The More You Dig Deeper Into The Industry, The More You Realise That You Were Miles Away In The Beginning

Looking back on my time in my degree, when the only ‘industry contact’ I had was my 3D modelling teacher, I had no idea how little hope in hell I had landing a job even if I had the highest graded art piece in the class, or most innovative design mechanic.

blizzard

The simple sad fact is: there are just too many graduates out there. How is a game professional or recruiter supposed to have an inkling of your existence when there are a) hundred thousands of others fighting tooth and nail to get their resume on said recruiters desk and b) experienced developers who are also constantly looking for a change of job or studio too?

While the industry itself is one of the smallest of the entertainment industries wherein it cannot be repeated enough that EVERYONE KNOWS EVERYONE, the number of hopefuls globally are larger than the number of people with actual jobs. Despite our understanding of blockbuster game releases which boast multi-studio developments and hundreds of devs working on one title towards a timely Christmas release, the single understanding graduates do not have is how difficult it will be for them to compete against their graduating peers let alone every game design course that exists globally. And what do they have as their weapon? The ability to smooth talk their way through a cold call or email that was attached to the default careers page on the studio’s website (only to receive an automatic reply that says the application has been received if you are lucky). It’s not until you go to a conference like GDC or PAX and you see the god-awful lines to the ‘students resumes’ booth, on top of the realisation that these are only people that bought tickets to this event, do you start to grasp the scope of it all. And only a handful (if that) of those in line will land a job.

What was both ironic and sad was that I barely saw any of these newbies attend any of the after-parties or mixers later on. Yes, most of them were invitation-only, but the exact reason why I was there was because I networked my way into an invite. And if I could do it, why couldn’t anyone else? Why was I the only hopeful at the Sony mixer on the Thursday night? Where were all the other kids? The lead developers of some of Sony’s largest titles were walking around, like answers to your questions served on a silver platter right in front of you, and yet one would think that there would be at least a few dozen that had also managed to get inside for this great opportunity, considering there were thousands of graduates in San Francisco that week. Truly, I shocked myself when I understood that my ability to have a friendly chat with a developer which turned into a swapping of cards or an invite to an after party was apparently not something that every graduate was able to pull off. I didn’t even think I had an ‘ability’ seeming as all I was doing was making friends, and yet there I was at these mixers, the only youngin in the room. At the same time I also understood that schools were in desperate need to add a networking and people’s skills class to their curriculums (will discuss in another post later).

My personal experience of doing a game design degree was remembering how excited I was at the prospect of working towards a career that I would love and be passionate about. It was that excitement and enthusiasm that drove me through all my classes and gave me the hope to believe the cliche that I was going to be working for some AAA studio one day. I genuinely believed that I was going to smash it. And I also genuinely believed that with school portfolio in one hand and degree in the other, I should be able to land a job within the year after graduating. The final semester classes were even equipped with portfolio-perfecting tutorials and teachers helping students build their resumes, business cards and websites. We all had a plan in those final weeks.

Fast forward to 2014 and I have had lengthy conversations with developers who confess that they don’t know even ten games degree courses out there, and who strongly advise not to submit one’s degree portfolio unless it is top notch level. Your charming sketch book and first Unity prototype aint gonna cut it. When asking for advice on how to move forward, to remove myself from the terrible cycle of ‘how do I gain experience when I need experience to get an entry-level job or internship which is supposed to give me my experience?’, 9/10 times the response has been ‘just keep doing what you’re doing’. Seriously, if I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that one. This is not to say that professionals do not care; quite to the contrary. I’ve seen many developers look sadly into the distance, trying hard for some advice to give to help the graduate in front of them, others shift awkwardly on the spot while praying that they don’t strangle the hopes and dreams of the graduate asking them a question in one fell swoop. In my case, those that weren’t able to offer me good advice went well out of their way to keep in contact via email and find me someone or somewhere who could, to which the effort itself was flattering enough. But this here brings me to my closing point.

You need to make a good impression when you finally get that chance to network and connect with someone, because he or she (if they don’t have the answer themselves) will lead you to connect with someone they know who may help, which will lead you on to your next connection, until viola! You have a series of legitimate connections who you can return to and rely on to pull in a favour and jump that gruesome hurdle that is the GDC students resumes line, straight to the lead-developer in charge of picking the new recruits for his or her team. I have already written in a previous post how I felt that my first-impression-connection-to-awesome-networking was when I met Chris Avellone, because now rather than going to the recruiter of his studio I can speak directly to the HR manager or one of the lead producers or hell, even one of the owners, all of whom are now friends as well as industry connections. (Insert quote on it’s not what you know but who you know, here).

Now that I have reached a point where I am mingling with successful developers over beers and sharing career stories and experiences at birthdays, I reflect on that girl sitting in the 3D modelling lab 3 years ago, searching through career listings on break to see if her short resume matched up to the ‘basic skills’ listed for an opening position, which is why I wrote this post. Truthfully, I had no idea about anything then, even if I thought I did. I had no comprehension of production processes to the extent I do now, or any real understanding of the trends and cycles of the game recruiting economy. I was going into the industry blind. But my argument is that we will never really know anything until we do it. This is not an industry where you will learn everything you will need to know in a textbook. You can practice modelling until you are a pro, or keeping drawing until you have about as big a portfolio as Leonardo Da Vinci, or write enough code to be able to recite functions in your sleep, but you will still never comprehend the goliath of this industry, or how demanding it is, until you dive into it and “fail spectacularly” (as Warren Spector told us at the Game Masters Forum).

Comments

  1. John

    The poorest influence on the students themselves comes from two places. First, it’s from the middle class parents of these kids who advise them that a degree will get them a job – because that’s how it was done in their day. Secondly it’s the universities confirming this myth – entrench yourself in debt with our degree, and you’ll get a job. Also unequivocally false.

