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How to Get Hired at a Game Studio: Game Designer Edition

Let’s talk about design as a job!

People like to think that designers are a job defined by having neat ideas. They sit on a cushion, think of game…stuff, maybe even write it down. The developers gather around, consume the documents, eager to fulfill the prophecies from their glorious leader, and eventually, the designer is able to savor the fruits of their team’s labor, and play the game they dared to dream.

Yeah, that’s not how it works.

Making things is hard. Games are particularly tough things to make, because they take so many different skillsets at once. At Filament, the designer’s job is not to imagine and then delegate a bunch of smart stuff, but rather to help everyone else solve all the problems they encounter on the way to making something great. Everyone on the team, client included, is in a creative role. Everyone needs to be contributing to the project creatively. Everyone needs the freedom and clearance to do high quality creative work, and it’s the designer’s job to provide that freedom. So yeah, neat ideas are important- but they are not for the designer’s benefit, they are for the team’s benefit. I like to say “the designer is in charge of thinking about all the things that no one else wants to think about.”

So that’s how Filament sees and values its designers. How do we HIRE them? I can provide a pretty transparent sequence of events.

Event 1: Oh crap we need a designer

Maybe Filament is hiring a bunch. Maybe a designer leaves for another opportunity. Whatever the case, we look at our project allocation, and a designer-shaped hole pops up, over and over again, until it’s obvious we’re gonna need another designer. The HR pipeline is notified, the job position goes up, and candidates apply.

Event 2: Time to read a whole bunch of cover letters

Now we start looking at those applications. I like to start with the cover letter, because it tells me a bunch of essential information quickly. Specifically, a cover letter tells me if:

  • You are a great writer
  • You are aware of Filament as a place that does a pretty specific thing
  • You’re excited about Filament because of the things we make and want to make

Most cover letters do not pass this test. I get a ton of:

  • Missing cover letters
  • Poorly written cover letters
  • Cover letters that prove the candidate has never heard of Filament
  • Cover letters that prove the candidate has no interest in learning games

Other fun types cover letters that get binned automatically are:

  • “Listen here, I have played a LOT of video games”
  • “I am so awash in privilege that I am confident that I deserve this job by default”
  • “My cover letter is just my resume copied and pasted into a different file in order to fulfill your technical requirements”
  • “You guys are a pathetic stepping stone on my way to becoming head of Nintendo of America”

Honestly this cull often takes me from 70 candidates to….10? Maybe six? It’s fast, and brutal, which is perfect for hiring practices. Now that our merry band has been winnowed to a hearty few, I can review their actual work!

Event 3: Time to scope out portfolios

Your portfolio is much, much more important than your schooling or your work history. I honestly think of schooling and work history as being advantages only in the sense that they probably gave you some opportunities to do some good work for your portfolio. But I’ll take solo projects, game jam projects…whatever you got, I want to see thoughtful design and a well-supported team. Ideally I know what you did on the project. Ideally I can play the game myself, and ideally I really like the game or consider it interesting or provocative. At Filament, a large portion of our work is client work, so I’m especially interested in seeing how you work on projects with teams and with clients, so if those are in your portfolio, that’s a big boon. Super charming projects you made all by yourself may show off your creativity and work ethic, but I also need to know about how you manage people, expectations, compromises and communication.

Event 4: Chat!

Now I’m going to get on the phone, and talk to you about the position, see if you’re insane, see if you think I’M insane, etc. etc. It’s a pretty low-stakes chat, because if it goes reasonably well, I’m going to assign you to…

Event 5: Design Test!

This is the fun part, in my opinion. I’ll give you a learning game design goal, and ask you to prepare a short game design document/pitch to explain your thinking. It’s usually a weird, challenging topic to try and give you a chance to show off some good novel problem solving. You’ll then present that design test to myself and the rest of the design team.

Event 6: You’re Hired!

…Or not. But this walks us through all the steps that Filament uses to vet incoming design candidates. It’s tough, but we don’t make design hires that often, and when we do, we need to feel 100% confident that they are going to be thoughtful, communicative people who make sure they can enlist the entire team and clients as being creative agents that can pool their talents together to make something great.

Good luck!

Are you ready to be Filament’s next game designer? Take a look at our job openings page to view our latest career opportunities, then check out our “How to Get Hired at a Game Studio” resource roundup for more game dev career advice!


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