When it comes to breaking into the world of game development, everyone’s journey is unique. I believe the most important thing you can do is ensure you have the right skills and knowledge for the job. In my experience, a degree usually isn’t enough to land your dream job in games. It all comes down to one question: Can you create amazing work?
In most cases, skills and experience are preferred over education credentials. This may seem daunting, but here are some steps you could take today to develop your skills and work towards that dream role.
Jordan Bradley, and some examples of her games design work
Identify the skills necessary for your role
So you have an idea of the role you want to pursue in the games industry. Great! Now it’s time to ensure you understand what that role consists of and how it fits into a production pipeline.
Do you know what skills you’ll need? What your day-to-day responsibilities will be? What software you’ll need to learn? The terminology you’ll need to understand? Where you’ll fit in the pipeline? If you don’t know the answer to any of these, it’s time to do some research before going any further!
Being multi-disciplinary can open more doors. A good approach is “Jack of all trades, master of one”. Specialise and master the skills in one area of game development, but be aware of other parts of the pipeline. A concept artist who is able to do a bit of animation is more desirable than an artist who can only paint.
Showing initiative is an invaluable trait that can make your portfolio stand out from the rest. This can take many forms, such as joining classes, taking commissions or freelance work, opening an online store, or organising events. A key factor in landing my first industry job was that I had been taking commissions for many years and created and sold art merchandise at local conventions.
Soft skills are equally important!
Soft skills include things such as teamwork, empathy, communication, problem solving, conflict resolution and responsibility.
In game development you’re constantly solving problems, communicating ideas and working with other people, making these skills vital to success. Employers will be on the lookout for these skills during the hiring process. Soft skills develop gradually and through experience, but it’s important to identify and understand them, as well as where you could improve them.
You can learn almost anything from your bedroom
Many developers come from a self-taught background, and we live in a time when almost all the knowledge and resources you need are available at the click of a button. Sites like Skillshare or Udemy can offer classes and tutorials created by actual game developers at a fraction of the cost of formal education.
Youtube has free tutorials and a wealth of content relating to game development. GDC’s youtube channel has excellent talks by developers covering every aspect of game development.
There are lots of budget-friendly and free software options. Unity Personal is free for personal use, and Unreal Engine is free to download and use. Free painting and image-editing programs such as Krita and GIMP have much of the same functionality as Photoshop. Free 3D software such as Blender can be used for modeling, rigging, animation and more.
There are often student or personal-use discounts for many of the industry standard programs, which can save you anywhere from 40-60% of the standard price tag!
‘Practice makes perfect’ is a cliche, but it’s very much the case here. Software and tutorials can only get you so far: you must also play around with the software, set yourself goals and apply what you’ve learned in a practical way.
Art from 'Amber Isle' by Ambertail Games
Portfolios: Strong and simple!
Many people find portfolio building to be overwhelming, so let’s break it down.
The purpose of your portfolio is to communicate your skill set and capabilities to potential employers. It should not be a gallery of everything you’ve ever made! Make sure that you’re only including your strongest work. Including older work is fine, as long as it accurately represents your current skill level and capabilities. When including work from a team project, clearly specify the work you were responsible for.
When submitting your portfolio to a studio, ensure it’s relevant for the role. For instance, don’t submit a portfolio of hyper-realistic renders to a studio that’s making cartoony mobile games.
If you have a variety of skill sets, styles or subject matters, it can be helpful to separate these out, rather than including everything in one portfolio. It’s common to see people with entirely separate portfolios that they send individually to different clients.
Make your portfolio simple and easy to navigate. Avoid gimmicks, huge video players and other distracting ‘flair’. The best approach is a simple gallery layout (Artstation is a great option if you’re a visual creator) that’s intuitive and displays all the necessary information.
Ultimately, knowing the right people is important in this industry, but if you’re a newcomer it can feel impossible. I struggled with this when I began my journey as I was very shy and didn’t know anyone. But thankfully it’s not as daunting as I initially thought.
Firstly, go to as many events as you can! The NI games industry has loads of great events, including yearly Game Jams in Farset Labs and the bi-monthly Games NI Meetups. During lockdown these events moved online, most of which are completely free.
Don’t hound studios for interviews or throw your business card at everyone. A better approach is to ask questions about projects and show interest in the local scene. Try and strike up a few conversations even if you’re shy. Remember, people attend these events because they want to chat and hear what everyone’s up to!
Keeping up to date with communities and studios through social media accounts, Slack channels and Discord servers is another great option. Speaking of social media, maintaining an active presence is an excellent way to get your work seen, build your brand and spot opportunities. Avoid spamming memes or personal drama on an account that’s linked to your professional identity, as this may be the first impression a client has when discovering your work online.
In summary: getting into games development requires a strong work ethic, drive and ambition, but don’t forget to have fun with it and take time to enjoy your work – isn’t that why we chose this industry in the first place?! From one games industry professional to another, I wish you the best of luck with your journey!
Jordan Bradley is a Belfast-born game director, dinosaur-enthusiast and founder of Ambertail Games. She is the creator of Paleo Pines, which became NI’s largest video game investment to date, and is now working on Amber Isle, the debut title of Ambertail Games.