    The truth is, there is no longer a linear pathway to getting paid anymore. What students need isn’t just networking and people skills, it’s entrepreneurship and market savvy.

    I myself come from a game art freelance background, and on top of having to be good at what I do, I have to adapt and re-adapt my work and portfolio based on where the money is flowing from, and that is always changing. I have to research what company or individual is paying for what work, or what people are buying at conventions, or what sells from licensing agents. A student cannot “get in line” and expect to be “given” a job anymore, they have to “go out” and “take” it.

    • etigani

      John I completely agree. In fact, your acknowledgement of the dilemma surrounding countless games degrees with promise of the traditional stance that degrees are the best pathways to a career hits a nerve. I come from the Melbourne industry in Australia, and during my second year of my degree I watched in horror as the media reported closure after closure of local studios. The plans us students had made for ourselves when we signed up for our degrees vanished in a puff of Working-Visa-in-America smoke. I had to change my frame of mind quickly in that if I wanted to pursue a stable career in games, I would have to leave my home and my family behind and eventually move overseas. I was 19. Meanwhile, thousands more students enroll each year straight out of high school, only to face the same problem. Where are they going to go?! I can’t really hold these universities responsible – after all, they are a business – but the increasing number of games degrees opening up each year is just ridiculous. It’s glorifying this new ‘modern career’ to high schools as if every man and his dog can ‘do what they love and make games!!!’ I mean sure, we should all follow our dreams, and I am a big advocate of that, but these high school students are being lured into an unemployment trap. Out of my graduating degree I have heard of maybe 3 or 4 students that have found themselves industry jobs, but many more students who have taken on a second degree in teaching, finance, etc. These were my friends and my peers. If these degrees are going to continue operation, then they need to own up to the fact that certain curriculum needs to change. They need to adapt to the current climate with specific instruction on pathways after the degree is obtained, and not just a bunch of technical and artist skills that one can perfect outside of school anyway.

    • William D. Simmons

      I loved this and I do understand. I’m a visual devilment/conceptual artist. I’m about to graduate college but I have already landed my first job doing concept work for a private studio on my first RTS video game for PC/MAC. I live in Charleston, South Carolina. I was able to get the job because I net worked like crazy I made the sacrifices to go way out of my comfort zone. To make it out to conferences stay for the whole week some times sleeping at the air ports and then going out the next day to the next event. Your portfolio alone won’t get you the job of your dreams you have to talk and get to know the people make those connections.

      • etigani

        That’s great to hear! I’m happy that you have found success and I wish you all the best. Thanks so much for posting your own story to the blog 🙂 Congrats.

        • William D. Simmons

          Thank you for posting this on your blog I’m going to make sure all of my classmates read this because they are stuck in a world that is not real. But will you be at GDC this year?

          • etigani

            Thanks for sharing! I hope they gain something out of my own experiences. I will be at GDC this year and happily making more friends whilst reacquainting with older ones. Do not hesitate to send me an email if you would like a chat! As for my social networking, you will find my facebook, twitter and linkedin profiles under ‘social’ in the footer of the website. Best regards to your classmates 🙂

  2. Gabriel

    As a fellow student I agree that a degree wont get you in the door anymore and there are too many college’s offering these types of degree’s, when it comes down to it you need the skills to get the job. You have the networking side of things down but now its time to put in the effort to be on the same level as other industry professionals. Focus on a specific part of the industry and throw yourself at it. Whether it be modeling, concept or animation you need to be really good at one thing and then learn the rest as you go. Your portfolio is a bit all over the place and I’m not sure what it is you want to do.

    Here is our competition
    http://level-design.org/?page_id=56

    You seem to have the energy and motivation to get in the industry, now you just need to zero in on your strengths and improve upon them to get you started.

    Good luck

    • etigani

      Gabriel thanks! I understand your observations regarding the lack of focus in my own portfolio and I’m glad you noticed. My portfolio – which is essentially all of the projects I did at school – is an exact testament to the cautions I give others about how the work you do in your degree is simply not enough to take into an interview unless you are a gift at your craft and, as you have said, managed to focus in on the desired position you wish to take in game development. I took one of those degrees that offered classes in every skill, and as such I have a portfolio of projects ranging from concept art through to programming and prototyping. I didn’t actually realise I wanted to become a producer until my final semester of my final year, by which point I hadn’t really had the chance to speak to all my teachers about what I could do to build a more production-based portfolio. What I did do, however, was use the final project (in which we had to build a prototype in teams) as an opportunity to try out the producer role and facilitate the rest of the team towards our desired goal. I think that project really made me realise that this was my passion. Since then, I have taken that same project to a larger-sized game which eventually was showcased at IGF last year. Although it isn’t the biggest production-related portfolio, it has allowed me now to speak openly and confidently in multiple interviews about the successes and mistakes I’ve made as a producer on that project. I am still trying to uncover (and question others) about what a producer should do specifically to build a portfolio (considering that it isn’t as easy to show off as art or design, etc.), but until then, I’ll keep working on it. Cheers for your input!

    • William D. Simmons

      okay thanks I will deff contact you and I guess I will see you at GDC this year as well.

  3. Adam

    I read this article as it was shared by someone else. But here’s the real truth. The experience you describe is indicative of many people’s experience in many different. Consider my experience I am completing my Master’s in Mental Health Counseling. I have connections as I have been in the field a long time. However in order to do my job properly I have to have my License. My license consists of getting 3000 work hours in 2 years. Unfortunately, there are very few ways to get those hours as employers are looking for people with their license already. The key I think for any field that requires experience over schooling is to make relationships, put yourself out there and keep trying no matter how difficult it is. I really liked this article for the pervasive struggle that finding work post college is. Please don’t limit the scope of this to it’s only in game development, because it is a much bigger problem…Great article. Glad it got shared.

