How to get your career off the ground in the Games industry

19 Nov 2019

A recent talk from Grads in Games gave students at SAE London lots of useful tips and tricks on how to get noticed as a games graduate. 

We’ve compiled some of their advice so that you can understand exactly what employers are looking for and how you can make a lasting impression. 

What are employers looking for in Games, Animation and VFX graduates? 

Games Programmers learned that the top three elements that a studio looks for are C++ understanding, a solid mathematical foundation, and a comprehensive portfolio. In terms of technical ability, it’s important to be able to use Unreal 4, Unity, have graphics/rendering abilities, and front-end knowledge. Other desirable soft-skills included communication and  problem-solving.  

The portfolio is just as important for coders as well as artists. The first person who reads your application probably won’t be a developer, so make sure that the first thing they see is a link to your portfolio which has a playable game or video, rather than a load of code which they won’t understand. Have your best work at the top of the site so it catches their attention from the off, as games studios receive thousands of applications and you’re only going to get a short time in which to impress. 

Aspiring Game Designers were told that it’s a highly competitive field and there are a number of entry routes which might engineer success, including applying to work in Design and Systems QA. There are a few things you can do to stand out from the crowd, including participating in game jams and challenges, and modding games that the studio you are applying to makes. It’s important to employers that you can demonstrate your Programming/Scripting ability, your knowledge of engines, systems and mechanics, that you can do critical analysis and have good communication skills. 

A designer’s portfolio should contain a finished game - as studios need to see that you can deliver a finished product, along with prototypes, mods & SDk (create your own levels and gameplay systems), a video walkthrough of a game mechanic you’ve designed or an investigative analysis of one from a game (e.g. a reward system). You should provide documentation of levels and ideas. A flexible way of presenting work is 

If you want to be a Technical Artist, you need to be equally good at programming and art, with employers expecting to see your proficiency in using Maya, scripting using PuMEL or Maxscript, and rigging. 

VFX Artists have some crossover with the expectations of a Technical Artist, but are also expected to be able to show Unreal Engine 4 and Unity use, as well as Rayfire, and Houdini - which is becoming an essential tool across the Games, Film and TV industry. Some of the differences between working as a VFX artist for Games rather than Film of TV is the fact that simulation time is much longer, requires complex facial animation, realistic weights and timings, more complex rigs, and adherence to the 12 principles of Animation. 

Graduate Animators need a solid knowledge of 3D Animation packages such as Maya, and need to pay attention to in-game limitations. The showreel is crucial to landing a job, and should look like it belongs in a game e.g. showing characters’ moves e.g. crouching, and walk cycles. It’s also a good idea to display work using game engines. 

Technical Animators need to show they are comfortable rigging and skinning models, and illustrate their knowledge of motion builder. 

Whilst a portfolio works well for artists and coders, a showreel will be more appropriate for animators and VFX artists - and the showreel needs to look like it belongs in a game, rather than just static images. 

General advice that applies regardless of the specific role you are looking to apply for includes the fact that teamwork is essential and you also have to be adaptable and willing to learn, responding well to direction and feedback, and challenging yourself to learn techniques that may fall outside of your comfort zone. 

It’s also worth noting that the games industry is highly competitive, so as a graduate you may need to be flexible on location when it comes to finding that all-important first job in the industry. 

Also, just having a qualification from SAE is not enough - you need to be proactively building a portfolio and establishing a professional network. Grads in Games recommend using LinkedIn and Twitter for a dedicated amount of time each week to grow your contacts. And of course, attending SAE Extra events and speaking to guest speakers afterwards is a good way of forging those all-important connections. 

What should a Games, Animation or VFX student put on their CV? 

Grads in Games ran the students through an example of a standout CV that landed one individual with a job with a high-profile games company. They said your CV should have your name at the top, with a link to your portfolio or showreel underneath. Separate this link from your contact information - so that it is not jumbled with your phone number and email. 

Next, you should have a profile section which tells the studio who you are, what you want to be doing, and why you are applying for the role. Then you should have a technical skills section which doesn’t include soft-skills such as ‘teamwork’. Don’t give yourself skills rankings e.g. saying 3/5 stars for rigging, as this only highlights what you’re not good at. Make these skills viewable in a clear table format. 

Following that should be an ‘Experience’ section which explains any work you have done in the industry - and not just the dates and location of any placements, but any specifics of what you were given to do. 

Any other employment information follows, and this is where you show the desirable skills you have acquired. Don’t just say you are ‘hardworking’ - show it, by telling the studio about a chance where you went over and above what was expected of you e.g. taking on extra shifts during the Christmas period. 

Finally, tell them about your relevant hobbies and interests - it sounds obvious but studios need to know that you like games! Don’t include generic statements such as ‘I enjoy going to the cinema’ or ‘I like spending time with friends’, but talk about any specific interests you have e.g. VR technology, or competitions you’ve entered outside of your studies such as game jams. Include a statement at the end that says ‘references available upon request’.  

By following this advice you’re more likely to secure yourself an interview and be able to bag your dream job in the games industry. 

For more career advice, visit the SAE News hub where we profile prominent industry figures in our ‘SAE Industry Insight’ feature.