Video games. They're everywhere. From films like Ready Player One and Resident Evil to shows like Video Game High School, to the massive growth of competitive gaming in eSports - it’s safe to say video games have become a staple in society. In fact, a 1990 study showed that more American children recognized Mario than Mickey Mouse.
With all the buzz around video games it might be a good time to break into the industry. You may ask yourself questions like, “Where do I start ?” “What skills are needed?” “What jobs exist?” In this article, we’ll answer these questions in detail and share some insights to how you can break into this exciting space. Grab your headsets, strap in and let’s go on a ride!...or just continue reading. That works too.
Before we dive into how to land a job, it's important to know what jobs exist. At the end of the day, video game companies are businesses. Businesses that take a team with diverse skill sets and responsibilities to run. This is great because this gives you a wide range of skills that you can develop and jobs that you can apply for.
Game Developers are perhaps, the most in demand job types in the gaming industry. All games need to be developed using code which is the job of a video game developer. You’ll be the person “coding” the game into existence! The most common code used in video games is C++. This is a great career path if you’re wanting to get into the industry without a college degree. Sure, you need some schooling but you can go through a dev bootcamp like Career Karma and complete it within 6 months instead of going the 4 year university route. Ultimately, the decision is yours so go with whatever you feel comfortable with and do your research! A lot of dev bootcamps take a percentage of your first year salary so do what makes the most sense and don’t let someone rip you off. If they’re asking for a percentage of 2 years of salary go somewhere else.
Once you got a handle on C++ you can either apply for Game Developer jobs or create your own little mini indie games to have a portfolio to show companies that you're applying to. Gaming studios love to see initiative and self-drive. If you have a portfolio of your own side projects or indie games it could give you a leg up on the competition. It would be like taking a gun to a knife fight.
A great benefit of being a Game Developer is the pay. According to Glassdoor, the national average (in 2020) for a Video Game Developer is $83,739/year. Not bad at all!
Here’s some titles to look for when applying for Game Developer jobs:
Read more on how to get a job as a Video Game Developer here.
If you're not technical like myself, marketing may be a really good way to break into the gaming industry. Gaming studios always need someone to market their releases. If the public doesn't know about the game it's not going to sell. And if a studio’s games are not selling, chances are the studio isn't going to be in business in the future. As a marketer you’ll be going over a distribution strategy, running market campaigns (like social media), ideate, advocate, and execute 3rd party marketing opportunities. It’s a fast paced job but it’s fulfilling. The best part is you don’t technically need a degree, although it might help. A few of the best marketers that I know don't have degrees and learned everything online. YouTube, Reddit and Facebook groups can all be great channels to learn how to be an effective marketer.
If you choose to not get a marketing degree, it might be helpful if you build your own portfolio of clients that you’ve executed marketing strategies for. That or work for a marketing agency for a year or so to gain some knowledge in the field. After you have some experience under your belt, look for medium to large gaming studios that already have an established marketing department. Be sure to have ROI’s (return on investment) figures ready as that may come up in an interview.
If you have good oral and written communication skills, like playing on a team and have good interpersonal skills a marketing job might be a great fit. The average yearly salary for a Video Game Marketer is $54,652.
Here’s some titles to look for when applying for Video Game Marketing jobs:
Every great video game has a story. It’s what draws players in and what makes a video game memorable years later. I still remember the plot from FFVII even though I played it over 20 years ago. Stories need to be written by writers. And it’s not only the stories. As a Video Game Writer you might be responsible for writing and describing environments, characters, trigger events and more. If you love writing, then you may be a great fit for a Video Game Writer. Any good writing requires research so be prepared to spend some time learning for each job/writing assignment. A lot of writers in the video game space also write fiction or screenplays so it might be a good idea to bolster up your storytelling in a few different avenues before applying at a gaming studio.
Dave Mullich from Cinemoi has a great article on landing a job as a Video Game Writer here. Overall, you need to be excellent at writing, know the video game space well and understand interactive storytelling. On the plus side, this is one of those positions that could care less about a degree. Your talent is what’s important so if this is your path spend some time developing it!
The average salary Video Game Writers is $50,209 but can vary quite a bit. Here’s some titles to look for when applying for Video Game Writing jobs:
Designing a games levels, puzzles, challenges, all fall within the responsibilities of a game designer. These type of roles tend to be closely related to a Video Game Developer in that there might be some coding and technical aspects of the job. Also, these roles typically are more managerial where you’re overseeing a team or acting as a Project Manager. “Game designers typically work in a managerial role on a video game project, helping to manage budgets, work schedules and project timelines. Attention to detail is important, as are clear writing and communication skills and enthusiasm and knowledge about the video game industry.” - Study.com'
To break into these type of roles, employers look for certificates or degrees from from a university. Luckily, some universities have specific degrees for Video Game Design. Courses in a game design degree program may include project management, integrated video design and technology, game prototyping and level design. If your college doesn’t have a specific degree for Video Game Design, it might be best to attain a Computer Science or Computer Engineering degree. You could also try to take the more entrepreneurial route and design your own indie games if you don’t want to go down the typical path of college.
