Calling all up-and-coming game developers!
(Image source: GifsBoom)
This week, we’re sharing a bit of game dev career advice – direct from members of the Filament Games team! With strategies ranging from general cover letter and portfolio tips, all the way to specific suggestions for folks interested in roles like game design, programming, art, and more, there’s sure to be plenty of tidbits to consider as you continue your game dev job search. Of course, there’s no way we could possibly share everything it takes to get a job at a game studio in one blog post – however we hope you find these insights to be useful as you continue on your path towards a career in the games industry!
Jill Alderete (Game Artist)
Try to do your best every day, whether it be at work or on your portfolio, and remember that your best is different from yesterday and it will be different tomorrow. Give yourself some grace and do what you are capable of in that moment. You will get there at your own speed. Also, find an artist who works for your dream studio and mimic the style they have so that your portfolio is what that company is looking for.
Gene Cook (Game Engineering Manager)
If you are passionate about programming games for a living, start making games right now. Lots of people want to make games so the competition is fierce. Expect a lot of rejections on your way to AAA gaming and once you get there, know that your work is going to be compared to work from the best game programmers from around the world. Are you ready for that?
Gigi Gastevich (Administrative Assistant)
My advice isn’t games industry specific, but: take your time on the cover letter. Read the job description, thoroughly, and work the key responsibilities and desired qualities listed into how you describe your past experiences, explaining how your past work specifically prepares you for this next position. Format the letter nicely (there are tons of free templates online). Look up the company’s employees and address the letter to a real person. Even if you guess wrong, it shows you did some research!
Also: take a breath and look over your application one more time before hitting the ‘submit’ button. Make sure you’re sending in all the required materials, that the files you attached are the right files, there are no typos, and that your proper nouns (hiring manager, company, etc) are the right ones for this job.
Kenny Green (Associate Producer)
“Portfolio” is a term thrown around a lot in games, but most people think it’s only for artists. Every discipline should have a portfolio – a website showcasing gifs of your code working, screenshots of iteration on levels you designed, project plans you’ve created, communities you’ve managed, etc. Your portfolio is only ever as strong as your weakest piece. You need to showcase things you are proud of. Having said that, the only way to improve is to make mistakes on lots of projects and learn from them. So start making things as soon as possible, and never stop learning.
Game development is an incredibly competitive industry – a single big (AAA) company receives tens of thousands of applications every year for their internship positions alone. You need to be very intentional about the jobs you apply to. Do your research on the company and the position. Find out what makes you a particularly good fit. Then tailor your resume and cover letter to showcase that. It’s really easy to send generic documents to tons of companies, but you’ll get lost in the pile. Make sure your resume demonstrates your experience and skills, and your cover letter gives them a reason to care (and please don’t start it with “ever since I was a kid…”).
Jennifer Javornik (Vice President of Sales)
The number one thing that publishers look for when considering games to publish is the passion that the team behind the game has about the idea. When there is passion, that’s where the magic happens. It can be something very personal that inspires you to create a game, a memory, or your favorite game from your childhood. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you can authentically communicate why your game needs to exist and why you are excited about devoting your time and energy making it.
Don’t be shy about selling your expertise and experience. This isn’t banking where someone with 30 years of experience is always going to be ahead of someone with 3 years experience. Because this is a creative field, many times younger people are closer in age to the players the game is being made for and have a real innate sense of what’s going to appeal to those players compared to someone further on in their lives.
Brandon Korth (Interim Art Manager)
In the words of the great Billy Zane from Titanic, “A real person makes their own luck.” And while I understand that Billy was the villain in Titanic, there is some truth to his statement.
The way I think about this is that you need to put yourself in a position to be lucky for you to actually get lucky. A very simple example: It is almost completely impossible to win the lottery if you don’t by a lottery ticket, right? Now let’s apply that to getting a job in the game industry: It is extremely difficult to make new friends in the games industry and network if you are not going to places in person or online where people are talking to each other, right?
The basic idea of what I’m saying is that you need to put yourself in situations that allow for good things to potentially happen to you. Sometimes this means stepping out of your comfort zone, or doing things you feel unqualified for, or repeating something you’ve already done. Do your best to make your own luck!
When applying somewhere, do your best to show the studio that you are able to perform all the tasks required by the role. Here are a few ways you can do that:
- Review the company’s portfolio of work and make sure you have an equivalent piece in your portfolio that shows you can produce assets at their same quality.
- Try to figure out what processes they follow for development and try to highlight that you have done those processes before. This could be their development strategy, how they prepare documents, how they brand their material, or design principles they follow. (If you are unsure of some of these, do some digging/research.)
