Advice for getting into the games industry as a graduate
Whether you’re a recent or soon-to-be graduate, the prospect of being left up unemployment creek without a paddle can be quite daunting. Freed from the nest (or cage, depending on your university experience) of education; the hunt begins for your first industry role. Should you work with a recruitment agency or brave it alone and apply directly? Three years of honing your craft should surely be enough to get your foot in the door, but is that the reality, could you be doing more to bolster your portfolio?
We talked to Shomair Hanuk (Associate Technical Artist at Stellar Entertainment Software), Ewan Tennent (Junior Environment Artist at Airship), Tristen McGuire (Character Artist at Airship Images), Ashley Smith (Gameplay Engineer at Jagex), and Andrew Patton (Programmer at d3t) to answer these questions, giving you a first-hand insight into the most crucial things you can do to put your best foot forward when finding your footinginto the industry and landing your first role!
First impressions are everything, especially as a graduate trying to break into a competitive industry. Without an extensive track record to back your credentials and skill level, your portfolio of work will serve as your golden ticket into the industry.
Ashley Smith noted the importance of a solid and comprehensive portfolio. “Hands down, my online portfolio was the most important thing in securing my first role,” notes Ashley. “I think people can physically see how much time and effort you put into marketing yourself and I think that translates into something akin to professionalism in some way. When interviewing, no one really asked about my experience from university, they all were 100% focused on my website and portfolio”.
The modules you complete at university should serve as the foundations of building your skillset. While you can include some of your best work from education in your portfolio, studios like to see your personality shine through your work, which can be seen more clearly when you display projects from a wide variety of sources, education, game jams, passion projects, and collaborations.
Not only that, having a tangible example of your work presents your skillset, your specialisations, and your style - instead of simply noting that it’s in your toolbox. Anyone can claim that they’ve made a stylised, 2.5D, neo-noir environment; but only you can show your creation. Ideally, include both screengrabs of the game, and a playable example if possible; that way the hiring manager can immerse themself in your work, or still view images of it if they’re pushed for time.
While some would advise against including unfinished work in your portfolio, showing a work-in-progress in a certain light can be beneficial in boosting your employability prospect, as Shomair Hanuk goes on to mention. “I think that it’s really important to include your working processes as with a lot of the stuff that we work on, especially in tech art, it seems to be that the process is definitely more important than the actual final result. So, I think just highlighting one or two of the paths that you've taken is a really positive move.”
With that in mind, ensure that your portfolio is displayed in such a way that the hiring manager can seamlessly locate everything they’re looking for, and doesn’t confuse your unfinished work with completed projects. If you’ve made a game, make sure everything related to it is compartmentalised and sectioned accordingly. If you’re a generalist artist, make sure art relating to environments, characters, vehicles, weapons, and concepts are segregated. Take no half measures in demonstrating the process behind what you’ve created; have a short write up for each project, explaining how you made it, what technical skills you used, and the software that made it possible.
Working with a Recruitment Agency (hopefully, with Aardvark Swift) can fast-track you to the dawning of your career. They’re a crucial cog in the industry’s eco-system, serving as a bridge and communication channel between you and multiple studios. As game development is a specialist industry, most recruitment partners for video game studios will be specialised at recruiting for the industry, and because of this, will be able to provide you with insider advice and expert knowledge on exactly what studios are looking for in your CV and portfolio.
Andrew Patton, Programmer at d3t, recalled his experience working with Aardvark Swift. “Honestly, Aardvark Swift did a lot of the heavy lifting in that respect. I sent off my CV and portfolio, waited around for the interviews/code tests to come in, and at least from my perspective, it seemed like having those set up by Aardvark Swift put me at a head start,” notes Andrew. “The agency will tell you from the off what to fix about your CV/portfolio, because they know exactly what studio recruiters are (and aren't) looking for. Not only that, the offers I ended up with were from exciting companies/projects which I wouldn't even have found through my own searches”.
If you’re unaware of the ins and outs of working with recruitment agencies in your job hunt, it may sound like a deal with the devil; there’s got to be some sort of catch for the recruiters’ time and effort, right? We’ll let you in on a secret, the fees accrued from the recruitment agency are billed to the studio, as the recruiter is working on their behalf to fill the vacancy. That’s not to say that your needs and preferences aren’t considered; they are. To effectively serve both employer and future employee a good recruiter will only put you in touch with studios that are a good fit for both you and the studio. Good recruiters are passionate about what they and will be fighting your corner to find you a role that you want for a fitting salary, as Ewan Tennant, Junior Environment Artist at d3t mentions; “Working with a recruiter at Aardvark Swift was such a positive, collaborative experience where we talked and really figured out together what studios would be a good culture and project fit for me, instead of them simply sending me out to any studio looking” says Ewan. “I think it’s good to have somebody that has your best interests in heart that maintains communication between you and studios, stopping things from stagnating.”
So, if you’re looking to find your first role out of university, consider getting in touch with a recruiter for representation, CV and portfolio advice, and more!
Interview and tests
The hiring process can at times be a verbal and logistical dance that can take years to master, and other times, can be a plain-sailing, informal conversation followed shortly after by an offer of employment. Whichever is the case, you don’t want to be caught on the backfoot due to assumptions or lack of preparation.
If you take anything from the information that follows, take this: do your research! Make sure you’re clued up on the studio’s current projects, their history, and also what you can glean about the studio culture. Not only will this inform you on whether or not the studio is one that you’d like to work for early doors, you’ll be better prepared for any questions they put to you, have your own questions to ask when the time comes, and gain a rough idea of the studios culture and how it will be reflected in the tone of the interview.
Each studio will have their own unique methods, questions, and stages throughout the process. Andrews describes his experience with d3t; “After Aardvark swift got back to me with the news that d3t were interested in my CV and portfolio, the first thing was a program test, which is just a small C++ test. What followed was a call with the Chief Engineer and one of the recruitment team again, which was really informal and more of a “getting to know you” style of conversation.” This is a typical hiring process but be prepared for curveballs or deviations from the norm depending on where you interview.
An interview is as much about you figuring out if the role is right for you as it is the studio deciding if you are right for the position. Take hold of this opportunity to really get to know the studio behind the games and leave no rock unturned in asking everything you need to know. If you’re unsure what to ask, be sure to check out our tips on questions to ask during an interview.
In the videogame industry, studio culture is the lifeblood in creating great games, and because of this, Hiring Managers place a lot of emphasis on who you are as a person as much as they do your skillset. So, be inquisitive, let your personality shine through, and show your passion for your craft!
How can we help you
These are just three pillars of getting your foot in the door in the industry. It isn’t always an easy process, but if you’re passionate about creating games, then your career path will no doubt bend toward finding your dream role. If you’re looking to make your break into the industry, then consider taking a look at our other candidate resources, and get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call +44 (0)1709 834 777 to see how we can help you find your dream role!