Kids growing up over a decade ago used to say, “I want to play video games when I get bigger.” And their parents would laugh, shake their heads, and tell them to focus on a real job.
The joke is on them, though. The video gaming industry is worth more than $300 billion, and “video gamer” is a legitimate job, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics.
You, too, can play games, design them, or become a software engineer and program them, but it can be hard to break into the video game industry. As you might guess, there’s a lot of competition for these coveted jobs.
To get a leg up over your competitors, use these tips. You’ll have the skills and knowledge to jumpstart your gaming career and impress the headhunters at any company you apply to.
1. Invest in a Premium Device
Gamers love to stay up-to-date with the latest consoles. Yet, as soon as you finally get the most recent release and your favorite video games for them, they’re replaced. Eventually, that system and all the accessories become obsolete.
There’s a workaround for this problem. Stop buying the consoles, and invest in a gaming tablet instead. You’ll get to browse the internet, stream videos, and stalk your social media feeds. But you also can buy an emulator and play any game you want, no matter how old or new. And if your goal is to design or program games, a powerful tablet lets you practice those skills.
2. Get Creative
With your new handy dandy tablet, you can start designing your own unique video games. Regardless of how detailed they are or whether you have a lot of people playing them with you, these creations show potential employers that you know what you’re doing.
If you’re brand new to this skill, start by modifying your favorite games. There are lots of modding tutorials to walk you through finding the files and making tweaks to them to change the game’s settings and create assets. This gives you a solid idea of the workings of the structure you’ll be shaping from scratch next.
When you’re confident you know how to mod, download a game engine to play with more of the structure. Layer it with software to add backgrounds, characters, and animations, and you have a unique finished game to add to your portfolio.
3. Start Joining Game Jams
Designing a game from scratch can take weeks or months — unless you’re in a game jam. These are online contests that increase your networking with other gamers and add time component pressure to video game creation.
In a game jam, contestants have a predetermined time frame in which to build the best video game from scratch. Impress the judges, and you might have gotten noticed by a video game company representative.
Typical game jams last less than 48 hours. Occasionally, you’ll find opportunities for jams that give you a week or longer to build your game, and those challenges offer gamers the chance to come up with seriously impressive designs.
Look for game jams focused on the industry you’d like to break into, such as children’s entertainment, educational programs, or adult games. There are also jams that are in-person, connecting up-and-coming game designers, developers, and artists with potential mentors and hiring companies.
4. Never Stop Learning
The gaming industry moves forward at a pace that’s almost impossible to keep up with. As soon as you take a few weeks off from it, you come back and find yourself behind.
The key is to never stop learning about your industry. You’ll find game design classes available in high schools and higher learning institutions, but you’ll also benefit from engineering courses like math, statistics, physics, and art.
Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are available for free from many prestigious institutions. Check into the classes offered in the field you’re interested in, and take as many learning modules as possible. Even if they can’t go on your resume as an official course, you can list them under “skills.”
A gaming career is true “not your mother’s” job, nor is it what your parents probably wanted for you when you were little. But today’s society has evolved nearly night and day from those times, and working in the gaming industry is lucrative, fun, and competitive.
Use these tips to get a headstart on your career so you can tell your parents that yes, you really can make money sitting in front of the screen playing games all day.
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