    • etigani

      I appreciate your response! This blog post was just meant to be about game development, however I am glad that you have pointed out how important networking is for any industry. Cheers!

  4. Bill

    If at no point you looked at the turnover rate (i.e. the amount of new jobs and studios being created versus the amount of jobs lost or studios shut down) while you were a student, then it’s your own fault for not noticing a trend that’s been occurring for over a decade.

    • etigani

      While that is true, it also reinforces the need for students to find ways that they can stand out in the crowd. Each year we are seeing less and less jobs posted while more and more university degrees open up to produce more and more graduates. The turnover rate shouldn’t be a driving factor for any young adult to give up their passion and dream.

  5. Jilian

    in my opinion, there are two phenomenons that are happening: the Purple Squirrel, and a vastly unstructured process.

    They are related, so let me expand upon the latter: talk to any Senior Game Designer who has worked on something large, and they will tell you 9.9/10 that they started by accident – became a writer for a game team, joined a studio in its early days, etc – all in the early 90s. They had no experience in designing a AAA game; they got by on their talent.

    If they had been born 20 years later, they wouldn’t be able to get a job. Nowadays, in order to get into an entry-level position, you had to have had 3 years experience and shipped a AAA title. The 3 years experience is probably on coding VR headsets or something. This is known as the Purple Squirrel.

    • etigani

      Now you’ve got me distracted, thinking about Purple Squirrels.

      Truth in your observations though!

  6. Nick

    Its not the fault of the universities and the colleges, its the glassy eyed students who think that getting a degree in games guarantees them a job in games. The games degree’s are just a mash up of programming, art and project management basically. If they are thought of in this way, then they have a much wider skill set then some others out there when completing their degrees.

    Games is today’s Hollywood simple as that.

    • etigani

      Nick, this is a valid statement, and I did discuss how I myself believed that I was going to get a job within a year, however as the title states, I never realised how far from the truth that was. In regards to blaming universities, I disagree to some level. I cannot speak for universities in America, but at least in Australia there were tons of advertising during open days to students in high schools, promising great careers after completion of their degrees. They are a business after all. One could blame students for being gullible to this supposed ‘false advertising’, but high school students are never going to be fully knowledgeable about the industry they are signing up for at such an early stage.

    • AussieAbroad

      There’s a good interview at http://gamesandbiz.blogspot.ca/2010/09/q-interview-with-industry-veteran.html – the quote I think which is very relevant is:

      “What about young talent – do you think there’s enough in terms of education and opportunities for aspiring game developers to break into the industry? If this can be improved, how?

      MJ: Too much education, too few opportunities, if by opportunities we mean jobs. There’s a woeful shortage of employment options at the moment. To my mind, that means the courses should be focused on how to make a living as an independent developer, rather than on how to get a job in the industry.”

      • etigani

        I cannot tell you how awesome that reference is. May I use it for a future blog post later on? I’m glad to see others with a similar view on game design education as I.

  7. Matthew

    One thing I would say is that if you plan on moving abroad to pursue your career in video games then you do need a degree. Not necessarily one in video games, in fact any degree will do, but without one it can be very tricky to get a visa to work in most countries.

    And if you plan on working in the games industry, plan on moving a lot.

    • etigani

      Matthew, I will go a step further and inform you that after much research I have discovered that even a degree will not suffice in the American updated working visa policy. In order to pass the ‘specialist skills’ required these days to gain a visa, a Masters degree is now the standard. I myself will be pursuing my MBA this year 😉 I will be writing a post on this topic soon. Thanks!

  8. Barb

    I usually don’t comment, but as a person for 10+ years in the industry, this is what I experience when getting those applications from uni students (3d animator positions)

    Most of the students don’t know what they want to do in a game company. If you work for a big company, you will be highly specialized, there won’t be no ‘i have a great idea and I want people to do it’ . If you have a great idea, you either get some money and do it yourself, or you get a job somewhere, spend some years working your butt off and then maybe-maybe somebody will listen to you. It is not because there is something wrong with your idea, it is because there are countless others, who also have fantastic ideas and were biding their times already.

    So lets say you know you want something with art. Then sit down and figure out what that something is. 75% of all incoming uni applications for 3d animation position cannot animate. At all. Some of them maybe could be really good at making VFX and particles, but they don’t know that job exist and I am looking for animators, who can do walk cycles on mostly 2 and 4 legged characters.
    Meaning, I couldn’t care less if you can model a character, kudos if you can, after seeing the walk cycles, lifting heavy objects, sword fights and whatever else cool thing you have animated, but you won’t get an animator job based on that a character model and a camera flying around it. If it an animation position, it has to be a living creature, preferably somewhat humanoid. Animated cars, spaceships, funny steam punk engines don’t count. Just like you won’t get a character modeller job, because you can paint pretty barrel and wooden crate textures. If you want to be on the creative side, cos you cannot really do C++, you can be a tech artist. If you want to be a tech artists, do not send animation. Send rigs. A good rig and some cool little tool or shader can land you an entry level position more, than a semi-playable demo from school, where nobody knows what you did alone and anyway, most of it was painting the terrain. (And if you don’t know what painting terrain mean, you should first figure out before applying anywhere)

    We have hired level designers out of school based on maps they drew on papers. Of course if you can set up something yourself in an engine, all the better, but don’t spend time on pretty art, that is not what you are going to do. The more white box, the better. And do not set up a game somebody already made, there is no point.

    Of course all companies are different, what they want is different slightly, but nobody has time to try to figure out from your application what you want to do and what you would be best at. Sometimes you find a portfolio and think ah, maybe he/she would be good for some other department, but frankly, most of us don’t bother. I know I sound rude, and I am really sorry, but maybe it helps one person from getting refused once again.

