How To Break Into The Industry, Part 2

By Destin Bales [03.15.12]

 In part two of this introductory series for aspiring developers, Destin Bales discusses some of the best ways to develop real experience and prepare a solid portfolio for a future job. The following text comes from Bales' blog, "I Need To Make Games."

Part one of this series is available here.

Step 4: Build Hands-On Experience

Now it is time to get your hands dirty and begin building applicable experience that you can use as a stepping stone to secure your first development job.

Of all of the articles and bits of advice in this series, "Build Hands-On Experience" is by far the most important one of the bunch.  Follow this path and you will reach your goal of working in the games industry. If however you skip this step you will find it significantly more difficult to break into development and the odds may not be in your favor. Yes it takes time -- possibly a considerable amount of time.  In the end, however, it is the most valuable experience you can gain and it is this work that you will ultimately feature on your resume and use to sell yourself to prospective employers.

Regardless of your desired discipline the most important thing that you need to do is prove your worth on screen by showing your art, design sense, or engineering skillset in a game engine by sharing a functional demo, prototype, mod or newly created game. While there are a number of different ways to achieve this goal we suggest getting started by learning a powerful and free game development engine named the Unity engine.  Used to make many commercially successful games on the PC and iOS platforms, Unity offers an intuitive interface, numerous online tutorials and available books, and even the ability to purchase assets for use in your game for just a few dollars each. Furthermore, Unity supports both C# and Javascript so if you followed our advice and participated in the free Stanford Programming Methodology class you are practically equipped to write any code necessary.

"The Unity engine has a great mix of powerful features and ease of use.  There are other free engines out there, but none give you the creative freedom that Unity has to offer."

  - Neal Kettler, Technical Director | Paragon Studios

Take it slow, and follow these steps towards achieving your goal: 

This process can be used regardless of your discipline to showcase your talent.  The Unity engine allows for exporting of projects to a web player which may allow you to demonstrate your work online via the online portfolio we help you create in Step 6.

Once you are familiar with the engine and creating content on your own, it's time to enter the general mod (modification) community. Many retail games like Team Fortress 2 and Neverwinter Nights 2 can be modified by enthusiasts to include revised gameplay or new content for others to enjoy. While creating desirable content from scratch can be a monumental task (as you've no doubt learned from your time with Unity) it is possible to build off of established works to create something compelling in a relatively short amount of time. Through modding you even have the opportunity to work with others and gain valuable cross-disciplinary experience. Last but not least, successful mods are enjoyed by players allowing you to experience the feedback cycle from customers first hand. This is all gold for creating a stand-out resume and landing your first official development job.

Today two of the hottest mod-able games available include Minecraft and Skyrim. Make a compelling mod for either of these two products and you will have a fantastic wealth of experience to leverage on your application.

"When I'm looking through resumes, I tend to pay more attention to candidates that have already built a mod or who have a demo.  They are more likely to learn our tools quickly, and it shows how passionate they are about making games.  

There are people who want to make great games, and there are people who need to make great games.  It's a no-brainer who I'd rather hire."

  - Ellisa Barr, Producer | Paragon Studios 

Step 5: Education

Here we share our advice on education as it relates to game development. Whether you are a grade school student preparing for college, or a working adult who lacks the time to earn a degree, we discuss a variety of options available to you.

The most common question with regards to education and game development is whether or not a college degree is required to get a job in the industry. The answer to that question is no, you do not have to earn a degree to make games.

But you should.

While a college degree is not an absolute requirement to professionally develop games, having one can only help increase your chances of both landing that first job and ultimately reaching your full potential. Reasons that a college degree is valuable for entering game development include:

"I feel fortunate to work in an industry as fun, creative, and relevant as video games, and my education has been an important part of my success."

 - Ross Borden, Sr. Vice President, Brand and Business Strategy | NCSoft

There are a variety of options available when considering what type of degree to obtain or which school to attend. Many traditional colleges offer degrees in Computer Science and recently some have even begun to offer curriculums in game development.  

Furthermore, for those who are interested there are even universities like Full Sail dedicated entirely to training students to enter the industry. While we've seen no evidence that attending such a school over a more traditional university will increase your chances of finding a job in the industry, it stands to reason that being immersed in the process will help you improve as a developer at some point in the future.

What if I am unable to go to college you ask? Perhaps you are an adult with other responsibilities and you lack the time or finances to do so. Don't fret. By following all of the steps that are outlined on this site you are still more than capable of achieving your goal. Many of this young industry's best and brightest found success through self-directed learning and determination.  What you lack in educational experience you can make up for with hands-on experience through the creation of mods or other displays of your work.

Step 6: Resume and Online Portfolio

It's almost time to go after your dream.  Be prepared by creating an appropriate resume and online portfolio.  Let's discuss how.

When the time comes to begin applying for jobs in the games industry, your resume and online portfolio will become critical in effectively communicating your value to a prospective employer.  In today's digitally driven world we do recommend creating both a resume and an online portfolio to ensure the maximum level of exposure and ease of use for your target organizations.

Tips for Creating a Compelling Resume 

Tips for Creating a Compelling Online Portfolio 

A few examples of online portfolios

"If you have a demo reel, keep it to one minute or less in length and under 10mbs in size. Ensure your resume is simple, easy to read, and contains only the most important information. Attach Google Analytics to your website to track who looks at your portfolio and when, allowing you to see when a company views your information. And thoroughly fill out your LinkedIn profile, as people these days often look at that before reviewing a resume."

  - Colin Brown, Sr. Animator | Paragon Studios

Today many developers use LinkedIn as a means of sharing their work history with one another and we encourage you to do the same.  This free service allows you to link your resume and online portfolio to it as well, providing an accessible one-stop-shop for all prospective employers to view your information.

Game studios receive thousands of applications each year so it is critical that you take your time, create a polished resume and portfolio, share only your most promising work, and perhaps most importantly be as brief as possible.

If you would like feedback on your resume and portfolio feel free to link them in the comments below or in our discussion section.  Consider removing personal information such as your home address prior to posting.

[This content was used with permission, and comes from Destin Bales' independent blog "I Need To Make Games."]

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