UK developers talk about their experiences and share advice for taking your first steps into the industry after graduation.
After a long couple of years learning about your preferred field, you’re finally ready to get out into the world and start working in games. But what’s the best place to start? From joining forces with your peers and starting your own independent studio, to applying to internships at established companies, there are many possibilities open to you.
Some students are more comfortable waiting until they have their degree to begin searching for a job, whilst others get involved in solo projects, either game jams or just building prototypes in Unity. Regardless of what your path has been so far, each experience is unique. These stories from established developers and former students will serve as guidance and inspiration about what yours could be.
Your background doesn’t have to be in games
If you have always known you wanted to be a game developer or pursued a related career, that will certainly give you a solid foundation, and possibly some skills, to introduce yourself to the market – but it’s not a requirement. Many games professionals got their start studying different industries and specialties altogether, and shifted towards games either late in their university studies or after years of working other jobs.
Emily Sheraton, associate producer at Star Citizen developer Cloud Imperium Games, first did a MSc Biology at university: “I'd been a gamer since I was very young, and whilst I was studying, my partner at the time was studying Games Design so I took an interest in that, and learned about development from that angle”.
She adds that after graduating, she worked ten months as an editor for an educational book company before handing her resignation. “I just woke up one day and had the realisation that I wanted to be a game developer, so I set my mind to it.”
For Charlene Lebrun, founder of Player Two PR and previous international PR manager at Sega Europe, her start took place in marketing in the music industry: “I got a Bachelor's Degree in Music and Entertainment Industry Management and worked in the music business for years. I had many jobs in the music industry during that time, but also in book publishing and broadcast, which was perfect for me as it gave me the chance to pick up a few key skills in different environments.”
Experience comes in many forms
Experience is a word you will hear often, but how does one exactly come to gain it? There’s no easy answer, but that’s what makes it so interesting and rich to pursue. The best part is that it can come from many different activities, from running a Discord server to hosting your own YouTube channel.
Before starting in Digital Marketing at Jagex in 2019, Matt Edwards studied Economics at the University of East Anglia. He jumped between marketing for different industries – including insurance companies, elderly care, and mortgage brokers – to get grounding in those first. The biggest takeaway from all of this time is that no path is linear.
“I've always been a huge fan of games, so leaving uni I searched for any roles that might use the skills I picked up in my degree, hoping for an analytical yet creative role,” he says. “Set yourself a goal and work towards it, but understand that if you need to go elsewhere and learn things from a different perspective, that unique angle and way of thinking will bring so much to your career.”
Lucy Ann Jones, campaign manager at indie marketing specialist Game If You Are, adds: “As someone with a varied journey into the games industry, the best piece of advice I can give is to be adaptable and actively seek to learn new things.
“I originally began in the industry as an intern for a gaming news YouTube channel. From there, I quickly started curating my Twitter feed with the kind of people I wanted to get to know. Through this, I picked up a handful of games writing jobs. During this time, I was also working in customer service in bars and restaurants – there's no shame in doing othr things on the side, because if you carry that idea of always learning and improving yourself, it's not wasted time.”
Find ways to stand out in your field
One of the standouts of this industry is that it’s ever changing, which can make the prospect of finding the best opportunities to take that first step daunting. It’s important to acknowledge your skills and make the most of them to stand out from the crowd.
Víctor Ojuel, writer and narrative designer over at Temtem developer Crema, recommends focusing on making an eye-catching portfolio, preferably with finished projects regardless of scope, to best showcase your skills.
“For a narrative designer, this means writing your own games,” he says. “They don’t need fancy art or complex mechanics; what you’re trying to show here is that you understand interactive narrative and that you are able to finish projects. Interactive fiction is a good starting portfolio. There’s plenty of free tools/editors out there; some of my favourites are Twine – very simple and visual, excellent for ‘Choose Your Own Adventure-style games – Ren’Py for visual novels, and Inform 7, which is best suited for parser games.”
After studying Game Art at Falmouth University for three years and graduating in May 2020, S. Rodyakin began working at Firesprite Games as a graduate UI artist. Their specialisation arrived as a surprise of sorts during the course of their studies – initially they wanted to focus on concept art – but it’s important to try your hand at different skillsets during the start of your journey.
“Tech, VFX, and UI artists are all in high demand and you might find you like them more than you’d expect,” Rodyakin says. “That said, don’t force yourself into doing something you don’t love. Otherwise, why even be in the games industry?
“Treat job listings like a checklist for what your portfolio should contain – in my case, I realised I didn’t have any wireframes or icons in my portfolio and started a project targeting them. Finally, don’t be afraid to step back. Taking the time to work another job and develop your skills further can do your mindset wonders.”
Be proactive and remain curious
People apply to jobs every day, and there’s certainly more of the former out there. Graduating from a course sets you on similar ground as everyone who joined you on your studies, which is why it’s important to know what inspires you about the game industry and the specialty you would like to follow in the near future.
For Dan Da Rocha, founder of Ten Hut Games, his first-person puzzle title Qube started as a project in university to build his portfolio. Attending events helped him to meet key people that helped him to build confidence and start his own studio, taking that earlier concept to become the team’s first commercial success. Despite the current situation, there are many ways to network still, and it's essential to get noticed as much as possible during your first years.
"You can cut through to the top of the pile and end up meeting the CEO of a games company and share your portfolio with them,” says Da Rocha. “This is better than being CV No.857 sent via email. Of course, that’s not possible right now during lockdown so heading over to Twitter and other social media platforms, sharing your work and joining in conversations with other devs is a great way to get to know people and put yourself out there."
Max Boyle, junior games designer at Mediatonic, began working on Fall Guys during his last year in Falmouth University, graduating in July 2020. When he first introduced himself to the team, they weren’t actively looking for new designers. But they were impressed by his dedication: creating a level from scratch based on the game’s trailers and documenting the step-by-step process on his portfolio, which he then sent to Mediatonic.
“Never be afraid to reach out to folks,” Boyle said. “Having someone in the industry mentor your work is invaluable, and getting critique is important. As well as that, even if a company you want to work for isn't hiring, never be afraid to throw an application over anyway as you never know what can come back.”
As Game If You Are’s Jones concludes, setting yourself the “perfect” end goal can be a good way to drive you somewhere, but may constrain you into an idea of a non-existent job. It’s important to remain curious, look at what inspires your work and think what you want to do with it.
“This allows you to be more flexible with the opportunities you can take – you never know what kind of job could be behind a title you may disregard as 'not for you',” she says. “The exciting part of this industry is that there is a place for everyone – you just might not know what it looks like yet.”