So, you're currently in high school or college and you want to get into game development. You know this is what you want to spend the rest of your life doing. So, how to you do that? Well, below is a list of tips to help you on your road to the game development industry.
First of all, you should decide if you are going to focus on programming your games or doing the art for games. You might also choose to pursue other roles.
If you are an artist and have game design ideas, but no interest in programming, you too can create games. There are several What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get (WYSIWYG) editors. Many professional studios use these engines to create their games, so don't be afraid or feel like you aren't a developer just because you can't code. Remember, companies aren't going to hire you without any experience at all. They need to know, even if you're a beginner that you can learn and understand the game development process. So get to it. Follow a tutorial to get your first game made. The more games you publish and the more experience you have, the more valuable you are to a hiring developer.
It's super important that you love what you do. The game development industry is devotion, sometimes repetition and a lot of fun. When you are working on your own work, figure out which part of game development is your favorite and focus on that. You need to understand all parts of game development, but you should have a focus or two of what you really want to do. Also, if you don't enjoy yourself and what you do, you will start to resent your job. You don't want that. So make sure you research the game development market for hiring and working, to make sure that the game dev industry is the right choice for you. Take some time to create a game of your own. You'll have some fun and you'll begin to understand the long hours, hard work and sometimes crazy stress that goes into making a video game.
By this point, you should know if you want to program or do art. Or maybe, you want to be a musician? Well, each of those 3 areas has one or two areas in which you should focus. Maybe for art, you want to do character concepts, so you would focus on that and character turnarounds. Or maybe you are excellent with 3D modeling so you could focus on Characters and animation or scenery and game object assets. Programmers can focus on in-game mechanics, menus, level obstacles, or whatever else needs to be coded into your game. And musicians would primarily focus on sound effects and in-game music. Whatever your skill focus, make sure you can be a little flexible, especially if you are looking to work for a small company or indie studio.
Once you have a game or two under your belt, you need some experience. You can try for internships and/or freelance what you currently know.
There are many opportunities for internships. Even if you live in a small town with no game development studios, you can look for remote internships. You can check out Indeed.com or Gamasutra to find out what's available.
Some advice: Don't take an unpaid internship. This type of company may promise you a job at the end or promise you some glamorous ideas, but don't do it. It de-values the job that you are doing, and typically a company that wouldn't pay you does not value you as an employee. The advice being said, your internship will probably be a pretty low wage, but not minimum wage. Probably something between $10 and $15 per hour, depending on where you live and the company and skill you are applying for. That's okay for an internship. You are learning from them and they are basically paying you to learn and be a part of the development process. If you can, take advantage of an opportunity like that.
Freelancing is a good way to learn your trade. You can check out a site like Upwork or even Craigslist. You'll get experience, a little money while you are learning and you get to have some professional portfolio experience. Just make sure you are offering and charging what your experience is worth. Do be careful that you take some or all of the payment up front. 33% or 50% upfront is usually the best way to go.
You'll want to make sure you get paid for the work you've completed, even if the game gets canceled or whatever else might cause the job to be unable to be finished. Always take some of the money up front. Don't trust the ones that ask "what, you don't trust me?". No, you don't and you shouldn't be expected to. Like mom says, "Stranger danger." You have no idea what kind of person it is that you are doing work for, and it is common practice to take some money up front. The person who asks that should not be trusted and will most likely find a reason to not pay you in the end.
Some Advice: Always create a contract and keep a paper trail of emails of your communications with your clients. If they were ever to take you to court, you need to have proof to cover yourself. The contract and paper trail also provides an almost foolproof way for you to make sure you get paid. Just make sure you read the contract before you sign it. You don't want to work on something you wouldn't be able to use in your portfolio!
Do be careful with people who are offering extremely low wages or none at all. They will take advantage of you, might promise you stocks in their company when they "become bigger" or "get funding", or something similar. And, they may be truthfully telling you their dream goal, but it is most likely a pipe dream. If they are looking for employees before they have the funding to run their studio, this is typically a red flag that they don't have enough business common sense and is a high risk of you never getting paid for your work. The worst offenders of these will be people taking advantage of your lack of experience and will say "this will be great for your portfolio". It's a lie; don't fall for it. None of this should frighten you. Most game developer companies and studios want to hire quality employees and keep them happy. Just be sure to be careful of the few jerks that are out there.
There is a point in time when you will feel like you've tried everything, but nothing is coming of it. Don't give up. You could be applying at a slow time of the year or maybe the work you are giving them just isn't what the game studio is looking for at that point in time. None of that means you should give up or that you aren't good at what you do. It just means you should keep trying.
Improve your skills. Expand your skills. Apply to the same place in another 6 months or after they have completed their current project. Join a game development community network like IGDA or YGD to meet other developers. Check out gamedevmap.org for a list of developers all around the world. Many indie developers are not listed there. Just do a Google Search for "indie game developer" or something like that to stumble upon some. Attend a game developer expo to meet some. There are endless resources to help you on your way to becoming a game developer. Use them. Your road to success may be a long one, but it might also be a very short one. Whichever road is yours, follow it with determination.