Looking to land a job in video games? Here are the best tips from an industry insider.
A short time ago, in the heart of a Canadian city, Ariadna Martinez was just like you. She was a student with a love of video games, who dreamed of one day working at a major studio.
Two years later, she’s an Associate Designer in the Narrative Design team at Capcom Vancouver.
Here’s the kicker. Ariadna doesn’t have any game design experience. She’s not a tech-head or mastermind coder.
Ariadna took the education and skills that she had, and figured out how to apply them to what she loved.
And while video games are what Ariadna loved, the truth is you can apply this advice to landing a job anywhere you’re asked to create.
What kind of education and background does someone need to be considered for a position?
I know people who have gone to school specifically for video game design. And I know people who studied architecture and ended up in games. There are many different types of roles in one single team, just like there are in film. So knowing what role you want to play in the making of a game can help narrow down what education or experience will help you out the most.
A good way to do it? Play games!
And I don’t mean become the ultimate gamer. I mean, play games and know what you like and what you don’t like about them.
Think about what you love the most of that experience. Is it exploring the environments? Uncovering every nook and cranny of a level? Figuring out its puzzles? Or are you more interested in finding fun and challenging enemy encounters— figuring out how to best use the abilities and weapons given to your character? Do you prefer getting immersed in the story? Discovering who the characters are—where their motivations lie? What clues can you dig up in the world around the events that are or have transpired?
Maybe you love how the world comes to life in a game’s cinematics? Or maybe you’re hooked on the cool visual effects that come with that insanely animated move that looks so amazing? Maybe you just stare at it all and wonder how the hell do ones and zeroes make this happen?
My background is in film. My experience ranges from the directing and producing to scriptwriting. Being a trained story-teller was the main thing that enabled me to discover this whole new playground of storytelling tools and opportunities.
What kind of things should candidates put in their portfolio?
It depends on what area you want to apply to and the type of company. Are you going to be working somewhere that does AAA games specifically? Is it a small indie company? Is it mobile? Do you have any games you’ve worked on in your personal time? Have you ever shipped a game commercially?
My experience was a bit different. I came on board as a writer, so my portfolio included a bounty of script samples and experience within the film industry. However, I was still expected to know what it meant to write for games, how it was different from film or TV—both the script style itself and production wise. I had to be aware of what programs were being used. And make efforts to train myself in using them. Knowing what departments I was going to be working with and how our department fit into the organization as a whole was key.
What are the specific skills you would look for in a candidate?
1. You definitely need to be comfortable working with others.
Sounds cheesy, I know, but I can’t stress enough how important this is. If you like working in your own little island, you’ll hate your life from day one. Working in video games is like being on a film set on a permanent basis. Things happen in real time and everyone does their part simultaneously. You need to be constantly in the know of what every other department is doing—making sure they are supported by and/or are supporting the efforts of another department in order for anything to move forward.
2. Again, you gotta play games!
The first thing they’ll ask in an interview is what games you’ve played lately, and they are expecting to hear at least two of the latest releases out there.
3. The tech skills for the specific area you are applying to.
Research what programs the company uses. If you don’t know them, get to know them. There are plenty of courses/tutorials out there.
4. Be ready for change.
A lot. Budget, workload capacity, time constrictions, creative pivots or leadership changes are big changes that happen in an instant. But you will also deal with day-to-day things like changes to a level, where an enemy encounter happens or needing a character to say an extra piece of information.
If you are not flexible enough to roll up your sleeves and find a way to make it work to everyone’s advantage, then you are going to find it very hard to enjoy yourself at work.
5. Be proactive.
This goes back to what I said before. You need to be able to cooperate with everyone on your team. Because at some point something you do will impact someone else’s work. And when it’s crunch time, it’s easy to forget or not realize who you should be talking to.
It’s your job to makes sure you’re in the loop and keeping track of who you affect when you change things, and who could potentially be changing things that affect you. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll spend enormous amounts of time sitting in a chair and looking at a screen—but if that chair gets too warm and comfy, you are doing something wrong.
What does the hiring process look like for a candidate?
In my department, candidates submit writing samples (especially ones that pertain to designing and inputting that writing in a game through software). A smart candidate tailors their samples to the types of games Capcom produces.
I had a follow-up interview to meet my current narrative producer, lead writer and fellow narrative designer. However, more software dependent roles have to go through interviews that involve proving your tech skills. Which might mean multiple interview sessions.
Let’s say there’s a bunch of students all applying for the same job. What really sets one apart from the pack?
When a recruiter can see personal projects that are relevant to your respective field. Maybe you’ve created an original game from scratch, published your own comic book, had a script produced, created an app that’s actually on the App Store. Show your recruiter that you’ve been exploring your tools—trying to grow and make things happen.
Anything else you think someone looking to break into the world of video games should know?
1. There are no formulas.
There are just as many ways to get into this industry as there are people in it.
The opportunities are out there. But you have to be open to those happening in ways you did not expect. Make sure to have the skills you need to take advantage of opportunities. And develop good relationships with mentors who can help build both your soft and hard skills. It was a mentor who taught me how to write for video games and some of the ins and outs of the industry. Those were both huge soft and hard skill advantages for me.
PRO TIP: Look for open house opportunities. Studios, including Capcom, occasionally host networking events. It’s a great chance to get a clear picture of how to get hired from the people who are working in a specific field within the company
2. Be kind.
Just like film, it can get stressful dealing with deadlines and spending long periods of time with the same people. A smile or a coffee run can sometimes change someone’s day for the better. I always go for a healthy stash of chocolate treats at my desk.
3. Enjoy yourself.
The great thing about working in videogames? You’re probably going to find a large number of people with common interests. From playing D&D and watching bad movies during lunchtime, to Comic Con-level Halloween costume competitions (yeah, it gets real at Capcom), you’ll find plenty of kindred spirits and have a lot of fun.
The industry is small and a bit of a revolving door with people coming and going between studios. People cross paths all the time. You want to know who you enjoy working with. At the end of the day, that’ll make all the difference when the curve balls are thrown at you.
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*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.