Making video games for a living is a dream for many. The demand to secure a job in a game studio is quite high and as a result it can be difficult to enter the game industry, especially if you do not have a good network. A couple of decades ago, the game industry was very small and there was no real formal educational path to it. Today, many universities offer videogame-related courses and degrees. The upside is that students are better prepared for a career in the game industry. The downside is that they are legion.
Given my background in user experience (UX) applied to video game development, I’m often asked how to get a job in the game industry, mostly from students and UX practitioners who want to transition into the game industry. I’ve been advocating for UX even before it was called that way in the game industry, first at Ubisoft (in France and Canada) in 2008-2011. Later on, I put together UX teams at LucasArts, and Epic Games (until 2017 when I started to work independently). From my experience hiring UX folks, I’m offering here my humble advice for getting a job in the game industry. Here’s the content:
- Resume (CV)
- Cover letter
- Linkedin profile
- UX design test
- Onsite interview
- Game UX roles: where to start? (UX design, UX research, data science)
- Some FAQs & Conclusion
This article is mostly relevant to people applying for a job in North America. It could probably be generalized to Western countries but keep in mind that I only worked as an employee in France, Canada, and the US. Therefore, there might be some differences in different countries.
If after reading this post you have remaining questions, please ask them on Twitter or Linkedin. If you need more help and are seeking mentorship, check the resources at the bottom of this article and/or reach out to me (please DO NOT HESITATE to contact me if you’re a woman or from a marginalized group — mentioning it because I know these are precisely the folks who hesitate to reach out while also having a smaller network).
- Resume (CV)
Recruiters care mostly about what you are capable of. So your resume should be less about what you say you can do and more about showing off what you already did. Even if you do not have yet any experience in the industry, or any other relevant experience that can be applicable to a game industry position (for example having experience in industrial design and having a good gaming culture can be relevant to enter the game industry as a UX designer), and even if you don’t have relevant degrees for the position, if you’re passionate about games and the role you aspire to play you should have made things already (more about this in the portfolio section). Here are some more specific tips regarding how to build your resume.
- Make sure your resume fits in one page and is easy to parse. Recruiters can receive hundreds of applications for a position, so they cannot possibly carefully read each and everyone of them. If your resume is concise and easy to read, it will more likely stand out. Keep in mind that recruiters often have less than one minute per resume to define whether a profile might be a good fit for a position and get to the next phase in the hiring process.
- Here’s the essential information most recruiters are looking for in a resume, from top to bottom:
- Name, email address, phone number, general location where you live (ex. Los Angeles area, CA), and link to your website or portfolio (more about this in the next section). Mention if you’re open to relocation (and in this case mention the areas of the world where you’d be ok to relocate if necessary) and if you’re open to remote work (telework). I would recommend avoiding too many details about your personal life, such as your precise address or your photo. We can all fall prey to implicit biases, and although more recruiters are hopefully now aware of those biases, many still aren’t. So the less information you give about your personal life the less these biases can potentially play against you. Be careful to remove all personal info but your name and website if you put your resume online, for security and privacy reasons.
- Short description (sometimes called “Statement”), from one phrase to a paragraph, describing what you are good at and are aspiring to. For example: “UX designer with a passion for conveying complex RPG systems.” I would recommend avoiding lyrical descriptions such as “Player empathizer” or “UX magician / ninja / what have you.” Firstly, because it will absolutely not make you stand out (many applicants actually write this on their CV), secondly, because it can sound arrogant, thirdly, because it won’t help recruiters determine whether your profile matches the position. Go straight to the point without the fluff and emphasize what is truly relevant for the position you are applying for.
- List first your professional experience: name of the company, role you had, dates, location. Then describe what you did more specifically, in bullet points style. Mention your game credits if you have any. If you do not have any professional experience, list your internships in the same fashion. When relevant, add a link showing the end result of your work (such as a gameplay video of the game you worked on, and mention the timecode where your work is showcased).
