This is a summary of the livestreamed event of the same name, which can be watched in full here.
So, you’ve decided that a career in games is right for you. And why shouldn’t it be? After all, the games industry is the perfect place for a creative, highly-motivated person just like you, who loves to build and share experiences.
But while the games industry is a terrific place to work, it’s also notoriously competitive and tricky to break into. No doubt you have a lot of questions. What skills do I need? Do I need a degree? How about a portfolio? What roles should I be applying for? How do I stand out from the huge volume of equally capable applicants? Maybe you’re feeling a little lost and intimidated about the whole thing.
Luckily, some of the UK’s biggest games companies, support schemes and funding initiatives have come together with intogames for a special Games Jobs Live event dedicated to helping you to take your first steps into the industry. Below you’ll find essential advice from Creative Assembly, Sumo Digital, Splash Damage, Mediatonic, Lucid Games and Ubisoft, as well as BAFTA and Tranzfuser, that will help put you on the path from education into your first job. You’ll learn about everything from how to prepare your portfolio and what to include in a covering letter, to guidance about networking and information about the kinds of opportunities available.
Whether you’re looking for an entry level role or to start your own independent studio; whether you’re a recent graduate or making the transition from another background entirely; this is your starter pack on how to begin your career in games.
Where to begin?
So, let’s recap: you’re passionate about games and want to pursue a career in making them. So far so good. The very first thing you’ll need to consider is higher education. While certainly not the only way into the games industry, university graduates make up the majority of the hires for all the companies who spoke at the event. In particular, the companies expressed their interest in graduates who have taken part in games-specific degree programmes and can show a high level of specialisation in a particular role, be that in design, programming or art.
But what if you don’t know what role would suit you best? One option is to find a games course with an “umbrella” first year. Georgia A(?), who is currently a character artist at Jagex, explained that she took a course where all the students from different disciplines studied together during their first year. This allowed her to easily switch from animation – which was her original chosen discipline – to 3D modelling and character design when she realised it’d be a better fit for her.
Of course attending a university course can be more difficult for some than it is others depending on their social background, so what kind of support is available? Fortunately, BAFTA offers a scholarship scheme which helps people in financially difficult situations to study game courses. The scheme covers TIGA-accredited undergraduate and postgraduate degrees and awards between £5000 and £12,000 towards course fees. Whatsmore, successful applicants will be connected with an industry mentor throughout their studies and given free access to all BAFTA events.
It’s never too early to start
As soon as you think you might be interested in a career in games, there’s no reason not to begin preparing right away. Hollie Hapworth from Lucid Games recommends starting to network and attending industry events the moment you set your sights on a job in games. By making connections with people one or two years ahead of you on your career path, you can better understand how the industry works and learn more about what it takes to get in. What’s more, it’ll help you to become a familiar face to potential employers when it comes time to do interviews.
Hapworth also recommended following companies on social media. Given that there are so many different great companies out there, using the time while you’re still studying to become an expert on what they are like and to fully understand their values and culture will be a huge advantage when you are submitting applications further down the line.
Julia Carruthers from BAFTA agrees when it comes to networking. She said that successfully getting a job in the games industry is not just about what you learned in university. Building industry connections is just as important, and you have to approach everyone you meet like they could be your future collaborator. With the games industry bringing together such a wide array of people, you never know whose expertise you might need down the line, so building a broad network of connections is hugely valuable.
Carruthers also suggested reaching out to small companies whose work you admire and explaining why you like what they do and what you’d hope to learn from them. Helen West from Creative Assembly offered similar guidance. She stressed that it’s important to think about making connections like a transaction. Just clicking a button on LinkedIn or other social media services isn’t enough – you have to think carefully beforehand about what you want to gain from the exchange and also what you can offer in return.
Asking for feedback on works-in-progress is a great way to build relationships with people in the industry, West said – but you have to follow through. If you can implement the feedback you’ve been given and go back to those connections to show the changes you’ve made, that will demonstrate that you are a good listener and team member who has a desire to learn and improve your skills.
Preparing your application
Every job needs a cover letter, and while examples of your work will always be the most important part of an application, all of the companies agreed that a great covering letter could be the thing that sets you apart.
But what makes a good covering letter? Probably the most important thing is knowing the company you are applying to inside out. Creative Assembly’s Helen West explained that knowing a company’s core values and goals for the work they produce is nothing short of essential. Nowadays, many studios provide resources online that showcase what it’s like to work with them, so it’s easier than ever to learn all about a company’s culture before you apply. Creative Assembly has a series of videos called Creative Chronicles, for example, which West said clearly show everything they are looking for in a potential employee.
Luke Gibson from Mediatonic agreed, and said that not mentioning any interest in Mediatonic or the games they make in an application is a serious red flag. You need to precisely tailor your covering letter specifically to both the team and the role you’re applying so your potential employer knows exactly why you’re so excited to work for them and why you’d be a good fit.
