Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to have a billion connections or need to speak to a recruiter of any kind in order to actually break into the game industry. Most of the time, it’s simply a display of your worth through self-motivated work. Of course, a recruiter can help speed up the process, but here are some ways to skip that step and jump straight into making your games.
The first tip is to make games, or show that you know how to make a game. While that might sound like we’re skipping everything in between, it truly is one of the most important things you can do to be hired in the games industry. Even if you complete all of your coursework with perfect grades or manage to graduate with the degrees you need, it won’t matter if you have nothing to show for it in between that proves your worth. Make sure that you’re building up a portfolio that will actually mean something to the people hiring you; degrees might look good, but if you don’t actually appear to be worthy of the degree your employers will simply dismiss them. On a similar note, don’t try to provide an excuse for yourself as to why you can’t make a valid portfolio; most people making excuses will then go to watch television or play games of their own, meaning that they obviously could’ve fit it into their schedule and are simply too lazy to do so.
Secondly, reach out to the people around you. This is a surprisingly rare tactic, despite the fact that it should be something that comes naturally. At your school, or the forums you browse, or anything of the sort, there’s always going to be people at least interested in what you’re doing if they’re not experienced in what you’re looking to do. Just find a few people that click with you and start working on a small project together. After all, the best way to show people that you can make games is to make games.
Honestly, even if you’re not the kind of person to connect with others around you, you should still be looking to make things whenever you can. The more experience you gain, the better, and you’ll show your drive to do what you want to do, which looks good to employers. The most important thing is to at least try. Make some demos, list some concepts, make your animations function; do whatever you can to make something that proves your competence. The progress you make will only foster your desire to make even more progress. The kicker, however, is that you should never give up on these small little projects. Too many people throw away good things because of a tiny roadblock that takes more than a few minutes to fix, or because they’ve found something else they are apparently interested in. There’s a lot of value in finishing things and getting used to how difficult the final stretch of any development cycle is. If you don’t actually finish anything, you won’t learn how worthwhile your extra effort actually is, or be able to plan for it in the future.
There’s no way that you’ll learn to make games without actually trying to make them, and you’ll appear the same to your employers: as someone who can’t make games. The effort and dedication that even simply trying shows is far superior to any kind of merit or academic record, although those aren’t necessarily insignificant. After all, there’s always going to be a few places that’ll judge you immediately based off of that Stanford degree.
The hardest part of your development will always be motivating yourself to finish, so finishing a small project is much more significant than having itty-bitty bits of progress on a massive project, tech demos, or portfolio works. This isn’t to say that these are bad things, but any portfolio without a finished game to show will be at a severe disadvantage. Personally though, I think having at least one finished, polished project, regardless of its platform or format, will trump any other advantage. Even if it’s just a little Tetris clone, it’s a game that you have built from the ground up that is functional and proves your worth.
The final tip is to mentally prepare yourself for actually getting into a development position. The process isn’t just a matter of having a good resume. Oftentimes, the interviews will last for multiple days and ask several exhausting questions. Are you a programmer? What have you shipped? What was your final project as a college student? Have you worked in a collaborative programming environment before? Do you know how to write clean, concise, documented code? If you’re an artist, how does your portfolio look? Do you have a sufficient understanding of the tools you’re using? Can you take direction well? Are you capable of giving constructive feedback? What type of designer are you?
Unfortunately, these are only the easy questions. Even after that, you still often have to manage to demonstrate problem-solving abilities in front of potential coworkers. If not that, a designer might have to talk about their work in the same kind of environment. Even if that’s not the case, a modern interview procedure is to check for grouping compatibility with your potential teammates. Even if you’re not a people-person, if you can’t communicate with your peers effectively, you may lose your chance at the job you would be perfect for.
Important Takeaways: It isn’t necessary to find a recruiter in order to break into the games industry. For the most part, although recruiters speed up the process, you just need to build up experience through making and finishing projects and put those projects into your portfolio to prove your competence. Whether you tackle these challenges solo or with a friend, you have to make sure you’re not making a bunch of little tech demos or anything of the sort. Get something that’s finished and polished out there, as that’s the trump card for determining your viability as a developer. Even after you look good on paper, you have to manage the interviews as well. These will often last for multiple days and test various aspects that are important in the position, such as showing your capability to work with peers or proving that you can clean up your code. While recruiters certainly shorten the process, you can just as easily break into the industry through hard work alone.