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F.A.Q. 27:

Originally written in 2003. Last update: July, 2011.

Today there are high barriers to getting into the game industry. An entire generation who grew up playing video games is now entering the workplace. And a lot of them are talented and hard-working team players. The competition is stiff to get in, and the game companies can be choosy about who they hire. With the economy the way it is right now, it's tough everywhere. You have to apply properly to get a job these days -- especially in the game biz. A lot of people make a lot of common mistakes.

Frequently Asked Question: "I've got a degree, I've got a portfolio (demo reel, sample code, as applicable), I've tried everything. But I can't even get a measly interview! What am I doing wrong?"

Frequently Given Answer: "I don't know. You didn't tell me." This frequently asked question doesn't contain enough information. So I have to dig deeper, ask him more. Just about every time I've squeezed more information from these folks, the same kind of picture has emerged.

From that picture, I've put together a checklist that aspiring game developers can use to improve their chances of breaking through the barriers to entry. (Note: in this instance, I've used the term "developer" to encompass aspiring designers, programmers, artists, producers, testers, etc.)

My words here are based on my years of experience at reading résumés of artists, programmers, musicians, and associate producers, from the point of view of the guy who does the hiring. (In case you didn't know, I was a producer at Activision for 12 years. If you didn't know that, then you need to learn to do research better. Explore the nav frame at left.) Today, I'm a university instructor and game production/design freelancer. Sometimes my freelance work puts me in the position of receiving job applications, and sometimes my students ask me to review their résumés and portfolios. Recent experiences with job applications inspired me to massively rewrite this FAQ, originally written in 2003.

Note: I write these Lessons to help newbies and wannabes. I do NOT give free confidential advice. Do NOT send me your résumés, your portfolios, your demos for analysis unless you want to pay me to do so. These FAQs and the Q&A Bulletin Board are the extent of the help I can offer. It is assumed that you have also read FAQ 3 and FAQ 4. If you haven't, you should. It is strongly recommended that you check out the topics covered by ALL the FAQs before emailing me a question for the Q&A Bulletin Board. If your question could be answered by an FAQ, the only answer you'll get on the BB is "read the FAQs."


1. The Four-Year College or University Degree

How many times have I said it on this site (and in my monthly column on the IGDA site): if you don't have game industry experience, you must have a college degree. And not just a two-year or three-year degree. You need a four-year degree.

There are a number of reasons why an inexperienced, raw candidate needs a four-year degree. For one thing, the four-year degree shows that you've got the guts to stick out a lengthy endeavor or project. For another, a college grad is four years older than a high school grad, meaning he's got at least a little more maturity and worldliness than a raw high school grad. No offense. Just that turning 18 may make you technically an adult, but living and working in the real world is a whole different experience than being a sheltered full-time student. Adults are much easier to deal with than kids. No offense.

Of course you're going to hear about guys who got in, and moved up in the industry, without a degree. But those guys are the exceptions. And those guys aren't trying to break into the biz in today's climate. Another exception is people who've got a solid résumé of work experience in some field that could be considered relevant to the jobs they're applying for (see FAQ 41, "Switching Careers," in the nav frame at left).

If you don't have a solid résumé, you must not pin your hopes on being an exception to the rule. A four-year degree on your résumé can keep your application from being filtered out early on. See my March 2010 and April 2010 IGDA columns for more about the résumé-filtering process every application goes through.

2. Location, Location, Location

I'm sure you've heard that an employer will pay moving expenses for a new employee to relocate to be near the company. That applies for experienced professionals only. Game companies won't pay relocation expenses for an entry-level candidate who's fresh out of college. If you live in West Podunk, you have to move to where the game companies are. There are several "hotbeds" of game companies around the continental United States. The major hotbeds are the San Francisco Bay, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Diego, Dallas, Salt Lake City. (If you live in Canada, the hotbeds are Vancouver, Montreal, and Toronto.) There are also game companies located here and there. If there isn't a game company near you and you're a raw applicant trying to break through the barriers, you need to be in a hotbed, and the bigger the hotbed the better. I've got two excellent game company map sites listed in the Game Biz Links page. Find out where the game companies are. If you live in a coldbed, start packing. Move. See the Game Biz Links page and do some research.

  • For more about the Location Times Three rule, read FAQ 84, a repost of my July 2010 IGDA column, "The Games Game: Location, Location, Location."
  • And if you are American, have no game industry experience, and you want to work at a distant game company, read FAQ 73 (click it in the yellow nav frame at left; if you do not see a nav frame at left, click the nav frame link at the very top of this page).
  • For more about the Location X3 rule, if you do not live in the United States and want to work at a game company in America, read FAQ 72 (click it in the yellow nav frame at left; if you do not see a nav frame at left, click the nav frame link at the very top of this page).

