into the game industry can take a lot of work, and there's nothing
quite like your first job in games. So, for a touch of nostagia, and a
look at the whole process of breaking into the industry, the latest
Question of the Week asked of our audience of game professionals: "How
did you get your start in the video game industry?"
was a lot of different paths our respondents took in getting into the
industry. Some started in QA, some made the rare transition from a
related industry, while others just fell into their career. But all of
those surveyed exhibited a great deal of passion and love for the
industry, as well as a fair bit of perserverance and determination.
While I was an MIT undergrad, a couple of my closest friends were co-founders of Infocom in 1979. Zork,
which they had hacked together in 1977 on mainframes at the MIT Lab for
Computer Science, was going to be launched on the TRS-80 and Apple II,
and they needed someone to playtest it. Because I had avoided playing Zork
up to that point (I feared getting sucked into a time sink), I was the
only friend they had who was able to play as a "newbie." So, starting
in December 1979, I was paid to play Zork. I quickly fell in
love with it, and would happily have continued playing for nothing
(though I was careful not to tell anyone that!). I ended up at Infocom
throughout the 1980s, co-founded Boffo Games with Steve Meretzky in the
early '90s, and I've been at Harmonix since 1997.
-Michael Dornbrook, Harmonix Music Systems
friend of a friend was setting up a new games studio, and was looking
for people who could program in 68000 assembler. So I read a 68000
assembler book on the way to the interview, and got the job. Before
that I'd only worked in a business environment, using things like SQL
queries, PowerHouse, Lotus 1-2-3 macros, and done a bit of 6502
assembler at home, so it was a massive change for me, but I'm glad I
stuck with it, even after 12 years.
At age 13, I wrote board games for a few major companies and played
with the school's new computer system in BASIC. Soon I was writing
simulations and games and the principal asked me to teach a computer
course while in high school. In 1982, I bought my first computer, an
Apple 2 with 48K and 4 colors in 6502 assembler and Pascal. From there
I wrote several games and in 1983 I was writing games for book
publishers in C ("Buy 30 books and get a free Apple game related to the
book's topic"). In 1984, I freelanced for Gametek and for 3 years my
team developed 2 games a month for 3 systems; the IBM PC, the Apple and
the Commodore 64/128. Now, I teach students at night at NYU and
Bloomfield College (NJ), as well as on the Internet and tell them that
proving yourself is the key to getting into the gaming industry.
-Roger E Pedersen, PSI Software
I made my own game and tried to sell it but it ended up getting me a job instead.
-Paul Im, The Collective
started programming because I wanted to make my own computer games. In
college, I majored in Computer Science and started looking for game
companies. In the spring semester of 2000, one of my mother's
co-workers mentioned that a company called Stardock was looking for
summer interns; she was a friend of one of Stardock's lawyers, and she
knew that I wanted to program computer games. Unbelievably, Stardock
was (at the time) only a little more than a mile from my parents'
house. I got the internship, and when I graduated in December, I was
hired full time. I've been here at Stardock ever since.
-Cari Begle, Stardock
I started out as a tester for LucasArts. My brother, who worked there
as a programmer, helped get me an interview. I interviewed and tested
well but it was two months from the time of the first email I received
from them until I was offered a job. I received the call two days
before Christmas and I'll never forget it. Almost 7 years later and 14
credited games under my belt, I can't help but thank LucaArts for the
opportunities they gave me. I've really benefited from working there.
-Bryan Erck, Shiny
I applied to Looking Glass Studios for a texture artist position. In
order to show of my texture work, I made a small level in the Unreal
Engine featuring all my textures. The people at Looking Glass liked my
level so much they offered me a job as level designer on System Shock 2. I've been a game designer ever since!
