When the industry started, in the days of the Atari, Commodore, and of course, the coin-op arcade, the majority of the developers were hardcore programmers who became game developers because they knew how to speak the language of the machines, and speak it well. It was the generation of the mainframe programmer and the self-taught hobbyist turned pro.
As time went on, traditional artists, designers, quality assurance, and other personnel became part of the development process. The concept of game development being limited to the elite coder began to fade, and the more-approachable term "game design" fell into use by the public. With it (plus some horrible community college ads) came the perception that anyone could "design" a game by waving a controller in front of a TV.
As A Tester
The idea of testing games for money became the dream job of countless teens. For a while, testing was a viable path into the industry, although many quickly realized that it wasn't the job they thought it would be.
This technique worked for quite some time, but the big companies in the game industry realized collectively that they weren't working in garages anymore, and would have to start acting like real businesses. Yes, it was possible to progress from tech support or QA up into the development ranks, but it was more and more rare every year.
Unfortunately, that mentality is still shared as gospel by some (usually those who don't work in the industry anymore), and it's a shame, because it sends enthusiastic members of the next generation of developers down the wrong path entirely. Yes, you can become a tester. Frequently, that means working for a temp agency like Volt, or some of the other tech staffing firms out there. If you attend a playtest session, be sure to act professionally.
As for in-house departments at developers, while QA/test was once considered a no-qualification-required job, many publishers and developers have test teams with development skills as well.
Straight to Development
Getting a development position isn't just a matter of having some programming or art classes on your resume. Grueling, sometimes multi-day interview processes, stand between the aspiring developer and their dream of making games.
Are you a programmer? What have you shipped? If you're still a college student, what was your final project? Have you worked in a collaborative programming environment before? Do you know how to write clean, concise, documented code?
Are you an artist? What does your portfolio look like? Do you have a solid command of the tools you use? Can you take direction well? How about the ability to give constructive feedback?
Game designer or level designer? What games are out there that you've made? Why did you make the decisions you did about gameplay, level flow, lighting, art style, or anything else that you did to make your game unique?
And those are the easy questions. Programming interviews frequently involve having to stand up in front of your potential coworkers at a whiteboard and solve logic or programming efficiency problems. Level designers and artists may have to talk about their work on a video projector in the same sort of environment. Many game companies now check for compatibility with teammates. If you're not able to communicate with your potential peers, you may lose the chance at a job that you'd be perfect for.
What Other Jobs Are Out There?
The Career Planning section has a great summary of different jobs in the industry, with descriptions of each role.
You think you've got the skills and experience to apply at a game studio? In the next article in the series we'll discuss what they look for, and what you need to do.
Table Of Contents
- How Do You Get A Job In The Game Industry? – Part 1: Background - Current page
- How Do You Get A Job In The Game Industry? – Part 2: Applying
- How Do You Get A Job In The Game Industry? – Part 3: Building An Online Presence
- How Do You Get A Job In The Game Industry? – Part 4: Professional Networking At Conferences
- How Do You Get A Job In The Game Industry? – Part 5: Professional Networking At Social Events
- How Do You Get A Job In The Game Industry? – Part 6: If All Else Fails...