If you’re like most gamers then you have, at some point, dreamed about working in video games in some capacity or another. Many of us cook up video game ideas in our heads, some of us are still doing it even if we’re working quite far away from the industry itself. However, getting into the game industry is not as oppressively difficult as it might seem. In fact, there are many avenues into it. However, you had better be prepared for some competition on your way in.
Start making games
As reductive as it might seem, one of the best ways to get into the industry, even if you’re not joining one of the biggest developers right away, is to learn to develop your own games. Indie games have been getting the spotlight more and more over recent years, even if the vast majority of them aren’t going to do much to stand out. Learning to code, putting together your own art assets (or working with those who can), and getting started with basic games is a tried and true formula for breaking your way into the industry. Even if your own indie games never become the next Hotline Miami, it can help you develop the skills that dev teams are looking for.
Become a tester
Becoming a tester might sound like you get paid to play video games all day, which is pretty much the dream of every adolescent gamer. We know about work in QA testing to know it’s not quite that simple. Most testers will spend a day or more in a single area or screen of a game, trying out a function over and over again, repeating actions, sometimes varying them, to see what they can break and report. Moreover, it’s a position that many, many people are trying to get into because it’s the most visible “entry-level” job in the industry. That said, a lot of testers do seem to love their position, warts and all.
Get busy with digital art
Even those developers who are technically competent aren’t going to be able to do absolutely everything themselves. Even so-called “one-man” dev teams often work with artists. As such, learning digital art, such as being able to create your own high-quality models, having proficiency in hand-drawn animation, or even working with sprites (which have very much been back in fashion over the past decade) can help you find a position amongst dev teams, especially smaller indie teams looking to break-through. Of course, there is also the element of creating visual designs for characters and environments that then get translated into the game, but working on the skills that are closest to being in the game itself is one of the best ways to find your “in.”
Share your ideas where you can
There are few types of people that aspiring game developers (who are actually working to make their way into the industry) dislike quite as much as the “idea guy.” This is the person who brings nothing to the table but basic ideas. Their ideas might have some grain of goodness to them. They might have some mechanical insight that they could share. But unless you’re working on full game design documents and sharing them, you’re only giving scraps of ideas to people. If you have game ideas, especially ones that you are actively working on, you should share them in video game forums, especially those that devs are known to frequent.
Get animating and bring those ideas to life
As mentioned, having proficiency in any kind of art that can be used in video games is a grand thing. However, there are few that are as vital as being able to animate. Animation is painstaking work that demands a lot of time but also a lot of attention to detail and creativity. As such, animators are always in very high demand. You don’t need to necessarily start by animating for video games, either. Learning the skills on your own, joining animation studios, and getting experience in working with various kinds of projects can all be just as good for when you want to make your transition to the video game industry. 3D animation especially is a very versatile skill with a lot of transferability between industries.
Can you write your way into video games?
If you’re a particularly creative type with a desire to see your stories turned into interactive experiences, then taking the route of the writer might seem like the perfect thing for you. However, and this might be something that writers might not like to hear, but they fit the role that is easiest to fill in videogames. Doesn’t mean that there are tons of writers as good as you out there, but it does mean that there’s a lot more competition to claw your way through. There are guides on getting writing jobs in the industry but mostly it’s about staying visible, putting your work out there, and being readily able to crank out not just game ideas, but examples of writing that fits in every bit of the video game experience.
Creative writing isn’t the only kind of writing
If you’re a writer and you’re more than willing to claw your way into any position that will have you, then you might be okay with not doing the main narrative writing of the video game itself. Instead, you might be just as happy with the many technical writing jobs that come in the video games industry. Technical writers will write documentation during the development process, as well as things like in-game tooltips, tutorials, instructions for any physical or digital instruction manuals, and so on.
Creating the sounds of the game
You might be surprised just how many high-profile video game developers have started as sound engineers for the games that they first worked on. Yoshinori Ono, who went on to revitalize the fighting game genre with Street Fighter IV in 2009 was a sound programmer, producer, and designer for nearly a decade in the industry before he started producing games. It’s easy to forget that games are an audio-visual medium, with the audio part often being left the unsung hero. However, by getting used to creating digital sounds and producing soundscapes for video games, you can make them much deeper experiences. While sound engineers aren’t often lauded by the public, these skills are very much always in demand when it comes to the development side of things.
Bringing your music to the experience
If you ask any gamer who truly has a deep passion for the games that they play, the music that they listen to as they are playing the game has a huge role in shaping the experience. We give awards for music in video games, hold concerts for music in video games, and many of us buy soundtracks from video games. As such, if you’re a talented musician, composer, or arranger of music, you could be able to find your way into one of the most enviable jobs in the industry, creating the scores that accompany gamers on their adventures. It’s becoming easier to start creating music in your own bedroom, too, so you can start learning this skill today.
Managing the community
Video game communities have been becoming more and more of a thing thanks to the advent of the internet. Not only are we meeting on forums to discuss our passions on our terms, but many of us are hanging out in communities that are managed by the developers or publishers or games themselves. It gives us the opportunity to get closer contact to the dev team, which often enables us more insight or the ability to give feedback more directly. As such, community managers have become a lot more common over time, be it working in forums, in social media, or otherwise. These are effectively marketing reps who represent the development team, but often have to come with a detailed knowledge of the games they’re talking about, too.
Getting in on the journalistic side of things
If you don’t work in the video games themselves, then how about getting a job adjacent to them? Much like testers, you might think that video game journalists get paid to play video games. It’s not entirely untrue. However, the job often comes with obligations to play games to completion, in short periods of time, even if they’re not great or not immediately interesting. Video game journalists also have to cover news, which can be as simple as reporting on new press releases or trailers but can also go deep into the kinds of investigative journalism that uncovers the secrets of the industry.
Getting a career in video games isn’t necessarily easy. There are a lot of people trying to constantly do the same thing and the industry can be notoriously difficult on those who do make it. However, if it’s your dream, then there are plenty of different ways to do it.