure you are covering the bases in your job search. Publishers are more likely to have marketing opportunities than developers.
- Be open to working at small companies to start. Even if the first game you work on isn't a big blockbuster, you'll be in a good place. Games that don't already have a name for themselves depend heavily on good marketing, and you'll be able to showcase how you tackled those challenges in your resume and talk about them in interviews.

- Get to know people who are already working in the industry. Attend industry events, do informational interviews, etc. A good portion of hires are referrals.

- Since you don't have previous experience marketing games, why not put together a portfolio that shows what you can do? Create a mock marketing strategy for a fictional game, or a game that the company you are applying to is shipping in the near future. What sort of grass roots and/or social networking strategies would you use? What have you noticed that the company you are applying to is missing in their strategies? What are some big, creative ideas that might be appropriate? Anything original or untapped? On the business end, in what ways has your previous experience prepared you for coming up with big budget or tight budget marketing strategies? How in depth is your current knowledge regarding how to forecast game sales? Etc. These are questions you can tackle in a portfolio.

- Be open to working elsewhere in the entertainment industry for the time being. Film, music, and other media can have similar corporate cultures and marketing strategies, and relevant entertainment industry experience will be attractive to games companies.

If you don't find a job right away, don't be heartbroken and don't give up. At the end of the day, wherever you are, you're still marketing a product. Enjoy the fact that you can use your creativity and smarts to market any sort of product, even if it's not one you come home to and spend hours with every night. I love working in games, but HR at a games studio isn't worlds different than HR somewhere else. Try to get the best experience you can and continue to enjoy games and stay in touch with industry news and trends. I hope that is somewhat helpful. Best of luck to you with your job hunt!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

When You Don't Get the Job...

Although I fully intended (and do intend) to update this blog on a regular basis, I was out of the country for a while recently for a vacation and decided to turn the laptop on as few times as possible! That said, I'm back in action and hope this next article provides some helpful info on how to accept rejection with grace.

You read an ad that not only sounds like your dream job, but one that matches your credentials to a T. You spruce up your resume and send it in, confident that you'll hear from your soon-to-be-future-employer in a short while. Maybe they do call you. Perhaps you go in for an interview and come out feeling sure that you nailed it. But at the end of it all, you don't wind up with a job offer. Which really, really sucks. Perhaps this happens to you once, or many times over. What is the reason? Why were you passed up, and why didn't they see just how perfect you were for the job? How to you proceed from here? The answer may be simple or convoluted, but I'll give you a recruiter's perspective here.

Potential Reasons

We've all read about application blunders... the candidate who shows up totally drunk or accepts cell phone calls during an interview, the guy who sends his resume from an email address that reads something like, etc. I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you are none of these people. Here are some more likely reasons that you were turned down at some point along the way, and why there is nothing wrong with being turned down for any of these reasons.

- You were over or under qualified. This goes without much explanation. Your resume didn't match the level the employer is looking for, or it did but once they interviewed you they realized your experience wasn't at the right place. Trust me when I say that you don't want a job that you're going to fail at due to lack of knowledge/experience. Nor do you want to be bored to tears or underpaid because you're way overqualified. Although sometimes it's worth taking a step backwards in favor of better environment or future opportunities, the employer may not have thought the job would be an improvement for you.

-They were looking for something specific in your resume or interview. If that's the case, you say, why didn't they tell me what they were looking for specifically? Sometimes employers don't want to state outright what they are looking for. They may just want candidates to be honest and don't want to risk leading them towards certain answers (which can often be extremely easy to do during interviews). Imagine you're on a first date with someone you don't know much about. You wouldn't want them to say that they liked all the same things you like just for the sake of feeding you positive answers. You want to know who that person really is! Same goes for job interviews. It's also possible that they don't want to discuss the role in too much detail because doing so might risk giving away something confidential about their game. Regardless of the reason, there's not much that you can do in this case. You should always be honest in your interviews, your resume and application materials, and just accept the fact that you may actually not be a fit for a particular job, perhaps even one that you feel sounds like a perfect match on the outside.

