Massive kudos if you’ve made it through my lengthy FAQ. I think the anecdotal nature of the answers is helpful in digesting very heady subjects. However, if you’re in a rush, these general tips and tricks should be helpful in your journey to landing a spot in the game industry.
Network (Press & Dev)
I can’t stress this enough: in my experience networking is the most pivotal way to secure a job in gaming. Period. This truth isn’t intended to downplay the importance of passion, education, and experience, but rather to be frank about how this industry works. This is especially true for recent graduates or individuals with little applicable experience whose resume may need a boost from some face-to-face time.
While some companies may be aggressively hiring due to a website or studio expansion, most industry positions become available sporadically, so being a blip on someone’s radar prior to then is imperative. I’ve found that both press and development outlets prefer the hiring process to be as streamlined as possible, meaning employee referrals are given precedent. You want to be the name on the tip of an influencer’s tongue when the time comes.
Networking can be approached a multitude of ways:
Join the Community: Do you have your eye on a particular website or blog? Join the community and become a pillar by driving intelligent discourse and commentary on the website. Prove your knowledge of the industry through community blogs on the likes of GameInformer.com, Destructoid, and Bitmob. Make friends with the staff in a genuine capacity without being deceptive about your professional goals, as disingenuous relationships won’t get you far. If you’re looking to get involved in development, become a part of your ideal employers’ community. Wash, rinse, and repeat the above, this time proving your knowledge and passion to fellow fans, community managers, and other studio ambassadors.
Subscribe, Follow, and Like: Social media tools like blogs, Twitter, and Facebook aren’t only around for entertainment value – they are prime networking tools ripe to take advantage of. Surround yourself with people who inspire you. In doing such, you’ll join the larger industry community. The logic isn’t particularly difficult. If you follow industry insiders and provide intelligent and insightful commentary, be it a reply to a tweet or response on a blog, you enter that person’s sphere of influence. I’ve got quite a disproportionate number in regards to individuals I follow on Twitter versus those who follow me, but when an unknown person continues to impress me with responses to my posts, I often investigate them and follow back. A tertiary relationship has then been formed.
Go To Shows: Chances are if you’re trying to break into the industry, expendable income is hard to come by. Trust me, I understand. As a full-time college student with a part-time job, buying textbooks was enough of a financial strain. Booking airfare and securing lodging for industry events was nearly out of the question. Still, I can’t stress enough the importance of getting out your front door. Submitting an email with an impressive resume is effective, and chatting on the phone with a recruitment specialist even more so. However, shaking someone’s hand and proving your passion and prowess in person is the ultimate way to make a lasting impression.
Events are often designed to facilitate this kind of exchange. The Game Developers Conference is an ideal example. The career fair and mixers are intended to get you in front of the right people. Unique pass grades allow for access to different aspects of the expo, such as seminars and the career pavilion.Volunteer opportunities are also a fantastic option for students or recent graduates.
On the press side, events are the perfect opportunity to meet fellow games journalists and to find fodder for your own writing. Secure an interview with an accessible developer at PAX. A portfolio full of editorial content is great, but adding interviews and event reporting to the roster will only further your cause. Even if the content is only for your self-published blog, it shows initiative and again provides you the opportunity to network.
Seriously can’t muster the funds? It’s an unfortunate reality for some. Instead do your best to find local events or small-scale enthusiast gatherings. Sometimes you don’t have to know a specific person to ignite a lead, you just have to know someone who knows someone.
Play Games: (Press & Dev)
If you want to work in this industry, you must love games. It’s a no brainer. Don’t forget to play them, however. It may seem impossible while attending school and working simultaneously, but it’s imperative to keep up with the current gaming landscape. Even if you don’t have time to play a 200+ hour RPG or aren’t interested in a particular genre, Gamefly or Redbox the game for a night and take a peek under the hood. You may only need to play for a few hours to understand the key mechanics that make it unique. Focus on learning how to break down a game critically and talk analytically about what works and what doesn’t with like-minded peers. Additionally, try your best to stay up-to-date on other entertainment industries and pop culture trends so you can contextualize your gaming experiences.
Write Early, and Write Often (Press)
If you want to make a career out of writing there is no such thing as too much practice. Start writing now, even if you have no intent of ever publishing your ramblings.
Some thoughts on honing your writing skills early on:
Read: Perhaps the most important tool at your disposal when evolving your writing is to read. Not only will it improve your writing by proxy, but also keep you up to date on industry trends. Additionally, you’ll learn to speak the language and recognize who the big players are. Study the big publishers and developers, keep up on the theory of game design, and even dabble in some financials. Don’t just bookmark a single, popular blog or follow an industry figure you routinely agree with. Aim for a breadth in your media consumption and follow individuals who challenge the way you think. If you keep it up you’ll be prepared to impress someone with your portfolio, and with stimulating conversation while networking.
Self-publish: There is no lack of space on the Internet. Carve out your own corner and get cracking. Start a blog and ensure your archive of content is easy to access and reference. You’ll be able to evaluate your writing as you improve, and potential employers will have evidence of your commitment.
