Oh yeah? Prove it!

A lot of people, especially students, want to know how to get a job in the Games Industry.  I was reminded of this again recently when one of the comments on my last Gamasutra blog asked how all this well-meaning, philosophical rehetoric actually translated in to getting a job that pays bills if you’re a newbie.  A fair question I thought.  So, in case you missed it, I’ve posted the conversation below.  

It turns out that the way to get a job in this industry is no different to how you get a job in any other industry – there just happens to be a bit more competition.

Question:

“How does this equate to industry newbies though?

My experience as a student is that getting a start seems to largely be about your worth on paper. Sure, I’m happy to get my hands dirty and work hard, and there are a number of jobs I feel I would do well at. But the response I’ve had time and again is that wanting to be involved in the process in any way that I can make a valuable contribution to an entertaining end product isn’t enough. Creative and innovative skills mean nothing if you don’t have an exact job target in mind.

It seems to me that drive and passion aren’t as important as prior training for specific roles. So how do we turn the desire to turn frowns into smiles into an entry level job?”

Answer:

“A really great question, and one that’s probably worthy of a blog all of its own. 

I completely recognise the situation you’re describing. I’m definitely noticing a chasm opening up between the large developers who require a lot of highly specialised technical staff, and smaller “indie” studios such as ourselves, where specialist technical knowledge is secondary to a proven ability to deliver results.

In some ways it’s becoming analogous to the choice made by young amateur musicians – go to music school and specialise in performance, composition, arrangement, orchestration, etc. or join a band. They’re both valid career paths, but with quite different barriers to entry, and by choosing one you almost certainly preclude yourself from the other.

I realise that doesn’t directly address your question – so here’s how I would approach it if I was trying to take all this “well meaning philosophy” and turn it in to an actual job that pays the bills:

Everything in this industry ultimately comes down to proof. Whatever it is you want to do as a job within game development, create the most compelling evidence you can of your ability to do it – by whatever means necessary. And be your own harshest critic too – imagine yourself on the other side of the table, actively trying not to give you a job, and try to pick holes in you. Then take steps to address those holes by targeting your learning accordingly.

Great quality demos are the hardest thing to create, which is why they are also the most valuable investment you can make in your career. Think of it this way – if you’re hiring a magician for a party which would you choose: the one with the great resume, or the one with the YouTube video of them performing their tricks live to camera? It’s pretty obvious, right? Why? Because one has proof and the other has potential. People buy proof and leave others to invest in potential. 

The same thing applies to games companies today – if you were hiring a coder for your team which would you choose: the one with the promising resume, or the one with a playable game on their website that’s making you smile?

Proof is a key part of getting a job in any sort of craft based industry – film, TV, books, games – you name it. Isn’t that what a degree, or any other qualification is after all? Proof from a trusted source that this person has completed a course teaching certain skills and demonstrated their ability to an examiner. In many ways it’s a substitute for a skills demo – of which playable demos are the best of them all. 

That’s why I pulled out the University of Abertay in this piece as a great example of pioneering teaching in the area of games development. Their Dare to be Digital competition has already shown them how important proof is to graduates looking for jobs, and so they’re now rolling what they’ve learned from it in to their MProf Games Development course. I’m sure this will make their already impressive student employment rate jump even further.

But meantime, for everyone else, demos are the way to go. That’s how I got started – by creating a demo of my skills. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to be joining the industry at a time when there were far fewer people creating demos, so standards were low enough that I got in. But if I had to do it all again I’d choose the same route, because I realise and accept that it’s entirely up to me to create a compelling case that any potential employer can judge me by.

In my experience, nothing happens before proof; everything happens after it. If luck = opportunity x preparation, then proof is definitely the catalyst.

Good luck, whichever route you take – and if you happen to have the kind of proof I’ve outlined here be sure to check out www.denkiornot.com – I know at least one company who values attitude and approach as much as skills :-)”

So there you have it – my current collated thoughts on how to approach getting a job in the games industry.  If joining the games industry is your ambition then hopefully this will provide some valuable food for thought.

Colin.