Getting to a career in video games, it turns out, is a lot like getting to Carnegie Hall: It takes practice, practice, practice. An advanced degree in computer science isn't enough.
The Game Developers Conference in San Francisco is a place where the people who make video games gather in force to discuss the challenges, issues, and successes of the industry.
That attracts the many people who grew up with video games and want to break into a professional career, and recruiters are out in force from companies like Wargaming, Sony PlayStation, and SpaceX to evaluate them.
But it's not that easy.
Getting a computer science or graphic design degree is almost the easiest part, say recruiters. It's the people who really have passion and dedication who stand out. This is so important as free-to-play games attract tens of millions of users a month, meaning that you need a real dedication to whatever it is you're building.
In real-life terms, that means you need to be a player of the kinds of games you want to make, says Dominic D'Aleo, head of engineering for Storm8, an iOS and Android games developer with 50 million monthly users across games like Bubble Mania and Monopoly Bingo. That's a high-stakes world. Coming up with new games takes just a few months, and then new updates come in 7-week cycles.
So a degree matters less in a candidate at Storm8 than a willingness to push yourself and really explore your passions, either by doing internships or building their own projects, or by going for advanced degrees with cool work to show for it. Passion is a must.
"The candidates we look for are the candidates who seek out those challenging environments," D'Aleo says.
Another recruiter for a major mobile games publisher who wished to remain unnamed reiterated those points, and said that the candidates who do the best work there are the really passionate ones.
When a job seeker comes to the booth, she tells them that their resume is great, but thanks to the availability of free game engines like Unity and Unreal Engine, there's no reason not to go home, build something really great, and come back next year. The ones who don't wouldn't cut it anyway. The ones who get jazzed and do tend to thrive.
Basically, the only way to do it is to do it, and there are no shortcuts.
Oh, and according to a panel at GDC on how to hire and retain women in the games industry, it helps to not be a jerk: A lot of places have a "no-jerks rule," said Susan Bollinger, Director of Talent & Culture at Certain Affinity.
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