How to get a Job in Game Development
Read Time: 5 Minutes
If you’ve been in games for a while, you’ve probably had at least one bright-eyed individual come up to you and ask you this question: “How do I get a job in game dev?” Maybe you’re reading this newsletter and trying to break in yourself. I’ve been asked this question so often that I figured I’d write my thoughts here.
Most folks trying to break in are focused on the wrong things. Worse yet, the advice from people inside the industry is like married people explaining to single people how to find “the one.” Most of the advice is fanciful, not correct, or not actionable.
Fair warning, I took an unorthodox approach in my hiring as a manager over the years. But I think you’ll find that it makes sense and it works.
Most advice for getting a job in gaming doesn’t work out for people because it focuses on the following:
It pushes you into pipelines where the signal-to-noise ratio is terrible, and you are likely to go unnoticed even if you do a good job.
It often focuses you on the administrative processes associated with getting a job, like resume fluff, as opposed to building game-making skills
It, as with many things in our industry, focuses more on process, paperwork, and educational pedigree than it does on building relationships and adding value
I have a different approach, and I’ll outline it below.
Become a Builder Today
One of the tragic things I see happening: someone asks how to get into games, and someone else tells them to seek certification, attend some conference, or canvas out their resume.
The best way to get a job in games is to establish credibility as a builder. It may not directly cause you to be seen, but it will cause you to be imminently hirable once you are seen.
I’ve done hundreds and hundreds of interviews over my career. Nothing is as compelling as talking to someone who’s built real value for players and has the battle scars to prove it. This doesn’t necessarily mean working in Unreal Engine, scripting, or making art assets. It does mean that if you’re a finance person, manage the budget for an indie game team or a mod project. If you’re a project manager, ask them if they could use support on their tools and pipelines and streamline their work. Maybe you can do community management or graphic design and help in those areas.
Use your talents today to offer free value to an indie or mod project and learn new skills from your teammates. This is the fastest way to build credibility in the industry, build practical skills, and gain valuable experience in real-world situations.
Practical implementation: Pick your top 3 favorite games with mod communities and reach out to the top 5 most played (or anticipated) mod teams. Use sites like www.nexusmods.com to find mods that have large followings. They’ll often have their discords listed. Ask them what you can do to help, and tell them what skills you have. All the better if you know of specific ways to improve the player experience that you can help with today.
Connect with People Who Make Games
The vast majority of people that get hired in any industry come through referrals. Let’s say you reach out to 40 game developers (warning: be authentic; people can smell a “taker” from a mile away) and ask them for advice on what to focus on, how to break into the industry, or what their top lessons have been as game-makers.
-80% never respond to you.
-15% give you some great advice, and that’s the end of it.
-5% forward your information to a recruiter because, fortuitously, they need some people in X department.
That’s two game developers you effectively just got to refer you for jobs. Trust me that with little-to-no experience, this is a far more efficient “application” process than going through the front door.
Practical Implementation: Reach out to 50 game developers whose work you respect, and ask them for specific career or application advice. You must approach this authentically. It’s cringey to do this as a veiled way to ask for a job.
For a more direct approach, check out Sahil Bloom’s guide on cold outreach. Keep in mind that your social proof may be low initially. I will take you seriously if you’re working on a Fallout 4 Mod with 150k subscribers.
Join Communities and Add Value
Communities are all about relationships, and relationships, as I mentioned above, are more integral to filling jobs than any other factor. So many folks spend hours and hours brushing up their resume instead of getting out there, getting involved in a community, and using the skills they already have to help improve people’s lives.
Mark my words: If you start improving people’s lives today, eventually, someone will hire you.
I believe in internships for the same reason. They provide an option for you to demonstrate your value in a scenario where you otherwise would not be able to get a job. They are a controversial subject, but many newer folks would benefit from these options being on the table.
Most mod teams will have active discord groups, and game developers hang out in communities everywhere. Starting from scratch, you won’t have much to offer, but you can always dust off your hands and start helping. Does the community need moderators? Can you answer questions related to your current career? Can you connect people with questions to game devs you know have experience in that area? Setup/host mixers or events? You can start adding value without game-dev-related expertise in a million ways. This will create relationships and opportunities for you where it matters.
Practical Implementation: Find 2-3 communities where game developers hang out and ask if you can provide free community support. Listen to the community and find opportunities for you to add value daily. Once you’re adding value, build individual relationships with developers using the advice above.
As game developers, we have a bias toward and respect for people who play and understand games. A level deeper here is understanding players and what players need. After all, they are our audience and pay our paychecks.
To understand games and players, you must play and spend time with players. It’s shocking how many people want into this industry but don’t play or know anything about games. Making games is a confluence between technical problem-solving and art. You need to engage deeply in this space.
I’ve learned that those who believe games are purely art and don’t respect the business and those who are purely thinking about dollars and don’t understand art are both at a disadvantage. You need to look through both lenses. If you like ARPG’s, play several across the genre. Now look into the active player numbers, target audiences, revenue, ratings, and every other data point you can access. Read/watch player reviews and understand why certain games performed better/worse than others.
I’m surprised by how often game developers view playing games as superfluous. Frankly, it shows in the quality of our products lately. Game-makers should play games. Would you respect a film director who didn’t watch movies? It’s better to look at it from the perspective of your players with a deep understanding.
Practical Implementation: Be playing through at least one game in one of your favorite genres and one in a popular genre you haven’t often engaged with. Research the business metrics behind that game and journal your thoughts so you can speak eloquently about them in the future.
I hope that you are successful in breaking into game dev or can help someone else succeed. That so many passionate and talented people are looking for jobs isn’t just a problem for them but also a problem for our industry. I’ve been shocked by the incredible talent that knocks at our doors and never gets let in.
Use this newsletter to help you focus on more effective ways to get yourself or other talented people in the door. Remember the four things we covered above:
Become a Builder
Connect with Developers
Engage in Communities
Play Lots of Games
Whenever you’re ready there are 2 ways we can help you…
—>We’ve helped many high-profile game studios save a ton of money & time through building clear vision and leveling up leadership. If you’d like to work with us, please reach out at [email protected].
—>Regular deep dives on critical game development topics on the BBG podcast
Here’s a podcast episode we did on ‘getting into games’ if you want a more in-depth look: https://open.spotify.com/episode/2XpU3A6VndzXiH912ORqsq?si=ecdab92f66ca42ca