-Scott Blinn, High Moon Studios
Well I obviously took the best way... I started my own company! My
company is a fully legal entity (LLC in California) and comes with all
the potential headaches as opposed to a group of people just getting
together and saying "we are a company". However I would not suggest
that as the preferred way to get in. My suggestion is to network
as much as possible. In addition, to that you can either try to get a
QA job and work your way up, or you can try the mod route where a group
of friends makes a great mod and gets a lot of hype for it, which in
turn really does generate opportunities.
-Mark Warner, Nexus Entertainment
On Christmas morning, 1978, I received an Atari 2600. After years and
countless hours playing the games for the 2600, and obsessively
recording my marathon Asteroids, Pac-Man, and Missile Command sessions
(on cassette tape, then replaying it fast forward for maximum aural
overload), I vowed in a speech delivered in 4th grade that I would
someday work at Atari Games as a game developer (one of those “what
will you be doing in 10 years” assignments). In 1993, I kept that vow,
landing at Atari Games Corp. working on the Primal Rage
arcade project. Today I'm still as bright-eyed as I was on my first day
on the job, and am as excited to be developing video games for a living
as I was opening that fateful present on Christmas morning, 1978.
-Stephen Riesenberger, Electronic Arts - Redwood Shores
I got my start as a game tester at Virgin Interactive Entertainment.
-Tim Ramage, Vivendi Universal Games
I started as a temporary tester for Sony's third-party QA division. I
was hired during a lull, so my first two weeks consisted of sitting
around playing various PS2 games. I thought I had found the perfect
job! Of course, once the honeymoon was over I learned the realities of
game QA and being at the bottom of the totem pole, but it was a great
-Johnnemann Nordhagen, SCEA
Today I am a game designer/producer, but my career in the video game
industry started very differently: one English summer day in 1991, at
the tender age of 17, I was wandering the streets of London on my lunch
break from Kingsway Graphic Design College ( Farringdon Lane , EC1). At
the time, the Commodore Amiga was all the rage in the UK . My favorite
Amiga games magazine was The One,
and as always, I had the latest issue on me, in my inside coat pocket.
Suddenly, I was hit with a vision of something quite magnificently
shocking: the offices of EMAP Images; the creators of The One.
I was in awe. To think that the flurry of the excitement and bustle
that surrounded the latest and greatest games was happening at that
very moment, behind the tall golden doors that stood before me. At that
moment I had two choices:
Continue about my day with the warm thought that EMAP Images, one of
the video game industry's magazine publishing heavy hitters is but
yards from my college. Pretty sweet!
2. Go in and ask for a job. Hmm, that is a bit scary!
be honest, it didn't take but a split second to decide. I don't think
option 1 was really ever a valid option. I took my copy of The One out
from my pocket and looked up the editor's name. Until that moment, I
wasn't really concerned with who made the magazine; I was more
interested in the games they reported on. The magazine had Ciaran
Brennan listed as the editor. I put my magazine away, and went into the
building. I was greeted by a friendly receptionist. I asked to speak to
Ciaran Brennan, regarding a job. She called him on the phone, and to my
surprise, she then said that he'd be right down. What? I didn't expect
that! A few moments later a very tall Irish man came bounding down the
stairs (striding at least two steps at a time). He asked what I wanted,
and I asked if there were any vacancies for staff writer. He said I
should write some reviews of my favorite games and send them in. I did
just that, and to my amazement received an offer letter for a job a
week later. The pay was low, but the opportunity was priceless. It pays
to take risks, even if the pay is low. :)
-Jools Watsham, KingsIsle Entertainment, Inc.
After earning a CS degree in college, I wanted a game job, bad. I wrote
to every developer I'd ever heard of, and many I hadn't. The job I
ended up with (and the only offer I received) I found through
Monster.com. The company? EA.
During my time in school, I made sure to establish good and
professional relationships with my game industry instructors. I felt it
was important to be sincere in this manner so I when I asked letters of
recommendation, I would get equally sincere letters. For 9 months after
graduating from an art school I visited Gamasutra jobs every day, read
through requirements, updated my resume, networked at IGDA meetings,
and applied to every job I reasonably qualified for. In the end I got
lucky and was hired pretty much out of the blue. I'm still not sure how
I got my job.
