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Opinion: Hunting For Water In The Sea

Opinion: Hunting For Water In The Sea

May 4, 2011 | By Adam Rademacher




[Game designer and scripter Adam Rademacher
discusses how to find an industry job with or without a college degree, in this #altdevblogaday-reprinted opinion piece.
]

Its May, and all around the country universities are getting ready to let their poor young game development students out into the wild to fend for themselves. You might be one of those students, and chances are, you have no idea what to expect on your chase. Kick back in your chair and grab a cup of coffee, because Ive got some interesting stats from my own job hunt to share with you!

Im writing this post because I have a number of friends graduating soon who have expressed interest in my experience during the job hunt. Since I couldnt find anything like this during my job search, I hope that it might help you in your search.

Personally, I think design jobs are probably the hardest to catch in the industry, and entry-level production jobs are of mythological rarity, so its going to be tricky for you. If nothing else, it might be good for perspective.

Before we get started, I want to explain the rules of my hunt:

1. My qualifications open up design, production, and scripting jobs with less than 2 years of experience (I consider this to be 'entry-level'). Your experience probably provides different opportunities.

2. I do not enjoy anything about working in Flash, and thus did not consider primarily flash development jobs. I also have very little experience in UDK, so did not consider jobs that had discrete requirements for UDK experience.

3. I had 2 half-time jobs to support me so I was prepared for the long-haul and could afford to be patient. I recommend the same for you.

4. Priority on multiple listings from the same company went to design jobs that included scripting.

5. I did not apply to any unlisted positions. This included companies that simply advertise things like, "Send design resumes to [email protected]" or, "We are always looking for talented people."

6. I did not apply to any internships or QA positions. I felt that I was qualified enough with the work and skill set I had done while in college to get a full-time position.

job_heatmap-300x199.png

Most of the design and production jobs are in California and Texas, but you can certainly find opportunities nationwide.

Getting Started

Okay, So how did I start my hunt? I picked a few areas that looked like particularly awesome places to live: Austin and Seattle. Using gamedevmap.com, I made a list of the companies in those areas of interest to me, then went through each ones website to find listed positions. I prioritized these opportunities by the games they were working on at the time and the games they had developed in the past.

At this point, I made a pact with my buddy Jonathan Moore
, who was looking for internships, to apply to at least one company every day until we found work. I definitely recommend finding a friend to search with, like a gym-buddy but way more important. Youll keep each other motivated, and you could even make it into a competition to make it more interesting. Eventually, my search expanded to all over the nation, as the map to the right shows where I submitted applications by state.

chart_design_titles-300x224.png

Variance of design titles in my job search.

What To Look For

Design is easily the industrys most varied and least standardized department. This makes it freaking hard to narrow down your job hunt. I applied to 51 jobs across as many companies, 35 of which were design positions. Of those 35 jobs, 15 of them were level designer positions (which I feel is the only standard position across the industry) and the rest were split into one of nine other descriptions. I cant think of any other industry where you could be split between 10 different entry-level positions.

Production jobs are much more standardized, I applied to 16 of them and they were split between 6 different types, most of which variants on associate producer. Be prepared to read the description of any design job you see to get the full story, and dont discount any particular position because youre not X type of designer, as most of them overlap significantly with other fields of design. The exception being level designer positions, which are most common in studios working on first-person shooters and pretty much only entail doing level design and world building.

Internships Can Help

Honestly, I discounted any internships I came across because I already had significant experience and a varied enough skill set to qualify for a full-time position. If your portfolio isnt exactly where you want it to be, dont be afraid to take an internship for a few months, as many companies use internships as gateway jobs. They want to make sure youre good enough at what you do to work for them, but dont want to take the financial risk of hiring a full-time employee unless youve got the experience to back it up.

Dont think of an internship as being below you, or settling for a lesser position, unless you can prove that youre worth your salt before you even walk into the door. Take the internship, work your butt off and impress them with your eager thirst to improve yourself and the games you make, and you may be offered a full-time position sooner than you think.

chart_timeline-300x228.png

It'll be a long, long time before you hear back.

The Designer 50

Dont expect to hear back from anyone until you have applied to at least 50 jobs. Then, expect to hear back from several places at once. For me, I heard absolutely nothing until the week I hit 50 applications, and then I heard back from several companies at once. This also happened with several of my designer friends, so it seems to be a good rule of thumb.

Regardless, its going to be a long, long time, seemingly forever, before anyone even gets back to you with something other than a "No." Dont be disheartened by this; game companies are very busy. Big companies have HR departments that get swamped with resumes this time of year, and smaller companies are swamped with work (hopefully) so they dont necessarily have time to go through resumes on a daily basis.

In my job hunt, I started sending follow-up emails 3 4 weeks after I applied to a particular position, though to be honest, I never heard back from these either so Im not entirely sold on them. It cant hurt your chances to send a polite follow-up to companies to remind them that youre still interested.

Dont Give Up

This is the most important part of any job search. You will be rejected. You will be rejected more than once. You may get a phone interview, a second phone interview, get a flight out to California for an in-person interview, and then get rejected. Thats just how things work. Youre not a perfect fit at every company, and there will always be someone more qualified than you. Thats just the way of the world. Deal with it, move on, use whatever feedback you get to improve your skills and your portfolio, and keep up the hunt. Dont fret about it!

I worked a non-industry job for months and hopped between subleases before I finally found a position, but all the time I was improving my skillset -- I learned to write Lua, took design tests, wrote mock documentation, experimented with UDK, and kept making games. You should be doing the same. Take that rejection, consume it, and let it drive you to improve and keep searching. That company is just missing out on all the awesome things you have to offer them, and thats their loss.

If youre in the industry already, how many applications/months did it take you to get your first job? Did you go through QA or a university or a tech school?

[This piece was reprinted from #AltDevBlogADay, a shared blog initiative started by @mike_acton devoted to giving game developers of all disciplines a place to motivate each other to write regularly about their personal game development passions.]


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