Gaming. It begins at a very early age these days. How many early elementary kids are playing “Minecraft?” By the end of 2013, 33 million kids were playing.
Many of those kids are at least 4 years older now, are graduating high school or may be entering college. But their passions for gaming have not decreased. In fact, they are participating in lots of online competition and dream of either professional gaming or, even more ambitious, getting into game development.
Given the popularity of gaming, there will always be work in the gaming industry. For those who specifically want to move into development, there will be some skill training and some work ahead. Here are 8 tips for these passionate gaming development hopefuls.
Choose Your Focus
You have two choices (and a third, actually – more on that later) – the science of gaming (programming) or the art (design).
Designing: You do not need to learn programming languages. But you do need to understand the process by which games are developed. This will allow you to design the “art” side of games, knowing what a developer will need to do. And, if you are a solopreneur in the industry, then you will need to have that design in as much detail as possible before you speak with a developer.
Identify Your Limitations and Account for Them
If design is your focus, and you are great at creating scenes and music, you may not be so good at character development. If you are working for a company, the expertise will be there, and you will work as a team. If you are a freelancer, however, you will need to partner up with someone else.
If you are in the programming side, and you are struggling with some of the coding, you need to know where to get that help. Understanding your limitations and getting that help will demonstrate to an employer that you want to get things right the first time out, rather than having to debug after testers have pointed out the “fails.”
And if you have identified some design or programming skill gaps, get thyself into some gaming design coursework from a reputable institution – either off- or online.
Check Your Passion
Good game development requires passionate people who do not see what they do as real work. For them, it is fun. There are crazy long hours, lots of collaboration with others, disagreements, long discussions over Chinese takeout, creative problem-solving, and flexibility/compromises. Make certain that these are all things you will love, or you will develop resentment – never a good thing.
Check Out Options Other Than Development or Design
You may love gaming, and you may want to be a part of the industry. But you are not really into the art or science of it all. There are other opportunities within the industry. These include such positions as testing, marketing, or even doing voice-overs for characters or contributing the music.
Look for Internships
If you want to work for a company/studio, pursue internships. These are amazing learning experiences, even if you do not end up working for that specific company. Other gaming firms or groups will be far more interested in talking to you if you have an internship under your belt. Some internships are even remote, should you not live in close proximity, and many are actually paid.
If you are on the independent side, you may not like the idea of joining a studio as a regular employee. Studios need lots of expertise and, especially if they are small or in the startup phase, they cannot afford full-time employees. Once you have your skill set, check out job boards and niche publications – there will be many opportunities within your skill area.
If and when you take a gig, be certain that you craft a contract, if the firm/studio does not provide one. Any contract should sell out exactly what you are expected to do, how much you will be paid, and a guarantee that your contribution(s) may be used in your professional portfolio.
Be Careful About Pay Offers
There are lots of “poor” studios out there – people who are passionate about gaming and who have big dreams but no money. They are looking for “desperate” people who have their same passion who they can pay almost nothing. Sometimes they will offer you a small equity position or stock in the company or claim that your work will be a great portfolio addition. These things can be tempting, especially if you are hungry for work, but don’t sell yourself short and don’t work for nothing.
Getting Discouraged – It Comes with the Territory
Expect long dry spells. Of course, if they don’t come, great. But when they do, it is probably not because you lack skills. Competition can be tough, and there just may not be a “fit” between a studio’s need and your skillset.
When you hit dry spells or no nibbles from your job applications, take that time to design or develop on your own, to build up your portfolio, or take additional coursework to add to your skillset.
Find ways to network – attend workshops, conferences, and other meetings. Keep your LinkedIn profile up to date, and join groups on that platform. Participate in online forums and discussions; start a blog; develop some podcasts. There are just many things you can do to keep your name out there and to keep your passion intact.
And, if you have to eat, take an unrelated job. Eventually, you will find a position or “gig,” and you will “get your groove” back.
The gaming industry is exciting and fun. It is also evolving rapidly, as technology continues to improve gaming experiences for players. Keep abreast of these advances – you don’t want to become irrelevant.