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Student Projects In My Portfolio

Originally appeared in "The Games Game" column on The IGDA website was massively redesigned in 2013, making old columns unavailable, so select columns are now being reposted here on an as-needed basis. This column first appeared in May, 2012

Dear Mr. Sloper,

In my portfolio, I have four games from my B.S. curriculum; one individual project and three small team projects. It's a strong portfolio -- it has more stuff than most guys' portfolios. I've heard of guys with just one or two projects who've successfully gotten hired in good game jobs. But the companies where I've interviewed say what I have in my portfolio is not enough. What's going on here?

-- Puzzled Portfolio Guy

Dear Puzzled,

You've probably considered this, but you didn't ask about it, and it has to be said: Quality versus quantity. You say your portfolio "has more stuff than most guys'." That might be true, especially if those guys are recent graduates like yourself. Regardless, the number of pieces in your portfolio doesn't reveal the whole picture. A portfolio might have four pieces, but they might be unimpressive. Or a portfolio might have just one game, but that game might have won a competition award, or received positive reviews in the press. The portfolio with that one game, then, would be a lot more impressive than the portfolio with the four blah demos. Point being, quantity isn't everything.

Then there's the matter of student projects vs. indie or professional projects. For the most part, student projects do not make a good portfolio. A portfolio piece isn't supposed to be just something that demonstrates that an applicant has some basic knowledge. Rather, a portfolio piece is supposed to be something impressive, something that shows mastery of a skill. The problem with student projects is that, more often than not, a class project is just something a student managed to make while learning how to make things. Employers aren't interested in looking at your homework. They only want to see your masterpieces.

I said that student projects don't make a good portfolio; there can be exceptions. For example, if you made an exceptional student project, one that won a competition, or earned a lot of attention outside the school, then of course that is a good portfolio piece. But you still ought to have more than that one project in your portfolio.

Your portfolio can contain solo pieces and team projects. Your portfolio should make it clear which are which. When you include a team project, you have to include information as to what part you played in the project, like what you contributed to the art, or the design, or the programming, or the audio. Maybe you led the team or served some other intangible role. If so, you should spell it all out; let it be known what you did.

Since your interviewers have told you that what you it isn't good enough, I'd recommend that you get to work making more stuff. Give those projects your all -- they need to be masterpieces.

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© 2012 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved. May not be re-published without written permission of the author.

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