One of the things Ruckus believes in is helping the industry grow in healthy ways. While Ruckus isn’t hiring people without industry experience at this point in time, we want the industry to feel more welcoming to all those people who want to join, and less like an impenetrable wall. Rather than just turn down people, we decided to set up a page to help answer some of those questions and demystify the “how do I get in the industry?” question.
Some of you may have attended schools for being in the industry and some may just be wondering how you break into the industry with no experience at all. This is written for people who haven’t started a video game career, yet.
HIRING PROCESS AND ETIQUETTE
My qualifications for putting this together are simple – I’ve been a hiring manager since 1997. I’ve probably been in hundreds of interviews and looked over thousands of resumes. I would estimate I have hired over a hundred people. Of those people, many were just starting in the industry. Several went on to long careers in the industry because they were great at what they did, and honestly, some few did not.
When I am trying to hire someone, I just want to get to know the person and see if they have the skills and temperament to fit into my team. I’d almost always rather hire someone I have worked with before, or someone who comes recommended by someone I know and trust. Hiring someone who is just starting out is gratifying, but also brings the most uncertainty. Remember, if I am being responsible – I need to make sure every member of my team keep their jobs. I’m looking out for them 90% of the time. That’s why hiring is not something done lightly. If you question, why won’t someone give me a break? It tends to be because unknown quantities aren’t the way to build success. You’ve got to do your best to prove you are a reliable and talented developer, and that can’t be done by just talking a good game and promising to be devoted.
The process of hiring someone requires greater and greater time commitment as we go. This is the actual order I do things in. I suspect most hiring managers are the same. We’ll assume this is for an entry level position:
- Résumé – Do they meet the minimum requirements? Is their résumé readable and to the point?
- Portfolio – Do they have one? Is it promising?
- Cover Letter – if they have met the requirements and seem to have skills, let’s see what they have to say.
- “Phone” interview – 30 minutes, let’s see if they can communicate well and let’s ask any questions I have based on their resume
- Team interview – Interview with the rest of the team to see if there is a fit.
- Offer letter
Really, it is a crazy process when you think about it. You could work with a team for five or many more years. The decision both you and the hiring manager make comes from a few hours of discussion. That’s why you need to stand out and make a good impression.
As someone who has also had to be on the other side, I had to understand hiring managers have other work to do – their “real job.” Going through resumes and hiring is important, but they probably need to get back to developing the game as quickly as possible. These are busy people and we need to consider that in every step of the process.
IS THIS THE CAREER FOR ME?
My first piece of advice is to understand that this career requires passion and temperance. I want to be careful here in the recommendation of passion because in the past, businesses have used passion to take advantage of their workforce. I recommend it here because it may be a long time before there is a payoff for your work. If you can find satisfaction in a job well done day-to-day, that’s very good for this career. But you’ll still face hardcore challenges that won’t be overcome by just doing your job. Sometimes games work and sometimes they don’t hit the mark of what people are looking for. This can lead to things like layoffs or even just make you feel like you’ve wasted three to four years of your life. You’ll need a great deal of passion and certainty in your dreams to make it through those tough times.
You’ll also need temperance of that passion. You’ll be working with others who have great ideas as well and sometimes your ideas won’t mesh with theirs without compromise. You need to learn when to speak out and when to listen. Don’t get us wrong, we’ve seen big egos do well in the past, but we’re seeing less of that as our industry matures. If you can temper your passion to fit well within a team and know that it is the final product that matters and not your ideas, you’ll do well. I can’t stress these two traits enough as being key markers of some of the best developers I know.
WHERE TO START
With that out of the way, you’ll probably be wondering where to start. I’ve heard the following sentence or something like it throughout my career. I can’t program and I can’t draw well, how do I get into games? Well first, you need to understand the different game development paths. I’ll try to keep this to development but know there are lots of careers in the industry such as marketing, production, language translation (localization), quality assurance (game testing), customer service, and many others. There is no slight here, these are extremely important careers integral to making a game or helping a game release. However, they aren’t the typical roles of “working directly on the development of the game.”
If you believe you have the desire to get into the development – you need to select a role. What is your general interest in development? Most people start off by breaking it into three roles: Programming, Design, and Art. This can give you a starting point, but saying – I want to be a designer, isn’t going to get you into the industry. Getting into the industry is going to take work and practice. I know Scott Kester says, “If you want to learn how to draw, draw.” It applies to every discipline – learn the basics, then keep practicing by trying new things. There are a ton of resources available to help you learn the basics, but those resources won’t help if you don’t have the mindset that what you need to learn is not going to happen overnight. Very few, if any, studios are going to take someone in as an apprentice. You need to prove you have the skills before someone will hire you. Also, you need to stand out.
