How to break into the industry: Tips!

I should mention first off that I’m not some kind of expert on this topic! I landed a few internships at games magazines and websites (PC Gamer, Future, GameSpot), freelanced a bit and I now have a job in Publisher Relations at Climax Studios, but there are of course plenty of people who have been in the industry much longer who can probably give you better advice on career progression, what subjects to study at university, etc… However, I also spent an agonizing year trying to do what many of you are trying to do – get your first paying job in the industry and I think I have gained some insight into the process. Also, a lot of you guys have asked me for advice, so I figured you guys might appreciate any tips I could give you! I’ll mainly be talking about games journalism, because that’s what my internships were in, but to be honest it’s mostly just generalised job searching advice. I’m also not saying that everything I suggest is The Right Way or that if you follow it then you’ll get that job/internship you’re looking for. Ultimately it comes down to you and what you can do. But every little bit helps right?

First things first though, I’m not going to lie, the games industry is incredibly competitive and the jobs aren’t that plentiful – particularly at games magazines and websites. Sure people do come and go, but junior positions are rare to come by and almost any role these days requires experience. With the economy being what it is now and the difficulties that many magazines are going through, those golden opportunities are few and far between. That said though, it’s not all doom and gloom! I got a job in the industry didn’t I? Understand that it will be difficult, but it’s not impossible if you’ve got the will. Thick skin helps too.

1. Take the first step – put yourself out there!

You might think you have no chance or that there are plenty of people with more experience than you out there, but a lot of editors are looking for talent, promise and familiarity with games when they choose their interns over experience. Even if you don’t have anything published, they’ll probably ask you to submit a writing sample and after that, it all depends on whether it’s any good. Before I did my internships, the only thing I had published was an academic piece in a legal journal, which is obviously very different in style and content from what they were looking for. So I wrote and sent them some samples and lo and behold, I landed a few awesome internships!

Is the website or magazine you want an internship at not advertising them? Don’t be afraid to check out how to contact the editor and send them an email to ask whether they do internships. What do you have to lose? Conversely, if you never try you’ll never get anywhere. I know it might seem intimidating at first, showing your writing to people you admire and waiting for them to judge it, but if you really want be a games journalist that’s what you’ll have to do every day. Your writing will be out there for everyone to see, so you should probably start developing a thick skin now.

The same goes for other games industry jobs – if you don’t ask or search or apply, nothing will happen. It seems obvious, but I’ve seen people with all the enthusiasm in the world who just never make that first step.

2. Be prepared to work for free

Internships lead to contacts, which leads to jobs. Obviously that’s easier said than done. Hundreds of people apply for internships and only a couple or a few people get taken on every year. You might think you’re doing the company/magazine/website a favour by working for free, but it’s actually extra work for them too. They have to train you while you’re there and take time out of their busy schedules to give you advice/answer your questions/take you out for lunch. It’s incredibly difficult to land one of those internships, but if you’re persistent and you’re good at what you do, it’s definitely do-able. Internships usually last for a week or two, so if you actually land one have the time to squeeze one in, do it! I was on the professional law course when I did my PC Gamer internship. I had a one week study break and I took that time to go to another city to do that internship. I also had a high fever and the worst stomach flu I’ve ever had in my life through the whole thing, but I still smiled and bore it even though I was exhausted, sick, alone in a random city and ended spending a fair amount of money on it. I never complained and it was still a great experience that I’ll always treasure! Not that many people get the opportunity, so if you do get it then make the most out of it.

3. But know your worth

If you find yourself doing unpaid internship after unpaid internship or doing work for free constantly, at some point you should probably consider stopping. Experience is great of course, but only if it doesn’t bankrupt you. If you’ve done a few internships or gained a fair amount of experience, you should probably start prioritising paid opportunities and job searching.

4 . When you do land that internship, do the very best you can and be polite to everyone

You never know when you’ll need a reference or a good word. Don’t underestimate how important that is. Conversely a bad impression could ruin you. The industry is more tightly knit than you think. I’ve heard stories of nightmare interns – don’t be that guy (or girl). Be friendly, hardworking and most importantly, take advice well. These people know what they’re talking about, listen to them. You’re there to learn after all. And realise that no matter how much you think you know about games and the industry, you still have much to learn. Be humble, ask questions and listen to what people are telling you.

5. Apply for jobs that you don’t think you’ll get, but also be practical

I didn’t think I would land this job, because they were looking for someone with more experience, but they liked me and situations changed so I got hired. Don’t rule something out just because it seems a little unlikely. On the other hand don’t just spend all your time applying for jobs you’ll definitely never get – if they’re asking for an editor and you have no experience at that, they’re probably not going to hire you.