Diversify Your Content: Don’t just write opinion pieces. Monitor daily happenings in the industry and try your hand at a variety of content types. Some websites will post press releases in full. Use these as foundation for a comprehensive news piece. Write a preview from a game play demo hosted on YouTube. Work on long-lead and well-researched editorial, and then try your hand at reviewing a game. Interview whoever you can get your hands on.
Diversify Your Skills: If you’re looking to increase your marketability, consider diversifying your skill sets. Teach yourself the basics of podcasting. Take an intro to Photoshop class. Wrap your head around video editing or photography. These skills will make you more self-reliant and more attractive to employers. They also showcase your initiative and desire for a continued education.
Showcase Your Personality: We’re all unique snowflakes, right? While it’s important not to cross into the cult of personality and become contrarian for the sake of publicity, you should work diligently to find your voice. This can be done through a specific writing style, tone, or even a specialized “beat.” I’ve always been very interested in furthering the cause of video-game accessibility, and I made a point to cover news and publish features on the subject matter. In my opinion, this specialization set me apart and made me more marketable. If you’re big into sports in real life, perhaps you make a point to cover all the new NBA or NFL games on the market, adding insightful commentary and parallels to current events that showcase your understanding of the genre. Don’t put on a show, but take an introspective look at yourself and find what makes you special.
Shop Yourself Around: Once you’re confident in your skills, knowledge of the industry, and have found your voice, it’s time to shop yourself around in order to gain some practical experience. If you’re still in school, don’t wait until you graduate. After self-publishing for some time, pitch your services to some smaller blogs or outlets. While at first you won’t be paid (or paid much), trade your time in order to gain press credentials to events so you can network.
Additionally, you can pitch yourself to non-enthusiast press. Gain some experience at a small school paper or community newsletter. Even if your workload has nothing to do with gaming, it’s fodder for your resume. Entertainment and tech writing skills are transferable, so you can cut your teeth on those subject matters, too.
Better yet, if these outlets don’t have a gaming section, sell yourself to the outlet by using your knowledge of our growing industry to tell them why they should. Make them care. This isn’t as far-fetched as it may seem. At least two individuals I’ve chatted with over the years have done just that. Keep in mind that a publication like the above most likely won’t have an audience that is well-versed in gaming. Use it as a chance to learn how to write for non-gamers.
Don’t expect the moon: If you’ve secured your first small break into the world of games press, don’t expect the moon in terms of compensation. Generally speaking, the field doesn’t shell out mad cash, especially in a ground level gig. You can make a living from it with time. For now, enjoy the perks of all your hard work, be it travel or brushing elbows with inspiring industry figures.
Ask for feedback (Press & Dev)
You should always be learning. My parents still laugh when they recall how horrendous I was at writing in my late teens, and perhaps even into my early college years. I stuck to it, however, and learned from my mistakes.
If you’re an aspiring writer, ask readers of your blog for honest feedback. Have gaming enthusiasts check your work for accuracy and relevancy. Have non-gamers look for entertainment value and digestibility. If you’re looking to get into development, ask peers to look over your work. Ask an industry vet for an informational interview or portfolio review – if not with them due to time constraints, with a representative of their studio. Were you in the running for a position and didn’t get it? Inquire as to why and work to rectify the reasons you weren’t yet the ideal employee. You should be hungry for feedback, and never, ever ignore good-natured criticism.
Don’t Be Married to Minnesota (Press & Dev)
The subhead above is a joke taken from personal experience, and it addresses a reality of the industry. You’ll likely have to move to nab your dream job. I lucked out that my favorite gaming publication was located right down the road, but that is an exception to the rule, and I eventually had to relocate across the country.
Most developers I know have uprooted a time or two (or more) in their careers. While there are industry hotspots such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Vancouver, Montreal, Austin, and Boston, it’s still imperative you warm up to the idea of moving. If you’re not near a hub and it’s about time to actively start looking for employment, keep this in mind. Perhaps it’s not the best time to start house shopping, for example.
Online blogging allows for some freedom in terms of your location, but it’s still ideal for you to be near the action, or you may be stuck with news and reviews instead of convention coverage, studio tours, and other exciting editorial opportunities.
If you’re not willing to move, your net can only be cast so far. The explosion of startups and casual/mobile gaming has resulted in new prospects in surprising places, but you’ll have be an opportunist rather than hand-picking where you’d like to apply.
Work Hard (Press & Dev)
Like really hard. Get used to it. Live and breathe your passion. This is a demanding but very rewarding industry. If you truly push yourself and take advantage of every opportunity, your break will come. And when it does, don’t stop working hard. Don’t get comfortable. Never stop learning. Even if you’re satisfied with where you are, keep shaking hands and putting your best foot forward. If you are talented, tested, and properly networked, doors will continue to open for you. Stay sharp the chances of you landing your dream job will improve dramatically.
Don’t give up (Press & Dev)
Don’t. No matter how bleak the situation seems, don’t cave in. Don’t stop looking. Haven’t heard back from an outlet you applied to? Follow up again. Editors will accidentally let you slip through the cracks if you give them the chance. Be respectful, but persistent.
Didn’t get a job at a big studio because you weren’t the right fit? Ask for feedback and if they have other positions open you’d be a shoe-in for. Don’t give up on yourself or everyone else will follow suit. It may take months or even years to get your big break once you actively start looking, but once you’re in, the industry is your oyster as long as you continue to work hard.