- The competition edged you out. This can and does happen to anyone and everyone, even people who are at the top of their field. The employer just felt someone else was a better match for the job. The potential reasons are endless. Accept that the employer had reasons that they they felt were valid. Those reasons may not even have anything to do with you personally or your skill set. Move on. If you assume your skills could use some improvement, work on them.

- They had a feeling you wouldn't like the job. This happens more than you think. Understand that the employer knows more about the job they are trying to fill than you do! They may think you are brilliant and wonderful and talented, and that, based on your background or interview or whatever, you would absolutely hate this job. Or maybe the job you are interviewing for isn't actually as great as the job you have now. As employers, they have probably had some experience with hiring the wrong person for the wrong job and have learned from those mistakes. So do realize that employers are not necessarily just looking out for themselves. The good ones genuinely want their employees to be happy and don't want anyone to regret coming on board.

When I receive a rejection, how should I respond?

Be courteous and, if you've had previous communication, thank them for considering you. It doesn't feel great to be rejected, but it's not easy to turn people down either. I have to do it all the time and it stinks. But for you, it's an opportunity to take the high road and, not only save everyone involved from feeling terribly awkward, but to leave a great impression by being cool about it. It's possible that you will have a future opportunity with the same people, either at this company or different one, so it's wise to close on a high note.

Why didn't the employer get back to me?

Although I try to get back to all candidates, especially the ones I have spoken to, I have to admit I have been guilty of this one. But unless you were an absolute jerk to the employer in some obvious way (ie; you sent them hate mail along with your resume), the reason most likely wasn't personal. Here are some potential reasons you haven't heard back.

- The employer cannot respond to every application. There are times when I've received more than 100 applications per day for weeks at a time. Sometimes there honestly just aren't enough hours in a day to respond personally to everyone. And if time machines existed, they would surely be put to use in more productive ways.

- The employer doesn't want to open the door for arguments. This really has to do more with not hearing the specific reasons you were turned down for a job, as opposed to just not hearing back at all. If an employer tells a candidate the specific reasons why they were rejected for a job, it's possible that the candidate will openly disagree with those reasons, or try to argue their way back into a favorable position. These efforts are generally futile and just leave everyone feeling uncomfortable. Sometimes the reasons are awkward to state, especially if it's something like a potential personality clash. It's possible that the employer just wants to avoid hurting anyone's feelings. It's totally appropriate to ask the employer for feedback, but try not to be too upset if you don't get very clear answers back. Just move on and keep looking for the right job.

- The employer got busy. Yeah, it sounds like a terrible cop out, I know. But it happens. Sometimes hiring even gets put on the back burner due to other needs. If you haven't heard back in a while, it's fine to politely check in. If you continue to hear nothing but crickets over time, it may be best to just back off and let it go. The employer will contact you again if they are interested.

- They don't want to make a decision about you just yet. Sometimes employers don't get back to candidates because the job needs keep changing. You might look like a decent candidate if it the job needs turn out to be this or that. Or you might look like a good fit for a job that's coming down the pipe. There could be plenty of other reasons why an employer wants to wait and see. It can be common for a candidate to hear back from a company weeks or even months later. If you need to make decisions on other job offers, it is totally appropriate to let the employer know about your situation. Hopefully that will get them to make a decision right away.

Is it appropriate to apply in the future after being turned down?

Yes, and keeping in touch can be a great way to stay on their radar. But you might consider waiting a while after being turned down. Some good reasons to apply again in the short term would be if you see a new job posted that might be a better fit for you, if you've gained some really significant experience, if you've shipped a game and can finally show new stuff, etc. But otherwise, it can't hurt to just let the dust settle. It CAN hurt to keep applying to the point where the recruiter feels somewhat harassed, or where they just skip reviewing your application because they've seen it so many times (and thereby may miss something new and relevant you've added). But if you do apply again in the short term, explain the reasons why you were compelled to apply again so soon (ie: "I may be a better fit for this new job you posted than the one I applied for," "I shipped a game and can show you new stuff that was under NDA when I applied," etc). All in all, remember to use common courtesy as well as common sense.