    It is not easy out there for anybody right now… and in the last 2-3 years.

    Well done getting tickets to the Sony party… Hard to come by those even for developers, though those parties are usually awesome 😉

    • etigani

      Many thanks for your input! I’m hoping that those reading this page will benefit from reading the comments just as much as my post. Regards.

  9. Chad

    Hey Estelle, your post reminded me of this quote I came across the other day:
    Ï would invest my savings in living at the Waldorf and doing my utmost to rub shoulders with the financial and business great… This was the best investment I have ever made in my life”, B.C. Forbes.

    • etigani

      You sir, have made my website a whole lot more awesome with your presence. Thanks for the quote! Hope you’ve been doing well.

    • John

      That’s actually a fantastic idea. Find out where your business contacts live and rent the rooms next to them :3

  10. Artist

    Networking one’s way into the industry is for those who have no ‘real’ skills other than socializing, and being diplomatic. Which makes them perfect for managing or organizing people but NOT creative positions. 95% of all my art jobs have come from my portfolio being shown to complete strangers. Person to person interviews only confirm if you are crazy or not, and if you fit into a particular group or not. Creative positions demand the portfolio to be solid. If a creative person networks them self into a job they are not skillfully ready for, they will see a lot of stress as they struggle to complete a task they were not qualified to do.

    I have seen many ‘professional’ net workers get into the industry, and then fail miserably because they had no real creative skills. Just big mouths, which, if they were clever tend to move into sales, managing, or marketing positions, where liar skills and diplomacy are needed 😉 Talkers wanna talk, but creatives just want to create. Networking is 99% fake, and full of liars or exaggerators looking for attention or how to take what someone else has with a clever use of language. In My opinion the merits of a good creative body of work speak for itself. No lies needed. Jobs will be found, i promise, with a solid portfolio.

    • etigani

      You are totally correct and by writing this article I was in no way stating that with networking one dismisses the importance of a strong portfolio, which is indeed a standard for any job interview. However I do think that you are basing this opinion off game jobs like art, design or programming, where a persons skill can be easily shown off visually by work they have achieved and polished. What then, are the students wishing to go into business administration, marketing, or like me, production supposed to do? It is much harder to present a portfolio on how many games you have marketed or how knowledgeable you are at game company business, yet these are still strong and respectable jobs that students wish to pursue. In this case we could discuss the ‘transferable skills’ scenario, where such students could enter another industry for some time and enter a portfolio that way, but it still does not shadow the importance of networking to connect with people who can help. In terms of ‘managing or organising people but not creative..’, I would actually stress how much the ability to have personality enough to fit into a particular team is extremely important for a lot of studios. Not to discredit that an artists portfolio is going show off their real talent, but if a recruiter has 10 amazing portfolios in front of them an cannot decide which one to recruit, they are going to either go with someone they know via referral or someone they feel comfortable with because that person has displayed that they can fit in with their team and adapt well to their studio.

  11. rui garcia

    I share your opinion and in Portugal we have some hard working visionaries that create a festival/workshops call TROJAN HORSE WAS A UNICORN there we can talk to every one and have cooching sujections from huges gurus from game, animation and film, great 4 intense days, you should go 🙂

    sorry for my bad english

    https://www.facebook.com/TrojanUnicorn?fref=ts

    • etigani

      Great to hear that these words ring true for all internationals and not just Australians. Thanks 🙂

  12. Fantastic article Estelle!

    I’m from Perth myself, and I’ve been having the same struggle of ‘just how do I get into the industry?’ I was lucky enough last year to be one of the GDC Scholars, and I was mentored by Keith Fuller. Looking back on it now, in a lot of ways that was like cheating – through Keith I was able to make valuable contacts with people in the industry in the United States that I would have had a tougher time making by myself. I was able to sit down at a meal, laugh and chat with a bunch of other Producers. When I left GDC I chose to resign from my web development job at the time to focus on getting into the industry, because the conference just emphasized to me that I had what it took – all I was lacking was experience and contacts.

    In recent months I made a great friend at Backflip, who joined them in recent months and works in QA. She was insisting that I apply to the studio. I happened to mention that to Keith during one of our e-mail conversations, just to be reminded later on that I had actually had dinner with one of the lead Producers at Backflip at GDC last year. My first year attending GDC and my contacts have already come full circle – the industry is absolutely tiny.

    I think the important thing is to not give up hope, and to go outside of your comfort zone. Ask difficult questions at talks, go to roundtables and lend your opinion. If you spot someone working at a studio that you are interested in, speak with them. Don’t go palming off your resume to random developers – it gives a wrong impression. But just having friends in the industry is such a big thing. You get good advice, you learn about what it’s like inside of studios and how they function well in advance of getting into them. Keep in touch with the people you meet and make friends out of them. Don’t just go to the Student booths and put in a resume. Go to parties and dinners. Talk about yourself – and better yet, do something cool that people will enjoy hearing about.

    Right now, I’m still only working contracts here in Perth. I’ll be doing GDC again this year, and trying to do as much – if not more – than I did last year. I’ll continue to expand my contacts and continue working on doing cool things, because – eventually – I am going to make a breakthrough and get somewhere. I think that’s really the most important thing. As Australians we have limited options available to us in the country to do internships and gain experience – it only makes it all the more important that we talk with people and do cool, interesting things.

