Wednesday, March 23, 2011

How to get a job in videogames

Occasionally someone will ask ‘how can I get a job in videogames?’ and not know what specific type of work is available. Here’s a list of the main jobs.
Programmers write code (C/C++/Java/C# etc). To be a programmer you generally need to go to college and major in Software Engineering or a similar field. You should also program for fun in your spare time. Programmers tend to be good at math and physics.
If you’ve never programmed before, and wonder what it’s like, install Small Basic and work through the guide which comes with it. Don’t worry – it’s simple enough for kids, so an adult can do it with a little effort :)
Game companies have a large staff of programmers. The high technical barrier to entry means that there are fewer qualified applicants and higher resulting pay than some of the other jobs below.
The main reason I started this blog was to help programmers get into the game industry. See this tag for my tips – read the oldest posts first.
Designers use a level editor to build the levels of the game – placing monsters, ammo, and setting up ‘events’ which happen. They also design the game as a whole and work with the other departments to realize that vision.
I’ve written before about what a designer does and how to go about getting a position.
Artists make 2D art in Photoshop, and 3D models in Max or Maya. To be an artist, you have to be good at art, and have gone to art school. It’s possible to teach yourself how to use art packages, but art school will teach other skills such as composition which are also needed. When artists apply for jobs, then include a link to an online portfolio of their work. Here’s a random example I found online.
Game companies have a large staff of artists (depending on the type of game). So there are more ‘slots’ to apply for, but competition can be high as there are many aspiring artists.
Animators, similar to artists, work in Max or Maya. The create skeletons for characters (‘rigging’), and then animated them. Again, you need to go to art school to learn the skills involved. Animation used to be part of the artists job, but increasingly the jobs are specializing into two or more different roles.
Animators are usually in smaller number than the artists, and again, competition can be high.
Sound Designer
Sound designers place and configure sounds and music within the game. Sometimes this can include the original creation of the sounds, but often libraries of sounds are used, and music creation is outsourced to a third party.
Sound designers are quite few in number. It is a relatively new field, which was originally lumped in with the role of the designer. Having gone to college to study music or audio production would be useful.
A producer (job title my vary by company) ensures that the project is completed in a timely manner, and communicates with external companies (e.g. the publisher, IP license holder, music creation, language translation). The role is all about planning when things need to happen, communicating with people to make sure things will run smoothly, and then tracking progress to make sure things work out as planned.
The production staff tends to be fairly small. Majoring in business administration would be a good choice for this type of position, but it’s not a requirement.
Testing (A.K.A. Quality Assurance) consists of playing the game, to find bugs in it. The team then fix the bugs, and the testers check that the bug is gone.
Testing isn’t as much fun as it may sound. You play the same game for months or years, repeatedly completing it, playing the game on the different consoles, playing it in each different language etc. Plus it’s a full time job – you don’t just play when you want to.
As the job doesn’t require years of technical training, it can be easier to get a position, but the pay is not as good. This said, it is possible to work your way up through test into positions in design, production or IT, and can give you valuable experience in game development. So testing can be a good route into ‘better’ positions for people lacking qualifications and experience.
Other Supporting Positions
Depending on the size of the company, there are also a number of supporting roles which are less directly related to the game side of things. These positions include Administrative Assistant, Human Resources, Recruiting, Accounting, Sales and Marketing, I.T. / Tech Support. As game studios tend to be quite ‘young’ and playful in nature, and you get to support the team who are working on the game, working in these roles can still contain the ‘fun’ of working in games.

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