HOW TO GET A JOB IN THE VIDEO GAME INDUSTRY
Tips for getting work
Hi, I’m Adam Roush, a professional video game artist who has worked in mobile, web, and console games for over 5 years, on games such as Darkfire Galaxies, Shadowri ft, Everwing, and a few I can’t mention just yet. I’ve been job hunting ever since Blue Frog Gaming, where I had my first job in the industry, shut down. Here are a few things that I’ve discovered and researched towards getting a job. You can check out my work here: adamroush.daportfolio.com
One thing to remember
The gaming industry is very unpredictable, meaning that a company may exist one day, then be closing down the next. It happens to both big and small companies. Most of my friends who live in California have experienced this, all within 2 years’ time. So it’s important to keep job hunting, networking, and improving even when you do land a job, because you will probably need another position soon.
Everyone knows about the big studios, like EA, Bioware, Sony, Gameloft, etc. But what if you want to work at an indie game studio, find local companies, or just want to see what’s out there, check out: Gamedevmap.com
Here you’re presented a map with a slew of points representing major cities on a worldwide map. Click any of those dots to reveal the video game companies and organizations in those cities, with links to their website or blog.
TIP: Send an Inquiry
One thing that I’ve done that’s yielded results including getting responses and contract work, is simply sending a company an email expressing my interest in working there, now or in the future. I always send them my resume, include a few links to games I’ve worked on, plus a link to my online portfolio. The message should be short and to the point. I state my name, the purpose of the email, and a short statement about myself [like a mini-cover letter]. Here’s an example:
My name is Adam Roush, I’d love the opportunity to work with you, if you’re looking to add a game artist to
your team in the future.
I love video games and making stuff for them. I’ve spent the last five years working on mobile, web, and
console games, relishing in every challenge. Life in a startup studio space meant working on a little of
everything, from concept art to illustration, UI to animation, from developing a style to finishing in-game
assets. Some of the games I’ve worked on include Darkfire Galaxies , Shadowrift , and Everwing . I’m well-versed in game art, with expertise in composition, color theory, perspective, and lighting, plus I have
experience in both 2D and 3D animation. I love to collaborate in fast-paced environments, I’m always eager
to learn, and I’m not afraid of putting in the effort to create incredible work.
I’m always open for a chat if you want to know more about me. My portfolio can be seen here:
Thanks for your consideration! I look forward to your reply!
All the best,
I also always attach my resume, with links to the games I’ve worked on and my online portfolio/ website.
Not every company that’s listed is looking to hire employees or even still exists. So it’s helpful to keep an eye out for which companies have money and those who clearly don’t. If you can’t tell if they’re still in business, try googling their name and see if they have any recent Twitter or Facebook posts. Usually, if they’re alive and active, so are both of those feeds.
TIP: Research the company
Using sites like Indeed and Glassdoor, you can see what it’s like to work there from current or previous employees. Some are a dream to work at, while others treat people like numbers. Some have great perks and work-life balance, whereas others are low-pay and overtime/ crunch-time every day. Some have booming business growth while others are circling the drain. It’s important to know the place you’re applying to, if it’s something you want to commit your time and effort to.
Let’s face it, applying online sucks. More often than not, you apply online and your application seemingly goes unnoticed. I’ve read that 98% of online applications go into a metaphorical blackhole, lost to their automated system. I have a lot of experience with this. Over the last year, I’ve submitted 358 applications, getting only 75 responses, most of which were “no” or “none at this time.” They say if you get 1 response for every 50 apps you send out, you’re doing well.
So, what do you do?
Some places require you to apply online. But you shouldn’t stop at simply applying online and waiting for a response. Responses, I’ve noticed, take anywhere from a couple days to a few months. What you can do to expedite a response is by sending the recruiter a message on LinkedIn.
TIP: Finding recruiters on LinkedIn
How do I find the recruiter on LinkedIn? There’s a simple way to find them. At the top of the website is the word “Advanced” to the right of the search bar. Click on that. On the next screen, on the far left, in the “Title” field, type in “recruiter” or “hiring manager.” Select “Current” from the drop-down menu, and type the name of the company into the “company” field. There you go. Some companies don’t have recruiters, so you could either message the lead of your discipline at the company or the CEO if they’re a smaller studio. A general rule is to never message the CEO, who will most likely gloss over most messages sent to them.
TIP: Send a follow-up message
After you’ve applied online and found the recruiter, send them a message. To send a message to a recruiter on LinkedIn, however, you need their $30/month premium service. Unless you’re connected already, the website won’t let you send a message. Here’s an example of a message I sent to Gearbox:
I recently applied for the Concept Artist position and I wanted to express my excitement about the possibility
of joining the Gearbox team. I love video games and making stuff for them. I’ve spent the last five years
working on mobile, web, and console games, relishing in every challenge. I admire Gearbox’s dedication to
developing unique titles with explosive excitement. I would be honored to collaborate with the team,
designing new and more awesome content.