What should I do if I run into the recruiter/manager that I interviewed with?

Be friendly and polite, of course! Chances are if you feel awkward, they do too. Here's your chance to break the ice and to let them know there are no hard feelings. As I said earlier, it's possible that you will have a future opportunity with the same people, either at this company or different one, so it's wise to try to leave a good impression (genuinely so, of course!).

Buck up, champ!

It's not fun to feel like you've missed an opportunity, but chances are the job wasn't really right for you anyways. Taking a job that is wrong for you may mean that you miss out on one that is right! At the end of the day, it's better to not get a job than to take on (or get fired from) one that wasn't a good fit for you in the first place. Keep looking and you will find something that works for you. When it doesn't work out, accept with grace and recognize that this happens to EVERYONE, even the best of the best. And never give up! There is always room for great people with skills in the industry.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

How to Get A Job In Games

I wrote an article for Respawn Entertainment's website about "How to Get a Job in Games." Some of the information is very specific to what Respawn looks for, but most of it includes general tips.

You can check out the article on Respawn's website at:

Below is the article in full!

The video game industry is booming and more information about how games are made is available than ever before. Game development jobs are attractive for a number of reasons: they are intellectually and creatively stimulating and challenging, they often boast fun and casual work environments, and they offer the opportunity to break new ground in entertainment, technology, and pop culture.

If you are passionate about games, you may have wondered if game development is the right career choice for you. More and more colleges are offering game development courses, but the path to a career in games is still not always clear. Do I need to go to school or can I teach myself? How do I stand out amongst the masses? What ARE the jobs that are available in game development, anyways? At Respawn Entertainment, we receive so many emails asking questions like these. I will make my best attempt to answer some of them here! Although this article is mainly geared towards people who have yet to land their first job in games, a few points may serve as reminders for those who are still seeking their dream job in the industry.

Let’s start at the very beginning!


I’m going to focus more on the developer side of things, since publishers tend to have a much wider range of roles available (everything from marketing and finance to production and QA).

The basic roles at most development studios are listed below. There are also other departments, such as audio, lighting, and VFX, but I tried to focus more on larger departments here. If you want more specific info on any jobs that are not listed here, feel free to let us know! Click on the tab below to see information on the corresponding role. We will end with General Tips When Looking For a Job in Games.

Art (3D and/or 2D)


Game Design

Software Engineering



Non-Development Roles


I could write an entire article on the topic of art portfolios alone, but I’ll try to stick to the basics here.

Training. Many art schools offer courses in 3D and concept design for video games and film. Art schools often have relationships with video game developers, which would help you get exposure to employers for internship opportunities. At school, you will meet and network with students who will also eventually be working at development studios. These relationships may help you get referred for positions later on.

Although good art schools may provide a strong foundation, you will improve more quickly and be more competitive for jobs if you work hard and self-educate in your own time. This is without question. There are plenty of on-line tutorials, as well as on-line message boards where you can share your work for critiques or ask technical questions. By the time you graduate, your portfolio should have personal projects in addition to school work. Many great artists are self-taught, so if financial concerns or other issues mean that art school isn’t in the cards for you, don’t let that stop you from learning the ropes through tutorials, books, experimentation, etc.

What do employers want to see? Of course, what employers are looking for varies depending on the company (and they will generally tell you in their job ads). But here are some general tips about what we at Respawn Entertainment like to see in junior talent.

- Texture your models. We want to see strong modeling but also beautiful, detailed textures (whether photo or hand painted textures are preferred will depend on the company). I see many portfolios where the models remain untextured. At Respawn, our artists do both so we want to see strengths in both areas. Extra points for great lighting.

