I was asked to share my experiences in the game industry regarding the process of being accepted and what tips I could offer to enhance your chances of getting in.
I urge people to read the rest of this topical forum to get feedback from other experienced artist who work(ed) in the industry. They might agree, disagree or simply add more comments. Regardless, you will get a fuller picture.
My credentials are 7 years in the game industry at Turbine Entertainment Software, in Westwood, Massachusetts. Turbine is known for making the 3rd Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) in the US: Asheron's Call. Turbine then made an expansion pack for AC called Dark Majesty, and later released Asheron's Call 2.
I started at the bottom, did pretty much everything and ended up Lead Production Designer (aka Lead Concept Artist.)
Understand, therefore, that my experience is mainly based on this company.
Prior to going into details, you must understand a few thing about the game industry in general :
a) It is not a particularly stable industry
b) You will not become a millionaire
c) It is a job: it can be fun, it can be frustrating
d) You will not own the work you did
(but there are exceptions, of course.)
ad a) There are a lot of startups that don't survive, mostly due to finances. Even famous big names don't always make it. When I joined Turbine, it was a startup and we got lucky. We did go through hard times where it was less than certain that we would have a job the following month. It turned out ok, but it might as easily not. If you want stability, check the history of the company before joining. As usual, joining a startup is a risk. However, it is usually easier to join a startup than to join an already established company.
ad b) If you are joining the game industry to become rich, forget about it. Most likely you will be an employee with a salary, maybe bonuses. Unless you create the next Doom, you won't end up with 7 Ferraris. Salaries can be competitive and you get benefits, etc...besides, you're getting paid to create art, how cool is that? If you join, join because you love what you are doing.
ad c) Ultimately, it's a J.O.B. You will probably have a boss and will have to work with other people on the same project(s). Ultimately, the people who pay for the project will have the final say. You might not like their choices, but that's tough luck: they have the dough, you don't. You will have to do boring stuff but you will also be working on cool projects. You WILL work overtime, aka Crunch Mode. Those are notorious in this industry, especially before deadlines, and you will probably not be paid for it (you're on a salary, remember? but you might get free pizzas and stuff.) Crunch mode gets the adrenaline rushing, the blood pumping and you'll learn a plethora of new swear words you never guess existed.
ad d) You might be proud of that new monster, but it ain't yours no more. It's company propriety. Be aware that other artists might take it, rework it, rebuild it or it might just be dismissed, even though you think it's the best thing ever and no one understands you. You MUST learn to share your work, receive and give constructive criticism. Normally, you can use the work you've done in your portfolio and to promote yourself, but that's usually about it.
Lots of people want to work in the game industry and since there's a lot of choice but relatively few companies, HR concentrates on the best and the rest, well, gets trashed. So, to put all the chances on your side, you must STAND OUT.
Web site and Portfolio:
Nowadays, Portfolio and Website are intermingled.
You will need a web site. It's stupid and simple, but some people don't have it. Most recruiters usually don't want to deal with physical portfolios nowadays, unless you get an interview. In the meantime, have something to show online. It must look professional, that is: no dead links and no useless obstructing gizmos that will make the viewer cringe.
Only show your BEST work. ONLY! It's hard, I know, for you shall probably dismiss 90% of your stuff, but what is important above all is QUALITY, not quantity (I won't say that enough.) Show a few pieces, maybe 5-10 to begin with, but they must be the best you have to offer. The first impression will either keep them looking, or lose them.
If you want, put the rest under another non-portfolio related link (such as sketches, or 'old stuff). However, be aware that this way, they will see the best, but also "lesser quality" work. It's fair to say that your site is as good as your "worst" piece.
Make sure your contact information is easily accessible. If you need to click more than 2-3 times to get to your email or phone, then you might as well not put it on your site at all. People won't click forever to try to reach you.
The 7 seconds rule:
Studies show that online, people have patience for roughly 7 seconds (ain't that sad?). Basically, if they have to wait more than 7 seconds to get somewhere, they'd rather cancel. If your images are so big that they take 30 seconds to load, people won't look at them. Make them smaller. That's why I don't encourage Flash or funky code stuff, unless you know what you're doing: if people need to download something to view your site, well, they might, they might NOT. Additionally, If all that Flash stuff takes forever to get somewhere, they might not want to wait that long, and you'll lose the opportunity to show your stuff.
Keep the navigation clear, keep the site clean, keep it simple. Simpler is often better.
A 30 seconds reel of great stuff will get you noticed. 3 minutes of crappy bouncing balls will get your tape in either a dusty drawer, or the trash (truly). You have no idea how many of those crappy 3 mn tapes we've received, and we review them for 30 seconds. If it hasn't caught our eyes by then, NEXT!
Reviewing tapes and resume is not particularly fun, nor is it something that happens daily. Often, we have so much work that we check them only on a need-to-hire basis. However, if you're the next Michaelangelo, we will probably contact you just to get you before the other guy does.
- Never, EVER present work that is not yours. First of all, that's stealing and is immoral, but understand that the industry is small, people talk. If you get caught, you will be grilled and won't get a job in a reputable company ever. It's not worth it. I've seen it happen twice already: one was blacklisted, the other fired.
Don't do something you might regret.
Be on time!
Show confidence, look at people in the eye when you talk. Don't interrupt (sad habit these days). Smile, show interest, be energetic even if you're dead tired from having flown 28 hours from Saskatchewanopinguinolis-in-Antartica. Don't be afraid to ask questions and answer them truthfully. Don't discuss salary right away (if anything, wait till they start talking about it). The day after the interview, send an Email thanking them for their time. Follow up if you don't hear from them after a few weeks (that's how I got my job: I followed up and showed more interest than others. They picked me outta the pack. My portfolio at the time? my sketchbook! Looks like persistence did it for me). But persistence is not harassment, be careful or you might get the opposite effect.
What to show:
In an interview, you can bring your physical folio and maybe bring more work, the doodles, the sketches, the ones that show thinking processes. Often, people want to see how you think, from start to finish. For instance, the development of a monster from the original concepts all the way to the final rendering. Ask them what they want you to bring, they might want to see specific stuff.
They're free for you and cheap for them (well, not really cheap for them). The way it works is if the recruiters get you a job somewhere, the company who hired you will pay them a full month of salary or more. Their effectiveness is based on the market's demand and your portfolio. Remember that there are many other people who use them, so you might just be part of that big pile of resumes they have to go through.
Often, companies will require artist to know-it-all. That is, you must show that you can sketch, draw, model, texture-map and animate and sing the Blues (coz you're gonna sing the Blues, I can guarantee that, if nothing else!). You need to show a broad range of skills and you will probably be assigned to the one you're the best at. At Turbine, for instance, you must pretty much know it all. They can ask you to doodle something, then model it, texture map it and even, given your skill, animate it. More often than not, though, the tasks are separated.
Other companies might be interested in just one of your skills, say Modeling. It's always a good idea to show more than expected/required.
Generally, as far as artists go, I've found that most companies are looking for 3D artists, that is people who can model, texture-map and/or animate. 2D-only artists, such as concept artists position are rarer, but not unheard of. However, you must be gooooood. Generally, now with this "everything must be 3D" phase the industry 's going through, 2D artists are really hired as 3D artists-who-can-draw-when-needed. There are exceptions, as always.
Check the Employment section of this site, Gamasutra and other game-related sites for more info how who's hiring. Oh yeah, chances are you will have to relocate. Most game companies require work on site. Remember, for every chance of an interview, you'll get 10 rejections or more. Don't give up! keep working hard!
Well, I think that's it. I hope I wasn't too patronizing, that was not the intent. I hope it helped some people.