Right? I wasn’t sure it would be possible either. I didn’t know how to get a job in video games, or if it was even possible. But, here I am, a game industry veteran with a liberal arts degree and absolutely no former industry experience.
Like a lot of people, I’ve been playing games for most of my life. My mom bought me a Sega Genesis in the 1st grade when a teacher told her I was acting out. I don’t even know what I was doing anymore, but she thought video games might channel my energy productively.
This lead to childhood and adolescence filled with searching for easter eggs in Zelda OoT, writing Game FAQs, all-nighters in WoW, and figuring out how to be a good guild leader. (All of these things are relevant later, I promise).
By the time I decided I wanted a career in games, I didn’t have any game industry experience. I did, however, have a lot of game experience. Which is a position a lot of you are in, I’m sure.
After college, I worked for a small web firm where I designed and built websites for local companies and grew their social media presence. It was fun and fulfilling work, for sure. But, was it my passion? Hardly.
After 5 years, I knew it was time for a change. I knew I wanted a job in video games. But, how?
Research and Job Boards
At the time, I lived in Austin, TX. It’s a hub for indie game studios with offices for bigger studios like Blizzard, Bioware, Bethesda, and EA Games.
So, I started my (Google) search for “Game Studios Austin, TX”. I opened every single website I could find and looked for a Careers or Jobs page. Some had one, some had a contact e-mail, but I saved them all in a (not) fancy little spreadsheet.
I started with the jobs pages, since those companies were actively hiring. I figured something in social media or graphic design would be the best fit, but I was open to anything.
This is where I learned that I was woefully unqualified for this industry.
Game design is very different from graphic design. Graphic design is NOT character or environment design. Social media experience was not marketing experience.
But, I figured out the important skills in games and that research led to my next step.
The games industry is popular. It’s competitive. I didn’t realize it at the time, but everyone and their little brother apply for open positions when they exist.
You. Have. To. Stand. Out.
So, I put my design skills to work on a resume to catch an eye or two, even if the guts were lacking. I won’t share mine because 1) it’s ancient now, and 2) it has a ton of personal information on it. BUT, this article over on icons8.com has some incredible examples and resources to get you started.
Pro Tip: Ditch Google Docs and get comfortable with a graphics program like Canva or Photoshop. Or, if you’re feeling really fancy, take a look into building an interactive resume to showcase your skills.
Pro Tip the Sequel: In some larger companies, recruiters use automated software to scan resumes before they get in front of human eyes. Ensure that your resume is ATS (application tracking system) compliant by using a tool like this one. It checks that everything is readable by humans and computers alike.
In the case of interactive resumes, make sure you have a text or PDF document on hand. It’s important if an ATS is in use for the job you’re applying for. Larger game studios, like the Blizzards of the world, are more likely to use them than indie studios, but you never know.
Next, it’s time to massage in your skills.
Remember when I said those “games” skills would be important later? This is where. I put all of my work experience on the resume, of course, but where there were gaps, I made sure the company knew that I know games.
I added an “About Me” or “Outside of Work” section to my resume. Like work experience, I dedicated a whole chunk of space to tell them what kind of person I was. For example:
- I run a Twitch channel with X subscribers, including regular content generation, promotion, and community building.
- I’m a top contributor and moderator in X game community. I spend X hours a week helping new players and enforcing community guidelines.
- I’ve run a guild of X members for X years in X game.
When the goal is to get a job in video games, these things show creativity, industry savvy, leadership, and organization. Don’t discount them just because they aren’t your day job! Treat them like they are, complete with stats to back them up like timeframes, subscriber numbers, and other qualifiers.
Applications and Cold “Calling”
Spoiler alert: I ultimately got my job through a posted position, not a cold call, but I’m going to outline both methods. I believe there is value in both.
Cold Calling…well, e-mailing
When companies didn’t have job listings, I found a contact email. I would treat this e-mail like an introduction and a cover letter to build a relationship for a future job. I told them about myself, what skills I had, and (very important) why I was interested in working for their studio specifically.
Ensure that you’re familiar with their game portfolio, PLAY them if you can or haven’t already. Visit their community and see what their players are like. See what’s happening on their social media. Find a reason you want to be there. And, mean it! There aren’t many people who will respond to someone who’s just spitballing at anyone and everyone in town.
Like I said, ultimately, I didn’t get a job using this method, but I did get some friendly replies that my resume would be held on file and some were happy to point me toward studios that may be hiring. It was all good relationship building!
Here’s the short version of what happened here. I read what must have been close to 100 job listings for game companies, from marketing to project management, to art and design. I would apply if I had at least 2-3 required skills. The worst they can say is no, right?