    That all said! Being Australian also comes with perks. You mentioned that the only way to get a visa was a Masters degree, but that’s not entirely true. Australians have access to a special visa in the United States called the E3 Visa. It requires you enter into a ‘specialist’ job and that you have at least a Bachelors degree or higher. It’s not a bad idea to mention it in cover letters and applications, I am told!
    http://canberra.usembassy.gov/e3visa/qualifying.html

    • etigani

      Thanks Matthew! I’m damn excited to see that it has reached Perth, and I truly connect with your journey. Coming from an international industry with dreams on wanting to move to America means that we have to rely on networking our way in. We need to have our voices heard from across oceans and not states, and therefore have to go that extra mile than American students who may just be able to get in on an amazing prototype. For us it is not enough. About the E3 visa: I do agree with you and I have done extensive research on the E3 myself. There still remains one problem. Although the E3 is much easier for us Australians to obtain than the traditional working visa (H1), there is still a cost attached to sponsorship. A cost which is simply not a logical investment for a company when taking on an intern or entry level applicant. Before a large studio with such funding will agree to pay for even an E3, they more than likely will want to see a shipped title attached to your name. That doesn’t mean that we don’t give up. I wish you great luck, sir. Any friend of Keith is a friend of mine – send him my best. May I use some of your comment as a quote in a future post? I think you’ve written a real eye-opener that the rest of the industry needs to know.

      • I’ve heard stories from out of smaller studios that people have been bought in from overseas for internship opportunities – but these stories are a rarity compared to the stories of well trained game developers with decent experience simply settling for web development or teaching jobs here in Australia. The E3 visa still requires a massive investment, but with the contacts and the time I have to give hope to the possibility that a studio that knew you well enough would be willing to give you the opportunity. There’s not much here in Australia for us to skill up with besides our own independent projects. It takes an investment of time and passion – and perhaps a little forethought into applying for a greencard to make the issue nonexistent. The advice I’ve been given is typically the same: The only way to get past that dollar sign hurdle is to prove you are worth the investment.

        But absolutely Estelle, you can quote me if you want to!

  13. AussieAbroad

    I enjoyed reading your recent blog on the difficulty of “breaking into” the industry. As an Aussie game designer working overseas, I can definitely relate to feeling like the industry was mysteriously impenetrable a short 6 years ago. You seem to have the right attitude and to be doing the right things so I just thought I’d offer my own take after having met and worked with many people with different experiences and backgrounds. There’s no “cookie cutter” template of experience for a game developer, and each person brings their own mix of unique experiences to the table.

    – Portfolio and side projects are important, as is any relevant work experience. Internships and co-ops are sadly under-appreciated in Australia, and since I’ve been overseas I’ve noticed students here have a slightly easier time breaking in due to the many partnerships studios have with educational institutions, and for some of the smaller studios – desire to get ‘fresh talent’ early on so that they can hire the good ones when they graduate

    – Something they never seem to emphasise much in articles on ‘breaking in’, but making games full-time is not the only way to get the experience needed to get a games job! Every job teaches valuable transferable skills, and particularly for production and management roles I’ve come across many people who transferred into games after obtaining the experience in other industries. Producers and project managers exist in advertising, web, you name it… And although it may not seem as games-focused, many companies would hire a talented and experienced project manager from another industry over someone unproven but with potential. There are definitely things to learn specific to game development, but you can work full-time in another industry, gain valuable professional experience (that will also help if one day you wish to transition out of games), and participate in game projects on the side. I spent a year and a half working at a web agency, and strongly believe that I learned
    skills that helped me gain my next job in game dev – skills that I continue to use day-to-day. I know someone who has worked in some very high-ranked ‘executive’ roles in gaming, and he said the companies barely looked at his CV until he spent a couple of years working in investment banking, gaining practical business skills that they could use.

    – Don’t just target the big name, AAA “dream studios”. There are plenty of smaller and less glamorous studios looking for people too. And the experience gained working at the smaller studios counts just as much – and can help you eventually land a job at at a bigger place if that’s your ambition.

    Keep up the good work, and I’m confident that with your passion and drive you’ll “make it”.

    • etigani

      Thanks for sharing in the comments! I hope others read this because I absolutely love your opinion. As I said about AAA studios, unfortunately us internationals will have to appeal to these larger funded studios when we need sponsorship of our visas. Smaller studios may not be able to hire us for the pure fact that it costs money to take us on.

  14. ::: “I shocked myself when I understood that my ability to have a friendly chat with a developer which turned into a swapping of cards or an invite to an after party was apparently not something that every graduate was able to pull off. I didn’t even think I had an ‘ability’ seeming as all I was doing was making friends, and yet there I was at these mixers, the only youngin in the room. At the same time I also understood that schools were in desperate need to add a networking and people’s skills class to their curriculums.” :::

    That is bang on. So many recent grad prospectives and students have ZERO people skills to network. They have little to no net presence. No willingness to talk about stuff and just chill with the people they’d like to work with some day. And a lot of the time, no opinions to use as conversational talking points. Most of the best conversations I’ve made while networking (in person) come from talking about differing opinions with other devs and artists, and it’s a blast. They love it and so do I. Sure, a lot of students come prepared with a resume and a business card, but that’s not going to get you anywhere. You’ve gotta show that you have the ability to look at the people around you as more than just the gatekeeper to a job. Have the confidence to converse and make friends, and weave your work, passion, and process into the discussion that way. Going out with local devs (AAA, AA, Indie or otherwise,) is probably one of the more interesting parts of being in this industry, I find — the people you meet and connect with.

    • etigani

      Thanks so much – I’m glad to see that you appreciate the opportunity to speak to others about your passion, whilst also connecting with people and sharing different opinions. Networking shouldn’t be viewed as strictly ‘a step towards getting a job’ but also a setting for which you can make good relationships and learn other people’s views along with your own. The sharing of information via connections is just as important as what we read in industry media.

  15. I recently graduated from a degree in Media Arts and Animation in a school with a huge decline in the past couple of years. It saddens me to understand after all this time that this school did’t only teach us what we needed to know but also got us by the neck with debts that are just impossible to pay.
    Anyway I just moved to Los Angeles in my search for better opportunities (I was at school in FL) and so far I haven’t been able to find anything. I was hoping I could go to GDC this year seeing that it is close by but I wont be able to afford it. In general I am stuck but I’m still doing my best to get out there and get something going.