Sophia Whyte from Splash Damage said the main thing she looks for in covering letters is personality. She said that you should write about your favourite games in your letter and explain what it was that inspired you to pursue a career in games.
Writing your CV
When it comes to CVs, Hapworth from Lucid Games said not to worry much about getting it all on one page. As long as your CV clearly shows how your experiences fit the role you’re applying for, it doesn’t matter if it’s two or three pages. That said, you should always use bullet points: the more efficiently you can make your case, the better.
It’s also important to remember that your CV and covering letter will be read by experts. Andrew Poxton from Ubisoft said that you shouldn’t be afraid to go deep into technical details in your application – after all, the more expertise you can demonstrate, the better. You should always be selective about what you include too. While writing about a part time job might be a good way to show your work ethic, for example, you should only detail experiences that are directly relevant to the position you’re applying for.
Developing a great portfolio
Think about your portfolio as your first impression. This is your chance to show everything you’ve learned as well as your range of talents, so studios know exactly what you’re capable of.
Hapworth from Lucid Games said they prefer to see small finished projects so they know you are capable of seeing through a production from start to finish. Showing off team projects is great because they demonstrate that you are an effective collaborator, but it’s really important that you make it obvious what parts of the project you were responsible for. Where possible, Lucid would rather see the things you’ve done as an individual, even if they were part of a larger team effort.
Whatsmore, Lucid also likes to see candidates who have tried their hand at a lot of different technologies, as it shows they are adaptable and have a breadth of knowledge.
In a similar vein, Poxton from Ubisoft believes a good portfolio should demonstrate strong fundamental skills in a variety of different contexts. A company like Ubisoft, for example, works on so many different titles across a variety of genres, so potential employees need to show they are comfortable working on lots of different styles of games.
Game jams are a terrific way to build a portfolio. For Poxton, jam projects are a great example of how you can work well in a team, as well as to a tight brief and strict deadlines. Just remember to shout out your teammates! Ubisoft admires candidates who are humble and respect the hard work of their collaborators.
While including projects in your portfolio is ideal, it’s totally OK to include works in progress. In those cases, Whyte from Splash Damage said you can include a short note that explains how you imagine the project would progress and the steps you’d take to get there. Similarly, mentioning any problems you faced along the way and how you worked around them is a big plus, as it demonstrates strong intuition and resilience.
Now you know everything about making connections in the industry and preparing an outstanding application, what kind of opportunities await you?
Sumo Digital offers a number of internships and placements opportunities, including their annual undergraduate placement scheme for art, audio, code and design. It’s a 12 month, fully-paid placement that gives second year university students the chance to work with real development teams on live projects.
Sumo also run the Sumo Academy, which is aimed at programmers who want to make the transition into the games industry. Another fully-paid scheme, the Academy gives Maths, Physics or Computer Science graduates with first class degrees the training they need to move directly into game development.
As well as traditional graduate recruitment, Ubisoft have junior openings and cross industry hires for people who do not have a background in games development – whether that’s at a university level or in industry. These positions offer people with different areas of expertise to bring their diverse perspective to game development.
Lastly, Tranzfuser is a non-profit, government funded enterprise that can help you build the portfolio and gain the experience you need to land that ideal industry job – or even start your own games studio.
There are three different support programmes available: the Enterprise Pathway, the Employment Pathway and the Environment Pathway.
The Enterprise Pathway helps graduates to setup their own studios, offering them access to industry experts and funding bodies like the UK Games Fund, while the Employment Pathway gives participants a chance to showcase their games in front of professionals and take part in a virtual careers fair. The Environment Pathway, on other hand, offers funding and support to recent university graduates who want to create games that tackle environmental issues.
Your first games job is waiting for you!
So, hopefully by this point you’re feeling a lot more confident and excited about getting your first job in games.
Here’s some final things to remember:
- Networking is incredibly important and it’s never too early to start. The more connections you have, the more opportunities there are open to you. Just remember to think carefully before you reach out to someone and know what you want to get out of the exchange.
- Do your research before applying! You need to know a company inside out when you apply and to tell them why you are excited to work for them specifically.
- Make sure your portfolio demonstrates a range of skills – companies value people who are adaptable and apply their talents in different contexts.
- Best persistent and don’t get discouraged – when you get rejected, it’s almost certainly not because your work wasn’t good enough. So much of getting a job is about being the right fit at the right time and not everyone is the right match for every company. For example, Georgia A applied to around 100 positions before she finally got the job at Jagex. Every application and interview you do will be better than the last one, so as long as you do your research and stay enthusiastic, it’s only a matter of time. As Games Jobs Live’s Colin MacDonald put it, “the harder you work, the luckier you get”.