If you are just starting out in the industry, you are in luck. The industry is larger than it has ever been and needs more people. Also, there are more tools than ever to help you learn. There are engines like Unreal and Unity available to you FOR FREE. There are FREE programs like Blender. There are full online courses. I won’t tell you game development is easy, but it is easier to get into than ever.
There are a lot of great online resources and communities available to game developers. We recommend that you look at Reddit and read the gamedev subreddit. In fact, the FAQ for that subreddit is a gold mine of online links and resources. Rather than repeating work they have done, this is much better.
LEARN THE BASICS
How do you learn the basics? That depends entirely on you, as different people learn differently. An undergraduate program or even a graduate program can really be a great thing, but not everyone learns well that way. There are online courses, and many other valuable resources available to you. We’re going to list a few here to help get you started:
University or College
4 year college – many four year colleges now have game development classes or degrees.
- Carnegie Mellon – https://ideate.cmu.edu/undergraduate-programs/game-design/index.html
- University of Southern California – https://games.usc.edu/main/degree-programs/
- Southern Methodist University – https://www.smu.edu/guildhall
- University of Texas – https://sites.utexas.edu/gaming/about/
There are many others and a simple google search will help you find them. The best of these schools help you create several games while you are there and encourage group projects that simulate actual conditions of building a game within a team.
Maybe a four-year college is not the path you want to take for various reasons. Online courses are a great resource for getting started. No matter what path you choose to learn the basics, almost all of them will involve using online resources. But formal courses exist to help you make full games or game snippets. Also, there are good online courses in art skills. As before, I recommend identifying which main field you want to try before jumping into online courses.
- Udemy is a fantastic online learning resource: https://www.udemy.com/
Some people just want to get into an existing game and modify it. A few games have built-in tools while others have tools built by modders to help. Here is a resource to help you learn how to mod games.
The other thing to try to do is get hired at a gaming company in some other capacity other than as a developer. I would caution that this absolutely does not preclude acquiring the basic skills. You are unlikely to find someone at the company with enough free time to mentor you into acquiring those skills.
However, what you may be showing off is your ability to do your job well. A common way of doing this is through Quality Assurance. I started my career in 1995 in Customer Service / Quality Assurance. I always support developers who get a foot in the door through QA, provided those developers are currently doing a great job in QA. Note, QA is not necessarily a springboard to another job – good QA people are hard to find. QA is a fine career end goal, and development isn’t a better track. That said, many developers, including myself, have gotten their start in QA.
PICK A SPECIFIC ROLE
Once you feel you have picked the direction for your basic skills and you feel pretty good about that, you will be wondering where to apply it. You may be thinking that you would like to join the industry as a generalist, but I can tell you, that’s not a good look. You’ll need to master multiple skills to be considered a generalist. The best thing you can do, other than creating a portfolio and a project, is to pick a specific role in the industry. The belief that you can do multiple things and “you only need your shot to prove it” will turn off 99% of the people who will look at your resume. Everyone wants a team member who understands the skillset they want to master. Later, it will be great to master a lot of different roles. For now, pick one. We’ve compiled a number of roles that teams will be looking to fill.
I encourage you to look at each role if you don’t already know what you would go into. I make no claims for this list to be exhaustive or the details of the description to be comprehensive, but it is a good starting point:
Narrative Design – blends the best of writing with mission design. Essentially you can both write dialogue, backstory, etc. and use the tools to make that dialogue come to life within the engine.
Writer – a writer will write backstory, setting and dialogue. Good writers know the story services gameplay and vice-versa. Many writers will not work in the proprietary tools and instead tend to generate scripts in third-party software.
Lore master – A lore master is usually reserved for large IPs. They know what was written before and they keep the world believable by making sure design and narrative are within already established bits of lore.
Mission / Quest Designer – a designer that creates the ideas for the missions and the gameplay that will take place therein. Usually uses proprietary tools of the engine to set up the missions.
Animator – working in one of several tools, Blender, Maya, Cinema 4D, etc. create animations for everything in the game. A box opening, a character running, a motorbike tilting, etc. Animators bring life to the game.
Technical Animator – where animations meet design and programming. Usually working with the engine proprietary tools to import animations and hook them up.