    • etigani

      David – my advice to you is to search for a mentor, someone with more of a foot in the industry than yourself, and who can dedicate the time to offer you meaningful advice as well as connecting you to people based off their connections. Do not be discouraged if you cannot afford to go to GDC; it’s damn expensive for graduates. It should also not be viewed as the only place you can network with people. Locate your nearest IGDA chapter and start there; you would be amazed at the local talent you might be surrounded by. Best of luck.

    • I can offer some advice. First, (and don’t take this the wrong way, I’m offering some constructive criticism here,) your portfolio is on the weak side. You need to be showing more work, and by that I mean not just more images. You need to do more new work and show it off in a more presented, consolidated way. Make new models and fake assets for stuff. Come up with a concept that you can create a lot of work for and show it off. Random stuff that can show you can design assets: http://fav.me/d49gbl6 and http://fav.me/d49n3p2 (2D paintings or 3D models, whatever you’re more looking to get into.) You have a lot of sketchbook drawings, but I not a lot of things that are finished, and a lot of things that I think could be removed entirely to be replaced with better new work. Solid new work in a portfolio takes a while and eats up evenings going out with your friends, but hey, that’s what you gotta do. I’m doing the same thing right now to mine because I have work from 2009 still in mine. Time to update and keep it fresh, and push myself in the process.

      You want to have probably somewhere around 10 to 15 different pieces to show off your various abilities in what you do best. Artists are typically always a swiss-army-knife of skills, but you gotta let one or two stand out more than the others. (A logo designer serious about getting a job as a graphic designer isn’t going to have game asset art and sound design samples in their portfolio, for example. They’re gonna have logos in their portfolio. And damn good ones, too.)

      I made a post about this on my blog, (seen here: http://fox-orian.tumblr.com/post/56990908260 )
      The part I think you might want to pay attention to is:
      “Is your site a portfolio or a personal history museum? You’re going to want to figure out which one, and I’ll say this: if you’re just starting out, you’d want to go for the portfolio approach. This means LIMIT your content. You’ve probably heard it before, but show the best of your best work. Not ALL of your work. Not even ALL of your BEST work. Just the best of the best. If you have 12 pieces in your portfolio, and one or two of them are just “okay,” having a 10 piece portfolio with those two removed is probably better. Either that, or do some new work to replace them to show off your abilities better. No need to have drawings in there you did 5 years ago. Or show a piece you got a “gold key award” for in high school. After you establish yourself as a professional and get lots of work, your site can become a personal history museum. Believe me, the work you’re doing right now WILL be overshadowed by work you’ll be doing in 4 years.”

      Your animation reel for example is potentially doing more harm than good at this moment. For a 2:30 long animation reel, it only has about 25 seconds of actual animation, the rest is just camera moves (which is not what people are looking for when they want an animation reel to review.) Unless you have more animation to show, or are serious about being an animator, consider making that the bulk of the reel. If not, rework it to be a DEMO reel. Show off your 3D models in motion and sequence and stuff. That would make for a better (albeit slightly unnecessary) portfolio asset.

      Lastly, (and this is a more minor point to the “do more new work” advice,) but, your resume. It’s important to have a plain-text resume CV because some companies, that’s all they’ll take. (Usually college campus jobs.) But you should have a well-designed resume since it represents quite a bit about your attention to detail and passion toward making *everything* awesome. If I were in an art directing position, someone with a really characteristic resume that represents who they are would linger in my mind more than one in plain Times New Roman text — especially if it has “graphic and logo design” listed under providable services. It may seem like a minor thing, but these impressions matter and show your confidence. If your resume was put against mine on a table, http://orianart.com/matt_laskowski_resume_artist.pdf — which do you think an art director would gravitate toward first?

      And then super lastly, everything that Etigani said in this blog. (And my comment above yours.) It’s important to make good impressions about being a passionate person and make connections through those shared interests, not just because you’re out looking for a job. It might take a while of “just making friends, no benefits” but it’s a long-term investment. Go to local game developer jams, post-mortems, indie demo nights, you name it — they’re out there, look them up and GO TO THEM. Talk to people, don’t talk to them like how you write your cover letters, and definitely without knowing what their possible position is in the industry. A junior-level-grunt can help you just as much (if not more) than bumping into an art director. Don’t look at it as “networking,” which sounds purposeful and selfish. Look at it as making meaningful bonds with people who do work similar to you. After all, you can end up helping a person you befriend just as much as they help you.

      Keep it up man! You’re in LA. If you can up your game, you’re be sure to find work!

  16. Barb

    Dear Fox-orian,

    while I agree with lots of what you say, I totally disagree with your comment on the CV. Nobody has EVER since 1999 complained about my CV. It is written in Microsoft Word, using only one type of font, it does have bold and underlines, but that is about it. No pictures and no colours.
    See game developers are a funny bunch with a heavy no-nonsense attitude. So unless you are applying for a web designer position within a company or maybe a UI/UX designer, people will at least how to put it, smile at your CV. It looks good, don’t get me wrong, but it is a bit too out there.
    The CV does tell something about the person, you are absolutely right about that. It is just that sometimes what you try to tell is not what people read into it. I have read more CVs in my life than I care to even remember. But most people don’t read CVs. By now HR screens it and you will actually first look at it when you have the phone interview with the guy/gal. And if you are any interesting, your CV will end up looking like a notebook by the end of the interview, if you are not interesting, it will look like somebody’s doodle page. The more readable your CV, the better.
    If I have to make an effort to find any data on your CV, you have lost me. Like I had to look at pretty icons on yours to see if you can do any 3d or it is web/DTP only. Again, if that is what you want to do, I think your CV is great, but do not tell a future Character artist to make a spectacle out of their CV. Maybe in an ad agency or an HR firm you can get ahead if your CV is on a nice beige paper with watermark, I promise you Blizzard couldn’t care less.