The salaries for Video Game Designers are all over the place from $50,000/year all the way to $400,000/year. Most of the positions are within the $70,000-$80,000/year range.
Here’s some titles to look for when applying for Video Game Design jobs:
Every company needs operations to run efficiently and gaming studios are no different. Operations jobs are key parts of most management teams and can oversee anything from HR and key hiring to making sure marketing and sales systems and processes are operating efficiently. If you’re detail orientated, operations may be your calling.
There’s not a specific degree for operations. I’ve seen Operation Managers come from marketing, engineering and even science backgrounds. Most job descriptions want a college degree or equivalent in experience in the video game space. They also want someone with strong communication and collaboration skills since you’ll likely be working with a lot of moving parts within a process or team. The job description can vary a bit in this role so be sure to read the job descriptions closely before applying.
Video Game Operations jobs have an average yearly salary of $49,123.
Here’s some titles to look for when applying for Video Game Operations jobs:
Idolized in the movie, Grandma’s Boy, a Video Game Tester gets to play games before they launch to catch any bugs and glitches and assure the quality of the game. Sounds fun right?! This role tends to be detailed orientated and comes with long hours. Not only do you have to be detailed enough to catch glitches, you need the communication and writing skills to effectively communicate them so that the Dev team can remedy them.
You’ll need knowledge of the video game industry as well as testing methods. Gaming studios often prefer higher education in languages or technology, good command of test tracking and support tools, and MS Office. In order to be a Tester it would be a good idea to get your diploma and some experience with Quality Assurance roles. “Some game testing jobs may be in an office where the company provides the materials you need. Other game testing jobs are work-from-home positions where you are expected to provide your own game consoles, television and other equipment. You should take this into consideration when negotiating your salary.” - Indeed.com
The average salary for a Tester in the U.S. is $14.13 per hour so it’s on the low end of the career choices but it has a lower barrier to entry.
Here’s some titles to look for when applying for Video Game Tester jobs:
With some of the job types out of the way, let’s look at ways to get your foot in the door if you’re actively seeking a job at a game studio.
So you have the skills needed to apply for a job in the video game industry. Now what’s next? You need to find the jobs that studios are filling for! It’s easy as doing a simple google search or using a game specific job board like ours here. See what we did there? But don’t just stop at applying. Actively use LinkedIn or other social channels like Twitter to connect with either the HR leads or the lead on the team you’re trying to get on. Some initiative can go a long way and get your resume moved to the top of the pack.
On the other hand, if you know the game studio you want to work for you can always hit their website, check the career section for relevant openings and apply!
Events and conferences are a great way to break into the industry. Not only do you get to stay up to date with the newest game titles and technology, events provide you with a huge opportunity to meet people and network. There's huge events like E3, Blizzcon, Game Developers Conference (GDC) and Game Connection America that all would serve as a great networking ground. Head over to your favrotie game studio's website and see which one's they're going to so you can increase your chances of getting on their radar.
Find out who the lead is on the team you want to join and see if they’re attending. For example, if you’re a marketer use LinkedIn to see who runs the marketing team for the game studio that you want to work for. Either connect with them on LinkedIn and set up a meeting at the event or swing by their booth to see if they’re attending. You could also try your luck at lunch time and sit with someone random. Always ask if you can sit down first or it's game over, but you never know who you might be meeting. It’s scary but it helps a ton to get yourself out there. It’s also important to not be annoying as there’s a right way and a wrong way to network at conferences. Here’s a good post on how to network without being creepy. Use it, embrace it, and go get your dream role.
Another option of finding jobs in the space is to use an agency. This is a choice you have to make but personally, I don’t see an issue with it. The agency is usually paid by the game studio, for example, Microsoft, to bring in the best candidates for an open position. A lot of the big players like Microsoft, Bethesda and Nintendo use agencies and it might be a great way to land an interview!
Hopefully this article gave you some confidence on your endeavor to land your dream career in video games. There’s a lot of different ways to land a job and a lot of different roles that you can fit into dependent on your skills. All in all, know what department you want to work in and get some relevant experience whether it be internships, other jobs or your own entrepreneurial endeavor. If I left out anything please let me know as I want this to be helpful as possible. Happy hunting!