I started my journey into games when I did a masters degree in Computer Graphics at the University of Teesside in 1997. The course was one of only two computer graphics masters degrees available at the time. The other being at Bournemouth University. Following that, I found work at multimedia company, Cyber Frontiers in Dunfermline. I got my first games job in 2002 at the Liverpool studios of Magenta Software. I currently work at Rockstar Games, after having worked for Extreme FX and Traveller’s Tales (Warner Brothers). I often get the chance to visit colleges running games courses. The question that often comes up is how to get into the games industry. With the experiences I’ve had in a constantly changing and growing industry, which has firmly established itself in the UK, I have a few observations that new hopefuls for the industry might appreciate.
Work out what area you want to work in and concentrate on it. Being a jack of all trades is no good to a company.
Area of Specialisation
Find your niche: Choosing to specialise as a character artist is a tricky one, as that is the role that is the most over-subscribed. Choose to specialise on something more niche, like FX Art or technical art; the smart choices. Ultimately, level art is probably the best all-round choice as the industry employs more level artists than any other kind.
Your portfolio is everything. Pack it out with high quality examples. Don’t let things get into your portfolio unless they look professional. A rich and detailed portfolio will find you work more than any amount of big talking on your cv could achieve.
Keep your website simple, clean and professional. If you can communicate your talents with clear images, a vast amount of words aren’t that important. It will be clear to any hiring company what you can do from a visual sample of your work. One word of warning: never attribute someone else’s work as your own. This will get you blacklisted! And if you work on a group project, that’s a good thing, but be clear about communicating exactly what you brought to the table in your collaboration.
Deciding which companies to work for is a big decision. Make sure your portfolio matches your choice. Having a portfolio full of zombie character models will not help you get a job as a level artist for a company making MarioKart or LEGO type games. I modelled two motorcycles to target my application to Black Rock Studios (MotoGP developers).
Incidentally, I didn’t get the job at Black Rock, but the portfolio I put in place did get me a job working at Embryonic Studios on the Wipeout Pulse team, so job done…
Foot In The Door
One common notion circulating currently is the idea that the way to get into a games company is to get a position as a games tester. In my experience, that step will get you into the company, but if your ambition is to be a developer, the chances are you’ll find it extremely hard to change track. And the long hours that QA work involves will not give you the free time necessary for putting polish onto your games portfolio.
Just for the record, I have a lot of respect for games testers. They are an essential part of the development team. A good QA engineer can develop to become a high-level games producer, but you should only pursue a career as a games tester if it is your dedicated ambition.
Because of the highly desirable status of being able to work in the games industry, many games companies take advantage of this. With large torrents of potential employees knocking at the door, the wages get driven down and the crunch hours get piled on high. Working in the games industry is tough, but rewarding. If you want to make your fortune, it may be wise to look at more traditional areas of software development. But if your passion for games and determination to succeed in the games industry has you still reading these words, then good luck!