Our last article discussed the basic skills you should develop. This week we discuss the more specific tasks game developers do on a regular basis. The earlier you try these, the better.
- Playtest something. There are lots of open beta tests going on these days, and many companies provide special testing opportunities to fans who have proven themselves. Check out betawatcher.com for opportunities.
- Post to forums – intelligently and politely. Companies read their forums and may respond to thoughtful, informed commentary. It’s never too early to start networking, and you can learn from others as well as share your own insights. Avoid the trolls and flamers and never become one of them yourself. That’s one of the easiest ways to ensure you won’t work in games.
- Make a game. This does not have to be a commercial quality video game. After all, if you could do that, you can probably handle most of what the industry would throw at you. Create your own card game, board game, etc., and get some friends to play it. Nothing teaches game production like doing it. Construct2, RPGMaker and GameStudio all have free, easy to use tools. Unity is a bit harder, but allows you to do much more.
These last two require a higher level of commitment, but can be invaluable if you try them.
- Code something. Even if you do not want to be a programmer, you should understand how software works. There are plenty of free programming tutorials on-line, books at the public library and so on. I don’t care if you program in C++, Java or FORTRAN (good luck with that last one), just give it a try and see what the computer does in response. Codeacademy, Coursera and even Harvard all offer free, on-line computer classes.
- Make a mod. Lots of games offer ways to create mods, scenarios and the like. Do it. Pick a game you like that gives you access to its building tools and dive in. Not only will you have gained invaluable experience on making games, but I guarantee you will leave the experience with lots of ideas on what games should NOT do. The Unreal engine is one of the best ways to do this.
Finally, figure out what kind of college degree you want to get. No, not everyone in the game industry has a college degree, but if you look at the job postings in the industry, you’ll see that the vast majority ask for a degree. While programming positions often require a CS degree, other positions tend to be less specific. Game companies don’t just want you to have a degree to prove that you can drain a keg and still show up for 8 am classes.
Getting a degree is excellent proof that you can take a long-term project to completion – a critical skill in the industry that far too many people fail to develop. I don’t care if it’s a game design degree or a journalism degree. Go for the one that will keep you going to 8 am classes even after you finished that keg.