Little Wolf Studio's Lilly Devon offers advice for developers hoping to make that big career leap
So you want to get into the games industry? Of course you do – it’s bloody awesome.
Making games for a living is a dream come true for me and 99.9 per cent of the rest of the industry. You generally don’t get into games by chance, so the people that are in it love it. It’s not really a job you ‘fall’ into, you have to work hard and know your stuff.
I’ve been in the industry for a decade myself (writing that down makes me feel super old) and I really couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else. Of course, I’ve tried doing other jobs – either by choice or by need – and take it from me and the thousands of other like-minded folk: this one is pretty damn amazing.
The industry is full of the most creative, intelligent and friendliest people you’ll ever meet and, whilst it’s a whole lotta fun, it also has its challenges. Think twice if you think making games is just a doss – honestly, walk away and stop reading this article right now. You’ll stress, probably cry at some point and pull all nighters wired on pro-plus and redbull. I don’t think any single dev has gone without crunch at some point in their careers.
But trust me when I say it’s all worth it and to me, there’s nothing that comes close to making a living doing something you adore.
In this article I’ve provided some information on how and where to find your dream job, how to approach potential employers and what common pitfalls you can avoid. I hope it’s useful to someone out there.
“To Whom it may Concern”. Dear everybody that starts their job application emails like this – in the words of Frank Fontaine, ‘would you kindly’ not.
Please take note (I’m mainly looking at you, students) because this is a serial offending pet peeve as a potential employer and I know I’m not alone. Whom are you concerning yourself with? It’s impersonal and cold. Do you want to come across like this?
Everyone says it: impressions count. And they say it for a reason – if you can’t be fussed to look up the hiring manager’s name or even their gender (Dear Sir/Madam) then I hang my head, I truly do. Working in the games industry is not a walk in the park. It’s fast-paced, energetic, bristling with creative intelligent folk (some bordering on just plain genius) and if you want to make yourself stand out from the rest of the other hopeful fresh faces – then take heed: Write proper.
Think twice if you think making games is just a doss – honestly, walk away and stop reading this article right now.
This is literally just how to address the very first part of an email – the rest is logic, but again – it surprises me daily just how wrong people get it. This includes not knowing where the spellcheck button is (Why? It’s just one click), not knowing how to compose a proper sentence (ultimate first impression fail), forgetting to attach CVs, addressing the wrong company – I could go on.
Basically, if you want to be taken seriously then do some research and read your email several times before you send it.
Here’s a quick checklist for you:
- Address the studio/hiring manager.
- Introduce yourself and for what position you’d like to apply for.
- Add a link to your portfolio or website.
- Attach your CV (and cover letter if you like).
- Remember to be polite.
- Add a simple line as your subject header on the email.
How to find your dream job
I’m a firm believer in: If you’ve got the passion and drive, then you’ll do well. Obviously, this doesn’t necessarily work with other jobs out there but the games industry is a pretty open one. If an employer can see you have passion, energy and the skills to back it up then you’ll go far.
Back when I first started out in the industry, there was no such thing as a course in game design or video game development and software was extremely hard to get hold of unless you were well off. I started my career working at GAME in Colchester, which I absolutely loved. I think I did that for about a year and a half until a job came up at Ninja Theory as a QA tester. I had no GCSEs (I left school at 15), no College degrees, no Uni experience but I had a will to learn and progress upwards to finally get my dream job as a games designer.
I write this as I want everyone to have comfort in the fact that anyone can make it. Everyone has a chance; you just have to apply yourself. Market yourself. Learn a game engine (Unity, Unreal, and so on) and join game jams.
Read gaming websites, game reviews and above all: play games! Ask yourself why the game was fun, what would you do to improve it, how could you optimise it, why you engaged with a certain character – and on the flip side, why was the game bad, why didn’t the mechanics work well, how could you have improved the sound. Try to stay in focus of what’s going on in the current gaming climate, as it’s important you’re up to date with new tools, technology, trends, key figures and new releases.
Have a professional email address when applying – nobody wants to email back HotStuf694U@whatever.com. Seriously, you won’t hear back.