- Show great design sense and taste. This applies to both 2D and 3D artists. As for 3D artists, choose strong designs to base your models off of (and give original design credit where it is due). Your baboon/crustacean/frog creature with the golden armor and giant horns may look like nothing I’ve ever seen in a game before, but maybe that is for a good reason. I might be way more impressed if you can nail the look of a real baboon, and it would give me just as much info about whether you can model/texture a creature. Concept artists may be able to impress with masterful painting skills and beautiful imagery, but those paintings aren’t what we will see in the final game. Successful concept artists will also be strong designers who are full of great, unique ideas that work well in 3D.

- Challenge and detail. As your skills improve, choose art projects for your portfolio that are increasingly more challenging and detailed. The more detailed the work is, the more it will impress. Lovingly adding those bits of wear, rust, decay, etc. to your models, without going overboard, will really help to sell your work. It is always easier for an artist who can nail challenging designs to create simpler assets than the other way around.

Start with props and environment work. There tend to be more jobs available for 3D prop and environment artists because there is just more environment work to do than there is character work. 3D character art takes a lot of finesse and is generally reserved for more senior level artists, so make sure that you include detailed props and environment work in your portfolio. Concept artists who do environment work may find more job opportunities at their doorsteps as well.

Remove your weakest work. Your portfolio should only show your strongest work. Don’t put poor work in your portfolio just for the sake of having more pieces or “rounding it out.” If you want to be a 3D environment artist, your potential employer doesn’t need to see your bad character models or amateurish figure drawings. Of course, we recruiters we love seeing your weaker work because it lets us know what your weaknesses are. But if you are showing your work for the purpose of getting a job (as opposed to a critique on how to improve), only include your best work. Your portfolio should highlight your strengths, not showcase the things you can’t do well. It should also be constantly evolving over time as you update it with newer, better work and remove weaker pieces.

Tailor your portfolio. If it is your dream to work on a certain type of game (say, a fantasy game) but you are currently working on a much different game (ie; sports game), create work in your own time that is tailored to the company you want to work for. I’ve worked at companies that have very distinct styles and received loads of portfolios that had nothing but work that is irrelevant to that company’s body of work. It is unlikely that a company will infer that you can nail their style off of work that is in a totally different style. There are artists competing with you who already have relevant work in their portfolios. Your professional work will show that you have experience, but you can always keep working on your portfolio and progress towards your dream job.

Keep it tasteful. Believe it or not, I’ve seen some gnarly stuff in art and animation portfolios. It just leaves me wondering if that person actually wants a job or if they are trying to sabotage their own chances. I’m not talking about nude figure drawing, which can be tastefully used in a portfolio to showcase drawing skills. If your artwork is grotesquely gory, overtly sexual or misogynistic, depicts torture or bodily functions generally reserved for private moments, or could in any way be perceived as offensive by the average person, leave it out. If you have doubts, leave it out. You don’t know what may be considered offensive by the person who is looking at your work. Not only will we question your taste (good taste being a desirable trait in an artist), we will question whether or not you are someone we actually want to work with.


Animators love to bring characters to life. And that’s exactly what we want to see in your animation reel: life! Good animation is very difficult to achieve and takes a lot of hard work and passion. The best animators absolutely love what they do and are willing to put in the extra time and effort to create beautiful, polished work that sells the character. As one of our Lead Animators says, “An animator can and should always bring their best work to any animation, from an exciting and complicated full cinematic scene to a simple leaf blowing in the wind.” Remember that once on the job, you’ll be working on more than just the animations that excite you the most. Even if you’re working on something simple, you’ll be expected to bring your A game every time.

Similarly to art, there are many great schools out there that teach animation, but you’ll get the best results if you combine your studies with research and hard work on your own time. Employers will want to see work beyond your basic school assignments.

What do employers want to see? Employers may want to see animation that is stylized, realistic, or both. At Respawn Entertainment we like to see realistic animation as opposed to cartoony, since realistic animation showcases weight, physics, and subtle movements that are very challenging and can really display an animator’s skills. Common mistakes in animation reels include choppiness, “pose to pose” rather than fluid animation, floatiness, and a lack of acting.

