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Ask the Experts: On Track, But What Else Can I Do?

Ask the Experts: On Track, But What Else Can I Do?

June 9, 2008 | By Jill Duffy

The latest “Ask the Experts” advice column on answers the question, ‘What else can I do?’ for an aspiring game developer and current student who knows the basic steps she must take to be taken seriously by game industry employers.

Gamasutra is also running this exclusive breaking-in column. For more advice, see

Dear Experts,
I'm a rising second-year law student who recently realized that my dreams of making games could actually be a career reality. At first I thought I wanted to focus on IP law and try to break in that way; and while that is still plan B, the more research I do, the more certain I am that I would rather work purely on the creative, non-legal side of things, hopefully some day as a designer.

However, I feel like I am so far behind those people who knew they wanted this job before they started college. I majored in anthropology, minored in biology and German, then came straight to law school. My full-time work experience has only been in summer jobs, including law firms and on the Hill. I've read plenty of articles about how you don't need a "game degree" to get into the industry, and how a varied education and life experience is valued in particular for the designer jobs. At the same time, it's hard to tell just how much to rely on those statements.

I know that I need to work on creating my own portfolio and am taking steps to do that. I am also willing to take online classes while I'm still in law school if that's what I need to do, and was planning on self-learning the basics of as many aspects of making games as I can (I have absolutely no programming knowledge). I'm going to Austin GDC this September, and am looking into attending GDC '09 as well. I've joined the D.C. chapter of IGDA.

I guess my question -- on behalf of all those who are coming from unrelated fields or weren't encouraged to pursue games as a career early on -- is: what else can I do to improve my resume and attractiveness to employers while I'm still waiting to graduate? Or must I seek out further formal education (such as a masters degree program)?

Thank you very much and I hope to hear from you!
Grace B.

Dear Grace,
Your letter was quite long. Usually, I trim long letters a bit to get to the juicy stuff. But I left yours intact for a reason.

After reading all those things you've written -- knowledge of the various subjects, work experience in the law, not to mention a very good writing ability -- I have no idea if you like video games. Do you play them? Do you talk about them? Do you write about them?

I bring this up because if you want to get a job in game development, you have to let people know what experience with games you do have. You've told me about other valuable skills that you have, and you've told me what kinds of skills you don't have that you know would help if you did. But you haven't told me anything about games.

Yes, you've mentioned the IGDA -- brilliant that you joined, by the way -- and Austin GDC (say hi to me if you see me there), which tells me you're interested in game development and want to learn more. But do you like games?

The good news is you have an extremely interesting background that might make you very well suited to work in the game industry. Plus, you know that what you're lacking is a portfolio, and it sounds like you're on track to get one together. Your background is great, and the portfolio will prove what you can do.

So what else can you do now? Three things come to mind.

First, you can practice how you will show your relationship to games in your cover letters and resumes. A bad way to do this is to write, "I really am passionate about video games!" A good way to do it is to mention things you've done that show how games are part of your life. Maybe you have organized game nights with friends or as part of a club activity. Maybe you have been active on some game forums. Maybe you have a notable high score on some game; I think most industry people would knowingly smile if you added to your resume your Xbox Live Arcade Gamertag and Gamerscore. However you do it, make it interesting and unique.

Second, ask yourself what happens when someone Google-searches your name. I tried to find you (Grace included her surname and affiliation in her email signature), and rest assured anyone in the game industry who considers you for a job will do it, too. Where is Grace B. the game person? She's nowhere to be found.

I was talking to some game school faculty the other day, and this topic of "Google-ability" actually came up. The key, they agreed, is not only to be searchable, but also for the results to somehow mention or relate to games. Game industry people will search your name. Be ready for it.

The third and final piece of advice is to play more games in more genres. Play bad video games from the bargain bin. Play old school games. Play card games. Play classic board games. Play all the games that have received a lot of press in the last few years, like Portal, Halo, Half-Life, World of Warcraft, and Grand Theft Auto, and any other big name video game you haven't yet played. And even if you have played them, play them several times over.

Jane McGonigal, who creates alternate reality games (ilovebees, for example), said in a talk recently at the Come Out and Play Festival that one thing game studies as an academic field has shown is that we only learn what a game is about after it has been played many times over. Games are meant to be repeated. We can only see the abstract ideas behind a game after it has been played in many different contexts by many different people.

So, Grace, play more games, and then express your ideas in a blog or online article or forum post. The next time someone searches for your name, they might just say, "Look! This Grace B. person has something to say about games. She has an opinion. She must really care about games. And check out her super smart legal background. Wow. What a find. Let's bring her in for an interview."

Jill Duffy is editor of and senior contributing editor of Game Developer magazine. She is also a contributing writer to If you have a question about working in game development that you'd like to see answered on, send it to [email protected]

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