Level Designer – part architect, part artist and part designer. Level design means lots of different things to different studios. Generally, they are responsible for the layout of the world and the flow of gameplay. They might also design encounters in the game, create puzzles, or any number of other things. They almost always work in the engine tools, though some may create blockouts of the world in third-party software.
Encounter Designer / Creature Designer – creature designers work closely with AI engineers, character artists and many others to create fun creatures for the world to be populated with. Some even work with level design to create specific boss encounters in games. A good creature designer knows everything players will be able to do.
Cinematic Designer – this can mean a lot of things but think of this as a cinematographer mixed with a director. You are responsible for cut-scenes or how the camera moves in certain circumstances.
Rigger – inside most animating models, humans, animals, monsters, etc. is a series of bones or a skeleton. Riggers put those skeletons together for 3D models determining how bones move and don’t move.
UI Artist – UI Artists can be designers, but mostly they work with different illustrative tools like Adobe XD, Sketch, Photoshop and others to create the art and motion art for the user interface.
UX Designer – Somewhat similar to a UI artist, but normally they take systems designs and create the layout of the interface for the design. Many UX designers also work with external testers to look at their early designs.
Gameplay Designer – gameplay designers, especially in action titles, concentrate heavily on game feel systems such as movement, weapon design, camera work. Also known as a CCC designer: camera, character and controls.
Systems Designer – the core rules of the game – from how much damage a weapon does, how you will find a weapon, what is the cooldown on how frequently the kitty can jump. You love numbers, creating systems which are elegant and work with other systems.
Sound Designer – foley sounds, placing sounds in the game, timing sounds in animations, working with sound engineers – sound designer is a catch all and sometimes there are many specializations within sound design.
Concept Artist – how will a scene look? What is the style of the game? What do enemies look like? Concept artists often use programs like Illustrator or Photoshop to do 2D drawings (sometimes 3D) to create the look for the game.
Content Artist / Prop Artist / Environment Artist – a catch all term for the artists who render all the flora in the game and sometimes small props. Often the most outsourced part of the game, but also something always in demand.
Hard Surface 3D Artist – as the name implies, specialized content artists who work with hard surface materials in their renders. Robots, guns, rocks, etc.
Character Artist – the 3D artist who renders the character / enemy / monster concepts.
Technical Artist – this person can both program and create art. They often make shaders, might work with procedural generation, can make tools like day / night cycle tools, and any number of ways the art of the game meets the code. This is a heavily sought after position.
Level Artist – sometimes confused with a level designer, level artists can be a level designer, but tend to take gray box level design and make it look awesome. They can realize the art direction in the game through placement of assets in the environment.
Gameplay Engineer – often the glue of the game. They can take the rules made by the designers and make them into systems that actually work through the code. Most often they are working by adding code to the engine.
Build Engineer – is to make sure an up-to-date build of the game can be created when needed as quickly as possible. This involves automating and optimizing processes, maintaining software and hardware systems, creating tests and helpful tools, and communicating with every member of the game team.
Graphics Engineer – specialists in 3D math who understand rendering pipelines and can alter or create them.
Client Engineer – Often seen in heavily networked games such as MMOs. Client engineers are responsible for making sure that the client performs well over the network. They also often act as generalists programming animations, graphics, and other visual data.
Physics Engineer – engineer who understands physics equations and can set up rules in the game to determine how objects will interact with other objects at varying velocities and with how much force.
Network Engineer – these engineers work on client-to-client or client-to-server architecture within and without the game. Cross-platform development, connecting to first party services, etc. are all part of the network engineer’s duties.
Multiplayer Engineer – multiplayer engineers tend to be more specialized network engineers focused solely on game systems. Matchmaking systems, how players interact with one another, etc. all fall into the spectrum of multiplayer engineers.
UI Engineer – engineers who specialize in UI. They generally take 2D art and put it into a visual layer. They might program how textures work in the UI, motion for the UI or many other tasks necessary for the UI.
Sound Engineer – a sound engineer will typically work on tools for helping sound designers realize their goals within a game engine. This could be back-end tools such as associating sounds with certain locations, how sounds are stored, or even how sounds are altered to mimic certain environments.
Server Engineer – the yin to the client engineer’s yang. Server programmers are often seen in heavily networked games such as MMOs. They are responsible for server performance and also often act as programming generalists for gameplay systems.
Animation Engineer – engineers who specialize in making 3D characters come to life. They create tools to help animators put their animations into the engine. Making animations look good within an engine is the purview of the animation engineer.