Thank you for considering my application. Please let me know if I can share any additional info or
All the best,
It can help if you also congratulate them on something that happened recently, like they released a new game, a new expansion, opened a new facility, etc. Something that shows you’ve been paying attention to them.
Networking really is the best way to get a job. Companies have a hard time trusting people they don’t know, which is why many choose to hire from within or hire based on recommendations of their current employees. So it helps to know someone who already works there who can recommend you when the time comes.
They say that 80% of people who get hired do so through networking. When people talk about the so-called “hidden job market” it’s referring to jobs that either haven’t been posted up yet, and getting that job comes through knowing someone at the company who can refer you to the person hiring. So it pays to network, because you never know who knows someone at a place you want to work.
TIP: Make a list
Make a list of 30 “heroes” or people you look up to, who work in the places you want to work. Contact them, say hello while describing how their work wows you. Make up an excuse to contact them because there’s a spark, some interest, or a similarity between the two of you. Making a personal connection works much better than applying online. Passion to genuine passion to inspiration. Expressing interest is a 2-way street; usually the things that excite you excite them as well.
It makes things easier when there’s a mutual connection.
TIP: Join LinkedIn groups
There’s a LinkedIn group for everything. Join a few, talk to the members, post up useful topics and links, and help out others. You may gain useful tips and connections through this.
Here’s a list of websites I use to find job postings:
- gamedevmap.com – mentioned above
- linkedin.com – a professional social networking website
- indeed.com – a general job search engine
- gamasutra.com – a professional game jobs website
- artstation.com/jobs – Art website inhabited by beginners and pros alike, jobs from everywhere
- craigslist.org – My college buddy got a job at Rooster Teeth through here.
- conceptart.org – Usually just for artists. Some are full-time, some unpaid. Very hit or miss.
SHOULD I RELOCATE for a JOB?
This is a question that everyone asks, myself included. There’s many sides to the argument I’ve found:
- There’s an increased chance of getting a job if you live near where the company resides, because a) you’re in town so there’s a faster interview turnaround and they don’t need to wait for you to fly in or relocate if you get the position and b) you’re a faster/ cheaper investment early on.
- There’s no guarantee you’ll get a job faster just because you’re closer. You may spend just as much time job hunting there as you’d do here, while burning a hole in your wallet much faster. Following your peers and doing a ton of extra legwork to network might work, but there’s no guarantee.
- The idea of going out there and just winging it, while exciting, is a bad financial idea. Especially if you want to work in San Francisco, New York City, Seattle, Los Angeles, Chicago, or any other big expensive city. Unless you have unlimited funds.
- If you are going to move, you should have a few things before you go:
- Money. Lots of money :)
- Know and be in contact with people who work in the companies you want to work.
- Setup meetings with them, network constantly, and keep up with your job hunt.
- Be comfortable being outside of your comfort zone.
These are the things you need to get a job:
Overall, the most important thing to have is skill. Having top-notch, specialized skills and expertise in your desired discipline is more important than your pro experience or where you went to school. While small studios tend to want jacks-of-all-trades, who can do a little of everything, bigger companies want specialists who are amazing of just one thing. At Blue Frog Gaming, for example, I was the lead artist, a generalist who worked on concept art, illustrations, graphic design, ui, ads, animation, particle effects, etc. My friend at Rooster Teeth just does storyboards. It depends on what
you want to do, and what the company offers.
Having pro experience is important too. It tells potential employers that you have pursued a career in jobs, where you worked, what skills you’ve developed, and that you understand how game development works. You can also use personal projects in lieu of pro experience early on, because it shows that you’re passionate about making games and are willing to challenge yourself to make them on your own.
Depending on what you want to discipline yourself in, you may need traditional college. You should always strive to improve your skills, but it’s up to you whether you need college or not. For artists I can say, if you have a knock-out portfolio, they won’t care if you a degree or not. They’ve never asked me to prove I earned a degree. There’s plenty of online programs these days, and if you’re exceptionally skilled, a company will pay much closer attention to that than the fancy paper hanging on your wall.
Clean Social Media
Take anything lewd or socially unacceptable off all of your social media. As much as you’ll be researching the company you’ve applied to, the company will also be researching you. Having photos involving drugs, alcohol, or other questionable material, will doom your dream of working at a particular place. They want to know that you’re a safe investment, and anything that might make them think otherwise will harm your application. Keep everything professional.
It’s important to keep going, keep plugging away, keep applying, keep networking, and keep not giving up. I know that sounds cliche, but think of it like this: You either keep working and get a kickass job at an awesome place or quit and get a boring job at a boring place. Job hunting is frustrating, excessively depressing, and demotivational. I may have sent out over 350 applications, but I won’t be happy until I get that awesome job, so I keep trying.