So how do you put yourself above other applicants and avoid the Catch 22 problem of getting turned away with ‘lack of experience’? Simple: do the work. Some studios will obviously be looking for seasoned developers, but there’s plenty of junior roles out there that have your name on. Make sure you write a clear and short application (a paragraph is fine), attach a cover letter if you like (and make sure you tailor it to the studio) and attach your CV. Don’t forget to do this. Why would a company employ you if you forget something as obvious as that?
Also please, please have a professional email address when applying – nobody wants to email back HotStuf694U@whatever.com. Seriously, you won’t hear back. A friend of mine recently told me his email address that he uses for all his work and personal correspondence and I could NOT believe it. I laughed for a solid five minutes on the phone. Sorry, Andy.
Constructing the perfect CV
In regards to your CV, don’t overly complicate things. A page or two at most. Date you discography if you have any titles to your name – and if not, bullet-point out your knowledge/skills first. You want your potential employer to see this right away; they are busy people with a hell of a lot of CV’s to get through no doubt and you want yours to stand out.
I once got told by a particularly demented recruiter that in order to get a job I was really excited about, I had to ‘tart up my CV’. He told me to make my CV look like a ring-binder file complete with coffee stains, blood splatters and zombie pictures. He then put the cherry on the top and said I should tea stain it for that ‘old and decayed’ look.
Firstly, he was clearly off his rocker. Secondly, if you have the skills and the right fit personality-wise then that’s what counts. If you really have that much time to put into doing your CV, you’re not doing life right. It sounds fun sure, but you want to be taken seriously and the time you save by fannying about on your CV you could be making games.
In regards to experience, you may not have studio time but that doesn’t mean you can’t do things your side. As I mentioned above, go learn a good engine editor. Unity is particularly good for all levels and there’s plenty of YouTube videos. Hook up with likeminded friends and create something together if you can – but if not, then you can still write, document, learn and improve your skillset.
If you can, create a website or online portfolio of your abilities. There’s plenty of free sites out there you can use and personally, nine out of ten most people will look at an online portfolio if it’s provided. So make it good. And full of stuff. It’s here you can let your creative self run wild, so go for it.
If you want to be in the games industry then work for it – nobody ever gets handed anything for free. It all requires hard work and focus.
Now, on to actually finding the jobs themselves, I assume most of you know how to do a Google search.
Most studio websites will list any current vacancies and encourage you to make an application whether a job is listed or not. However, every company is different – so it’s at your discretion whether you do or don’t. Some companies ask you to fill out an online application, whilst others prefer you to email them directly. Make sure you pay attention to their requirements as you could fail on the first hurdle if you ignore this.
There’s quite a good amount of gaming websites that advertise jobs, plus specialised recruiters that will do the heavy work for you. However, keep in mind that not all studios advertise through them and they take a chunk of company money every time they make a hire. So if you're at a junior level or below – i.e. zero experience – you might want to skip using a recruiter as it’s generally not worth the time for either of you.
But again, it’s up to you how you approach this. Make sure you also check gamedevmap.com, which lists probably 90 per cent of games studios (publishers and developers) plus their locations worldwide. You can do specific regional searches which is pretty handy if you’re looking for something local to you. Although, just as a side note, most studios are located in cities – Cambridge, Guildford, London and so on – so you may either have to commute or move entirely.
And if they say thanks but no thanks...
Lastly, I wanted to cover a little on the subject of rejection. It’s a little overlooked and nobody really likes to talk about it. But it happens all the time and sometimes it’s because of something you might or might not have done, but other times it’s purely because your skills don’t fit what the company needs at that time. This is important to remember as you may be what they need in the most part, but you might be lacking in some technical ability that you just need to learn. Try to ask for feedback if you get a no or if it’s not explained in your response email from the company.
Don’t get disheartened. If you take anything away from this piece, it’s this: You can do and be anything – your career is what you make it. If you want to be in the games industry then work for it – nobody ever gets handed anything for free. It all requires hard work and focus.
You will be knocked back at times, but it’s up to you to turn that rejection into a positive. How can you improve yourself, what new skills can you learn and how can you assert yourself. Everything is possible if you have the passion.