How to Start a Career in Games

Most articles about how to get a job making video games are misleading. They spend too much time over-emphasizing, and sometimes exaggerating, how competitive the game industry is, and yet simultaneously propose a perfect formula for “breaking in”.

Even the phrase “breaking in” is a misnomer- although it can be difficult to get a paid job making games, if you’re making games at all, then you’re contributing to the game industry, and you are a game developer already.

Boom! You’ve started your career. Seriously. You’ve already taken the most important step to making games as a career: making a game.

So, I can’t tell you exactly how to run your game development journey. Maybe you want to find a paid job making games, maybe you want to do your own indie thing, or maybe you need help taking the first step to make a game. This article will hopefully be adaptable to any of those situations. I’m not going to be condescending and tell you what you want out of your game journey or career, or try to look cool by exaggerating how competitive this field is.

Instead, I’m going to list a bunch of practical, honest, adaptable ideas for getting paid for your art and improving as a game developer. Because hey- once you’ve made your first game, you already are one. ❤️


How to Use These Ideas

  • Each idea is divided into two sections: the basic idea and specific ideas on how to follow through.
  • You don’t have to do every idea.
  • You don’t have to follow it all to the letter.
  • Work as hard as you are happy and able to.
  • I won’t pretend like the game industry is an impenetrable fortress that only the most talented can enter, but I also can’t promise that you’ll get X job or X followers or X patrons/ backers/ investors by following these ideas.
  • If it doesn’t speak to your truth, you can question and reject it.
  • What path works for you is up for you to determine.

Part 1: Hard Skills

Learn how to code, create art, write, manage a community, do marketing, run a business, or some other hard skill that contributes to creating and releasing games.

  • Get a traditional degree.
    • It does NOT have to be name-brand. I went to LSU, not Stanford. Focus on finding a degree program with lots of project classes and active student organizations.
    • If you’re still in grade school, do yourself a huge favor and get started learning early, make good grades, and have hobbies and extracurriculars.
  • Take community college classes.
  • Follow online tutorials.
    • Start with a basic one like Unity’s intro series, or a basic tutorial to learn a single language like Python, and branch out from there as you get more experience.
  • Take classes online.
    • Websites like edX host college classes online for free.
  • Be wary of for-profit universities. Get personal recommendations from people you know and trust, or don’t go at all.
  • Attend a coding boot camp.
    • Get a personal recommendation, as they can vary in quality from scammy to super helpful.
  • If you want to be a designer, or have a similar job that’s less straightforward than coding or art, you still need to learn a hard skill, even if it’s just how to use a game engine, how businesses work, how to put together a marketing campaign, or how to manage a community.
    • You may need to A) make your own game and/or B) go ham on networking to make friends who are making games that you could support with your QA/ community management/ marketing/ etc skills.
    • If you’re interested in entering the industry through QA, entry-level jobs often don’t require experience. Look for local listings on the job websites listed under “Part 3: The Job Search”.

Learn a game engine.

  • As with all of this advice, this step is not required. And if you don’t have any code knowledge, but still want to learn an engine, don’t lose hope- not all engines require coding!
  • Don’t waste your time with engine wars. Every engine has strengths and weaknesses. Consider engines as being on a large spectrum of different kinds of features, instead of a rigid ranked list.
  • Most importantly, just pick something and GO.
  • Unity
    • Popular with a huge number of studios, indie to AAA.
    • Probably the easiest “big” engine to get started with.
    • Start from the beginning with the Unity official project tutorials and work your way through projects you find interesting.
  • Unreal
  • GameMaker
    • Great for people with no experience with coding, or desire to do any complicated coding, like artists, designers, and writers.
    • GameMaker link.
  • Twine
    • Great for people who want to focus on writing.
    • Twine link.
  • Scratch
    • Great for kids. You can make animations and games with it!
    • Teaches some fundamentals of coding, in a puzzle-block way.
    • Scratch link
  • RenPy
  • Pygame

Learn a version control service.

  • This becomes more important when you start collaborating with others.
  • It’s a little bit more relevant to programmers than others, but it’s helpful for everybody on the team to know the basics.
  • GitHub is my strongest recommendation for people who are working on a team but aren’t programmers because of GitHub desktop, which is super easy to use.
  • TortoiseSVN
  • Perforce

Learn other tools of your trade.