The most important bit here was the cover letters. I wrote a draft with the basics, then customized it for each application. The game studio and position were must-haves. Then, I added unique accomplishments tailored to the position. To finish it off, I added what I knew about the studio and why I wanted to be there. If it needed a visual portfolio, I would include that too. Every letter was composed like it was for the only job in the world I cared about getting.
Finding “The One”
I found one position that uniquely suited me while scouring job boards—Community Manager.
As far as a job in video games goes, it was a new-ish concept at the time. Now, it is a critical role at every game company (and many non-game companies). For the uninitiated, it’s a team member whose sole purpose is to manage and build the community of players around a studio’s game(s).
I won’t go into too much detail since this isn’t an article on community management, but keep in mind: If you have a background in Twitch streaming, YouTubing, anything in social media, marketing or support, and are generally a people person, keep an eye out for these roles!
All of my soft and hard skills culminated in a decent enough position to snag an interview (my only interview). Community Manager for a local indie studio!
I spent some time the day before the interview in their community reading forum posts and getting a feel for what the culture was like, what I might improve, and where I needed to learn more.
My whole mission was to convince the hiring team that I could do this job. If I couldn’t, I needed them to know that I could learn.
I pulled out everything I knew. Every creative idea, every success in community building in my personal life, every bit of research I’d done. If you’re not one that does well on the spot, try making some notecards and bullet out some talking points that may help you. You won’t be able to whip them out in the interview, but it helps to solidify them in your brain. Then, you can call on them easily when it’s game time.
Most of all: be yourself. For many studios, cultural fit matters as much as or more than your skills. Adding to the studio’s culture, fitting into the teamwork they have, and having something positive to contribute with your presence matter most. The studio cares about YOU and if YOU are a good fit. Let your winning personality shine.
In my case, they granted me a 90-day probationary period to prove I could do the job and see if they liked me.
The First Day and Beyond
I hit the ground hustling as soon as I got to the studio. I finally had my job in video games and wanted to make sure that those first 90 days were the best they’d ever seen. In addition to the onboarding tasks they gave me, I was adamant about doing research, getting to know people in the studio (relationship building), and bringing ideas to the table left and right.
It worked, and after 90 days they brought me on for the long haul.
Everyone’s experience will be different, but I believe that in every first game industry job, be ready to learn fast. In my first few months as a community manager, I taught myself video editing, live-streaming, and how to manipulate the game engine for screenshots. I also had to learn communication skills, like making effective announcements and publicly handling negativity. I had to hone my skills fast once I arrived, even if I had enough to get in the door. Be hungry to learn, and never stop!
The other secret weapon?
A Good Mentor
I was fortunate that my mentor was also my boss, but I would have never made it as far as I did then, or after, without his guidance.
If you can, find someone in your studio who you feel is doing really well in your or a similar position. Create a relationship with them, have conversations, ask if you can shadow them or run ideas past them.
Of course, this is a two-way street. They have a job to do, too, so you can’t lean on them 100%. But, having a set of eyes and ears that can help direct your work and push you to improve will make all the difference in your career.
If there isn’t someone in your studio, don’t hesitate to look elsewhere in the game industry. Connect with other people in your position on social media or attend industry networking events. I consider my first boss to be my primary mentor, but other CM’s at conventions and conferences all went on to be good friends and teachers.
The bottom line? We all started with our first job in video games. More often than not, that translates to wanting to help others succeed when they start!
Now What? Career Growth and Moving Up
I’ve since exited the game industry as my primary career. However, I’m still a proud Community Manager for a tech company and provide community management in the games industry on a freelance basis. BUT, this first job opened so many doors for me. I know I could have made a long and successful career in the games industry thanks to that first opportunity.
Since working this first job, I’ve secured interviews at both Twitch and Blizzard, and game-related companies that provide services like eSports production and outsourced community moderation.
Once you’re in and have shown success, the world and the industry is your oyster! Just remember to keep honing your skills, never stop learning, and build, build, build those relationships!
Caveats and Things to Note
I was open to anything to get me in the door when I looked for my first job in video games. I leveraged my existing experience and knowledge to find the perfect fit, whatever it was.
The process is a bit different if you are interested in a specific position. If you’re an aspiring game designer, programmer, character artist, copywriter, etc, know that you will likely need formal education and training.
But, there are a lot of avenues to a job in video games! Game studios need project managers, marketers, finance people, HR, and more. All things that you may already have experience in, depending on your unique background. While your name may not be in the credits, you get to have a hand in shaping a studio’s games, community, and success. And yes, you’ll probably get to play a decent amount too! Even if you aren’t the one building the games.
Whatever route you go, enjoy the ride and don’t give up!