Want to make games, but you don’t know where to start? Want to start up a studio, work for your dream developer, or strike out on your own as an indie? Not sure about any of that, buy you’re dying to work in games? You’ve come to the right place. Getting into the game industry can be tough, but a passion for games, a lot of hard work, and a dollop of insider knowledge can go a long way. Read on for our full video game career guide.
Speaking of Game Career Guide, you should also park your browser squarely on the eponymous website, which has everything from a digital counselor to help you scope out schools, regular features (including tutorials) and a bustling community surrounding the educational space.
If you haven’t already, you should add Gamasutra, GameDev.net and AltDevBlogADay to your newsfeed. If you’re already a seasoned game fan, its likely that you’ve encountered Gama in your travels – but pay special attention from now on to the Developer blogs section and the frequent postmortem features. The site also has one of the best (and most extensive) public job boards in the industry – and taking a weekly peek at what studios are actively seeking in candidates is one of the smartest “research” moves you can make.
Alt.devblog is a fantastic, totally developer-centric place where industry folks post on everything from technical aspects of the process to quality-of-life issues at studios. Come for the fascinating, behind-the-scenes stories, stay for the ability to parse the “language” of development.
GameDev.net poses itself as the ultimate one-stop site for developers, with a phenomenal content aggregator for development-specific news and features, and a resource list (containing books, articles, and the like) that you could probably spend upwards of six months digging through.
Speaking of reading lists, go ahead and fire up Amazon (or your book vendor of choice, of course) and take a look at highly recommended titles on game theory and design. The book I like to use when teaching students the ropes of game design is Game Design Workshop, by Tracy Fullerton. Not only is it a balanced, readable, totally comprehensive view of the iterative game design process – but it’s also packed to the gills with exercises and sidebar excerpts from industry experts like Will Wright, Jenova Chen and Warren Spector.
Go Make Games!
If you want to be a game designer, the best thing in the world you can do is go and get your feet wet right now, by actually working on a game. It doesn’t have to be amazing – at this point, it probably won’t be, but you’ll learn so much from your mistakes that it won’t matter.
First things first – pick an engine or methodology that works for you. For newbies, I’m going to recommend that you stick to the cheaper/free options to cut your teeth on - Unity (a very popular 3D engine that you can get a free license for), HTML5, Flash/Flex, GameMaker, GameSalad and Adventure Game Studio are all good bets.
For your very first time at the rodeo, start small, and begin with a friendly tutorial. This past year’s Get Into Games Guide has an
If you like your knowledge printed (or glowing faintly from an e-reader), and by your trusty side, Game Development with Unity and Unity 3D Game Development by Example are both fantastic project-based books for learning and completing simple games in Unity. HTML5 Canvas absolutely rocks for learning the craft behind browser games, and Game Maker’s Companion gets high marks for learning the ins and outs of GM’s user-friendly toolset.
Or, if you're looking to pick up a book and hope to learn how to design your own games, Scott Rogers' Level Up! The Guide To Great Video Game Design is a perfect book to pick up and learn the nitty gritty of game design from the inside out.
If you’ve done your homework, started making games, and think you’d like to actually make it official at the university level, the first place you should go is Game Career Guide’s Digital Counselor for research.
I’m a university lecturer myself, but I’ll be the first one to tell you that your experience – and value for your dollar – will vary greatly with the school and with your own expectations and learning style. It’s certainly possible to learn a tremendous deal with inexpensive resources – like the sites and books listed here and some software. If you are dead-set on becoming a phenomenal designer, artist, programmer, etc. using these tools, and you have the discipline to carry through with it on your own, a game program may not be necessary for you.
However, if you want access to industry folks, possible internship and networking opportunities, and a highly structured learning environment, it may well be more than worth it. Ask yourself the hard questions before you drop any money on applications, and don’t be afraid to grill admissions folks (politely, mind you) about the things that matter most to you.
With all of that said, there are plenty of truly excellent game degree programs out there, offering everything from certificates to BS’ to MFA’s to PHD’s and everything in between.
Surely, one of the biggest “name” schools for games in the US is Digipen, which has produced countless graduates who have gone on to careers in major league AAA development, including two entire student teams – the folks who worked on Narbacular Drop (which became Portal) and Tag: The Power of Paint (which got incorporated into Portal 2) were all conscripted at Valve after graduation, for example. Likewise, NYU and USC have well-regarded programs in game design.
Networking Is Not A Dirty Word
Events like PAX and PAX East offer programming for industry hopefuls – at this year’s PAX East, for example, there was even a dedicated room (the IGDA Dev Center) wherein every panel had to do with some aspect of breaking in or making a move within the industry. There are also plenty of local events and meet-ups in many game development and tech-centric places that offer a great, less-formal way of meeting other local folks who are interested in the whole game-making business. Check local universities and meet-up sites for the goings-on in your area.
Even if you don’t live in a happening place, you can certainly get involved with other folks and start working on (and hawking) projects. The IGDA site and forums are an awesome place to start, especially “breaking in to the industry” forum. You should also seek out the communities around the software you’d like to use – the official Unity forums are fantastic, for example.
No matter what route you take to the industry, be sure to read this phenomenal article on creativity in the game industry by Zynga’s Bob Bates, and keep your eyes peeled for information and opportunities.
Keep your browser tuned to G4 all week as we keep bringing you G4 University, and at the end of the week we'll have a guide for you that rounds up all of the information, and gives you the perfect places to start looking, along with some helpful tips.
Danielle Riendeau is a freelance writer, digital media professor, and nonprofit web ninja from Boston. You should follow her on twitter for all of the relevant links and details: @danielleri