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Presented by CG Spectrum
While the full global impact of coronavirus is yet to be revealed, the video game industry has shown great resilience in the face of the pandemic.
That’s welcome news if you’ve had your sights set on getting a job in the games industry.
Game sales have skyrocketed and consumer demand is high as social distancing has encouraged people to explore new ways to stay connected and entertained at home.
But it’s not quite business as usual for most game studios, and there are a number of shifts to consider as you make your first steps into the industry.
For one, networking is a challenge when many in-person events have been postponed or cancelled. How do you get yourself out there and stand out in a sea of candidates?
How does the new world of remote work affect hiring? What new skills are recruiters looking for? And once you get the job, how do you prepare for your first day in the new virtual office?
We take a look at what’s going on in the industry, the new work habits (that may change the future of game dev work), and hear from AI Programmer Firas Hosn, who has worked at Ubisoft on several major franchises like Assassin's Creed, Watch Dogs and Far Cry. When not making games, Firas mentors budding programmers in CG Spectrum’s game programming course; a comprehensive online course that prepares students for a career in games.
Maxine Schnepf, Career Development Manager at CG Spectrum College of Digital Art and Animation, also offers clever tips to increase your hiring potential during this unusual time.
While some studios had an initial scramble to get employees set up to work from home, most game teams are back to operating normally, and with deadlines looming hiring is still strong.
“I feel the gaming industry was very quick to adapt,” says Firas, now Senior AI Programmer at Build a Rocket Boy, who have been busily recruiting for a number of game jobs. “The infrastructure to support remote work was already in place for a lot of companies.”
With a rise in demand for freelancers and remote workers, the current climate may be opening the door to an even wider pool of talented game designers, programmers and artists who don’t live near a game industry hub, and in pre-COVID times may have had to relocate in order to work at a game studio.
“Studios are more open to hiring remote workers,” he adds. “NDAs are still the same, and having a dedicated employee is still the preferred choice, but with deadlines having to be hit, employees are now turning the tables and are in a good position to ask for remote work knowing that an infrastructure to support it exists.”
Maxine, who helps prepare CG Spectrum students for careers in the industry, shares her advice for those currently applying for game jobs.
“While there's definitely a lot of job action in the gaming industry, it's now more important than ever to focus on building your online presence. Get your social media accounts up-to-date, use new features such as the LinkedIn option which updates your status to “Open To Work”, and start engaging with people openly online.”
Maxine adds that while technical and creative skills are still vital, there is a much larger need for people who are good at communicating and can get along with the team in a virtual setting.
“Unlike traditional studio environments where people sit close together in large open concept spaces and attend morning scrums with the team, companies now rely on internal communication like Slack or Teams and video/voice calls to outline objectives and keep everyone on the same page.”
Working on your communication skills is crucial at this time. “Hiring managers are paying attention to your interactions with people on social media,” says Maxine. “If you're easy to talk to and approachable online, it shows that you have the ‘soft skills’ to communicate well with project leads and managers in the virtual office.”
Something to be mindful of as you prepare to enter the industry, is that the global ‘work from home’ experiment has given people a taste for what it’s like to work remotely. Will it all go “back to normal” after lockdown, or will flexible/remote work arrangements be more common going forward?
Firas says: “I have been noticing a lot of employees really enjoying remote work, whether it be a set up on a patio on a sunny day, or indoors with the comfort of a pet. A lot of social media posts have been praising the work from home trend.”
People have had to get creative with how they communicate to get work done, as well as stay engaged socially with virtual happy hours and team lunches.
Firas has certainly noticed an increase in social activities which are getting more participation than in pre-COVID times. “Employees are missing the small coffee get-togethers, weekly game nights and other things, so they are more keen to join in on a call and socialize, something that may have been taken for granted when in the office.”
While many global factors remain out of our control (e.g. disruptions to the distribution pipeline), the pandemic has provided opportunities to potentially rethink work in the games industry.
“It would be interesting to measure productivity. Not all employees can shut their minds off outside work hours. Previously an issue would have to be tackled in the office the following day with possible distractions, whereas work from home could allow employees to work at their most productive hours, though hopefully not at the cost of burnouts or working around the clock.”
Perhaps this is a chance to reinvent the physical office and create flexible workspaces to maximize creativity and productivity.
“I feel like there can be a smarter use of space. The true benefit of being in an office is to collaborate and draw inspiration and ideas from peers, so perhaps offices can be more meetings with a few shared workstations to use for going over code/art etc., and the actual workstation could be an at-home setup.”
Whatever the case may be post-COVID, the key to survival for any newcomers to this new era of work is to be flexible and adaptable. Be prepared for both scenarios, because you may start work remotely and need to adjust quickly to a shift to an office later.
The uncertainty of how much longer people will be working from home has been challenging for many. All the more important to stay positive, be a great communicator, and get involved in virtual events to create meaningful connections with teammates once you start work.