    3. Networking

    Even if you aren't a team player, even if you're a lone wolf who refuses to work in the game biz on anything but your own terms (which if you ask me is an ignorant, arrogant, and self-destructive attitude), you will find that networking is crucial to working in the game biz. There are several ways networking can work; the following are just a few ideas. You can figure out your own ways too.

    Read FAQ 54 for more about how to network.
    Read FAQ 46 and FAQ 6, about the importance of conferences and other industry events.
    I've written on the importance of networking at GDC in my IGDA columns of March 2006 and February 2007.

    4. Research

    I said above (Location, Location, Location) that if you live in Nowheresville you need to do research on where the game companies are, and move there. That's not the end of the research you need to do. (And make no mistake, it is YOU who needs to do it - nobody can do your research for you. Besides, it shows the game companies that you're a hard-working person if you walk in having done your homework.)
    You have to know about the company you apply to. Play their games. Read their website. Learn the names of some of the people by reading their game credits. Be prepared with answers to the usual interview questions, and be prepared with good questions about the company.
    Know what kind of job you're going to want to get. Read game credits. Read articles about game development - look for articles online, and get Game Developer magazine (I think you can subscribe on Gamasutra - do your research!). Join the local IGDA chapter. If there isn't one, start one yourself. Don't know Gamasutra? Don't know the IGDA? See the
    Game Biz Links page and do some research.
    Practice for the job interview. Know about the typical interview questions, and be prepared. You can Google on "typical interview questions," or just check out these two preferred links:

    Realistic Targeting

    The barriers at the big top-tier publishers are much stronger, wider, and higher than the barriers at smaller game developers. Do your research. Know the difference between a developer and a publisher (look them up in FAQ 28, the Game Biz Glossary -- see nav frame at left). If you've been getting shot down by the big publishers, stop frustrating yourself, and lower your sights. Go for a position at a smaller development company. They're all over the place. Do your research.

    If you've been applying only for "Game Designer" openings, and getting shot down left and right, then lower your sights. Apply for realistic (less "sexy") job openings. You have to get your foot in the door through QA or some other entry-level position, and prove yourself, before you can become a "game designer."

    I sometimes hear from wannabes who hope to get a job working in the game studio of a famous Japanese game maker like Square or Nintendo. I always tell them, "plan to go to college in Japan. Learn how to read and write Japanese fluently." Read FAQ 48, "So You Wanna Work In Japan" (see nav frame at left).

    Your friends will be impressed if your first job is at E.A., but that's a very big if. Maybe your friends won't be so impressed if your first job is at Podunk Games, but you could well love working and learning there. After having several successful years and projects at Podunk, if you apply to E.A., your chances of getting in there are higher. If you really want to leave Podunk. And that's not so small an if.

    Smaller barriers are easier to break down than bigger barriers. That's just common sense.

    The Right Company For You

    When I say "the right company," I don't mean high-prestige companies. Rather, "the right company" could mean other things, for instance:

    1. The company that'll use your skills and interests fully.
    2. The company that'll get you the job you're looking for.

    As to #1, If you're a hardcore FPS fan and would be miserable working on anything else, then you need to work to identify and target FPS developers. But don't spend all your resources relocating to an area where there's only one FPS developer, who might well not hire you. And actually, on the flip side, professionalism means honing your skills working on whatever kind of games you are assigned to work on. If you are a hardcore kinda guy and you are offered a job at a casual edugame company, you have a tough decision to make. Professionalism is one thing, and blending well into the company culture is another.

    As to #2, game companies are increasingly coming to rely on staffing agencies to get their Q.A. testers and temporary help. Usually, if you apply to the company directly, they'll tell you the name of the staffing agency they get their testers through. But game companies are notoriously tightlipped, meaning you might not hear back from them at all. So if you're trying to break in through Q.A., look not only at the game companies near you, but the staffing agencies as well. But you gotta call the right staffing agencies. Don't bother with the ones that just supply secretaries and receptionists - do your homework. Find the technical staffers, the ones that supply IT workers and stuff. Do your homework, and make sure you apply to the right company.

    Do Your Homework

    It's really important to research thoroughly. Know what companies there are in your area. Read their websites and follow them in the news. Here in Los Angeles, game industry news is covered by the newspaper's business section, but a lot more news can be learned by subscribing to the industry trade dailies, like IndustryGamers and Gamasutra. Do your research. Find important news sources like those (and others), find out how to subscribe, read them.

    It's really important to be on top of your specialty. If you're a programmer, learn about the different specializations within programming. Try your hand at each of them, and know which ones you're best at, and what openings there are locally in that specialty. Subscribe to Game Developer magazine and IndustryGamers.

