The challenges of starting a career in games
08 Dec 2022
Following the 4Players Talks we conducted, discussing how experts started their careers in games, we thought it would make sense to address some of the biggest challenges newcomers can face. Each individual is unique and not all challenges may be covered here, but these are some of the most common ones we see students and job seekers facing as they enter this industry.
Is it a real job?
It might be surprising for some, but for a lot of people not familiar with the gaming industry and games is not always seen as a feasible or profitable career. More than once, when stating we worked with games, we have faced the statement ‘But games make no money’ - which is alarming. A lot of parents are still sceptical that a career in game development can provide a good living, but it certainly can. That’s without considerable a career as a professional player, esports is a world of its own (and deserves its own article).
For the professionals in this industry, there is no doubt: the games industry is extremely profitable and it is overtaking other creative industries. So it is a great time to start a career in this space.
What role should I choose?
There are a wide variety of roles available in this industry. To be honest, there is space for almost all knowledge pools and expertise, as long as you are smart in applying it to game development and business. So whether you are a programmer, designer, artist, business, marketing, customer service, or data expert, there is certainly space for you in the games industry. We highly advise anyone interested in a career in games to research the jobs available and also talk to professionals in the fields of your interest in order to decide the path that best suits you.
Being an expert vs. being a generalist
Our parents came from a culture where people tended to specialise in one role and stay in this role for their entire careers. Times have changed, and nowadays it is not only common but celebrated when people tackle challenges in different positions and learn extra skills from these experiences.
In larger companies, it is more common for individuals to focus more on specific tasks, with less differentiation. Smaller companies tend to be more flexible, although this is not a universal truth and it all depends on the company culture.
“I advise smaller teams to hire people with multiple skills who are proactive”, says Alexei “Lex” Ryan, from Wildlife Studios. “Set up a culture where it’s encouraged for people to dip into other crafts and support across teams. This helps them acquire more career options later on and helps the team to get the most out of people. I think it’s a mistake to view humans as a narrow skillset only.”
Entrepreneur or employee
This is a question most of us have to answer at some point in our lives. Being an entrepreneur in the games industry requires certain skills and risk-taking that not all of us can tackle. Of course, being your own boss and creating the games of your dreams can be a very enticing idea for most, but researching the market, producing the required plans, securing funds, and building a team are essential tasks that not everyone wants to take on.
Entry level jobs
One of the most discussed issues when it comes to securing a job is the lack of zero-experience roles available in the industry. Most ‘entry-level jobs’ still require some previous experience. But all is not lost: working on game-related projects while studying or doing internships can give you enough experience to land a good entry-level job in the games industry. Additionally, indie game companies tend to be more flexible, as long as you can demonstrate your skills.
Additionally, companies are constantly being pushed to offer more zero-experience opportunities to the industry.
“The games industry is perhaps the most creative and international industry, and I think that makes it attractive”, adds Oleg Paliy, from Game Factory Talents. “But breaking into the industry is not that easy. Juniors cannot find entry-level roles, and when they do the skills required are way more advanced than their studies or solo beginnings have provided for them. They also often lack the network and opportunities that more seasoned industry professionals have. For those making a jump from another industry, they often have difficulty identifying the skills they need for that jump, and which ones that they already have are transferable.”
Throughout our long careers in games, we have learnt a few extra things we would like to share:
Networking is key
It doesn’t matter what stage you are at in your career and what you are trying to pursue, networking is a must. Connect with as many people as you can, share experiences, and make friends. There is no easy way of saying this: networking can help you advance in your career. It is the cold truth. Knowing a large number of interesting people will help you to land jobs that you wouldn’t even get to know were available otherwise.
Be open and helpful
Be ready to help others and share your knowledge. The gaming industry is a great place to work because most professionals tend to be very open to mentorship and happy to share their experiences to help others. It is not only good karma, it has a good for your reputation. And don’t do it expecting anything in return - do it for the pure fact that you wished others would do that for you when you started. Hopefully, you got the help and are spreading it further.
It is not always about money
We all want to make a living and need good salaries and work conditions. That is a must and it is not what we are addressing in this advice. But sometimes it is OK to do things because we believe in the cause, to change the world for the better. It is part of giving back. The gaming industry has the power to influence the world positively. We should all be ready to do our part, in any small way we can.
And that is not all, Smith expands:
1. Build games – “Studios big and small want to see your work. Participate in events like Global Game Jam or go to Itch.io The more games you make the more skilled you will be working through a pipeline. That shows that you can work with other team members too.”
2. Keep learning – “ArtStation.com has an excellent learning platform. Some of their classes are free. Or check out schools like Gnomon.edu or CGMastersacademy.com – Just keep perfecting your skills.”
3. Volunteer at the big gaming events - “You must apply early but getting an opportunity to volunteer at GDC or PAX,and PocketGamer events are all excellent ways to meet people in the industry. Or get involved with your local IGDA. Also apply for their scholarships. There are active IGDA chapters all over the world. If one isn’t active in your area, start one.”
4. Apply for internships – “You need to apply early. Keep track of when studios are going to open their internship applications. Reach out to the indie studios in your area and see if they are looking for any interns.”
Paliy agrees and adds “Network whenever you can and join industry events locally and online e.g. Games Job Fair , ensure you have a great and up-to-date Portfolio, CV, and cover letter template you can modify depending on the role you are applying for, keep your LinkedIn page updated, and use its services for professional networking as well. Also, seek mentors. This industry has many people ready and able to help you bridge the gaps. It’s important to remember this as well: The bigger the studios the more specialised the talents they seek, the smaller the studios the more generalised. I’d say aim for a start with a smaller studio to get the understanding of the process and the skills required and later, when you figure out your key specialisations, you can move to bigger studios and more ambitious projects.”
Do it because you love it
If you want to be in the games business because you want to be rich, you might be disappointed. There are other innovative careers that would give you those results a lot faster and easier.
You should start a career because you love it. The average person will spend 90,000 hours at work over a lifetime. This is one-third of your life. So make the most of it.
“Don’t give up. Just keep trying to add skills, make friends, and build games.
It is worth all the effort!”, Smith says.
We hope this advice will give you a good kickstart for a long and happy career in our community. Most of this advice can also be applied to other areas, so use them at will. We, at 4Players, deeply love what we do and love games and the games industry. Taking on new challenges and moving forward is made possible by our deep appreciation for games. Seeing our developer and player communities truly enjoy their experiences with our support is the fuel for a lifelong passion for game development. We wish you all the same happiness we have.