A major hit to the gaming world as a result of the coronavirus was the cancellation or postponement of major game industry events such as GDC and E3. These in-person events provided ample networking opportunities, particularly for indie devs and those just starting out.
So what’s a budding game designer or programmer to do to promote themselves and get a job in this business?
Maxine offers her top 3 networking tips:
1. Build your online presence.
“Spending a few hours on social media isn't just a waste of time anymore - as long as you use it wisely! Start by following other artists and game studios you like. This will open you up to see what other people are up to, and can also be a source of inspiration for your own work. When you feel more comfortable, try commenting or interacting with them every once in a while to build your confidence and recognition of your name.”
2. Check out online game conferences and webinars.
“While you can't go to big live gaming events anymore, most of them are now doing online conferences and webinars. The best part? It's now more accessible than ever to catch these events, without the worry of steep ticket prices and travel costs which made it especially hard for freelancers, students, and people who live abroad. However, with more accessibility comes more competition, so you have to set aside time to focus on yourself and build your name recognition to stand apart from the crowd!”
3. Research, contact, and repeat!
“Whether you're catching an online live stream event, or playing your favourite game, write down the names of interesting speakers or look at the credits of the game. Find those people online and reach out to them via social media. Most people are actually really appreciative when you tell them you like their work, and are usually happy to talk about themselves, especially now when they too have less "IRL" contact with other people.”
“Now go back to step #1, and repeat!” says Maxine. “This will help you not only meet people who may be the key for that next big job opportunity, but also be more inspired to do better with your own work.”
Now if you’re reaching out to people online and trying to promote yourself, you need a strong portfolio to show that you can actually do the work. Build small games (and finish them!), fill out your portfolio, keep up to date with trends, subscribe to industry newsletters, share your work on social media, and participate in online forums.
Firas adds: “There are so many ways to self-market these days. Drive yourself as though you have the job and are doing work, set goals, give yourself tasks to progress and don't stop learning. The industry moves at a fast pace and even when working in the industry you have to stay motivated and be on top of current tech and trends.”
Remember: the competition is tough. So if you’re not feeling confident about your skill level, or want to get your portfolio to a higher standard, enroll in a formal online course and have an industry expert as your mentor.
CG Spectrum’s online game development courses give you direct access to game industry professionals like Firas. The specialized courses in game design, programming, art and animation focus on teaching valuable job skills and the latest techniques used by top studios to get you industry-ready. Under your mentor’s expert guidance, you’ll learn from actual case studies used by major studios, and get plenty of hands-on experience in your chosen field to help you hit the ground running at your first job.
As a result of the pandemic, some studios teetering on the edge of financial strain were unfortunately unable to continue operating, or had to make difficult choices and let go of staff.
For those who had just started out in the industry but were let go, all is not lost.
“The most important thing to remember is that you are not alone,” says Maxine. “There are so many people, especially in harder-hit markets like film production who have recently lost their jobs as well. While there’s a lot of social pressure to “DO MORE” with all of this time on your hands, it’s important to take a step back and focus on yourself.
Working on adding new personal projects to your portfolio or creating unique content online will help you get noticed. This is also a great time to collaborate with friends to create that indie game you’ve been talking about for years - perhaps they’ve also been laid off recently.”
Maxine suggests documenting your journey and the progress of your personal projects by using screen capture tools or blog posts. “People find this type of content more engaging, and are more likely to reach out with comments and suggestions. It also shows prospective employers that you are an open communicator and receptive to feedback.”
If you’re still not feeling confident in yourself, but know that you’re willing to work hard and still have a passion for games, Maxine says this may be a good opportunity to pivot your career path and try something new.
“Having a background in game design is a great skill to have when branching out into a Project Manager or Coordinator role, because you have direct knowledge of the process. Be open-minded and try to apply for jobs that may normally be outside of your comfort zone - you may be surprised at how much you enjoy working in a different department!”
Firas also sees this as a chance to evaluate your job situation, and potentially explore new opportunities. “Not every job brings out the best in an employee. There are certain situations in which you can be inspired or motivated to do more. Make sure you are always interested in improving and open to learning.”
At the end of the day, resilience and adaptability will place you in a stronger position to get a job in games. It’s an unusual time with a lot of shifts taking place, but the pandemic has also fuelled enormous creativity and innovation in this space. Take this opportunity to contribute to an ever-evolving industry, and help shape the future of work in the games industry post-COVID.
About CG Spectrum
CG Spectrum is an online game development, animation, VFX, and digital art school inspiring and preparing the next generation of production-ready artists. By giving students direct access to industry experts with years of experience working on blockbuster films and AAA games, we’re equipping you with the relevant skills and confidence to pursue your career goals. For more information, visit www.cgspectrum.com.