- Describe your educational background as concisely as possible. If you do not have any work experience yet, this section should mention the student projects you worked on, and have links so the recruiter can check the end result of your work (explain what you did and if you link to a video, mention the timecode where your work is more specifically showcased).
- End with your interests and other experiences (optional but the less work experience you have the more valuable this section is). Here, be specific regarding video games. It’s not enough to say that you are passionate about games (most applicants are). What recruiters mostly care about is what specific genres you play and what aspect really drives you. For example “Mostly passionate about RPGs but playing a variety of games [mention the genres] on [list all the platforms you are playing on] to stay current with new trends in UI”.
- Somewhere in your resume (close to the top or on the side), list the tools and methodologies you are comfortable with. Again, be specific. Prefer “Proficient in Excel” over merely saying “MS Office.” Avoid throwing all the keywords you believe will help you (such as mentioning all the user research methodologies you can think of) and favor what you truly have experience with. Avoid listing tools that we expect everyone to master (ex. “G-Suite” or “Word”). You can add the languages that you speak if relevant. I’ve personally never found listing soft skills useful (e.g. “teamplayer”) because they can often sound like lip-service and it takes up precious space on your resume. This is not to say that soft skills aren’t important; they most definitely are. But they are more efficiently assessed during an interview. This being said, resumes are now often first filtered via an algorithm and if “teamplayer” was set as a keyword to find, not having it can be detrimental to your application. Those recruitment algorithms pose a lot of problems, especially regarding inclusion, but this is not the topic of this post and we need to sadly be aware of this.
- If relevant, add links to articles you wrote, public speaking, orgs you are a part of, etc.
- Customize all the above elements depending on the company and position you are applying for. Oftentimes resumes end up being an aggregation of all the things the candidate likes to do, probably in the hope that something will fit and catch the eye of the recruiter. For example, I often received resumes for a UX design position that mentions in the top section something like “UX designer / game designer / writer / C++ enthusiast.” I would strongly recommend you to avoid doing that, especially if you are a student or do not have a lot of work experience. It’s extremely rare to excel in many different roles, especially as we are starting a career, and it will only make your resume look more confusing and less straight to the point. So unless you have proven that you can indeed master various skills, stay focused on what you are the most good at and what fits the position you apply for more specifically. You can always add your other talents in the “interests” section. Because of ATS algorithms (applicant tracking system), I would recommend reading the job description and offer very carefully so that you can to re-use their own keywords in your resume for what fits your skills and past experience (don’t lie of course!). The idea is not to cheat the system by adding a keyword section in your resume to throw all the keywords in there. Instead, the idea is to avoid being cheated by the system and to integrate the relevant keywords from the job offer to adapt your resume accordingly.
If you send your resume to a human or post it on your website, use a pdf version to keep your format intact overall. However, it seems that ATS algorithms parse .docx formats more accurately and they also work better with classic fonts (such as Arial or Verdana), so be mindful of this if you send your resume via a recruiting portal. Ask a couple of friends to proofread your resume. Typos aren’t usually well received, even when perfectly mastering written language is not a requirement for the job you’re applying for. This is another example of an implicit bias recruiters often have and it can work against you. It’s even more important for your resume to reflect the skills that are required for the job you’re applying for. For example, if you’re a UX designer your CV absolutely needs to reflect your ability to convey complex information in a usable way to your audience.
Here is an example from Alexandria Heston (check the pdf version), shared with authorization. Of course, online resumes can be broader since they are not targeted to a specific job. But keep in mind that the version you send to recruiters needs to be more focused and specific to the position you are applying for.