Employers also generally want to see good walk and run cycles, scenes that contain lots of action (as opposed to just dialogue or slow movements), great acting, and a strong display of good physics, weight, and polish.

Remove your weakest work. My comments here in the art section on this topic apply to animation reels as well.

Tailor your reel. See my comments here in art section on this topic.

Keep it tasteful. See my comments here in the art section on this topic.


At Respawn Entertainment, our designers are either geo builders, scripters, or both. The geo builders design their levels for fun gameplay, work with 3D artists to polish their levels, and are often talented artists themselves. The scripters create the gameplay and make the game fun. Scripters use a scripting language similar to code that makes events happen in the game. This type of scripting is not to be confused with dialogue scripts, such a movie scripts. Respawn also has designers who do both geo building and scripting. All designers work on coming up with ideas for story, character, dialogue, gameplay functions, etc. We want to see skills from candidates that showcase geo, scripting, or both.

Portfolio and Interview Preparation. A good game design portfolio has actual game design to show, as opposed to just paper design and written ideas. At Respawn we like to see screenshots or videos that show the levels you worked on, along with detailed descriptions of what you contributed. Take whatever route you need to in order to get some game design under your belt for your portfolio, and make sure that design is relevant to the company you are applying to (a portfolio with only mobile game design probably won’t help get you a job working on AAA console games). Play lots of games and be able to talk about them analytically, including how you would improve things that you felt were weak. Understand why you love the games you love and why you were disappointed by games that didn’t rise to your expectations.

Where to get my start? There are a number of ways to get experience designing games before your land your first design job.

Modding is a great way to get your start designing games. Some developers have their level design tools, called mod tools, available to the community. You can work with others in mod communities or alone to build and script levels. Your mods will make for great portfolio pieces and no tuition is required! There is plenty of information online about mods and how to get involved in mod communities. Tailor your work to fit with the company that you are interested in working for.

Many schools now offer game design programs. Game design schools often have relationships with video game developers, which would help you get exposure to employers for internship opportunities. At school, you will meet and network with students who will also eventually be working at development studios. These relationships may help you get referred for positions later on. Although you may be doing group projects in school, be sure to build personal levels on your own. The more learning and experience you seek on your own time, the stronger a designer you will be.

You may also have opportunities to move into game design if you work in QA at a development studio. Some studios may allow you to work directly with designers, learn your developer’s tools, and practice making levels. If you don’t have access to your studios development tools, you can always work on mods using other tools in your own time. If you have skills and share your work with the team, your employer may take notice and give you an opportunity to move into design. But please be sensitive to the fact that the developers you work with are busy making games (ie; don’t drive them crazy by bugging them constantly about your career development).

Read every game design book and article regarding game design that you can get your hands on, and play lots of games. Work diligently on building levels on your own time and improving your design skills. Building levels is time consuming but worth the effort. Having strong individual work to show is the best way to get a design job.


Do you love math? Did you find yourself tinkering with writing code during high school or earlier? Are you passionate about games and technology? Software engineering may be a great fit for you!

Education. This is one field where education may count more than others. Although there are always success stories of those who taught themselves, having a degree in Computer Science, Electrical Engineering, Math, or related field can help build your foundation and boost your ability to compete for internships and jobs. There are colleges and universities that offer programs specifically for programming in games, but if you plan to get training you should consider shooting for the best education you can afford and are qualified for, whether it be at a school for game design or somewhere more traditionally academic. Many universities these days have elective classes or even extracurricular clubs where students can get together and create video games. Video game companies are most likely to recruit interns and full time staff from top schools, local schools, and schools specific to game development.