-Nat Loh, Toys For Bob
Back in 1997, a friend of mine at university got involved in Sony's Net
Yaroze program and developed a simple 2D game for a magazine
competition. I was blown away by the fact that someone I knew had
actually written a videogame and bought myself a Yaroze to follow in
his footsteps. Six months later I had my head around the basics of
programming and had written a simple 2D game for the PlayStation. I
entered a similar amateur competition the following year. I didn't win
(or come close) but I was invited to the awards ceremony where I got to
meet several of my gaming heroes. A trip to the ECTS trade show later
that year cemented my gaming industry ambitions and I set about
job-hunting in earnest during my final year at university. One of my
many on-spec applications to a respected UK developer finally resulted
in a job interview for a QA position. I guess my enthusiasm and
practical experience impressed them - they sent me an offer letter the
next day! Six years on I have travelled the well-trodden route of
tester -> designer -> producer, and I'm currently working on
titles for Sony PSP and Nintendo DS. I knew programming was never going
to be my speciality, but the basic knowledge that the Net Yaroze gave
me about the practicalities of game development has been invaluable in
my career. I would advise anyone looking to get into a
designer/producer role in the video game industry to gain some
practical skills and put together a simple game. It will put you head
and shoulders above the hordes of people applying for an entry-level QA
or Design position!
I was on the retail side of the game industry for a while as a software
buyer for a retail chain but my big break into the biz was where most
people probably got their start; Quality Assurance. I participated in a
few public beta tests with Homeworld and Everquest being the bigger ones. A few months after the Homeworld
beta, one local publisher was looking to hire a few testers on a
temporary basis with the possibility of being brought on full time. I
found that my previous experience on these public beta tests really
helped me land this job along with the obvious "passion" for games.
I've since moved on but I'll never take that opportunity for granted
(or testing for that matter). This was almost six years ago, time
really flies when you work in the videogame industry.
-Carlo Delallana, Ubisoft
I was working at a video game arcade back in 1997 when my friend
convinced me to apply with him at Nintendo as a “Game Play Counselor.”
We both got the job. After several years of doing that, I got into
their game testing pool of testers and that was my first taste of
actual game development, first hand, with one of the biggest video game
makers in the world. It's been a blast (with its shares of ups and
downs) ever since.
-Bob Givnin, Humongous Entertainment
My first start in the video game industry came from... ironically
enough... a posting on Gamasutra.com I found as a student at the
College of New Jersey . It was a writing and design consultancy for
which I grossly underbid in order to make up for my relative
inexperience. I got the gig and officially had the coolest part-time
job of anyone on campus. My first full-time game development position
though was with my current company, Large Animal Games. Initially, I
was brought on as a writing/level design/testing/web design/garbage
removal intern. Right around the release of RocketBowl,
which received a good deal of critical and commercial acclaim, I was
promoted to a writing/level design/testing/web design/garbage removal
contractor. Eventually, through hard work, dedication, and a
near-encyclopedic knowledge of AD&D 2nd Edition rules, I was given
a full-time job and business cards. Accordingly, they changed my title
to the more succinct "Associate Producer", although I do still take out
the trash from time to time.
-Coray Seifert, Large Animal Games
At Cal Arts at the end of the year, we have a student animation show
called the Producers Show, where producers from all over the TV, movie
and game industries are invited to look at student's work. Colette
Michaud of Lucas Arts saw my 2D animation made with DPaint Animator and
invited me up to take an animation test at Lucas Arts. What was weird
was the test had nothing to do with animation - it was a rotoscoping
test. I was a bit surprised, but apparently there was going to be some
rotoscope animation in the game. I was given two days and finished the
rotoscope test with half a day left. So for the rest of the day, I did
a rough animation of a fat dragon trying to take flight. It was this
last animation that got me the job because the other animators couldn't
judge my ability to animate with a rotoscope test! So I got the job a
few weeks later as an animator on Brian Moriarty's The Dig .