- Cover letter
Should you add a cover letter when you apply for a job? Some recruiters specifically ask for one, others don’t mention it but that doesn’t mean it’s not useful to send one. My personal and completely biased opinion is that what you would like to express in a long cover letter (no more than one page though!) should already be conveyed concisely in your resume. You can for example explain who you are and your motivations regarding the job you’re applying for in a short blurb under your name in your resume. The other reason why I am not in favor of cover letters is because they disadvantage people who don’t master the written language used (which might not be their native language) and most jobs don’t require this skill. After all, writing a good cover letter is much more complex (and stressful) than being able to communicate efficiently with your colleagues via emails or instant messages. That being said, if you do add a cover letter (since some recruiters do like them), focus on explaining 1/ why you are interested in the job you are applying for (talk about the company and the position) and 2/ why you believe your skills and experience can be a good fit, using examples of what you did in the past. Also, maybe ask a recruiter who likes cover letters to give you tips instead of taking guidance from someone like me who clearly has a strong opinion against them…
- Linkedin Profile
The Linkedin template is close to what is expected from a resume (name, position, short blurb describing who you are, work experience, education, etc.). The main new thing is that you need to add a photo of yourself (keep it professional, or use a picture of your work or an avatar if you’d rather not show your face) and to be very clear in your headline. Keep in mind that when you try to connect with people on Linkedin, this is the only information they see about yourself. I would strongly recommend you not to simply say “Student at [University]” (which I very often see). Mention what you are studying more specifically. Or say “Aspiring [what you want to become]”. If you already have some professional experience that matches your aspirations, then just say what you do. I moderate a Linkedin group called Game User Experience, created to bring together recruiters and people working or aspiring to work in game UX. So when I look at the list of people who have asked to join the group, if it doesn’t clearly say “UX” or “games” in their headline then I need to click on the profile to ensure that this person has some connection with games and UX. And I don’t always have the time to do this… I would bet that other group moderators don’t either. So the clearer your headline, the easier you will join groups and connect with people you care about. For the same reason, I would recommend avoiding catchy phrases as headlines, such as “Challenging the status quo one day at a time”. It can be perceived as pompous and, more importantly, it doesn’t say anything about what you’re doing.
When you request a connection on Linkedin, I strongly recommend you to add a personalized message. Explain why you would like to connect with this person. It’s easier to accept a connection when we understand why this person wants to connect with us (see more tips in the Networking section).
A well-crafted portfolio is a critical asset to get a job for certain positions (mostly art and design related positions) but it can be useful for any position (although in some cases it can take the shape of a blog). Here I will focus on the main two roles I have hired for in the past: UX design and user research.
- UX design portfolio
If you’re a UX designer, having a good portfolio is critical because it’s showing rather than telling. But here again, recruiters don’t necessarily have a lot of time to carefully browse portfolios, so it’s generally a good practice to make it easy to navigate. First off, your name and role(s) should be clearly visible on your website home page without having to scroll. Showing a few end results in tiles is a nice way to invite your visitor to learn more about your work. If you’ve been tinkering with many things (e.g. character design, environment design, UX design, animation, etc.) try to focus on your strengths and what you aspire for rather than trying to show too much. Jason A. Das’s website (shared with authorization) is a great example of this: you immediately understand the person’s skills and focus, and you can easily select the type of work you’re interested in seeing. Then, within a project in the portfolio section, the description starts with a summary explaining the project, platform, tools used, scope, and the role. This last part (describing your role in a project) is important to mention when showcasing your work. Having a short summary describing each project can be very useful for recruiters. For UX designers, explaining the design goals, target audience, process, and tradeoffs is precisely what is important to showcase. Don’t only show the end result (although the end result is good to show on your homepage and introduction of the project for eye candy effect). It’s your process that matters the most. Recruiters will want to have a taste of your design thinking process, your research, your sketches, wireframes, prototypes, etc. We care about why you made the decisions and the tradeoffs that you have made on this project. Of course, you don’t need to show everything or be exhaustive. It’s still important to be concise in your portfolio. I would also recommend not to be too wordy. Don’t hesitate to add a short video showing the interaction design you worked on. You will find in this video a few professional game developers showcasing their portfolio.