    And it's not just about researching companies and job pigeonholes. Learn about the people too, and related organizations like the IGDA, and websites with discussion forums like IGDA and GameDev. And don't just do a little research and then stop. It's a never-ending matter of keeping up, staying on top of industry news, not just locally but globally.

    5. Résumé / C.V.

    Of course you have to have a résumé or C.V. Here in America we call them résumés. In the U.K. they call them C.V.s. Maybe there's a difference between a résumé and a C.V. I don't care. I just use the word résumé. If you call it a C.V., make a mental adjustment as you read this.

    If you're a recent graduate, it wouldn't be unusual for your résumé to have nothing on it but your education. That's okay. Your other stuff, the things you did in your spare time on your own out of your passion for games, goes into your cover letter.

    Your résumé must include your physical address. An awful lot of résumés I've gotten had no address, like the applicant was trying to fool me, to hide his location from me. Maybe he figured that if I didn't realize he wasn't local, I'd hire him and he could then say, "oh by the way, I live in Outer Podunk and it'll take me a couple weeks to move." Or even ask for relocation assistance.
    Well, that never works. One of the first things I need to know is where you live, so I know whether or not to filter you out. So I look for other clues. Like your phone number area code. And that could work against you, if you originally got your phone in Outer Podunk before moving to Los Angeles, bringing your Podunk area code with you. Just tell me where you live, okay? I genuinely need to know that, if you're applying for a job with my company. Especially if you're applying for an entry-level job, but even if you aren't.

    And for God's sake, put your name in the filename of your résumé! You wouldn't believe how many résumés named "resume.doc" I've received! And guess how many I still have in my applicants folder - just one. And why's that? Because the second one overwrote the first one, the third one overwrote the second one, and so on. Same goes for "resume.pdf" - I only have one of those, too. If your name is Kyle Spears, your résumé's filename should be "Kyle Spears resume.doc" (or "Kyle_Spears_resume.doc" or "KyleSpears.resume.docx" or "Spears_Kyle resume.pdf" - you get the idea).

    I wrote a couple of IGDA columns about my pet résumé peeves (March 2010 and April 2010). For links to sites where you can get information about writing résumés, see my Game Biz Links page and Google "how to write a resume or CV."

    6. The Cover Letter Email

    When you apply for a job via email, the email itself is your cover letter. You don't need to write a separate cover letter Word doc or PDF file and attach that to the email. (If you do, I probably won't even bother reading it.)

    In this age of high-speed communication, we don't have a lot of time to read your amateurish rantings about how you've loved games since you were a kid and working at our company is the ultimate end-all and be-all of your life. So keep it short. But don't just say "Dear Whoever, please see my resume attached. Sincerely, Wannabe X." You have to take the time to craft a couple of short and sweet sentences that make the recipient want to have a look at your résumé. Maybe there's a personal connection there somewhere: maybe you played a game I produced, or we met at GDC one time, or you know my friend at that other game company and he said to say hi.

    If you're applying for a creative job, the cover letter is a tool you can use to show off your creativity. You can put stuff in a cover letter email that doesn't belong in a résumé. Maybe just talk about things you've done that would intrigue a game hirer. For some ideas about the kinds of things you can mention in a cover letter, see FAQ 12.

    A lot of bigger companies don't want an emailed job application -- they have an online jobs website, and you input your résumé and type in your "cover letter" into a text-input box. Same rules apply. A short and sweet couple sentences about you that doesn't belong in the résumé itself.

    It's easy to find lots of information about writing cover letters through a Google search, but here are two I found a while back, and a new one from late 2010:

    And see my Links page too.

    Tailor Your Cover Letter Email

    [Added January 1, 2008, after receiving a "spammed" application, and not for the first time in the past few months.]
    Email is the most common method of sending in résumés today - that and filling in online applications. When you email your résumé directly to an employer, your email IS your cover letter. You absolutely must tailor your cover letter to the job for which you're applying. Research the company, and their products. Reply to the bullet points in the job advertisement - address the job's requirements and show how you fit those.

    You mustn't "spam" numerous employers with one email, using a generic cover letter. That shows all the employers that you're just lazy and unimaginative.
    For links to sites where you can get information about writing cover letters, just
    Google "how to write cover letters" and see my Game Biz Links page.

    7. Portfolio (Demo Reel, Demo Disc, Sample Code)

    A portfolio doesn't necessarily have to be hard copy. It can be on your personal website or blogsite. But a hard copy can be useful to bring with you to an interview. More on that in "Portfolios," below.

    Aspiring artists have to have a portfolio and/or demo reel (demo disc).

    Aspiring musicians and sound engineers need to have a demo reel (demo disc).

    Aspiring programmers have to have sample code, and, if you've made a demo, a demo disc.

