How to get Your First Job in the Game Industry 5 September 2017
This write-up comes from a talk at PAX West 2017. The talk covered topics about how to find your first Game-Job, but it did focus on visual-based jobs since they’re (according to the panelists) in demand right now. The panel featured:
Sarah Grisson – VFX (Visual effects, particle effects) (Hosted the panel)
Sophie Brennan – Character TD (Rigs 3D models for animation)
Mika Zahn – Technical Artist (Visual effects via shaders, materials, particles)
Matt Allen – Designer of Technical Art (High-Level design management)
Caryn Vainio – UX Designer (User Experience, UI, accessibility)
How’d they get started?
Each person had a unique experience, but the common theme was that they just sort of ended up in the game industry. Usually they had a job doing related work and finally got their first job. This feels like a likely story since game schools are a very new thing, so there’s still something to be said for game schools.
The following five quotes are paraphrasing from notes I took during the talk are not literal quotes.
Sarah: “I liked to make weird art and composite stuff. My start was in Media Production (movies and TV). I hated waiting for rendering and prefer real-time work. Submitted a resume to a game studio looking for a Junior Artist role and when we talked further it turned out they needed to hire a VFX artist too and I fit that role better!”
Sophie: “I took a more traditional route. Went to an art school, learned some computer science and applied to be a game developer.”
Mika: “I have both an engineering and art degree. Started off doing CG work and discovered I really enjoyed writing technical tools to speed up CG development.”
Matt: “My wife’s neighbor started Monolith Games…. So…. That’s it.”
Caryn: “I played a ton of games. At the time I was a web developer for a game studio, then a UI position opened up and got recommended for it (in-house).”
Find what specifically you love doing and focus on that. Just make a ton of content tailored for that specific role.
Create a powerful demo reel you can show. Try to do around 45 seconds.
Create another reel (or blog post, or website, etc.) that’s longer and more in-depth. Maybe show how you created the work, some technical explanations of how the visuals work (or audio is built).
There’s no need to list soft skills or unrelated jobs. Try to hide them even though they are working experience. Spend the space on the resume to focus on related work and experience, even if it’s unpaid or unemployed. List skills you gained out of the work. For example, instead of listing “10 years in the pet-food industry and a certified dog & cat food expert” say “Developed effects using shaders for fun.” or “Composed 15 songs over the past 3 years focusing on ambiance.” then add additional 3-5 word bullet points about what that experience taught you.
Applying to a Job Advice
Hiring Managers may care about “50+ years C++ experience” and “Released 15 AAA games” for a junior-level job, but the actual developers don’t care about any of that.
Actively don’t listen to job requirements.
Build your resume for each job. Try to contort the items they’re looking for into technically true phrases on your resume. They want leadership experience? Remember the time you “talked during your classroom group’s project presentation? That counts.”
Don’t panic. You’ll get started eventually and it will just take some time. The panelists seemed to indicate they had many stories they could share about how hard it was for their friends to get started.
Find friends making games and if something in the game stinks, offer to help make it better. Also try asking if there’s anything they hate doing. It’s much easier to find work to do something someone else hates doing.
How to Find Places Hiring
The panelists had a tough time answering this question. Now, for them, they know a lot of people in the industry and are generally aware of new openings around. For complete new players to the field, this is they best they could recommend.
Find games you like to play and check their site to see if they’re hiring.
Sometimes they won’t list jobs they’re still hiring for. Apply anyway.
Job titles are not super clear. There are 100s of titles and they all mean about the same thing.
Places may allow people to work remotely or pay for a relocation, these bonuses are just not advertised.
The following section is my own work and was not covered in the panel.
I hate this phrase. It’s ambiguous, unhelpful, and frustrating to hear. I internally shutdown every time someone tells me I need to network. Unfortunately it’s kind of true.
First off, let’s change the name to Talking to Important Strangers.
How to Talk to Important Strangers
The following section is my own work and was not covered in the panel.
This is unfortunately a soft skill that is really hard to practice. You want to go talk to these developers who are doing the work you want to do, you want to be like them. You’re gonna be nervous, in uncomfortable clothes, feeling self-conscious, far from home, and fighting off 10s of others who all want the same thing. It’s awful.
Be friendly, be polite, have a plan.
Prepare one question you want to ask, or one sentence about yourself (why you want to talk to them) first.
Be brief when talking about yourself – “I’m a technical artist” not “I’m a recent college graduate learning how to do cool effects in Unity”.
Thank them when the conversation ends, they have other people to keep talking to and are also tired, nervous, uncomfortable, and far from home.
Ask for some contact info. Ask if it’s okay to email them a question or ask for some advice.
Don’t ask literally for a job.
Don’t force your info (business card) into their hand. They’ll just toss it out.
Follow up as soon as possible. Send an email indicating who you are, and where you met. Try to have sometime worthwhile for them to do too, like a demo reel you want feedback on or some advice.
It never gets easier, but it’s surprising when talking with one person will randomly know someone else you really wanna talk to.
There’s a joy in discovering other people interested in the same thing you are. Focus on that. Talking to another composer? Say what excites you most about writing music, or some cool new trick you discovered.
Specific Advice for VFX & Tech. Artists
Practice Fire and fireworks. Those are tricky and look really good.
First work on environment or ambient effects. Create a short 3-5 second loopable particle/effect.
Poison status effect
Vortex or Black Hole
Second, work on impacts like from punches or blasts. Show the entire effect from start to the dust being settled. Don’t cut out the settling phase from the demo reel.
Show the material box. How the material works and how the effect can be altered. This should be in a technical demo-reel, not the flashy intro demo reel.
A quick notes about Graphics Programming. It’s a very specific role that only very large companies will have room for, and even then they are very competitive. Besides, graphics engineering is almost always a research position. You’re working on the latest rendering techniques that haven’t been discovered yet, not actually putting them into games for use.