    I tell you what happens to me as a Lead Animator after a GDC for example:
    Some people come to my table and puts down about 3 plastic bag filled with CDs and random pieces of CV’s and cover letters. At this point I may have a milestone in 2 weeks, a sprint is ending tomorrow and since yesterday our Editor stopped working. But OK, I need people so I get to it. As I said earlier, most of these applications, while says 3d animation, are actually more entry level generalists. So if I see something great, (i mean I can actually start the CV/DVD) then I read/skim the CV. If it is really awesome, but not animation, I make a pile and give it to the appropriate department. If it is awesome and animation, which will be about 5 application, I even read their cover letter. The rest goes to the bin. (Maybe I keep some thinking that in case of emergency…) And this took me probably a whole day, while I was not fixing the editor, not helping my team and so on. Believe me, colours on your CV is least of my interest.

    And one more thing, which has nothing to do with anything, but might as well tell you. The music choice of your show reel… By default people will look at it first without music, mostly because you like death metal but he likes korean pop. And partly because when you have to watch many, you get a headache from the too loud sound level most reels come with. Still, if your stuff is good, we will listen to it, so pretty please choose some music, which is not too obscure.

    I understand Estelle would like to become a producer. So for practical reasons, she is probably not going to be an artist/animator. She has a much harder time to show her stuff. She made friends, they can advise her. Also Estelle I can give you my two cents if you’d like.

    • Hey no worries, we all handle ourselves differently. I’m not a graphic designer professionally, but I like to pursue typography and design as a hobby on my own stuff [even if it doesn’t matter to some people.] I’ve said to many illustrators before that I believe some knowledge of graphic design is important for all kinds of different aspects of things you might do someday. I do have my resume typed out exactly in plain .txt text format so that it can be distributed in various ways if need be. But to be honest, this isn’t a resume that I’ve ever actually sent out to people. It’s made mostly to look somewhat cohesive when presented on my web page, nicely formatted if someone wants to learn more about what I’ve done. The colors look nice enough on screen, but kept simple enough so it converts well to B/W from a laser printer. I mostly have an interest in indie game development, (an industry where a lead can come very much as easily from random discovery online instead of a local event,) and I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from devs about how my site is set up. *Shrugs* As far as I see it: just as long as you don’t go totally overboard (which I definitely kept mine perfectly reasonable and professional looking) there’s certainly no harm that can come of it, except maybe 30 minutes of your time to design it. I’m not suggesting David go totally nuts and make a spectacle of it, I’m just saying it might help maybe just a couple of percent more to make it have a small amount of personality to it. (I’ve seen a lot of concept artists, yes character-centric ones, totally overblow their resume with full-page drawings in the background and stuff, to which I’m like SCALE IT BACK DUDE, GEEZ. These people don’t want to receive a 3.5MB resume!!

      As I said in my critique for David, I believe the resume design is the least important thing I mentioned. Nothing can beat a strong offering of work front-and-center on your portfolio, hands-down. Interestingly enough, my current employment didn’t even require my resume at all. I was brought in because the owner of the studio found my work being passed around on some blogs and loved it and called me in to hire me. So, yeah, the whole resume thing is definitely not super important.

    • etigani

      Hey Barbara, just an FYI, that critique was for David 🙂

  17. This was a great read. I wanted to share some of my thoughts, which I hope haven’t already been said too much in the comments. While I agree to many of the points you wrote about, I feel like this issue is more about getting over the walled garden of any entertainment medium, not just games.

    Video games, movies, tv, music and pretty much all entertainment industries are walled gardens which are intentionally built to make entry a challenge due to the significant costs of mass market development (AAA games, Big budget films, prime time tv, etc..) and the risks associated with including someone new. Time to market is a constant problem, and in many places, the time/effort necessary to grow/mentor/manage new talent can often affect that.

    This used to be a huge problem in the past, but I feel that over time this wall has lowered greatly. There many ways for people to gain a foot in the door, be it through networking in conferences (as described in your article), as well as utilizing the countless amount of tools and resources available to not only build something that is production quality to gain the necessary visibility, but to even make a living on your own without needing access to the industry at all.

    With games.. There are many people who are making it as indie game developers or mobile game developers, or who have created mods for existing games/worked on mod teams, and utilized that work to get a foot in the door. I agree that school projects probably aren’t going to prepare you quite the same as doing it on your own, but these are still very legitimate means of entry or even independent success.

    With the other entertainment industries, there are also many many content producers, film makers, musicians, comedians, and entertainers who have been either discovered, or are making a living through youtube, soundcloud, loudr, itunes, and every crowdfunding site under the sun. These are all channels for exposure and success, and relay on your ability to work hard at building a name for yourself, which is something you have to do even when you are in this industry.

    All of the entertainment industries have means for those without degrees or working experience as well.. the ‘mailrooms’.. whether you’re an intern, an extra, a grip, a runner, or a QA tester. I started as a game tester 7 years ago, and I fought and clawed my way up to become a lead designer by my sheer will and determination to make game design my career. I had to prove myself every step of the way, often spending countless hours of my personal time writing feature proposals and writing suggestion bugs to the designers until I finally started getting some actual responses. I don’t have a degree, and while I sometimes wish I had gotten it, it probably wouldn’t have made much of a difference in the end.

    With all of this said.. here’s my blunt truth: If you cant figure out a way into the industry, you probably wont survive once you do. Regardless if it’s TV/Film/Games or Music, the demands and expectations of those inside are much more than the effort necessary to break in. People complain about crunch and harsh working conditions, but this is the current reality we live/work in, and a lot of people cant handle it.

