How to land your boss job in the game design industry

After 35 years of making games I have never been bored as the industry is constantly evolving and I consider myself very lucky to work in such an exciting and fun business.

When I’m asked what I do for a living and I say: ”I make games,” people are so positive about it that their eyes light up. So, here’s my advice on how to secure your dream job in the games industry and go to work every day with a spring in your step (or should that be work from home with a spring in your slipper-shuffle?)

Keep up to date

When looking for your dream job in games design, it’s important to keep up to date with the industry in general and play lots of games, especially the games published by companies you’d like to work for.

Try to understand what makes these companies and their games tick. Consider why they designed the game in the way they did and what you would like to change about it to make it better. Then during any interview you secure, you’ll be able to talk with authority.

Do your research

In an ideal world, of course we would all be working on games we would like to play at home, but that’s not always possible at the start of your career.

So instead look into company culture, work practices and key employees. Try to get solid information on financial set up and stability of the companies where you interview. Are they profitable? Are they going to run out of money any time soon? Will your job be safe?

When it comes to the crunch

A lot has been written in the games media about crunch time. This is the stressful period leading up to a game launching where employees can work extremely long hours, sometimes putting in 100-hour weeks to meet deadlines.

There is a view in the industry amongst some quarters that crunch time is just part of what you should expect when you work in games. However, some companies are trying to eliminate it completely, while others rely on crunch time for very exceptional circumstances. It’s important to be aware of this culture and find out what approach the company takes before you accept the job.

Look into the company structure. Ideally you want to work somewhere where you can learn from others and also leave your mark on a game. Try to find out if this is achievable by asking these questions:.

  • Is there a flat hierarchy? Or is it very hierarchical?
  • How are teams structured?
  • Do they use Agile or some other form of project management?
  • How much autonomy do their teams actually have at a macro and micro level?

Find out if employees socialise outside of work as this is often a good barometer to measure the integrity of a company’s culture. Decide what kind of company culture will work best for you and pursue it.

Stand out from the crowd

Don’t back yourself into a corner by only showing off one type of work at interview. Very often companies are looking for art generalists, so try to show off the full breadth of your skills and styles.

Also, in addition to the actual content, give some context to your approach, inspiration and goals for each piece of work. Everyone likes a story so, for example: “I was playing Candy Crush and it made me wonder what a jelly-based match-3 game world might look like and how it would behave.” This will go down a treat.

Do your research!

It is amazing how many interviewees don’t do this. Try to find out who is going to interview you then look at their background and career path. Play the company’s games and have some smart questions ready to ask about them. Finally have a little courage and ask them some probing questions such as: “What was the biggest challenge you faced when developing this game?” or ”How would you rate the quality of the code-base on the game you’re currently working on?”

Image: MAG Interactive

Be a good listener

The art of listening is the most important skill a game designer can have. It’s easy to think of the role as crafting an amazing game design and then asking others to execute it. But nothing could be further from the truth. Your job is to listen to everyone’s ideas and then formulate a plan.

Be yourself

To succeed, games companies will be looking for a candidate who loves games but who also demonstrates an understanding of why the games play, look and perform in the way they do. I’m always interested in designers who feel genuine and aren’t just telling me what they think I want to hear. It’s advisable to be humble and obviously eager to learn, but also consider what you could bring to the company that isn’t already there.

David Bishop is ideation lead at MAG Interactive and an Interactive BAFTA juror.

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