The basics you learned? Practice them. No really. That’s it. Practice over-and-over. When people say game development is a competitive field, they are not kidding. Basic skills are just the start. You’ve got to be better than other developers and stand out. The only path to doing that is to keep practicing your skills.
BUILD A PORTFOLIO
ou need to build something before most people will consider hiring you. If you can’t demonstrate your skillset in a way that impresses someone hiring you, you will be losing out to other applicants – probably those with experience. You really need to have the quality of your work stand out. Remember, a company has to think of all the current members of the team and they need to reduce risk in order to keep paying those other employees. Taking a chance on someone is not a good option. If you don’t have a resume with experience, the only thing a company has to go on is your portfolio.
If you are a programmer, a portfolio is hard to build. You might have games you’ve built with a team, but it will be hard to know which code is yours. Still, make sure you call out what you’ve done and expect a test on your programming prowess. Tests are divisive for many people, but when you don’t have much to go on with candidates, sometimes it is the best you can do in a short time.
If you can develop a piece of a game or even a full game, do so. When applying – record the gameplay and the thought process for why you did what you did. It needs to be publicly accessible, so likely on your portfolio website. While we probably want to play what you made, watching a video of you playing it and describing your though processes is a faster and better way to an interview. However, do have it so others can play it.
If you’re an artist, I would look into having a portfolio on artstation.com. Almost every artist worth their salt has a portfolio there, and it is a good way for people to see what you can do.
If you don’t have a portfolio or a large work history, I cannot stress enough the importance of a good portfolio. You should test your portfolio. What I mean by this is have someone who is an expert that you may know give you pointers and feedback. You might ask for feedback in an online forum.
If you have worked on a game, you should have people play the game and give you feedback. I once interviewed someone who worked on a mod and when I asked about player feedback, they pulled out a bound folder of the feedback they had received and pointed to the action items based on the feedback. I hired him on the spot.
THINGS NOT TO DO
When building a resource to help, sometimes a few of the tough lessons are best included, even if unpopular. Some of these things will seem obvious and not specific to game development, but I’ve noticed in game development, people think it is something they don’t have to take as seriously as a real job. Please don’t fall into that trap. If you’ve done all the work to be a great developer, don’t waste that effort on simple mistakes.
- Don’t reach out to people who haven’t told you it was okay to contact them if they are part of a company with a job listing. Let your résumé and portfolio speak for themselves. Contacting someone in this way comes off as pushy and presumptuous versus being a go-getter. There’s a time and a place for networking, and cold-calling someone will not make you stand out in a good way.
- Don’t put in a résumé and hope without having built a portfolio. I guess you can, but the odds someone calls you back are only slightly better than playing the Powerball Lottery and winning.
- Don’t ignore the qualifications on a job posting. If you know you don’t meet the qualifications or at least come close, you are just wasting peoples’ time. No one is going to reward your boldness.
- Do not leave up acerbic posts or otherwise questionable social media. People are people and we feel you should have a personal life – you do you. But be aware, everyone looks for markers of team fit. There’s a lot of bad behavior, that can simply turn off a hiring manager. As an example: bashing your previous employer on social media is a bad look.
- Don’t go to the interview looking sloppy. I’m not suggesting you wear a formal dress or suit, but a game development job is a job. Try to look well kempt and speak clearly. This seems like a dumb thing to put here, but I can’t tell you the number of times…
- Do not have an inflated ego. I interviewed a candidate who everyone agreed had the qualifications and otherwise impressed the rest of the team. Then he said he was an “alpha male”. I hope his hunting and gathering is going well because we passed on him.
- Don’t think someone won’t hire you based on your gender, race, religious belief or lack thereof, or any number of other traits. Almost every hiring manager I know wants to hire a diverse team that can bring different viewpoints to a creative endeavor. It’s definitely true of us.
Hopefully, this helps demystify how to get into game development. We want to grow the industry, but also, we need to be practical with how we do it.
Before we end, I want to caution against the word “talent.” I certainly use it a lot, but I think “talent” is misunderstood to be something people are born with. There are people that certainly seem to start higher in the “talent” tree than some of us, but I’ve seen over and over that practice and diligence is what builds “skill.” We sometimes look at an end-product and say, “Wow, that person is talented.” Indeed, they are. It may, however, be more accurate to say they are “skilled” because they took their basic skills and developed them over time into a mastery of their craft. When I say “talented,” I certainly mean that they have worked hard to get where they are.
If you read all of this and you are still determined to make it in the industry, I wish you the best of luck. It is hard, but you will get to work with some of the best people around. You’ll add to people’s lives in a positive way as they play the games you help create.