If you have never worked professionally on a project yet (or the project you worked on is under NDA), you still need a portfolio to showcase what you’re capable of. Showcasing your student work is a good alternative. If you don’t have any, pick a game that you love and go through the exercise of redesigning a system that you find could be improved. Just be very careful not to sound arrogant. Introduce the project as a way for you to practice/showcase your skills and acknowledge that you don’t necessarily know the intent the game team had, or their constraints. As long as this is stated, don’t hesitate to decide on a design challenge, make assumptions about the target audience, and practice a full design thinking cycle which you can then showcase in your portfolio. If you can, I would encourage you to pick a few game genres to do this exercise (e.g. re-designing a RPG system and a FPS HUD) across several platforms (at least mobile and one other platform). This will demonstrate to recruiters that although you don’t have any professional experience yet, you already have a professional mindset.
If you have professional experience outside of the game industry and wish to transition to games, I would recommend you to do the same thing because it will demonstrate your interest in games and your gaming culture.
- UX research portfolio
UX researchers usually don’t showcase their work in a portfolio, because it’s typically under NDA. It can still be useful to showcase your skills nonetheless, especially if you’re a student and don’t have any professional experience yet. What I would mainly recommend you to do is to conduct a UX evaluation of a few games that you’ve played (try to be diverse in genre and platform). First mention which UX framework you are using, then conduct a heuristic evaluation of these games. Here again, be very mindful not to sound arrogant (after all, you don’t know what the team was trying to accomplish, their constraints, or their hurdles). The point is essentially to show that you are capable of analyzing a game in an objective way. It’s not about giving your subjective opinion (this would constitute a red flag for the recruiting manager, as UX researchers should not give subjective opinions, but an enlightened analysis using a scientific approach). The best way of doing this is to identify a usability issue and explain why/how it can negatively impact players, backing your thought process with human-computer interaction principles, and human factors psychology knowledge.
You can also start a blog and write articles on game UX topics you care about (e.g. accessibility). You will find an example from Bill Hardin (shared with authorization). In his website Bill demonstrates his passion for games and his analytical skills.
- UX design test
Recruiters loved your resume and your portfolio, you had a first interview call and it went well, congrats! The next step is usually to complete a UX design test. Hopefully, it’s not a test that is too long to complete (which is not a good hiring practice). The goal is to have a taste of your capacity to solve problems. The test can be, for example, re-designing a system from a released game with specific constraints and a very reduced scope (hopefully). For example, re-designing the crafting system of a well-known game, or the HUD of a FPS to solve specific issues. Usually, you will need to send back a pdf or ppt file to explain your design thinking process as well as 1-2 short interactive prototypes. Here again, be concise. Start your presentation by re-stating the UX challenge (what experience you’re trying to offer for what type of audience, and what problems you’re trying to solve), then go straight to the solution(s) you propose. After that, rewind to explain your process from the start (sketches, wireframes, link to an interactive prototype, etc.) and always explain WHY you made certain decisions and their consequences (trade offs). Mention the questions you would have asked the team if you were in a real work situation, and the assumptions you made to accomplish this task since you could not ask those questions. You can also end with “with more time, I would have done x, y, and z.” Just ensure to stay focused on the task you were given. If you were asked to redesign a HUD to solve for specific user research feedback, don’t start by explaining what UX heuristics are, or by putting together a fake persona that you created. You are wasting both your time and theirs. If you really want to add these elements, do that in the annex. But otherwise, just focus on the task given.
If a company gives you a design test that is very long to complete, this would constitute a red flag that the company doesn’t value work-life balance and is asking too much from their employees (and aspiring employees). It’s up to you of course to decide if it’s worth it. If you really want the job but don’t have enough time to complete the test, ask if you can scope it down. Another huge red flag is if the company asks you to solve a problem they are currently having (e.g. the design test is about their online game that it currently live). The design test should never ever be about doing free work for a company. It’s meant to be an exercise to demonstrate your capacity to solve problems and communicate with team members.
