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  • Ask the Experts: Game Development Internships

    [02.09.09]
    - Jill Duffy
  • Title boxDear Experts,
    As the summer is fast approaching I have been looking for internships. Most of the time, these applications go to companies who have come to recruit at my college [which has a game art and design program], but I would like to find more opportunities.

    I have had a marginal amount of luck finding internships posted on various job websites, but I feel I'm missing opportunities. Am I missing a job site, or is it that the current economic climate is not particularly conducive to hiring interns?

    Or do most companies not post internships, and instead do you recommend contacting these companies directly? How would you recommend going about contacting companies directly about an internship position?

    Thank you for your time,
    M.O.


    Dear M.O.,
    From a student's perspective, the internship situation in the game industry sucks.

    I hope readers of this column have come to learn (and if I'm lucky, appreciate) the fact that I can be blunt. And I've just got to be blunt about the whole internship debacle. If you're a student actually looking to get an internship, it's freaking hard!

    The problem is that there is no central place where internships are listed. So don't worry, M.O. -- you haven't bypassed them. Very few job requisitions for interns make it to the Gamasutra or GamesIndustry.biz job boards, where a huge percent of all the full-time and part-time jobs of the industry are listed.

    The reason, I'd presume, is that game development studios are not desperate for interns. They are desperate for experienced programmers, but not interns.

    In an industry where time is the most valuable resource, a huge priority is seeking out and hopefully retaining the most experienced programmers (and other employees) one can find.

    On the other hand, interns are by their very nature inexperienced. And they're easy to come by. You could turn over a rock and find more perfectly suitable intern candidates than you could find experienced programmers open to new job offers in the entire city of New Orleans.

    Interns can be wonderful assets to companies, especially if they take on interns who are in their final semester and would be open to a full-time job offer once their studies are completed. The catch is the company has to have the time, personnel, money, and wherewithal to find them, cull them, and train one or two keepers -- then pray that they'll stay on board because if they don't, it could be seen as a minor financial loss to the company.

    Given all that, my theory -- and I honestly don't know if this is true, but it's an educated guess -- is that most game studios that do sponsor internships get enough applications without advertising the position. If they were to advertise the position, they would get too many applicants, and then would have to spend more time (read: money) sifting through them all. Why advertise a job if you get enough candidates without doing it?

    I've had several conversations with The Powers That Be that help run this site to see if GameCareerGuide could become the central location for internship listing in the game industry, but there just hasn't been enough interest for it to work. As I said, game companies are not desperate to find interns. (Since I first wrote a draft of this article and shared it with The Powers That Be, they have initiated a renewed effort to get a listing of internships on this site. I'll let you know what comes of it.)

    Internships in the Video Game Industry
    There are two good ways to find internships, and it sounds like you've already figured out what they are, M.O. 1) through a school and 2) through individual company web sites.

    If your school has a well-connected career center, it will likely be able to help you find an internship. Some of the more established and reputable game schools (Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University comes to mind) have amazingly tight connections in the industry and practically have internships set aside for their students. For any readers who are applying game schools or universities with game divisions, ask what kind of internship assistance is available. In some cases, it's little to nil while other times it's a fantastic and established program of preferential treatment. There's any easy way to tell, too. (Pay close attention to the words used in the answers.) If you ask, "What kind of internship assistance does this school provide?" you might hear something like this:

    A) "Our students have had internships at Studios A, B, and C."
    B) "We have a relationship with Studios X and Y in the area, and we have six students working there now."

    If you hear something similar to B), you know the people at the school, from the career counselors to the instructors to the department heads, are going to go to bat for you and do their best to hook you up. If the answer sounds more like A), that's a sign that the onus will be much more on you.

    Some schools have an internship requirement. Let me just say this plainly: When a school requires its students to have an internship sometime in the course of their education but does not reasonably help the student find or get an internship, it makes me think less of the school's program. That's just crappy, and it's not fair to the students. It pressures them into taking whatever they can get rather than allowing them to explore until they find the right internship that really lets them try out a career they're genuinely interested in having.

    I scoped around a little to find some internships that will be open in Spring 2009 and the near future. See below.

    Let me also reiterate the helpful advice that's been shared on our forum: go to gamedevmap.com, one of my favorite game web sites, and click on the nearest city to your location. Then, methodically go through the list of game companies in the area, pull up their web sites, and look at their job pages. A good rule of thumb is the bigger a game studio or company, the more likely it is to have an established internship program. That's not to say the smaller companies don't have them or couldn't be convinced to start one for the right candidate, but typically, bigger company equals more chance that it takes interns.

    Here is a list of some of the internship opportunities I found:

    Insomniac Games Internships (April 1, 2009 application deadline)

    EA American Internships

    EA European Internships

    THQ has 7 internships listed (March 2, 2009 application deadline; click Show All)

    Ubisoft has a San Francisco-based unpaid public relations internship for Spring 2009, with a deadline of February 23, 2009, though I do not recommend an internship that is 100 percent unpaid

    Ubisoft also has several other internships for French speakers in Paris and Lausane, and a few for German speakers in Dussledorf.

    Disney typically has a long list of internships, so keep an eye out for one that works with games

    5thCell takes internship applications on a rolling basis

    Midway Games takes internship applications on a rolling basis

    Ravensoftware doesn't have any listed internships presently, but the company does have them from time to time

    BreakAway Games doesn't have an up-to-date web page, but the company seems to offer internships in at least the summer and fall

    Wild Hare doesn't have an up-to-date site, but they have evidence of having had interns in the past

    Finally, as I was flipping through some of these job sites, I was surprised at the number of open QA jobs I saw. I recommend that college students apply for part-time QA gigs, too, just in case you can't find an internship. The experience of working in QA is just as good.

    See also:
    "Stories from the Intern-to-Hire Frontline," February 21, 2008.
    "From Intern to Artist: How Diane Stevenson Broke Into the Game Industry," August 30, 2007.

    Good luck!

    Jill Duffy is editor-in-chief of GameCareerGuide.com and senior contributing editor of Game Developer magazine. If you have a question you'd like her to answer in the Ask the Experts column please email it to theexperts@gamecareerguide.com. Letters may be edited for space and clarity.

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