    There’s many other parts to this problem that I’m not really touching on, but hopefully this can give additional insight to those who are on the outside.

    • etigani

      Thanks for sharing, Mitch. Fantastic response. The last point you made especially hit home for me – “…the demands and expectations of those inside are much more than the effort necessary to break in. People complain about crunch and harsh working conditions, but this is the current reality we live/work in, and a lot of people cant handle it.” – because I am a big believer that the most motivated and ambitious come out on top, because even that gives you a drive to sharpen your talent. If you want it, go for it. If you are going to complain about how hard it is (which is something I am certainly not aiming to do in my blog), then you will spend the rest of your career complaining. The break into the industry itself is already a good indicator of those that can endure all the up and downs to come.

  18. Derek

    Wow Estelle, very refreshing read. Would love to hear from you about how to make a good impression when you are face to face with an Industry professional.

    For a majority a students the challenge is not only how to make a good first impression but how to even begin a good conversation with an industry professional without knowing what they pitfalls are are what we should be striving to accomplish in that conversation. What are the do’s and don’ts?

    *Do you research a studio and begin a conversation about the games they produce?
    * Do you just start a non game related conversation and not make it obvious that you are speaking to them because you want an opportunity?

    looking forward to hearing back from you and reading more posts about your experience

    Best

    • etigani

      Derek, I once read a fantastic article series that goes into detail about answering your questions, much better than I can. I will chase it up and get back to you asap. Thanks!

    • etigani

      Here you go. All credit goes to Darius Kazemi on this one. If you have the time, I highly recommend sitting down and reading this, and I might even post it to my blog closer to GDC. The answer to your question about starting a conversation is especially highlighted in post 14: How To Work A Room.

      http://tinysubversions.com/effective-networking/

      I always recommend doing some light research on the major studios, just so that you are aware on what they are recently working on, but not necessarily to memorise every little detail about their business. Being ignorant is also a great tool to have – professionals actually like it when they aren’t surrounded by fans who know their engine’s code off by heart or who want to discuss how they could have made this boss fight better. Showing a genuine interest in what they are working on as an individual and not as a studio is what any person deserves. Remember that although these developers might be your idols, they are still just as human as you or I.

      • Derek

        wow Estelle, Just saw your reply this morning. So thankful to Darius for posting it and you for sharing it with us. Such a comprehensive post on effective networking in the game industry. Can’t wait to dive into it.

        I have a fairly long list of studios on my list, major and not so major, so I have a good deal of research to do.

        Really excited I came across this post. looking forward to future posts.

  19. Hi, Estelle!

    Nice, very nice words.
    Some days ago, i was talking with some friends about things related to this matter. I think there’s a huge effort on inner skills without paying attention to the “outer” ones. Sometimes, in fact most of the time, knowing how to make friends is exactly what will make that job possible or not.

    It may sound a little unfair, to know that even if you have good skills you might end not getting anything at this industry. But, hell, when you get something on it, you’re suppose to work WITH people and a lot of people fails to see that.

    We can’t misunderstand having a nice portfolio, a cool website or a pretty résumé with possessing the skill to work with someone. If you can’t talk and deal with people, in the real world, you won’t get through the selection process for a team. It’s way easier to deal with ourselves than someone else.

    I believe there’s some kind of responsibility for those who are on the industry to take care of the flowing of it. I don’t know anyone who got there without having to deal with other people, without the helping of other people, be it by receiving that feedback on your skills, or that contact that gave you that other opportunity. What maks me sad is that sometimes, those who got it, forgets about that and doesn’t do the same for others when they have the chance.

    The most we help, the better and stronger the industry gets itself. Thanks for the words^^

  20. Pete

    I’ve read through this a few times. I’m actually a bit confused by this post, because each time I read through it I read something different. At first I read “There are so many people applying for game jobs so it’s tough to get one”, then I read “schools need to teach us more about networking”, and upon another reading I got “why aren’t kids trying to go out and drink and talk with industry vets? It’s just that simple”. So which of these are you trying to say? 🙂

    • etigani

      First and foremost, I’m not saying networking is “just that simple”; it is actually quite difficult but an essential tool for students who wish to stand out in the crowd. They need to stand out in the crowd because there are indeed many people applying for jobs. Which is why I believe such degrees should place a high importance in providing direction regarding networking and breaking into the industry. Hopefully it makes more sense how these are interlinked.

  21. Nikolaos Karydas

    Greetings Estelle,

    Your article opened my eyes a little wider. I remember arguing with my lecturer’s when on my very first lecture at uni they told us that who we know is more important than what we know. It sounded really cruel to me back then. Now on my final year I understand what they were on about.

    I must say, reading this got me a little depressed because it reminded me of the fact that english is my second language and difficulties are bound to come my way because of that when attempting to network with people. On the other hand, as I said earlier, you opened my eyes and gave me a good idea of how I should go about enhancing my chances at getting a job, and for that I thank you.

    I hope to read more of your stuff.
    Take care.

    • etigani

      I’m not intending to spread any doom and gloom here 😉 Don’t be depressed, but it is important for students to have a full understanding of some of the obstacles that stand in their way beyond the theory they learn in class. That way you can be better prepared to succeed! Also, don’t disregard actual skill in your work – networking is very important, but it isn’t any good if you have nothing to show for it. One is just as important as the other. Also, your English in your comment seemed perfect to me 🙂

  22. ferrettank

    I totally agree with this article, it is ALL about networking and confidence. I am not a veteran in the 3D art or graphic design field, but all of my jobs so far never asked if I had a 3D art or graphic design degree, they just saw my work and hired me. So a lot of it is putting your self out there and starting with small talk and having it lead up to something big 🙂

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