- Onsite interview (and phone interview before that)
The last step is usually an onsite interview. If you had to complete a design test beforehand, you will generally have to go through it in front of a few people. At this step it’s important to be a good listener. The team will probably ask you to explain why you made specific design decisions, if you had considered x, y, or z, etc. What is generally assessed here is your capability to communicate your thought process, (humbly) advocate for your design decisions, take feedback, and maybe reassess your design solutions (unless you believe your initial design decision makes the most sense for the user experience and can clearly explain why). Remember that if you are applying for a UX position, you should be advocating for players. So explain your decisions relative to the player experience. Be wary of simply defending your “opinions.” Also, try to defend your design without sounding “defensive”. It can sometimes be a fine line between wanting to sound confident and sounding arrogant instead. You should be confident about your work. So simply explain why you made the decisions you made, answer questions, counter-argument if you disagree with a criticism, but don’t feel bad if you realize that there are flaws in your design and that they are pointed out during the interview. Failing is absolutely part of the design process and recruiting managers should (hopefully) know this. It’s your capacity at analyzing flaws in your design and iterating that are usually assessed during a design interview.
During an onsite interview (and the phone interviews before) you will also have to answer a lot of questions. It can be about explaining your background, experience, why you are interested in the current position, what games you are playing, what you believe are your strengths, things you need to work on, greatest failure and accomplishment, etc. Try to take deep breaths and not be too intimidated. But do make mental notes if some questions seem out of place (such as if you have kids or intend to have kids in the near future), because these are also flags that the company might not be a healthy place to work at. Make sure to research the company beforehand and to play their most recent games, especially if they are free-to-play games (because then you have no excuses for not playing them). If their games are too expensive, watch Twitch streams or YouTube videos. Candidates that have very little knowledge of the company they are applying to will certainly not appear professional and won’t make a good impression. Lastly, prepare your own questions. Ask about the people you would work with, the specific challenges about the project, what they expect you to accomplish to consider your mission a success, etc. Also ask about the company values, work-life balance, benefits, their diversity and inclusion efforts, career development efforts for employees, and anything else you care about. This is not only about the company interviewing you, it’s also about you interviewing them. Working in a videogame studio can be hard and many game developers have spent years in a toxic work environment only to see their project canceled. So try to ensure that you will enjoy your time working at the company, and that they will care about developing your career.
The game industry is a relatively small world. Except for my first industry job, I got all of my other jobs thanks to my network. And I entered the game industry mostly thanks to the articles I wrote in French news outlets in the early 2000s and by participating in video game festivals. Therefore, I would strongly encourage you to create a blog, write articles, participate in conversations on social media (a lot of game developers are on Twitter), Linkedin groups, Discord channels, go to professional conferences if you can, etc. Find the medium that works best for you. The important thing is to find your voice and to connect with game developers, especially those who have the career you aspire to have. Try to find a mentor and/or join groups and organizations. You’ll find some links in the resources section below.
However, be wary of “game dev parties”, such as during GDC or E3. Not only parties are often not a good place to have a serious conversation about your career but harassment is sadly common, especially if you’re a woman, disabled, or a trans person. It’s not because you are young and eager to get into the game industry that you should accept to be mistreated or disrespected (or, worse, assaulted). Stay away from toxic people and seek out help if you ever feel uncomfortable at a networking event. A good rule of thumb is to verify before attending any party or networking event (or professional conference even) if it has a code of conduct and if this code mentions a person to reach out should a problem occur. Absence of such code is not a good sign. No networking opportunity is worth putting yourself in danger. In doubt, just don’t go. There are plenty of lovely people to meet in our industry, you don’t need toxic people in your life!
Networking is critical to get your first job and grow in the game industry. However, women and marginalized groups often have less networking opportunities and more barriers to get in. This is why community help and solidarity is extremely important (while we try to push for better inclusion in the game industry — but let’s be clear: there is still a lot of work to do). It’s quite common for established professionals to take the time to help aspiring game devs from marginalized groups. Do reach out to those professionals.
