Programming Web games is the coolest job going. It’s a massive growth area with companies like Zynga making millions from running Facebook games — so how do you break in?
In the good old days — i.e. in the last century — the old-fashioned way was teach yourself to program, develop a game, send in a demo and hope someone offered you an interview. Or you went to college, got a degree in something like computer science, and tried to break in through recruiters. Then along came the Internet, and you’ve got a number of new paths to follow. But first let’s decide what job you should do.
Or maybe if you wear cool clothes, are a bit hip and a whizz at drawing you could be an artist? You know pixel art? Check. Wear a black jumper and have an iPhone? Check. You’ll be an artist or, if you can program in Flash as well, a Web game designer. You’ll turn out concept art, creating the characters that will become an iconic brand.
Database/back end gurus know their Hadoop from Memcached, weave phrases like “Tokyo Cabinet” into conversation and even know what it means. Knowledge of sharding? Check. Breathe high performance computing and know relational DB and NoSQL? Check. You’ll probably have a computing degree and know Perl, Java, maybe even C++. Heck you can probably hack but your black hat days are best forgotten. Your job will be in server side engineering, the not so glamorous work that stops players from getting server connection problems while they’re playing the latest GameVille on Facebook. You don’t just rock, you scale horizontally and rock!
Gimme a Job
There’s still choices to be made. Do you want to go startup? Low pay, long hours but if it strikes gold you’ll be rich once your stock options can be exercised. Or maybe you’d prefer the corporate life, more maintenance work, a 9-5 job that’s safe but not quite as exciting?
There’s really only one thing that matters when going for a job. Convincing someone that you can do it. Some jobs require proof, a piece of paper with your qualification on them, etc., but it’s still surprising how many don’t if you can find the right person to accept you. It’s far easier with startups as well. Corporations employ recruiters to make sure you don’t get through the door.
So You’re an Artist?
It’s straightforward for you. Just create a private online portfolio of past work, send a link to it and with a good dice roll the job is yours! Web game designers also get an interview where they have to draw the cutest original new character.
You people have it far too easy. There are just so many different ways to get into the industry.
- Start or contribute to an open source project. If your name is Linus it really helps.
- Take an existing open-sourced commercial game like Quake 2 or 3, add graphics and send in a demo.
- Create your own game. You have to be careful with this. Too successful and you’ll be a star, so why do you need a job? Notch, the creator of Minecraft could probably walk into a job anywhere. Not that he needs to…
- You did a degree in Video Games development. (Hey that’s cheating!) And they got you a summer placement in a firm who who wants you…
- You didn’t get a degree but you live at home with Mom and Dad, love games and will work for nothing as a summer intern. This can work well, though it’s a bit weird if you are 28 or older.
- Move to Canada. Sure they talk a bit strange and use postcodes like the British but their game companies get great tax breaks.
- The slow route. Get a job as a tester and borrow books, acquire code from their overworked developers when they sleep (daytime usually) and teach yourself. Then when they need new developers, you step up to the mark.
Database Gurus and Back End Engineers
It’s the old fashioned route for you, so put on your best suit, carry any book by Joe Celko, plus your vital degree qualification and blow them away at your interview. Tell them something up-to-date rather than how you managed running a nuclear power station from a database on a Timex Sinclair.
The bar to entry into the world of Web games has never been lower for someone choosing the non-college route. The main technologies that you need to know are:
Client Side – One of These Two
- Flash, i.e. ActionScript 3
Server Side – Three Out of Five
Developing your own game will teach you a lot and give you plenty to talk about at interviews. When you describe how you switched from Subversion to Git, optimized your graphics to reduce page loading time, managed your assets in Flash, and coped with scaling up from five to 15,000 players, then they’ll know you are the real deal.