Portfolio and skill demonstration. You don’t necessarily need a degree in order to land a job, but you will absolutely need to have demonstrable coding skills. If you don’t have industry experience, your potential employer will surely want to see a portfolio of code samples and school or personal projects that are game related. This goes for students, grads, and those who are self-taught. If you don’t have school projects to use in your portfolio, create a project with others or make a game by yourself in your own time. Mods and indie games can be a fantastic way to gain experience and acquire showable work. Keep in mind that any individual projects you do won’t need to focus as much on art and sound, but you will want your game to exhibit smart design and be fun to play. Make sure that your game can be easily downloaded and played by your average recruiter or hiring manager, and that it is accessible and not so overly complicated that the concept can’t be immediately grasped and enjoyed. Keep in mind that employers will want to know what you specifically contributed to group projects, so describe your contributions in your portfolio and be prepared to talk about what the development challenges were and what your role was. If your team projects don’t serve as great examples of your best work, consider leading a group project and/or creating your own games.

Other keys to success. Good software engineers work well with other programmers and have the ability to work with code that others have written. They love what they do and strive to constantly develop their skills and expand their knowledge. Play lots of games and be able to talk about them analytically. When developers release the source code for their games, check it out. Source code can be a great resource for learning how a game engine works. Don’t hesitate to seek internships or co-ops to give yourself an edge up and build industry relationships. The most valuable learning experiences will be on the job. Overall, keep in mind that programming is not easy, but there is more pleasure to be had from accomplishing something difficult than something without challenge.


Most video game producers get their start in QA, and from there go on to QA leadership, production coordination or associate producer roles, and so on. A few characteristics of a good producer candidate include great leadership skills, impressive organization, strong communication and people skills, a deep understanding of the development process, and a genuine passion for games.

If you are interested in a production role in games, the best start would probably be QA, and to stand out as a very strong QA tester with leadership skills. Be patient and work hard; there are much fewer production roles available than there will be QA testers working next to you. But talk to the producers that work with you about how they got their start. Let management know about your interest and ask them how you might start working towards a production role.

Production candidates may also have backgrounds in project management in film or other industries. Other ways you could bolster your resume may include taking game development and/or project management courses.


The Quality Assurance (or Test) department is a great place to get your start in the game industry. QA is a very important part of the game development cycle. If you play games you know how frustrating it can be when you encounter a bug. The QA department has the important role of finding and reporting bugs so that they can be fixed. If you are not yet qualified for or just haven’t found your first job in games, QA can be a great start for many reasons.

1- QA jobs are generally entry-level and don’t require a lot of previous work experience or education

2- You can learn more about how games are made while on the job

3- You will build industry connections

4- If you shine in QA and show potential in other areas, you may have the opportunity to move up the ladder in QA or into a production or development role.

How do I get a job in QA?

First of all, play lots of games. Be able to speak analytically about the games you love (or don’t love). Write a great cover letter that explains why you want to work for that particular company as a tester, and what you love about games (especially their games). Please note that video game companies are unlikely to relocate candidates for non-leadership QA roles, so focus on companies that are in your area, or consider moving to a new location.

Other ways of standing out from a mass of applicants may be to: beta test games in your own time, write some sample bugs from games you’ve played and include those as part of your application, post videos of yourself finding tricky bugs and/or exploiting errors in the game, etc.

Note: QA testing does not mean “playing games all day.” A tester’s job is to break the game. While the job can be loads of fun, it’s also hard work and requires creativity and lots of patience. The hours can be long and the work can be repetitive. But if you are in QA and are looking to further your career in the game industry, your goal should be to be the best QA tester you can possibly be.

Excel in your QA role and you will be more likely to get noticed for promotions or transferred to new roles. Even if your 3D/animation/game design/etc skills are impressive, if you are not performing well at your QA job you may not be considered a good candidate for transfer/promotion since the company will probably have doubts about your work ethic. If your future goals include a development related role, you will have more opportunity to move into such a role if you get a QA job at a development studio as opposed to a publisher (since you will be working directly with developers). Just note that QA jobs at a developer may require previous QA experience. QA experience at a publisher is valuable and publishers may have more production roles available than smaller development studios might.