6.. Realise that qualifications only take you so far

You have a programming degree or a journalism degree? Great! That’s one less hurdle for you. If you don’t have relevant degrees, don’t despair. Like I said before, unless you’re applying for something extremely specialised like an artist or programmer role, people can look past that. In games journalism especially, hardly anyone actually has a journalism degree. Passion and writing chops are what they’re looking for. Knowledge of games will of course help, but from what I’ve heard good writing skills are what will really get you in the door.

8. Start a blog, make your own game, teach yourself a scripting language

Engage in projects that will give yourself a leg up and will keep you busy. You have no idea how many times people have been interested in my blog and Youtube channel. It shows you’re dedicated that you’d write about games in your free time and gives them some extra writing samples to have a look at.

9. Ask as many questions as you can from people who know what they’re talking about

If you meet someone from the industry whether socially or at conventions and so on, don’t be afraid to ask questions. You’ll never know if you never ask. Obviously don’t bug them if they’re busy or ask so many questions that they end up hating you. Be sensible about it.

10. Go out and meet people. Bug your friends and family for contacts

Ask around and find out if anyone who knows someone who knows someone. Even if that contact isn’t quite in the area you’re looking for, s/he might be able to put you in contact with someone who is. Be proactive.

11. Have a really good think – the industry might not be what you expect it to be

You love games. That’s great. You like writing. Even better. But do you think you’d actually enjoy writing and playing them day in and day out? There’s a difference between playing games because you want to and playing them because you have to. From what I’ve heard from games journalists, many of them don’t play in their free time as much as they used to. It’s a very different thing to playing the latest game at your leisure. If it’s part of your job, you’ll have deadlines to keep to and you might end up having to rush through the experience. You’ll also have to fiddle with taking screenshots and writing down notes as you go. That’s a very different experience to playing for fun or even just writing a blog post about it. So think about it. Maybe despite all that and the fact that games journalism and most games jobs in general don’t pay a lot for quite a long time (unless you somehow end up working at Microsoft straight off the bat) you still want to do it then go for it! But make sure you really think about it first.

11. Be patient and stay upbeat

It’s going to be hard, I won’t deny that. If you really want to do it though,  then go for it, but don’t expect instant results. Be patient, keep trying and go easy on yourself.

So that’s it from me. Good luck! I hope my tips help you in some way!

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3 responses to “How to break into the industry: Tips!

  1. This is so fantastic! I work with interns all the time (not in the game industry), and you made some excellent points. And thank you for touching upon the fact that interns, as wonderful as they can be, do take up staff time. It’s a delicate trade-off, but when you have a good workplan in place, it usually works out for the better.

    Your point #11 is also so very important. We interview interns at the beginning and ends of their internships, and while the vast majority still want to practice in the field, we have had some exit interviewees say “y’know, this really isn’t right for me.” Just knowing that a job might not, in the end, be the right fit for you is just as important as having a job goal in mind.

    • Thank you! I’m glad you thought I hit on some good points. Hopefully it’ll help someone out there.

      I think it’s a common misconception that interns are doing the company they’re working for a favour by doing work for free. That’s why I think it’s important to be grateful for the time that people spend training you and to be realistic in terms of how easy it is to land an internship in many fields, games included. There just aren’t enough places to go and just being willing to work for free just doesn’t cut it anymore.

      Yeah, I think it’s important that people don’t go into an internship/industry with too many expectation that can later be shattered or at least keep their minds open. Especially if it’s not something they’ve had experience in before, the reality of the industry and work is often very different from how it’s portrayed in the media/what you’d expect. I went into every internship with the attitude of ‘yes, I’m here for them to scope me out, but I’m also here to scope them and the industry out to see if it’s what I really want to do’ and I think it held me in good stead!

  2. Kind of late to comment on, but I did want to say that this is a great list! 🙂 I definitely know what it’s like to be a fairly long-time intern. Unfortunately, I had to do that after I got laid off from my first post-college job and was in between jobs and looking for work.

    It’s definitely true to know when you may need to stop doing internships and start looking for paid work. I had internships that were really valuable post-college and some that weren’t so great. I had to leave a few because it felt like the internships I took during college where I was the good intern, but I rarely learned much other than being told to get someone’s coffee or lunch.

    Experience and having something to put on your resume is great, but you also need to know when to stop being the intern and start being the paid employee you want a company to hire. Luckily, it never took me that long to say enough is enough!

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