    Aspiring designers have to demonstrate their skills somehow. If you have artistic skills, then you need a portfolio and/or demo reel (demo disc). If you have programming ability, then sample code and, if you've implemented something you've designed, a demo disc. If you've designed levels or mods using mod tools, you need a demo disc. If you've written game designs, they could possibly go into a design portfolio.

    The downside of web portfolios - You SHOULD have your portfolio on a website, but the best way to give people its URL is in an email, in which the link is clickable without having to type the URL. The URL must be short, easily typable, and without any confusing characters ("oh" versus "zero" and "one" versus lower-case "L" for example - these are not a problem if you don't throw a number into the middle of what looks like a word). Your site must look professional and be easy to navigate. You don't want a hirer to miss some of your best stuff, or have to download a plug-in. You don't want to inconvenience the hirer in any way. You can get free site space -- go look for it.

    I'm not done yet! Keep on reading...

    9. Applying the Right Way

    There's a right way to apply, and that's usually "the way the company wants you to apply."


    If the company's job page or job ad says "please apply through the jobs site," then that's the way you have to go. Don't snailmail, don't call, don't email. Apply through their online form. That's the way their process is set up. If you snailmail your résumé, then some poor soul has to scan it in and type your information into their database. Or they might just put your application into the cylindrical file (see FAQ 28) because you are a person who doesn't follow instructions.


    If the company's job page or job ad says "email," then apply via email. Don't snailmail or call. Include your résumé attached to the email, and the email itself is your cover letter (as discussed above).


    If the company doesn't have a job page, and you don't know how to apply, you can try emailing or - but if they've made it difficult to figure out how to apply, you shouldn't expect much from sending in your application.


    Don't engage in "cyberstalking" (excessive emailing, or repeatedly applying more frequently than twice a year), and don't engage in phone "stalking" or leaving notes on the windshields or doorsteps of HR people or QA managers or producers.

    Don't ever ask to be given a chance or a break. It's not in their business interest to give "chances" or "breaks" to untried, untested, raw candidates. It's your job to make yourself an attractive candidate.

    Don't bother announcing your availability on discussion boards, hoping a random employer will see it and hire you. Too many times I've seen these "hey higher me im avalable and im a grate desinger" posts, and thought to myself, "that poor clueless dweeb. He might as well make a sandwich board and go stand on a street corner. And his sandwich board should say 'I cant spel.'"

    9. Email

    I used to advise wannabes to call on the phone, visit, and use snailmail. But the industry has changed. H.R. departments (Human Resources) are increasingly relying on email as the method of choice for receiving applications, when they don't use an online form. But ya gotta do it right, people! Research each game company you're applying to, and write an appropriate cover email targeted to the company and the job. Don't write a cut-and-paste template with "To whom it may concern" and use it for every company.

    Make sure your email doesn't have a stupid subject line as discussed in FAQ 24! Put your name in the subject line, and the job you're applying for. Make sure your attachments (your résumé, for instance) contain your name in the filename. I can't tell you how many résumés I've received that were named "résumé.doc" - the newest one overwrote the oldest one, when I saved them to my applicants folder, so now I have just one!

    If you're going to email and follow up on an application or interview, make sure your email sounds human, directed to the recipient, and has a good subject line. "Hey how ya doin'" is a terrible subject line.

    10. Perseverance

    If you've been rejected, get back on the horse. Keep on trying, with other companies. When I say "persevere," that doesn't mean "become a cyberstalker." Repeatedly and singlemindedly harassing one company could net you a restraining order!

    Don't give up trying to get a job. If you don't apply for a job, you definitely won't get one. Do more research. Find more companies. Find different kinds of companies. Join the IGDA, and attend local chapter meetings. If you don't have a chapter in your area, form one. Keep gnawing at it like a bulldog to get at that juicy marrow inside.*

    Another common job-hunting pitfall is to simply sit and wait to hear about job openings. By the time an opening is widely known, it's probably already been filled. You have to be pro-active. And by all means, don't wait for the economy to get better, or for the game biz to pick up. There are openings all the time, and a lot of them don't get posted in the want ads.

    * (And somebody please stop me from using silly mixed metaphors all the time.)


    Here's that checklist. Print this out and make checkmarks next to the things you are doing. If you're doing them all, good. Keep persevering - "hang in there, baby" - ganbatte kudasai, as the Japanese say. If you are NOT doing something on the checklist, well, now you know what to do.
    You have to stand out from the crowd to be noticed, you have to shine brightly to get hired, and you have to work well with the team to keep the job. It ain't easy, but if it was, hey. Everybody'd already be doing it. Read Lesson 26 to read more about the concept "it ain't easy but so what, go for it, you can be a winner."

    Recommended reading: "So You Want to Work in Games..." at

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    © 2003, 2008, 2010, 2011 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved. May not be re-published without written permission of the author.