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My avenue into the games industry wasn’t a traditional one. But as is often the case with careers – not all of us know what we want to be when we’re little. Rather we follow a series of passions until we find our way to something we love more than anything else.
But let’s say you do know what you want to do with your life – and that’s video games. Complex, exciting, infuriating, wonderful games. Only problem is – you’re not a coder. Well, as I myself found out, there are other avenues you can pursue.
Consider your options
I’ve always been pretty nerdy. I was that girl in high school who never cut her hair, had an awkward goth phase and always had her nose buried in fantasy fiction novels. Video games to me were an extension of those worlds I loved, so I devoured them too. But I never actually considered a career in video games.
I suppose it didn’t occur to me that there were options in the industry outside of actually making them. Society had led us to believe that video games were time-wasters for lazy people – so most of us kept pretty quiet about our gaming habits back then.
Nevertheless, I landed a role on a TV show I loved because I had a particular set of skills (alright, Liam Neeson). What I mean is, I had dabbled in acting and was confident in front of a camera, I’d done quite a bit of writing in and out of uni and had a real, unabashed passion for games. All of this culminated in me becoming one of the most well-known faces in Australian games media.
Choose your focus
While my situation was unique – and not everyone can land a job on a TV show like I did – I came to recognise just how many moving parts the industry has, and how many people are involved in making it turn.
So, let’s take a look at your options: First, you need to decide if you want to be involved in making games, critiquing them, playing professionally, or selling them.
Even if you don’t know how to code, there are loads of roles within the production team that could see you being part of development. You might be great at art – concept artists or character artists are vital. As games become more narrative based, writing for games is a super important role.
There’s music composition. Maybe you’re super organised – can you help run the dev team, hold them to task and be a project manager? How about a community manager, in charge of social media and dealing with the public around events or competitions? Think about the kind of role you want to play in development and build up your skills in that area.
So, you wanna be a games journalist. Do you need a journalism degree? No, but it certainly helps if it’s absolutely something you know you want to do. This is probably the most common question I get asked – how to get into the journalism side of things.
And I get it – play games for a living and tell people what you think? Bliss, right? Sure – if you can land the right job. Aim for the top websites and publications you go to and trust for reliable gaming content. If you can get on board as a staff writer, you’re doing well.
Otherwise, you can try to develop a rep as a freelance journalist that specialises in the tech and gaming space. This can be a tough way to live and is probably not the best place to start if you have to do things like pay rent and eat – but if you’ve got the skills, you can definitely get there eventually and do well.
I’m going to start by saying that in most instances ‘professional gamer’ is typically an esports competitor – and you probably already know if that’s a viable option for you. If it’s not, the other way to play games ‘professionally’ is to develop a channel on YouTube or a live streaming service.
I know this is the ‘hot thing’ right now and there are a select few that are making a living out of it. But I DO NOT recommend this as your main plan of action. There are just too many variables around whether or not you will be able to successfully grow a dedicated, paying audience.
Start it as a secondary hobby to your main gig, and if you do well out of it – great! Congratulations. Dedicated, successful games personalities with a decent audience can live off their earnings, garner brand sponsorships and go onto to bigger roles in media. But that’s IF you ever get there. Unfortunately there’s just no magic formula for what makes a channel successful.
- HEY, THIS GAME IS THE GREATEST
Having worked primarily in the media/journalism side of things, my main point of contact within the games industry is with public relations. Video games PR is hard, hard work – trust me, I’ve seen reps at expos sleeping with their eyes open.
But if you love games, want to organise events to promote them and help facilitate a game’s smooth release, this could be the gig for you. You need to be organised, creative, good with people and REALLY good at putting out media fires.
A lot of people in games PR end up there from other areas of the PR industry and don’t have a background in games, they have to learn all the jargon on the job.
But if you rock up with a passion for games and some PR skills (or a degree) – then you’d be a shoe-in for any publisher or agency with gaming clients. There are even video games-specific PR agencies now, too.
Got skillz, bro?
Once you’ve figured out which are of the games industry you want to work in, it’s time to start arming yourself with the skills to get you there.
If it’s development: attend games weeks and expos, participate in game jams, lend your music or art skills for cheap to an indie developer, join groups and communities to stay in touch with budding developers who are looking to collaborate. Those are the stepping stones to bigger studios (if that’s your goal).
If you’re looking to be the next editor of your favourite media site – start a blog or website with examples of your writing. Develop a voice and writing style – and try approaching each piece with an interesting angle. Then, regularly submit your work for consideration.
Is your plan still to be the next streaming superstar? Start small. Try and pick a couple of regular nights a week you can dedicate to your stream, it’s probably the biggest key to building an audience (and why I’ll never be a successful streamer!).
Lastly, a PR degree is the best place to start if you’re pursuing that career – but I know plenty of people who started out in games PR as interns, learning on the job. Sometimes your natural ability, personability and gaming knowledge can be enough to get you there.
Overcome your social anxiety
There are so many more events around games networking and mentorship programs now than there used to be. There are events geared towards indies, mentorship programs specifically for women, and industry initiatives designed to get more people who are interested in a career in games in a room with people who can help them get there.
Be proactive in seeking these out, this industry is big but can still be a bit incestuous. Get in there and start talking to people. Also – I hate to say it, but join LinkedIn. It IS worth being on there.
Don’t just sign up – use it like Facebook for work stuff. Post your achievements, any examples of projects you’ve worked on or even ideas you’re toying around with. You never know who’ll come across your skills.
Know your worth
We all suffer from imposter syndrome from time to time. Why would anyone want to hear me speak when there are so many people more interesting/qualified/popular?
Squash that voice. Drive it into the dirt! Recognise that we all doubt ourselves – but you got into this industry for a reason and your passion speaks volumes.
That also applies to recognising your value. Of course it’s common and perfectly acceptable to work for free when you’re just starting out and trying to get a foot in the door.
Once you’ve established yourself, however – don’t let anybody take you for a ride. If your time, presence and experience is valuable and worth having, then it’s worth paying for.
Just do it coz you love it, man
No job is perfect. Even the ones that look cruisey from the outside often involve loads of hard work behind the scenes. Some involve little to no recognition.
You have to really love what you do, and if that’s video games then there are loads of different ways you can make them a part of your working life.
But just remember; just because video games are fun, doesn’t mean your job will be – so think hard about why you want to do it.
But when you land your dream job… you’ll know it was worth all the blood, sweat and mana potions.
Instagram / @hexsteph