EDUCATION WEEK: Industry stars offer hints and tips on landing your first game dev job

How to get your foot in the door

They have the most impressive games careers – but how did they do it?

As part of its Education Week special, Develop has asked some of the UK’s most successful game professionals for their advice on stepping into the industry.

[This comes part of a wider feature in the latest issue of Develop magazine, where 16 industry stars are profiled. That can be found here]

Chris Lee,
VP of Studios, Activision
"Students: Don’t rush or take shortcuts. Take the time to get a fully rounded education and applicable qualifications before focussing time exclusively on games. Don’t jump straight into a half-baked ‘video game design’ course at 16 or 18. It’s not a short-cut to recruitment into the games industry. All the best programmers have computer science backgrounds. All the best 3D artists & animators have great drawing skills and related qualifications. This doesn’t mean you need a degree.

"Places like Escape Studios are excellent. Just spend time learning and mastering a craft. Don’t expect short cuts to work.

"Always have something to show. What have you programmed in your own time? What have you modelled & animated? It makes a recruitment and interview process so much more interesting for everyone involved.

"For someone starting their own studio, double the number you currently have in your cost and overheads line for the first 2 years and make sure the business can still survive. You will spend twice what you expect in setting up the business.

"Publishing contracts are always 1 month further away from being signed, than you’re worst-case scenario estimate. Make sure you’ve modelled this into your cash flow. If a publisher hasn’t green lit your concept/pitch within a month they’re not going to."

Phil Harrison,
Co-founder, London Venture Partners
“Invest in yourself and your future career: go to conferences, take advantage of student discounts, network and meet people.

“Be confident: identify people you want to connect with, and reach out to them. Some will be too busy ­– but, hopefully, some will help. Business networks like LinkedIn are better than Facebook in this regard.

“Subscribe to every news group you can and read every news site, every day. You can learn a lot from news about the people, the process and the fabric of the industry. This knowledge will prove invaluable.

“If you’re going to form a studio, hand-pick your leadership team and divide up the responsibilities. You cannot be excellent at everything, even if that comes as a shock to some people, so share the load.

“When you’re building your first product, schedule the point at which you will abandon a bad idea. Failure is good if it’s done cheaply and quickly.

“When building a company in the industry today, your first decision is your metrics and analytics tools strategy. You will make better, faster and cheaper product decisions as a result.

“Find a mentor – someone you are not related to, and not an immediate manager, for advice in good times and bad.”

Paulina Bozek,
Founder, Inensu

“The secret is to love your job, then you will constantly try to improve what you do and it will be fun. The most important thing is to do things. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Go out of your comfort zone safe in the knowledge that you have the capacity to learn and tackle whatever you need to.”

Alice Taylor
Founder, Makieworld

“Best advice: Be nice to people. Be the change you wish to see in the world: you might not succeed in some cases, but you’ll never regret having tried. Don’t feed the trolls.
All are harder to do in practice than they seem on paper.
“If you’re forming a studio, don’t seat-of-pants it: if you’re going to be employing people, you have serious responsibilities: educate yourself, read the small print, beware cash flow.”

Michael Acton Smith
Founder, Moshi Monsters

“Think big. Don’t assume you can’t publish a game yourself, or you can’t raise investment, or you can’t hire a team, or you can’t build a studio, or you can’t generate significant revenue from your game.

“The games industry is going through massive change so this is the perfect time to be entrepreneurial and seize new opportunities.

“Don’t just dip your toe in the water, dive in headfirst and start splashing around – you’ll be amazed at what you can do.

“If you get a chance read ‘The Magic of Thinking Big’ by David Schwartz – it was one of the books that inspired me to become an entrepreneur.”

Jon Burton
Founder, Traveller’s Tales

"I think the way for a studio to be successful is for the individual who has the vision for the game to be empowered by every other department to execute on it.

"One individual should make the final decisions on all aspects on the game if possible. They can have advice and input from others from various disciplines, but ultimately, one individual should make the final call on everything, so that the final game can represent their original vision.

"They need to have a gut feeling on every aspect of the game, and should know how to answer any question and solve any problem relating to the game, all in the pursuit of their singular vision. If the individual is allowed to do that, and the game is well received, you have the magic formula. If the game sucks, let someone else have a go!

"In my experience, every successful studio has one individual who has the vision and gut feeling for the game, and have been allowed to execute that vision.

"Every game I’ve seen get in trouble, from many different studios, tends to be down to more than one person calling the shots (that includes the publisher). I had to troubleshot a big game from another studio recently, and when I asked who was in charge of the game, who made the final calls, they didn’t know!

"My advice was pick someone from the team, someone already making good input to the game, and let them call the shots. It would either work or it wouldn’t but at least you would have clarity and direction.

"A final comment is that I can only make the games that I would want to play. I can’t execute someone else’s vision, only my own. And when people stop enjoying the games I make, I’ll stop making them."

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