A Recipe for Landing a Job in the Animation and Gaming Industry for Newbies

Success or failure for someone looking to break into the gaming industry as an animator or game designer really boils down to three critical ingredients: people, polish, and reality. Each person’s individual situation will determine how many cups of one or the other will be required to bake the ideal game design job or internship cake. Does that sound yummy? Then keep reading.

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1 ¾ cups People: Tap into your gaming industry network

When you’re in job search or intern search mode, do not attempt to do it alone. Accept the fact that you are going to need help. This is especially true as a newbie, someone who has little to no experience in the industry and someone who is new to performing a game development industry job search. You are going to need help from others to reach your goals.

You’ll need a support group. Typically, these are other folks that are looking for work too. Statistically, people in job groups are 70 percent more likely to find work than those searching solo. So find a group or form a group at your school. At USV we have formed an online community via the College Central Network’s mentoring platform. Students can ask questions from employers, alumni, and peers. This online platforms works great for students’ busy schedules and minimum time commitment. I’ve also seen groups that meet in person once a week with the same positive results.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your network. One of the great benefits of being a part a community is the ability to ask for help. Thus the increased success rate of job searchers searching in groups vs those doing it alone. In addition, if someone in your community does not have the answers, the chances are someone they know will.

1/2 cup Polish: Keep improving your game portfolio

The next thing you’ll need to do is overcome the game development portfolio myth. The portfolio myth #1, “my portfolio isn’t done yet.”  If I had a dollar for every time I‘ve heard that, I wouldn’t be writing this article.  The perfect game portfolio does not exist, so don’t fall into the trap of “I’m almost done with my portfolio.” This is especially true for students looking for internships.  Students have landed great internships with a reel provided to a hiring manager via a YouTube link or art work embedded in an email or a video on an IPhone.  Start with the material and resources you have now and build on it as you progress. There is more that could be said about this topic, which we’ll cover in another post, for now remember it is your actual work, not the packaging, the employers are looking for.

Don’t get me wrong this is a show don’t tell industry, unlike other industries, the film and gaming industry wants to see what you can actually do vs. other industries that just require you to communicate what you have done in the form of a resume. So have something to show, pick samples of your best work and get it out there. How many internships or jobs will you get if you don’t submit anything at all? Just by submitting work you’ve already increased your chances of getting something.

Many students I work with complain that they don’t have anything great to show potential employers.  This is especially true for students just getting started who don’t have a lot of examples to show. My response to them is to polish your turds. In other words, find some class assignments or an old project and make them better. If the projects is good, how can you make it even better?  Ask your instructor or other professionals you respect to critique your work so you can polish it up.

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2 cups Reality: Understand the animation and gaming industry

Now that you have something to show. Where are you going to look? Many students I talk with have their eyes set on the big studios (Pixar, Disney, Sony PlayStation, Electronic Arts and the like) which is great, but don’t forget about the little guys either. Your chances of getting experience is more likely to come from smaller studios and independent game developers. These smaller studios can also provide you with a broader experience which will allow you use a wider range of skills.

Most animation and game design students didn’t go to college to work on smart bathroom technology products or forensics for their local police department, but guess what…that’s where some happily end up making a living. The truth is there just aren’t enough jobs in the industry for everyone to get a job out of college. Most recent grads will have to spend some time in the minor leagues honing their skills.

In reality, most student skills at graduation are not honed enough to qualify them for gigs at the big studio. To reality test your situation ask yourself a few questions. Was I consistently one of the top 3 students in my core classes?  Do people, other than my family members, tell me my work is amazing? Do industry professionals tell you your work is amazing? Have you gotten reply backs from recruiters at the big industries. Do instructors recommend you to their industry contacts? If the answers is “no,” you might need a cup or two of reality.

Oops. I forgot one ingredient. It’s called keep. Keep plugging away until you get the right mix in your recipe. Keep adding people to your animation and gaming industry network. Keep polishing your turds. Keep accepting reality and eventually, if you don’t quit, you’ll get your own recipe just right.

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