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Jill Henderson, grew up in a family that owned and operated a thriving Arcade business. From the first time she laid eyes on Pong in the 1970’s she fell in love with video games. Her career in the industry started as a customer service representative or “Game Master” Djembe for EverQuest, later to be owned and sold again, by Sony Online Entertainment.
From SOE, NCSoft, Zynga, and many more startup companies and products, Jill is a stalwart in software and is known for calling it like it is for the game community. Jill is a daily gamer!
Some people will tell you there is no recipe for getting in the games industry.
Industry veteran, Jill Henderson, says there is some magic to getting that first job in the games world. Here are her 7 tips for “Getting a Job in Video Games”:
Feel free to add your comments with your experiences.
1. Must Love Games! Yes, you could get a job in the industry even if you’ve never played games, or you don’t really love them. But who can really trust a person in the industry that doesn’t game? It’s kind of like having someone in the movie industry that says “I don’t watch movies, it’s not my thing.” If you don’t love games, move along to another field where collaboration will be easier for you and the people you work with. Being a gamer doesn’t mean that you spend endless hours consumed in your screen either. Be open to pen and paper, live action/role play, and board games as part of your gaming experience when you are interviewing. Gamers make great games!
2. Be a passionate member of your favorite game community. Whether it’s IRC, a forum, or a private gaming server, someone out there somewhere is also interested in talking about the game you love. Sometimes, you just may be talking to an avatar that is a VIP in the industry, because (See #1). I’ve seen trolls, fanboys, and fangirls get jobs because of their sheer passion about the product or story of a game. Never underestimate the power of your passion; get noticed by those that are passionately behind the scenes creating the experience for you.
3. Be willing to start in the talent pit/pool. My first real job in the industry was a customer support representative for EverQuest. I was making less than $10 per hour and I was 29 years old. If I called out the names of the people that were my co-workers back then, I would be naming some of the top developers, designers, community managers, and executives in the industry today. Be willing to start at the bottom and get noticed for your talent. Most commonly, these jobs are in Quality Assurance and Customer Support. There’s something to be said for a person in the industry that has legitimately climbed the ladder to the top. They’ve held a lot of jobs and worn a lot of hats, giving them insight to all levels of the game development process.
4. Find out what you are good at and excel! Game companies don’t want average or good talent. They want the best people to work on their product, and trust that delivery will be on time and beyond expectation. It took me a few years in the industry to really figure out that it is the people that I’m passionate about. I care about what people say and how they feel about a game, and making that experience better. This made me an ideal candidate for user experience fields and community management. You may be a genius at sound engineering, or level design, or animations. One of the most popular designers on the City of Heroes team was the costume designer. The community affectionately called him “Sexy Jay” and his work never failed to delight the players. Be the best you can be by working towards figuring out what you are good at and most passionate about. Many times you may be the only one doing the specific job you do within a studio. Master your craft and the jobs will follow you!
5. Get noticed! You want your resume/portfolio to be on the top of the stack when a position at your dream company becomes available. Some people are lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, or they know someone on the inside. Networking is a powerful tool and has landed more than one gig for me. Use a product such as Rezli and profile your game career. With Rezli, you can create a customized resume that you can share instantly with a recruiter. Also, you can keep everything organized; show off the games you have made as well as brag about the ones you love to play. Depending on the job you are interested in, you may need to elaborate on specific experience and, customizing your resume on the fly can be important in highlighting your skills. Rezli can help tailor and create your perfect message.
6. Be Patient. It may take some time before you find exactly the right fit for your career within the games industry. I’ve had jobs that lasted 3 weeks and some that lasted over 3 years. Chances are, you’ll end up working for more than one company before you find your dream job since many budgets are structured around specific products. You can expect layoffs when products don’t go as well as planned, but it is very possible to work with the same colleagues again at another studio. So, remember not to burn bridges. If you truly are made for doing this work, you’ll find a way into the industry and bounce back again even when the chips are down.
7. Make your own game! More than one garage studio has made a classic hit. Assemble a passionate team and make a game, out of making a game. Showcase your work on Rezli, and start up a website and social media campaigns. Independent games are a huge industry, and you never know when a company might just take notice of your project and offer you the big bucks. Find a way or make a way!