Make games.

  • Make games as a hobby.
    • Makes games before anybody’s paying you to.
    • Make the kind of games that you want to play.
  • Make games in school.
    • Take classes that focus on creating projects, and make those projects games.
    • Take classes that are game-development adjacent (like graphics programming, AI, creative coding) and make games in them.
    • Take classes that focus specifically on game development.
    • Make your fucking thesis a game. Hell yeah.
  • Go to game jams.
    • Find a Global Game Jam site and go, even if you don’t know anybody.
    • Take part in an online game jam, like the Weekly Game Jam or other jams hosted on Itch.io or Ludum Dare.
    • Look for other game jams local to your area. Check local universities,, IGDA chapters, and game dev meetups.
    • After you’ve been to one, try hosting one yourself!
  • Fill in assets that you can’t create, like art, code, or music, with open-source online resources.
  • Learn what scope is realistic for a small hobby or student team to build.
    • Focus all of the features you’re building on the core of what your game idea is.
    • Play other small games to get an idea of what your scope might look like.
    • Cut unnecessary features.
    • Give yourself a deadline.

Ask for feedback, and earnestly consider it.

  • Ask for feedback from anybody you feel comfortable with.
    • Ask your mom.
    • Ask your friends and family.
    • Ask your classmates and co-workers.
    • Ask your professors, mentors, and teachers.
    • Ask your favorite online communities.
  • Ask them to play your game or look at your artwork/ writing/ etc or evaluate your QA/ community management/ marketing plan/ etc.
    • If you’re showing them a game, tell them as little as possible about how to play your game. Don’t tell them if they’re using it right or wrong. Just watch!
    • Ask for feedback, and ask them to explain their opinions. They won’t always be able to articulate them, but you should still take note that your art left whatever impression it did.
    • Thank them!
  • Required traits of good feedback givers:
    • Care about your success
    • Honest
  • NOT required traits of good feedback givers:
    • Famous game developer
    • Devoted gamer
  • Earnestly consider the feedback you get, and use it to improve.

Have a life outside of games.

  • Draw inspiration from your life experiences. Get out there and have life experiences.
  • Have hobbies outside of making games.
  • Build and maintain friendships with people outside the game industry.
  • Go to meetups, join student organizations, take classes, and volunteer with groups outside of game-related stuff.
  • Take care of yourself. Foster your support networks of friends and family. Eat your vegetables. Get good sleep. Call your mom every now and then.

Part 2: Networking

Participate in online communities.

  • Don’t just post your own stuff; actually contribute to the community by upvoting, liking, commenting, discussing, etc, other people’s content.
  • Reddit
  • Twitter is my favorite way to keep up with other industry contacts. It’s not a necessity, but it is helpful.
    • Post your own work and use relevant hashtags like #gamedev and #indiedev.
  • Discord, Slack, IRC, and other chat channels are also a common spot for groups to form around. You’ll often need an invitation to these.
  • Join online networks specific to your discipline. You’ll also meet people outside the game industry!
  • Facebook groups like Game Writers.

Go to local meetups.

  • Attend your local IGDA meetings.
  • Check Meetup for local meetings from other kinds of organizations.
  • Pay attention to any social networks you’re on for other potential in-person meetups.
  • Help foster these groups by volunteering or running for an officer position.

Participate in student organizations.

  • Join any kind of game development related student organization, or start one if your school doesn’t have one!
  • Start or join an academic IGDA chapter.
  • Start or join an ACM chapter (for CS majors).
  • Start or join a student organization for minorities, like one for women in computer science.
  • Again, don’t just attend the meetings, but also try to help organize them or run for an officer position.

Stay up-to-date with the industry.