-William Tiller, Autumn Moon Entertainment
It all started when I got an Atari as a kid and I have been playing
games ever since. To make a long story short, I got a degree in
Economics, then worked at a bank for 5 years. Though I was making
decent money, I had many visions of a painful and unhappy future, so
one day I up and quit. Then applied to every game company in Southern
California and got a job testing games for 8$/hour at Midway, 80 miles
from my house. I remember the first day, I came in and sat down and
looked around at all these crazy dudes playing games with toys all over
their desks, talking smack and having fun. I was overcome with joy and
remember thinking, "These are my people."
-Tony Dormanesh, Midway
I started my career in data processing as a computer operator in 1980
at the age of 18. I ended up working full time and still completed my
college degree, obtaining a Bachelor's degree in Computer Science.
After working in corporate IS departments for about 12 years, I left to
start my own consulting business. Now I am an independent contractor
and have just started applying my skills to the game industry.
-Robert Madsen, Sage Software
My start was pretty effortless, spurred by networking plus totally
random chance elements. Eight years ago, I met a friend of a friend at
a party. He knew another guy at a company that was looking for a game
designer with experience in story development. I had experience in the
second, but only marginally in the first. Nevertheless, I talked with
the guy and we got along pretty well. A few days later, I took a
position as lecturer at a private school specializing in game design
for storytelling and producing. Four months later, the guy called me
out of the blue and asked if I was still interested in the position. I
said yes and got hired as lead designer for one project and that
I was attending English classes at UCI and working in a bookstore for
near minimum wage back in 1998. I lived with 3 other guys in a 2
bedroom apartment off campus. I didn't know what to do with my life. I
knew I wanted to have some sort of career in writing but between paying
for college, studying and spending all my spare time working in the
bookstore I barely had enough money to pay for anything let alone spend
a good amount of time writing.
On a particularly hopeless day I sort of gave up and watched one of my roommates play a game called Starcraft.
I was instantly mesmerized by the huge Terran armada of battleships he
had produced. Slowly they came to bear on the Protoss army base, only
to reveal an even more massive fleet of Protoss Carriers.
"Damn, I'm screwed," said my roommate.
"No way man, use that particle beam thing you were using earlier. You'll own him."
My roommate looked at me with disgust. "I can't micromanage that, if you're so good, you do it." He left the room.
grabbed the keyboard and mouse and started furiously clicking on
things, but I had never really played before. I picked things up
quickly but not fast enough to stop the Protoss armada from wrecking my
roommate's battlecruisers. I was dismayed, but also addicted. I walked
out of the room.
"Hey, who made this game?" My roommate handed me a box. Blizzard Entertainment... I wondered if they were hiring... Knowing
nothing about the company I dialed 411 and asked for the number for
Blizzard Entertainment. I wrote down the number I was given and dialed
The receptionist answered, "Blizzard Entertainment."
"Umm, hi, do you need anyone who knows Macintosh computers?"
"Let me connect you with Chris Sigaty, the head of our quality assurance department."
was transferred over to a kind and enthusiastic sounding man who let me
know that they were indeed looking for people who knew Macintosh
computers. They were trying to get Diablo and Starcraft ready for the Mac so they needed people fast. He asked me to come in for an interview.
"What should I wear? A suit and tie perhaps or..."
Chris merely laughed, "No, it's pretty casual around here. Just wear something comfortable."
sounded like my kind of place. The interview went well and no less than
a week later I received a call, at work unfortunately which disturbed
my current boss quite a bit. Chris wanted me to start as soon as
possible and I was more than happy to oblige.
"We can only afford to pay 8 dollars an hour though."
"Oh..." I tried to hold back my excitement at the near 2 dollar raise.
"So if you don't want to take a pay cut, you can stay at your current job, we'll understand."
"No no no, it's fine, it's always been my dream to work in the game industry."
