I want to work as a video game developer – part 2: how to get hired
The application process for graduate jobs in the video game industry will typically involve submitting an initial application (a CV, covering letter and portfolio), followed by a number of interviews (usually a phone interview and a final face-to-face interview). You may also need to complete a technical assessment, after the initial application or during an interview. Take a look below for more on researching an employer, the skills you’ll need to have on your CV and how to put together your portfolio.
- This is part two of our series on graduate jobs in video game development. Click here for part one, and find out where jobs are located in the UK, about the different job specialisms, and what degree you need to work in the industry.
As an aspiring developer, it’s important that you find work at an employer that suits you. Research is key to doing this: do work experience, read studio websites and speak to contacts who already work there.
Find out what issues are currently affecting the industry. Over the past few years, there has been a lot of coverage in the games press regarding working cultures at studios, especially in regard to labour practices (such as ‘crunch’ – periods where overtime work is required/requested, occasionally unpaid), workplace diversity, regulation of in-game content purchases and developer layoffs and insolvencies. In 2018, Games Workers Unite UK, a union representing people working in the industry, was founded, partially in response to these issues. Many employers are also taking active steps to address these points. However, don’t necessarily make your decision of employer based on industry media.
Luke Johnson, senior recruitment resource at Creative Assembly, advises potential applicants, ‘I wouldn’t discount any employer based on something you have heard. When you interview at a studio consider the way you are spoken to, their values, the way you are treated in the process, and the feeling you get from meeting the team.’
On the topic of women in the industry, says Meg Daintith, recruitment manager at Codemasters, ‘the industry gender balance is poor, but many companies, including Codemasters, are making efforts to attract more women. A business culture that is more reflective of the rest of society makes better games.’
The games industry may be going through a period of change, and it may be competitive, but it’s a place where graduates can have very successful careers. ‘I’d like to assure people that the games industry is a highly credible career path,’ says Meg. ‘It’s not going away; it’s hugely successful and it’s one of the UK’s major exports. We are keen to encourage people to consider a career in games; we just ask that people take it seriously and put in the hard work that it requires.’ However, she adds, ‘We also encourage people to have fun.’
‘A degree does demonstrate that an individual should have certain levels of knowledge based on what they’ve studied, but it doesn’t necessarily demonstrate skills,’ explains Luke. He continues: ‘Qualities that are attractive are communication, enthusiasm, a strong work ethic, empathy, drive and determination.’ Through your application, interviews and portfolio, game recruiters will be looking to see whether you have the following key skills and qualities.
Knowing a programming language will be extremely beneficial whatever area of development you go into, but it is absolutely necessary for programming and technical art roles. Different employers will work with different languages, which can depend on the game engine (a software toolkit for developers) a studio uses, and learning the dominant one could give your application the edge. Meg adds, ‘the majority of game engines that provide a console platform game are programmed using C++. C# is the basis for the very popular off-the-shelf game engine, Unity.’
Teamworking and communication skills
All developers need to work with colleagues from their own and from different specialisms (daily ‘scrum’ meetings are very common), and so teamwork and communication are crucial. ‘It’s a very collaborative effort to make a video game,’ explains Meg. ‘Developers must be able to work in a team and communicate where their work fits into the larger project and how far it is towards the milestones.’ Luke adds, ‘We find these especially pertinent in game development as you are working with passion-driven creatives who put their all into their creations.’
A passion for games
As well as being competitive, a career in games can be hard work: it’s often deadline-driven and the quality of work needs to be high. Recruiters will want to see candidates who show a passion for the medium and can work with others in their team. A knowledge of, and a genuine interest in, the games the developer has created is a must.
- Internships: Larger employer may offer structured work experience schemes for students and graduates. These will typically last a couple of weeks or a month, and will usually involve shadowing and assisting employees, and, potentially, being given responsibility over a small aspect of the game. Examples of developers that run these schemes include Ninja Theory, Codemasters, Media Molecule and Rare.
- Part-time work: Developers occasionally hire part-time workers (including students and graduates) to assist with projects; you can benefit from this by signing up with an agency that specialises in video game recruitment.
- Personal projects and modding: Aspiring developers can put their skills into practice and build their portfolio through personal projects: making your own game (on your own or in a small team) or modding existing games. ‘This is a great way to discover your specialism and to gain valuable real-work experience. We employ many developers who have come from modding communities and indie development,’ says Luke. ‘Game jams are also great; where you can make a game from concept to completion, and this can be added to your portfolio.’ These projects can be discussed and hosted by joining online communities (such as GitHub, GameDev.net, ModDB or itch.io).
Applicants will be expected to include a portfolio with their application, usually in the form of a link to a dedicated website or a GitHub profile on a CV or application form. ‘A degree in its own right doesn’t earn a position within a game studio. More important is the individual’s capabilities,’ explains Luke. ‘It’s the portfolio we want to see; examples of proven work and the ability to talk about the process.’
Top five tips for a standout portfolio
- ‘You need to show your best work; always start with your best stuff,’ advises Meg. ‘Don’t save it till last!’ You’ll only have the recruiter’s attention for so long.
- Include notes. Take the opportunity to explain your thought processes and show off you knowledge and instincts. ‘Applicants should be including notes with their portfolio, especially for art and design roles: explaining the reason they chose a certain texture or pixilation density, for example,’ says Meg. Make sure to talk about your own contributions to projects: use ‘I’ and not ‘we’.
- Tailor your portfolio. The best portfolios will feature work that is relevant to the employer they are applying to. For example, mobile apps for a mobile developer, renders of elves and orcs for a fantasy RPG maker or racing games for a racing specialist. ‘An artist’s portfolio with just university work doesn’t look as impressive as an artist who has gone above and beyond, and created pieces that they are passionate about, that are in the style of, and are in keeping with, the studio they are applying for and that show an innovative flair,’ adds Luke.
- Make sure there are no mistakes. Spelling errors, noticeable glitches and messy code won’t impress recruiters. Meg specifies, ‘on the programming side, during a test or in a portfolio, the syntax must be spot on and the algorithms must be tested thoroughly so everything is functioning perfectly.’
- ‘Try and showcase your skills in innovative and interesting ways that are tailored to the studio you are applying to,’ advises Luke. He recalls an example of a particularly impressive portfolio: ‘I remember seeing an application for a role in cinematic art, which was a video of the individual in a game cinematic scene – it was fantastic and showed off their skill as well as their passion.’
Game over… Continue?
If your application is not successful, remember to ask for feedback, if appropriate, learn from the experience and look for future opportunities to build and improve your application and portfolio. ‘Listen to the feedback you get and really take that on board,’ advises Luke. ‘We spend a lot of time at industry events each year, offering portfolio reviews and advice to help those starting out.’