i keep a keen eye on the post-secondary education system here in Ontario. i’d LOVE to get to a place where we have a number of really fantastic schools teaching video game design and development, and Ontario’s where you gotta go when you’re considering a career in this stuff. But we’ve got a long way to go.
When i spoke at the Toronto FanExpo, one of the audience members asked me about value-for-money in these programs. i responded the same way i always do: if you are in a college video game development program, and you do not graduate with at least one finished game, demand your money back. (Bolded AND italicized … this guy means BIDNESS.)
(this guy also means bidness)
Of course, a number of preventative factors could be involved in you not having a finished game. (YOU, for example.) But if it’s not the goal of your game development school to launch you with a final, playable game, i question your school’s priorities (and their motives in taking your parents’ and/or taxpayers’ heard-earned money to put you through the program).
Press Rx to Start
i have a prescription for graduating students: three simple things that many, many grads don’t have. By checking these three things off the list, you’ll be miles ahead of most of the other Ontario game dev grads against whom you’ll be competing for a very limited number of internships, entry-level positions and other opportunities. These three things are:
- Your own website.
- A finished game on that website, playable in the browser.
- Business cards, to drive people to that website when you’re out at networking events.
1. Your Own Website
Here are a few DO’s and DONT’s for your own website:
- buy a domain (many web hosts give you one for free with a hosting package)
- create an email address using that domain (example: pete@petesWebsite.com)
- make your CV/resume readily accessible on the site, BUT … despite what your college tells you in their “career preparedness” filler course, your resume isn’t really worth a damn in this industry. The proof is in the (playable) pudding – your finished work samples.
- have a prominent link that says “Contact” which, when clicked, displays your phone number and email address. (Afraid you’ll be harassed by stalkers? Get over yourself. You won’t.)
- go with a free hosting solution (example: http://pete.awesomeSitesForFree.com)
- bury your best work behind more than one click (preferably, your reel or finished game should be front and center on the main page, playable in one click)
- hide your contact info
- prominently post your resume (Your resume doesn’t matter. Your work does.)
- post all of your school projects, down to your Illustrator colour wheel and your Photoshop person-removal exercise. Just pick two or three of your very best pieces, and leave the rest out. If you don’t have anything you can confidently show, go back to the drawing board and build something. Doesn’t matter if you’ve just graduated – your portfolio is never finished, and if it sucks right now, stop looking so hard for a job in the industry. Get a joe job to keep yourself occupied, and spend every remaining waking hour making your portfolio not suck.
2. A Finished Game, Playable in the Browser
By “playable in the browser”, we’re talkin’:
- … Java? (Is it playable in the browser? i *think* so. i don’t know enough about it to say for sure.)
- Shockwave (if you’ve decided to go back in time to 1998)
i may draw a lot of fire by stipulating that the game must be playable in the browser, but i’m standing behind it as stone cold fact: if your game is a downloadable executable file, it will not get played.
The last thing i want to do as an employer is spend time futzing around with a student’s (potentially) badly-built file that may do God-knows-what kind of damage to my system. Add to that the time involved in screening applicants. i just don’t have the hours or the patience, and i know i’m not alone in that. At the Indie Showcase event in Toronto, TOJam founder Jim McTellin’ItLikeItIs McGinley confirmed that the TOJam games that are not playable in the browser receive dramatically fewer (read: ZERO) plays than their playable-in-browser counterparts.
But if i hit a student’s site, and right there on the main page is a finished game with a big, inviting PLAY button, i will click and try it out for at least a few seconds.
No Game? Fake it.
If you can’t swing a browser-playable game, create a trailer for the game featuring gameplay. Watch different pieces on GameTrailers.com to get a sense of good pacing and high production values, and steal whatever techniques you can identify. And whether you have a browser-playable game or not, be sure to add a few clickable, biggify-able screenshots to your site in case the visitor can’t be arsed to hit that PLAY button on your video or game.
On a Role
Another tip: it’s preferable to have a game that you either built on your own, or where your role was very clearly defined (example: you created all of the background art, and programmed and designed the entire user interface). It’s fine if the game was a collaborative effort, but it becomes more difficult for a visitor to get a sense of your abilities. YOUR abilities – those are the things you need to be trumpeting on your site. If the game was a team project, clearly and prominently state your role in the project – the more specific the better.
I created the sprite sheets for the main character, and the warg and vampire villains. I also did all the sound design except the background music tracks.
NOT SO TERRIBLY GOOD:
I worked on this project with seven others. I designed some of it, and drew some of the art. I also did about half of the coding, and some of the animation. (wtf does “half the coding” mean?)
3. Business Cards
They say “it’s all who you know”, so a very crucial part of being a graduate is getting out there and networking. i guarantee you that if you impress someone with your personality at an event and ask him to remember to visit petesWebsite.com, it ain’t gonna happen. People at networking events have memories like sieves – you’re one of maybe thirty people they’re going to talk to, and you’re a recent grad, so it’s likely more of a challenge for you to make an impression. You’re gonna need business cards.
Make sure it has off-white colouring, tasteful thickness, and – oh my God – a watermark!
Here are a few things i recommend listing on your business card:
- your name
- your email address @ your own domain
- your phone number
- some kind of tag line that reminds the reader of your goals as a recent grad, and be specific (example: Peter Peterson – Seeking Employment as a 3D Texture Artist in the Mobile Game Industry)
- your website address … make sure it doesn’t take too long to type, like untoldentertainment.com (what a bloody terrible idea THAT url was)
- Some kind of call to action can’t hurt (example: Come see my dragon models! or Come play Super Jumpy Man!). If you put something like that on there, you may pique my interest.
And a few don’ts:
- don’t bog the card down with a million phone numbers. One will do. If you really can’t be reached at that number all the time, you can put two phone numbers on there, but try to keep it simple.
- i don’t recommend putting your mailing address on there. No one’s going to send you a letter by Pony Express. Not only that, but you risk looking like a hick if you’re applying for work in the big city, and your business card places you in some distant suburb or outlying area (it ain’t pretty, but i wouldn’t recommend passing around an Oshawa or Barrie business card at a Toronto networking event. You want to appear as if you’re local and available, and as if you have all your teeth.)
- don’t don’t don’t don’t don’t list a hotmail address. You’ll look bush-league. i’d even say the same for gmail addresses … you own a domain, so you should use that in your address. If you like the gMail service, you can manage your @petesWebsite mail using gMail. Your public-facing address should be customized.
- don’t cook up some bogus company name. If you’re looking for a full-time salaried position at a company, i think it’s better to present yourself as an individual. It’s more important that people know Pete Peterson, than “Layzor Virtutronic Game Design Systems Inc.”
i’d love to get your suggestions for web hosts and business card tips in the comments section! And feel free to complain about my browser-only stipulation for the games. i’ll just let you know ahead of time: you’re wrong.