This is something that can’t be taught. You have to want to push yourself to make awesome work, and showing that persistence will display your passion to a potential employer. It’s essential, which is why every job posting says “must be passionate about games.” You have to want to make every game better than the last, researching and trying out new ideas, processes, and concepts until you perfect them.
Honestly, this is how you get a job, with a literal metric ton of luck. Maybe the recruiter is also the senior producer and he likes your art and gives you an art test that leads into a contract job (true story). Maybe they had to fire someone because of their bad behavior. Maybe someone quit. Maybe you applied at exactly the right time and wrote all the right things to get through the bots and talked to exactly the right people. Maybe you know someone who works there. Or you made your own luck by being available, with the best skills and experience that the company needed at that time.
Have a clean, legible up-to-date resume. Many online applications need one, and no one cares about fancy graphics or clever fonts. They say recruiters look at a resume for 6-seconds, and if your resume takes longer than that to find what your experience or skills are, they’re going to throw it out. Keep the fancy version for the in-person interview. There should be a semblance of info organization, with your skills and experience displayed prominently, and your education, accolades, publications, and/or objective secondary.
TIP: Google Docs Resume Templates
There’s plenty of templates through Google Docs, which also makes it easy to find a good layout, edit info, adjust colors and fonts, etc. Plus it’s available everywhere, for free.
Cover letters are stupid. In just a few concise sentences you’re supposed to express your personality, explain your qualifications, while telling impactful stories that make you seem like you’re why you’re perfect for the job. No one I know has ever gotten the job based on their cover letter. My buddy who worked at BFG with me wrote the worst cover letter I’ve ever read, where he talked about his love of Legos, Star Wars, world travel, and a whole lot of other nonsense unrelated to him in the workplace… but he got the job, at a AAA PC-games studio.
However, you still need to send one because you hurt your chances of getting hired without one. Don’t spend all day writing one though. Just something short about how you can use your amazing skills to improve their games, be the solution to a problem they might have, express interest in their particular brand, and tell a few anecdotes about how you saved the day with your impressive skills. Write about how you can help them, not how awesome it’d be for you. Very simple.
These are just a few things I recommend:
When to apply
Apply to a job when you meet 80% of the requirements. They post a listing for their ideal candidate, which usually don’t exist. If you’re missing a few software skills or aren’t at the senior level they’re looking for, apply anyways. They may have a different opening available that better matches your skills.
Try also to match your skills to what they do. If they create cutesy games, gear your portfolio towards that. If they make photorealistic combat games, make your portfolio match that. They’re more likely to hire someone who can help them right away, no training required.
Don’t work for free. Working for little to no pay makes it harder for anyone to be paid fairly when employers think there’s a sea of idiots willing to work for “experience” instead of money. Experience doesn’t pay the bills.
I also highly recommend you never take a job that promises pay later, or is a kickstarter campaign where you get paid when they get paid, or where compensation is based on revenue sharing. Unless you’re doing these projects for fun and/or don’t need the money, you’re definitely not going to get paid nearly what your time was worth.
Research the company. Not just in terms of what they do, their culture, their work style, but also how financially stable they are. The last thing I’d want to do is get hired by a company in San Francisco or NYC, two financially unforgiving cities, just to have that company fold in a few months. Then you’re out of a job and living in an expensive place. Simply googling their name should bring up that info, or it may be in the news about them.
Unless you scheduled a time to meet up with someone who works at a particular company, don’t show up to a company unannounced. It’s distracting, derails production, and it more a waste of time on both ends that anything else. Doing that shows that we shouldn’t hire you, because you clearly don’t understand how game dev works.
Spamming a company with multiple applications to the same job, especially in a short time period [every week] doesn’t increase your chances of getting hired. They usually throw them out. If you don’t hear back within a month, apply again every 3-6 months, when your skills have improved, making you a better match for them.
I keep a massive spreadsheet of all of my online applications and emails, so that I know where I applied, the date it was sent, what position, what company, where it’s located, and what the outcome (if any) was, plus a link to the original job posting or company website. It just lets me keep tabs on my progress.
These videos by Hi-Rez studios, creators of Paladins and Smite, are interesting and useful:
There’s a series of job-related articles on Forbes that have been influential in my job hunting:
This is just one, because there’s dozens to go through.
Lifehacker has some useful stuff regarding job hunting:
One last thing
Those are some of the things I’ve learned in my job hunt. It’s a long, drawn out process, but it’s worth it in the end, because working at McDonald’s seems so much worse. I hope you find this info useful in some way.
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A big thanks to Adam for writing this post! Check out his portfolio and work!