"Okay, great, we'll see you on Monday."
hadn't been my dream to work in the game industry, but it was now, and
I was going to live it. I spent 2 years in Quality Assurance and
eventually earned a job as a level designer. I've been in design ever
-Dave Fried, The Collective
I first got my start in the game industry as a contract tester at NOA, working on Pokemon Crystal for the GBC and Banjoe Tooie and Pokemon Stadium 2
for the N64. After getting a taste of working in the industry and
having a job I actually liked, I was hooked. I am very happy with the
game industry and hope I am lucky enough to stay in it the rest of my
-Douglas Boze, Kemco
I studied a game
developer 2-year course and got together with 4 fellow students to
start our own company. Next month, we will have our first year
anniversary, it is tough as we are still financing it ourselves, doing
some third party jobs for exhibitions and event producers, while we
develop our 3D engine and game - OxEngine and “Humanwar,”
-Francisco Wyler, Clienting Group
I started programming for the Apple ][+ about 10 years old. I wrote
tons of games for the Apple & C64 (and typed a lot in from the back
of Compute's Gazette!).
Half way to an Electrical Engineering degree, I decided that I had
little interest in circuits, and what I REALLY wanted to do was program
- specifically games. So I switched to Computer Engineering in order to
get some software courses (although they didn't even teach C when I was
in school - I actually bought Teach Yourself C in 21 Days and
messed around on my own a lot, learning Windows programming, etc.).
After graduating, I answered an ad in the local paper from a small
manufacturer who made coin-op games. I did have a demo - a cheesy
little Wizard of Wor type clone for Windows 3.0 called "Kill
Bill." It featured a 16-color-programmer-art character sneaking around
the MS headquarters trying to steal floppy discs, avoid security
guards, and eventually take down Mr. Gates himself. The game pretty
much sucked, but the project lead who interviewed me saw the humor in
it, and appreciated that I did everything from scratch (no Direct X,
etc. to rely on).
I got my start as a
video game tester which I applied for to get to know people in the
industry and learn more about the inner workings of the industry while
I finished my college degree and demo reel.
During my studies in computer science I saw an ad for Adeline Software
for coders... I didn't wanted to stop my studies yet (at least finish
my year), so I gave the ad to my friend... who sent his mostly empty
resume, along with all the magazines and public domains reviews of a
demo we had worked together on. He got the job. One year later, Adeline
needed to expand even more, and in the same way I helped my friend get
his job, he helped me get my first job. Having a letter from Frédéric
Raynal himself (the guy that is behind the original Alone in the Dark and Little Big Adventure)
with a job offer starting on the 2nd of January 1995 was quite a shock
for me. I asked him why he decided to hire both of us. He replied it
was the demo we made on the Atari ST . Not that he cared about demos,
but he assumed that people managing to finish and release a heavyweight
mega demo (4 floppy discs in 1992.) were probably able to complete a
-Mickaël Pointier, Funcom
At the age of 15,
most guys are thinking about girls, cars, and parties. These were all
in my head, but the thought of getting a job in the game industry was
what I contemplated most. Falling in love with programming about a year
earlier and games as a young boy, I set out on my journey to enter the
game industry by buying a website, devoting all of my free time to
programming simple 2D games, and searching for an employer that would
even listen to a 15-year old kid who had no experience but plenty of
initiative. Gaining resume advice from my father I successfully created
a professional resume that tried to somehow relate volunteering at the
library with game development. Armed with Gamasutra's job search
engine, stamps, envelopes, and plenty of CD-Rs, I started sending my
resume and demo package to any game company within southern California
. Most didn't reply, most that did told me my age immediately
disqualified me, and then there was Liquid Entertainment; known for
creating RTS titles such as Battle Realms and Lord of the Rings: War of the Ring .