- For artists in particular, you can pick a project from the company and just make more assets for that game in the style of the game. It doesn’t matter if it is fake. It shows that you can be part of a team, style match and can be creative with adding content to a game. (However, I caution against doing this as a way to redo their work because you thought it was bad and can do it so much better…)
- For pieces in your portfolio, detail what you did on the project, what your goal was for the project, potentially how long it took you, and potentially what you learned from it or what you would do differently.
- Know why you want to work at a place before they ask you in the interview why you want to work there.
Dan Norton (Chief Creative Officer)
Passion for playing games is important, but you must also find a passion for using a specific talent to make games if you want to be a developer. I’ve met many young developers who cite their hours played as their first credential to be a game designer, but they don’t mention any interest in documentation, tuning, systems design or any other task that designers actually need to do in order to be successful.
Shaina Peshkov (Studio Operations Director)
For most positions, you will not get a job unless you’ve made something. Have a portfolio and show what you’ve done. It is so important to have done the job in at least some capacity before applying.
Use the internet as a source when building a resume. Google examples of resumes other people have done, look for portfolio examples, look for cover letters. Many people right out of college use an awful template that doesn’t at all demonstrate the person’s skills and abilities when applying for a position. Don’t blow your white space on a cover letter telling me an unrelated story to the job you are applying for. Use most of that white space to tell me a story about how your history directly relates to the job you are applying for, this shows me you read the job description and you can fit nicely into its requirements.
Colin Skinner (Game Designer)
Your portfolio is the most important part of your application. Research past and current projects of the studio you’re applying to and highlight similar projects in your own portfolio. If no such projects exist, create them! You want to demonstrate beyond a doubt that you can already do the work that you’ll be hired to do, so the studio isn’t taking a gamble on you.
If you want to go the extra mile in your portfolio (and you do): don’t just showcase the final product, but include a little bit about how you got there and the decisions you made along the way. Sure, the studio wants to see what you’ve made. But they also want to get a feel for what your creative process looks like and what kinds of problems you’ve solved. Let the studio inside your head, show them what kind of thinker you are, and make them excited to interview you!
Sarah Spiers (Associate Producer)
Don’t underestimate the importance of building your network. Instead of reaching out to people for the chance of a job, start building connections in an attempt to better understand the role(s) you are interested in. These can lead to long term mentorships, friendships, and maybe a career. A great way to do this is to set up quick 30-minute informational interviews with people with the jobs you want.
For developers of marginalized identities, this next bit is especially important – the industry is a much more difficult place for us to break into, so it’s important to have a network of allies who can support us on our career journeys. I suggest reaching out to junior to mid-level developers with a similar identity as you – their entry into the industry is a better reflection of your likely path than a dev who started in the 1980s or 90s. They will better understand your challenges and may be able to offer more nuanced insight. Likewise, I encourage everyone to be mindful of these mentors’ time. If you find yourself in a position of privilege, this is especially important as many of these marginalized developers are already involved with advocating for DEI in their companies or volunteering for DEI-oriented organizations.
Also, apply to jobs with intention. I know it’s easy to try and apply to everything out there, but it’s very important to consider your own strengths and weaknesses. If you’re primarily interested in whimsical, casual games, a company that exclusively makes AAA shooters may not be the best fit for you. Likewise, If you do get to an interview stage and have the opportunity to ask questions, ASK QUESTIONS. This a great opportunity to further explore if this company’s values align with your priorities. Here are some example questions you can ask:
- If you’re interested in learning about the culture, ask “What is your company currently doing to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion?”
- If you’re interested in learning about work/life balance, ask “What does the average workday look like? When are most people working throughout the day?”
- If you’re interested in growth opportunities ask, “What does the department feedback process look like? How does my department define success?”
Just remember when you’re asking these questions, to approach from a place of curiosity!
Alex Stone (Chief Technical Officer)
Make prototypes. There’s a reason just about every manufacturing and engineering industry on earth makes little crappy models out of plastic. Unless you’ve built a system before very similarly to what you plan to build now (in which case you should already have that code to use right? Oh wait, it’s garbage code because you didn’t prototype it first!) you don’t know how to build it. It’s equally important that the developers who are prototyping a system are the ones to implement the final version of the system. It’s hard to translate all the lessons learned from prototyping into design and tech docs.
There are several formalized game development methodologies that enshrine prototyping such as Spiral. But it’s more important that you apply the general practice of prototyping within the methodology that is comfortable for you.
You’ll also likely find that the games you are able to make, and even the games you enjoy making, might be different than the games you enjoy playing. Don’t be discouraged! As you grow in skill you’ll be able to increase your agency in shaping your games more closely towards your vision, and likely your tastes will also evolve as you start appreciating the games you play as not just a media experience to consume, but a demonstration of craft to be analyzed.
For even more game dev career advice, be sure to check out our “How to Get Hired at a Game Studio” blog series. And when you’re ready to apply to Filament Games, you can find our latest job openings on our careers page!