So, you want to be a game developer! Working on games is definitely exciting and fun, as you create experiences that hopefully thousands or millions of people will try. Also the industry is expanding and new studios are popping out everywhere, so it's really a good moment to join! I'd like to give some advices on how to increase your chances in your research.
I've landed my first job in the industry when I was 22, working as a game developer for EA Maxis in their Playfish office in London. At the time I had previous experience working as a freelancer for smaller game companies, and on personal projects.
I've been on both sides of the fence, initially applying for jobs when I first moved to London, and then interviewing candidates while working as a game developer.
So, let's start!
Show prototypes and personal projects
The greatest thing about game development today is that there are virtually no entry barriers, anyone can download a game engine and start creating stuff. So you really have no excuses to not have something playable, even in the form of a rough prototype or a tech demo.
Hiring someone is an expensive and long process, and the last thing a studio wants is to hire the wrong candidate and go through the entire process again. For this reason, being able to show previous games and demos is really vital.
While having a degree and certifications may help, I cannot recall a single time when me or someone else got impressed just by a candidate's education background.
They don't have to be polished experiences, and placeholder graphics are good enough if you're just interested in showing a technical aspect of the process or experience in a certain engine.
At the same time, the chances of getting a reply increase dramatically if you include something they can actually play. Always keep in mind that those studios, especially the big ones, receive hundreds of application a week for a position, so anything that can make you stand out is great.
Have a personal website, LinkedIn, and in general be visible
Looking for a job is not a one-way channel, companies are always looking around for skilled people and "passive candidates" in my experience have a higher chance of getting the job. For this reason, you really want to make sure you can be easily found and always have your profiles up-to-date.
Most of the job seeking process nowadays is done through LinkedIn and online tools such as JobVite. Companies, especially big ones, have internal recruiters going through LinkedIn and other channels, looking for candidates.
Having a personal website also helps, as you can showcase your projects and prototypes, articles you've written and in general have more control on your online profile.
Focus on a particular role
Making a game requires a lot of people covering different roles. There are many areas you can cover as a game developer - rendering, engine, physics, cinematic, gameplay, tools, just to say a few.
While it's great to have a wide understanding of the process and be able to work on different areas, and eventually you'll acquire that, for your first job it's a good idea to choose a subset and get really good at it.
Make sure to choose what you're most passionate about, and keep in mind that you don't have to cover all those areas eventually.
Investigate what technologies are most popular
It's a good idea to go through job posting for the particular role you want, and see what the requirements are. After a while you'll start seeing a pattern in what technologies and skills they look for.
The gaming industry moves really fast, and as platforms and users changes you'll have to adapt and use different engines or languages.
Five years ago being an expert in Flash could get you a job, while today it's not really useful. On the other hand, being able to use Unity3D will open you a lot of opportunities in the mobile area, so make sure to pick the right tool.
Show something relevant to the industry you want to join
There are different subsets of the industry nowadays, from AAA console and PC companies, to free to play mobile developers, to smaller indie companies, and so on, and each of those are looking for a specific set of skills and knowledge.
Being a rendering engineer is going to be much more helpful when looking for a AAA job, while for a mobile F2P company they may want someone with a lot of gameplay and online experience, being able to cover the entire process as they usually have much smaller teams and develop games much quicker.
Be in the right place
Some places are better than others when looking for a job. Being in London, Berlin or Stockholm, just to name a few in Europe, is definitely going to give you a big advantage over other places, as they have a longer traditions of making games, and a long list of established studios.
Also, these places will have a strong gaming community and more opportunities to connect with other developers and companies
For this reason, being flexible is definitely going to make your research much easier.
Thanks for reading, I hope this list will help you in getting into the industry!