Mike Grayford, the co-President of the company, was nice enough to take
time out of his busy day to write an email giving me pointers on how to
gain skills that were industry appealing. Hours of late nights learning
C++/DirectX, followed by hours of interviews, were able to finally let
me break down the game industry door and become a game tester. After
getting past the problem of the work permit issuer thinking that Liquid
Entertainment was a porn company, I finally held an entry level job in
the game industry. For me, it was long hours of self-teaching and the
persistence that led to me getting my first job.
-Brad Jashinsky, Midway LA
I got into games because my sister complained that I never called her.
She set up an account for me on GEnie so I would at least email her.
Not long afterwards, she suggested I check out GemStone III .
I started playing (but only after 6PM for the cheaper hourly rates!) as
well and liked it so much I applied for a game master position with
Simutronics. They took me on as one of their GEnie bulletin board
monitors, then as a GM. Eventually, I ended up as product manager for
their Alliance of Heroes title before taking my current position as a designer for EverQuest II . It's all my sister's fault.
-Tracy Seamster, Sony Online Entertainment
I was selling chainmail armor at our local farmers market when a lady
hopped down in front of my booth and asked me if I knew any artists
because her and her husband were starting a game development company in
town.. So I told some friends about them, then got to thinking that
they would need more than just artists, but also writers, designers,
etc. Now I had always loved gaming and telling stories, so I applied
for a design position which I now enjoy daily.
-Lyle Anderson, Hermit Works Entertainment Corporation
I started out in the "serious" part of the IT industry as a project
manager. While doing that, I took some classes on the project
management of games and ended as a producer in the games industry.
I left high school walked into one of the few local developers'
offices. I showed them my C64 demos and luckily, they hired me!
-Jed Adams, Activision
I originally set out to be a writer for the industry, and after reading
about the many ways of breaking in (such as internships, networking and
just doing it yourself), I decided to combine all three for a full-out
approach. My first industry job was an internship for a developer of
text-based online games, writing manuals and content for an in-game
text parsing system. Then I turned to the Internet, writing reviews,
news pieces and editorials for MyGamer.com, a small-time gaming
website. Through the website I also covered industry events like GDC
and E3 and met key industry figures, but it was the IGDA members I
encountered that turned progress into fruition. After signing up and
frequenting local meetings, I was introduced to members of the IGDA's
New Jersey chapter who were scouting talent for a start-up developer
called Creo Ludus Entertainment. As of now, I am a Designer/Writer for
CLE, working on the studio's first title. For those looking to break
in, it's important to read tips from the professionals - but even more
important to act on them!
-Ben Serviss, Creo Ludus Entertainment
I did the shot gun approach checking the job pages of local companies
and applying for any entry level position they had and got rejected a
lot (not all together unexpected). But I finally got a testing job at
my first company. I'm still in test, looking to jump to design or other
aspects of production. I'm not really sure how to make that leap.
I spent 10 years programming and managing business applications
development at VB and C. I was able to start in the industry as an
Associate Producer because of my previous experience with large
development teams in milestone driven environments. But the most
important aspect for breaking into the industry for me was conveying my
willingness and excitement to be a team player. The video game industry
is filled with extremely intelligent and motivated people. Unlike most
industries, they love what they do and spend a lot of hours per week
doing it. Therefore, any team must get along professionally and
socially. Portraying that level of understanding and excitement was
essential for me.
-Patrick Lister, Infinity Ward
Basically, my pathway into the industry was through community. I was in
a guild with a strong sense of community and a charismatic leader. He
had connections with a prominent gaming site and announced that we had
a chance to go to E3 2004 with the submission of an article. Myself and
a few others went and had an absolutely amazing time. We decided to
start our own site, and after a few iterations and failed attempts
later, we're finally getting on our feet.
-Aaron Sarazan, MI-80 Development
I was trying to get in touch with an ex-colleague, so I called him up
at his work. My ex-boss picked up the phone and said that before I try
and poach his staff, he was going to try and poach me. At the time I
was working for a graphics card manufacturer in Dallas and he told me
his company had just been purchased by a game middleware company who
had lots of opportunities all over the world including Austin . And
that is how I got my start in the video game industry