Jul 25

Hacks: Breaking Into the Games Industry

Most of the emails that I get from people who’ve stumbled upon this site are related to getting into the games industry for the first time.   I am a huge fan of getting more people in who are extremely passionate about what they’re creating and take time to reply whenever I can.

I’ve been collecting up notes from conversations to try to turn them into another tl;dr treatise on the subject, but instead I’m going to just post them as fragments as they come up.

This has the added benefit of making them infinitely more likely to see the light of day where they might be able to help someone.

One for now:

1) Age.  This one comes up most frequently with people who have significant experience in other industries and are trying to break in to games.

“My age.  I’m not a 20 year old.  I’m old enough to be your (mother/father).  Does that mean I’ll never get a job as a first timer?”

Emphatically: No.  

The reality:  If you’re asking this question, somewhere deep down you already know this.  Hearing it from someone on the inside can help, so I’ll repeat it out loud:

If it does matter to someone, you don’t want to work there in the first place.

Most modern industries aren’t expecting a 20 or 30 year commitment.  If you can come in and do good work for 3, 4, 5 years, you’d be considered a solid find.

You don’t need 20 years left of career to be considered viable.  You need to be passionate, smart, and able to do solid work.

The hack:  Bigger companies, especially, are (justifiably) paranoid about even the appearance of age discrimination.  Chances are that everyone you’ll encounter during any interview process has gone to liability-insurance-mandated (and therefore employer-mandated) discrimination training.

They’re also more likely to be willing to take on people who may need more coaching, due solely to their size. On larger teams there are greater numbers of more experienced people who can mentor, instead of, say, at a scrappy 10 person startup where everyone needs to be moderate-to-expert in 2 or 3 distinct jobs.

They’re also sometimes more suitable from the employee point of view since they’re traditionally more stable and have more comprehensive benefits.

You’re not going to become a millionaire on stock options there, but if you’re trying to get started and get some valuable experience under your belt, that should be the furthest thing from your mind.

More later.

Feel free to let me know via comments or mail if there are things you’d like me to call out - I have enough fodder for another half dozen of these as time permits.

7 Comments so far »


    Joe Ludwig said

    July 25 2008 @ 9:27 pm

    I hired a guy who was about 20 years older than the average age of our programmers a couple years ago, and he was great! He had zero game industry experience, but tons of general programming. He turned out to be a real craftsman, so when there was something that just had to work right, he was the perfect guy to give it to. (He still is all those things, he just doesn’t work for me anymore. :)


    T=Machine » Computer Games Industry Careers - Designers said

    July 26 2008 @ 8:32 am

    […] (also, I’d actually forgotten this wasn’t published yet. I only realised when reading Scott’s first “How to break into the games industry” hack) […]


    adam said

    July 26 2008 @ 8:42 am

    Good hack. I’m bored of seeing the same-old “how to break into the industry” articles on mainstrea sites that just re-iterate the same points over and over again and never really broach the questions that people trying to break in really need answered. Age is a great one (that they rarely mention).

    I’d like to see a real overview of the spectrum of game designer roles and responsibilities in game companies, and how they fit together to make a career - and most importantly, what make good reasons for wanting to be a game desinger and where you should expect to end up.

    I’ve met a lot of people who *think* they want to be a game designer, but actually wanted to be a game programmer, or artist, or producer, and just didn’t realise it.

    Obviously, I’ve met a lot more people the other way around too :).

    I collated a couple of brief notes on this - http://t-machine.org/index.php/2008/07/26/221/ - very scattered thoughts at the moment, it would be great to see a better thought-out version from someone who actually IS a designer :).


    Ferrel said

    August 1 2008 @ 6:33 am

    A very interesting read. I’ve never really considered the age equation other than when (previously) hearing teenage guild members stating they wanted to drop out of school to join a development team. I frequently advised otherwise.

    One thing that is of great interest to me is the community support target (or representative) and non-technical design.

    I think some companies get so hung up just in programing knowledge that they fail to find solid writers and design people who don’t know a thing about the technical issues.

    What avenues do non-programmers have into the industry? I think a lot of folks would like to hear that elaborated on.


    Jute said

    August 4 2008 @ 6:38 am

    As someone who has asked that question thanks for the answer! I’m very interested to see more along these lines.


    Babs said

    August 4 2008 @ 11:32 pm

    Scott hired me (an old person). He gets props for practicing what he preaches. I’m still not sure what my “comprehensive benefits” are but I’m happy to be talking design schedules instead of arguing the finer points of force majeure =)

    Can’t find my walker, though. Musta left it by my soaking teeth.


    Mathew Anderson said

    September 23 2008 @ 5:23 am

    Bit late in responding here, but I had a question that has been with me for awhile now:

    How do you know when a company doesn’t want you because of a lack of skills, experience, or some other quality they really need, versus something more vague and emotionally decisive, such as “this guy just isn’t a good fit, I don’t get a good sense from talking to him”?

    And how can you tailor a follow-up e-mail response to try and probe that a bit more without looking like you’re doing so?

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