#3: There are lots of ways to break into the industry.
If you want to work in games (I mean really, really work in games) then you probably can. You just need to make a plan and stick to it. The easiest way to break in is QA. As I mentioned above, the pay’s not great, the hours suck and it’s really, really hard work, but chances are there’s a game studio looking for QA testers right now. If you want to break in, find a developer or publisher near you and apply. All you need is a high school diploma (or GED) and the ability to form a coherent sentence. If you don’t live near a game publisher, you may have to move, since it’s highly unlikely that anyone is going to pay for relocation for an entry-level job. Hell, even that guy who won Sony’s reality show The Tester spent his prize money to move to the west coast to actually take the job. Ouch.
The very low bar for entry means that QA attracts two kinds of people: the very, very driven, and the absolute opposite. If you’re super-motivated, you will move up over time, but you’re going to have to put in a lot of hours and really distinguish yourself to do it. If not, you’ll either burn out or be one of those people who live with their parents until they’re 40. But, if you’re up for it, you’ll get access to all levels of game development and really see first-hand how the whole process comes together. If you’ve got the drive, QA is the easiest way to break into the industry, regardless of where you want to end up.
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Now, if you’re an artist, the best thing you can do is get a degree from an art school. If you want to be a concept artist, study 2D art and really, really get some skills. Build a portfolio and get your work out there on DeviantART or game community sites. Guys like the great Dhabih Eng of Valve (that’s his work on the right) came out of the community and now thrive, so it can totally be done. If you want to be a 3D artist or animator, do the same thing, but also see if you can contribute to a mod team. That’s a great thing for just about anyone looking to make games, as you’ll learn the same development processes that are used by professionals.
For designers and programmers, again, look to join a mod team. If you’ve been around the gaming scene for a decade or more, look at the credits for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Recognize any of those names? An awful lot of them were mod authors back in the Quake days. Left4Dead? Mod guys. Lead designer on Civilization V? Mod guy. One of the designers on Fallout: New Vegas was the creator of Oscuro’s Oblivion mod. He’d never worked on a retail product before, but he slipped right in and made a real difference because he already knew the engine so well.