Last Friday, I headed out to my old school, Camosun College, to give a talk to the Computer Systems Technology students. The talk (which I gave with Mel Reams, another Camosun graduate) was all about starting a career in video game development. As I stood in front of the students, consulting my notes and trying to communicate what I thought would be the most valuable nuggets of advice to help them pursue that game career, I actually felt a bit envious of them.
I could remember my own college years and my burning desire to work in games: it was what drew me into computer programming in the first place. I could also remember Victoria being sadly lacking in game companies. Oh sure, Disney Interactive were here at the time. But they operated in such a secretive fashion that they were practically a secret society. And, never knowing the secret handshake, I never made it into their hallowed halls. In addition, there was no one around to tell aspiring game developers the way to get into the industry. It was a mystery that I had to solve on my own.
These days, there are numerous game companies operating in Victoria and more opening all the time. And as for someone to pierce the mystery of gaining employment in the industry, they now have folks like Mel and myself to give them a hand. Getting a game job is easier than ever, but as we mentioned in our talk, it still requires a bit of work. The most important points I’ve summarized here below:
The game industry is still a highly competitive one, so you need to use every advantage that you can to make sure that your resume goes in the interview pile. A diploma or degree will give you a leg up over those with equivalent qualifications but no piece of paper. A diploma also shows that: a.) you know how to code and b.) you can finish what you start – both valuable traits to have. Also, if it turns out that the game industry isn’t your cup of tea, you can still get a decent job in software development.
Do your research
Find out which languages and technologies are being used in the industry and learn them. Research the companies that you want to apply to. Determine everything you can about them: how long they’ve been around, what games they’ve made, what games they’re making, who works in key positions, etc. And play their games! Also figure out what a good salary is for where the company is located. You can find out most of this stuff online.
Get out and meet the people who are working in the industry. Find out if there are any local game developer groups and join them. Victoria has the LevelUp group which is also a chapter of the International Game Developers Association or IGDA (A professional organization that you should definitely look into). Go to game conferences if you can afford to. GDC in San Francisco is the big one, but it can be expensive. Look for other ones closer to home like the Penny Arcade Expo and the IGDA Summit both in Seattle. A pass to either is way more affordable and Seattle is a 2.5 hour ferry trip away.
With all of the inexpensive and free tools available, it’s super easy to make your own games these days. Start small with small projects that are simple. Learn by doing. The goal is to finish something. It’s harder than it sounds, but do it. Even if it’s a crappy little project, you’ll feel great. Clone an existing game as an exercise. Create a mod of an existing game. Sign up for game jams. Join up with other game developers in small project groups. Just make games.
The game industry is a young one and as such is always growing and changing. You need to grow and change with it to stay on top of it. Develop a habit of continuous learning. If you’re coming from school you’re already on the learning train, keep on riding it.