So you don’t feel you fit the bill for any of the jobs above, but you still want to work in the game industry. There are plenty of other jobs at game studios and publishers that may be the right fit for you… IT, marketing, finance, HR, operations, etc ,etc. Here are some tips on how to stand out amongst all the other resumes.

Write a great cover letter.

- Don’t have any experience in games? Your cover letter is your golden opportunity to talk about your passion for games and why you want to work in the industry. Discuss your interest and experience with the games that particular company has made. If your resume is lacking relevant experience, this is the best way to get noticed other than by direct referral.

Get experience in similar industries, such as entertainment or tech.

- Game industry culture can be similar to entertainment (film, music, media, etc.) and technology industry cultures, so if you haven’t already held a job in games, it could be a plus if you have worked in similar environments. You will appear to be more of a potential fit than if your experience is solely in, say, insurance or banking. Again, this is just about making your resume stand out amongst the masses; I am definitely not saying that any particular industry is “better” than another.

Get the best experience and/or education you can.

- Game studios want the best of the best, just like any company does. Game industry jobs are attractive and the competition is fierce, so the obvious ingredients for an impressive resume apply here as well: great experience, and for many jobs, great education as well.


Tailor your resume/cover letter/portfolio to the job you are applying for. You may be applying to a lot of places, but you should know what you are applying for. Read the job ad carefully and make sure that the aspects of your background that match requirements of the job ad are on your resume. You may have a slightly different resume for each job you apply for, and that’s okay. Research the companies you are applying to (better yet, play their games) and make you are able to talk about their accomplishments. Explain why you want to work for that company in your cover letter. Companies want to know that you have genuine interest in them. Generic cover letters (or cover letters addressed to the wrong company) and emails that are clearly sent to multiple companies are a turn off. That said, if you find yourself talking to a company that you don’t know much about, don’t pretend to know anything you don’t.

Be yourself during interviews. Interviews can be nerve wracking, but they are a necessity when it comes to getting a job. Keep in mind that an interview is not just a chance for an employer to see if they are interested in you, it is also a chance for you to see if you are interested in the employer! Come prepared and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Also (and I am most likely quoting your mother when I say this…) JUST BE YOURSELF! I mean this in regards to both your behavior and the work you are showing. Plagiarism is an obvious no-no (and the quickest way to ensure you DON’T get a job, now or ever. Use your own work). But whether or not you are a cultural fit will also make a huge difference in determining your future happiness at the job. If you are trying to act like something you’re not, you could be hired or not hired for the wrong reasons. Your “true” self and actual abilities will show themselves eventually, anyways. Be honest, be yourself, and the job that fits you like a glove will come in time.

Leave the ego at home. You may have been the best in your class at school, but respect the fact that you are now interviewing with (or working with) people who have way more experience than you. And guess what, there will always be people who you can learn from, no matter how good you are at your job. So please don’t act like you know it all. You don’t. Do yourself (and everyone around you) a favor by being a team player and recognizing that you have a lot to learn. You will grow more and the game you are working on will be better for it. Your knowledge and skills will grow over time, and the more eager you are to learn, the more likely you are to be hired and/or get ahead. The people who are strongest in their field will be the first to admit that they still have room to grow. (And thank goodness for that! What would drive us in our careers if there was nothing left to learn?)

So you got a job offer, but it’s not at your dream studio or on your dream project. Fret not!

First of all, congratulations on landing a job! Getting a job ANYWHERE right now is not easy. Most people don’t get their start working on their dream project and it is completely unrealistic to have that expectation. As the saying goes, everyone has to start somewhere. No matter what type of game you’re working on, that development experience you’re getting right now is invaluable. Do your best and learn as much as you can. If you really feel like you are not where you want to be, expand your portfolio in your own free time. Making art for a cartoony game but want to work on realistic looking games? Make those photo-real props at home and keep working to hit that look. Avoid using your current employers’ property (intellectual or physical) as well as their tools or software for personal work unless you have their explicit permission to do so.