  • Follow a mix of sources that are big and small, for developers and for players, conservative and liberal, and whatnot.
  • Take people’s personal opinions- everything from reputable news sources, to YouTubers, to industry professionals, to hot takes on Twitter- with a grain of salt.
  • Check any strong opinion’s information sources, and play/use the primary source material yourself before forming a harsh judgement on something.
  • Beware of cults of personality. Follow a wide breadth of information sources; try not to hone in on a single celebrity/ developer/ YouTuber/ etc.
    • Listen to a diversity of ideas. Make sure you’re not just exclusively listening to the Current Most Famous White Guy and his followers.
  • Read game news websites.
  • Watch YouTube channels dedicated to analyzing games and the game industry.
  • Keep up with games outside of the top-selling AAA sphere. Play weird free games on Itch.io, see what’s new on Steam, etc.

Go to conferences and conventions.

  • These tend to be expensive, but there are ways to mitigate the costs, like volunteering, getting scholarships, or getting your college or local tech incubator to sponsor passes.
  • Volunteer!! You can get free passes and meet people.
  • Developer-focused conferences like GDC will be helpful for networking with other developers and learning hard skills.
  • Player-focused conferences like PAX are only likely to be helpful career-wise if you have a booth or you already have plans to meet people.

Network at your level, and not just with big players.

  • Any of the above advice can be enhanced by networking with people at your level- people with the same experience level, follower count, and network size as you.
    • Other people at your skill level are your best resource for collaboration.
    • Don’t just shoot for getting attention from the huge accounts and big AAA studios.
  • Follow, like, and re-tweet/re-blog accounts with similar follower count to you.
  • Foster your local indie dev scene, no matter how small.
  • Connect with other students.
  • Apply for internships locally and with small and medium-sized studios, not just big ones.

Put your work online.

  • This is a no-brainer for getting followers and fans, but it’s also important for getting feedback and building an online portfolio for job searching!
  • Host your games online somewhere.
    • The easiest solution is probably to host it for free on Itch.io.
    • You could also submit your game to Steam or GOG.
  • Put your work on a website dedicated to your medium.
  • Put your work on social media. Tweet it, Instagram it, post in on Tumblr- whatever best hits your audience.
  • Get your name registered on Moby Games whenever your name appears in the credits of a published game.

Part 3: The Job Search

Have a business card and resume prepared.

  • Create a business card.
    • Always have it on hand.
    • If you can afford it, print with a nice service like Moo.
    • If you’re not ready to bother investing in fancy business cards, design your own and print and cut them yourself at an Office Depot, FedEx, or similar store.
  • Keep your resume up-to-date.
    • Bring it to every networking event.
    • Give it to people who ask for it; don’t force it on people.
    • Keep it at one page.
    • Focus on projects.
    • Use a pre-made template (I like the Google docs resume templates).
    • Don’t put your address on it.
    • Get several people to give it feedback.

Create an online personal portfolio.

  • Compile all of your best work, and possibly your resume and contact info, on a website that’s built specifically for potential employers to view.
    • Be careful about any personal information you post online, like your email address!! DO NOT put your physical address online.
  • Make sure any playable games are built and tested for a couple of different platforms, and are clearly linked and easy to get to.
  • Paid options:
  • Free options:
  • Get your own domain. They’re only around $10 a year and add a really nice professional touch.

Apply for jobs.

  • Apply to big studios, small studios, and everything in-between.
  • If you’re in school, apply for internships ASAP.
  • Websites for job listings:
  • For your first job, look for jobs with the titles “entry level”, “associate”, and “new graduate”, or no title at all and 3 or fewer years of experience required.
  • Have your resume and portfolio ready (see above!!).
  • Find the personal contact info for hiring managers and recruiters, and contact them directly.
  • Address people by name, if you can find them.
  • Make cover letters personal.
  • Use wording from the job listing (especially specific skills) to customize you letter for the job you’re applying for.

Prepare for interviews.

  • Prepare for coding interviews with Cracking the Coding Interview.
  • Ask professionals for advice on what to expect from interviews.
  • Ask your interviewer for what to expect during the interview ahead of time.
  • Ask your interviewer for feedback on how the interview went after it’s over.

Fin

I hope you found some of these tips helpful!

Remember, you can approach these at your own pace, and you can take or leave any advice depending on your personal situation.

Good luck,

Lindsey Reid  @so_good_lin

Published by

Linden Reid

Game developer and tutorial writer :D

2 thoughts on “How to Start a Career in Games”

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