Excerpts are from Breaking Into the Game Industry, Advice for a Successful Career from Those Who Have Done It by Brenda Brathwaite and Ian Schreiber, published by Course Technology PTR. The book can be purchased at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and other retailers. Find more books on Game Development at Courseptr.com.
What Do Game Designers Need to Show in Their Portfolios?
Brenda: Games, games, and more games. Showing completed games in your portfolio is a must whether you're just graduating from a college program, coming in as a self-taught designer, or are a transitioning game industry vet. A game designer who has no games in her portfolio may as well say, "You'll just have to take my word for it," and that never bodes well for future interview possibilities. On many occasions, I have heard budding designers say, "Well, with all my college courses, I just didn't have time to work on games." To a professional, this suggests a genuine lack of passion and insight as well as a naive view of the industry. If you felt so overwhelmed by your college courses, how will you do under the pressure of intense deadlines and game industry scrutiny? You think it gets easier?
When I am hiring entry-level or intern game designers, inevitably, there will be a pile of résumés. Some will contain giant design docs. Others will contain actual running games. I will go for the actual game every single time. It shows you went further, and had that discipline and devotion to see it through. There are a thousand ways for a design to go right and wrong, and the finished game shows me the designer has considered those paths, for better or worse. Completed games or levels will win over a design doc every single time. Who wants to read 200 pages when you can play a simple game?
Although it might seem challenging, select a group of individuals (or go solo) and participate in indie games and game jams. The indie scene is strong and conferences like IndieCade and the Independent Games Festival at GDC offer budding designers a chance at substantial recognition and awards. Even being selected to show at these festivals is prestigious. Game jams, in contrast, are open to everyone and offer a chance to make a game in just a weekend (with spectacular results, both good and bad). Participation shows drive, genuine passion, and might just get you a finished game at the end.
The ability to code in some language is also highly desired. Language preference varies company to company, genre to genre, and platform to platform. For many, the perfect package is a coder who can design games. Many of the industry's greats, from Will Wright to John Romero to Sid Meier, are exactly these types of designers.
Another clue into a person's passion is a "body of work" and play that suggests passion for video games and game design. People who maintain blogs with posts that talk about or dissect video games are useful, provided their analysis is accurate and reasonable. Also, slamming a game publicly isn't looked upon well by people in the industry, in general. Likewise, many developers also do a thorough review of a new prospect's playing habits, as much as they are able to. Facebook and Twitter show plenty of clues to let prospective employers know what a person is and is not into. When an employee applies for a job making social games, for instance, I check out their Facebook page to see what they're playing. If there's no evidence to be seen, it suggests one of two things: They aren't really interested in social games, or they delete all their posts. Neither says good things about a prospective hire.