College students make a common mistake: waiting until after college to start a career. Can you blame them? After all, they are in college to get a degree so they can get the career in the first place. Truth is, apart from going to class, there’s steps you can take to ensure you’re ahead. These 5 steps are simple, enjoyable, and efficient. Most importantly, every aspiring developer can, and even should, do them!
Join Game Jams
In case you haven’t heard about them, game jams are like band practice, only for games rather than terrible rock music. Your mom’s garage is purely optional. Although, we will say this: because they are generally made up of younger, aspiring devs, they may resemble a Magic the Gathering tournament. All jokes aside, these game jams can take place on-site or remotely, making them accessible to everyone.
If you’re still unsure, think of it this way: indie developers tend to join game jams to add to their portfolio and land more work. If you’re looking for a way to make connections, and learn from people directly, then game jams are a given. Do them as extracurriculars when you aren’t in class, cramming for an exam, or going to nice, unruly parties. Even if you create a small game, or don’t make much money doing it, it’s still something to put in a portfolio.
Build a Portfolio
Speaking of which, building a portfolio while in college is crucial. This is a mistake that too many people make: graduating with a degree and a fairly developed skill-set for the job they want, but not much else. To even be considered, people want to see what you can do.
By even using a free website creation service, you can carve a piece of the internet out for yourself. Add your name, your contact information, and your resume. From there, make it look ascetically pleasing, because this is an artistic field: people will make a note of your taste and style.
It doesn’t have to be perfect, or amazing, because that comes with time and experience. Remember, you’ll be building on this for the rest of your life, so don’t worry if all you have is one animation, two random poems, and a sketch.
Do the Obvious: Play, Read, Eat, and Sleep Games
This tip should be easy if you love games (obviously, you do). Don’t be a poser: if you want to go into game development, you need to play games. Knowing how games work, what to generally expect, and getting a feel for different styles of combat and inventory systems, are all things you should know before you try landing a job. The more you know, the better. By the way, this is the best excuse to use when someone comments on your gaming hours.
However, don’t get too comfortable just gaming, make sure you read gaming news, and research what goes into development. Any interviews with developers on YouTube, or in gaming magazines, like GameInformer, are all useful. Staying up to date on what games are coming out, and playing them, are all things you should be doing, and loving.
Attend Conferences, if Possible
This step may be a little daunting, depending on where you are in your education, and portfolio building. The idea of rubbing elbows with developers might seem pretty unlikely, but it really isn’t. If you don’t know how to get a hold of developers, you’re not looking hard enough. Apart from things like IGDA, there’s GDC and other conferences to attend. Granted they’re expensive, but only once a year.
The best plan of action, for anyone really, is to save up and volunteer for GDC. Volunteering is a great way to help out, meet people, and reduce your entrance fee costs. That, on top of a little penny pinching, can get you there. GDC works this way, MAGfest works like this, etc. Do your research!
Do the grunt work, do QA testing. Write about games online. Join small indie teams composed of students (might be hard to find). It all might seem really annoying or small-time, but some of the most solid developers began their careers through QA testing. It’s a first-hand way of learning how a studio runs, how tools work, how games get assembled and then broken up and improved time and time again.
And no, no one likes the grunt work. But would you rather learn and be small time news for a bit while acquiring knowledge you can use to kick start your career, or would you rather just play a game, and wonder about it all?
Being a college student is difficult, with assignments and schedules, but a career in the gaming industry is harder. To be a developer, you have to invest a lot of time into developing yourself, your skill level, and team-working skills. Starting early is a fine idea. Don’t lose heart! Dedication and persistence is a must. Toughen up and be rewarded, much like character leveling.