In any case, before you connect with a professional on Linkedin or ask questions on social media, take the time to research this person a little bit. It happens quite often that students reach out to established professionals and ask questions that are already answered on their website for example. Many of us are happy to help students if we can but we are all also very busy. Take the time to do your own research before reaching out to a professional. Once your research is done though, do not hesitate to reach out. We are very friendly and welcoming as long as you respect our scarce time resources ;).
- Game UX roles: where to start?
I’m often asked where to start to work in game UX. If you are interested in game UX, I wrote a book about it and you can find articles and resources on my website. But here are a few tips depending on the UX roles:
- UX design: UX designers are expected to, well, know about design and more specifically interaction design, information architecture, and visual design. Having some Unity and Unreal Engine experience helps, and you definitely need to master the most common prototyping tools (eg. Adobe XD, Axure, etc.). You do not need to have degrees in psychology but you are expected to know about human factors psychology and human-computer interaction (HCI) principles. If you started your career in another design or art discipline and wish to transition to UX design, I would strongly recommend learning about HCI and interaction design (IxD). You will find books to read here (Human Factors section). If you have no formal education in HCI or Ixd, Interaction Design Foundation and NNgroup propose online courses. Interaction Design Association and UXPA are also great resources. To my knowledge, there is currently no online course for UX design specific to video games.
- UX research: user researchers are generally required to have a research background. So this role tends to be filled by people with an academic background in human factors psychology, experimental psychology, or cognitive psychology. While you do not need to have a PhD to be hired as a user researcher, you do need to know how to conduct research, typically in cognitive science. NNgroup has an online course but it might be tough to get a job as a user researcher if you don’t have a higher education degree that implies conducting research (typically a Master’s degree). It takes time to learn how to conduct proper research and control for our numerous human biases. This is why the people recruited for this role often have an academic background. This website proposes resources around UX research.
- Data science / data analysis: data scientists generally hold a Master’s degree in mathematics, statistics, or computer science. It is required to master Excel very well, as well as SQL and Tableau at a minimum. You need to be proficient in data visualization and it’s often required to know some programming languages such as R and/or Python.
For all of these roles, it is required for you to have a good gaming culture and game design understanding. So don’t forget to reflect that in your resume, play many different games on different platforms, and read some books (see my resources page on game design).
- Some FAQs & Conclusion
I’m often asked how it is to work in the video game industry. It can be a harsh environment. Being laid off is quite frequent and often happens at least once in a game developer’s career. It’s also an industry where “crunch” (over time) can be glorified and inclusion issues ignored. The bigger the studio the more stability and resources you will get, but you will also have a more siloed work experience. I understand that it’s hard to be picky when looking for a first job, but make sure to ask questions to the recruiters to figure out if the studio is a good place to work at. There are some great studios and people in our industry! So try to stay away from a toxic environment. And if you end up in one, don’t suffer silently, seek out help. Take This org is a great place to start.
I’m also often asked what I love about my job. The game industry is a place filled with passionate people, specialized in many different disciplines. It’s a very rich and exciting industry to work in.
I hope that these tips can help you reach your goal. I wish you the best of luck! 🙂
- Tips for aspiring UX designers by Anna Brandberg
- Games Research and User Experience (GRUX) https://grux.org/
- GRUX Discord channel: https://grux.org/grux-sig-discord/
- Diversity and Inclusion Resources: https://ukiepedia.ukie.org.uk/index.php/Diversity_%26_Inclusion_Initiatives_%26_Resources
- Pixelles Montreal (Canada) https://pixelles.ca/
- IGDA https://igda.org/
- IGD Foundation https://igdafoundation.org/
- Take This https://www.takethis.org/
- Game User Experience Linkedin group (dedicated for game UX professionals and aspiring game UX pros to connect with recruiters)
- More resources here: celiahodent.com/resources
If you know of other useful resources for young or aspiring game developers, please let me know so I can add it to the list. 🙂