fbpx

How to Get Your 1st Game Design Job without Trying to “Get Lucky”

how to get 1st game design job featured4
by <b>Alexander Brazie</b>
by Alexander Brazie

Alexander is a Game Designer with 20+ years of AAA and indie experience working on titles such as World of Warcraft, League of Legends, Ori, and etc...

👉  See the author's full background

📖 This guide is based on the perspective from the game studio hiring side to pragmatically get more game design job offers.

When I was giving a game design lecture at RIT, one of the students asked me how I’d approach getting hired as a designer if I had to start over again.

At that moment, I looked back and wished that I could’ve had someone break down how game studios’ hiring process for me and shortcutted 5 years of grueling struggle trying to break into the industry.

To help you avoid the same unnecessary trials and errors, I will show you how to break into the industry as a junior game designer more efficiently.

In this guide I will cover:

  1. How does the entire studio process work from beginning to end
  2. How to practically navigate each stage to get more job offers
  3. What are the concrete skills the studios look for when vetting talent (and how do you acquire them)

So let’s get into it.👇

First, let’s set the right expectations:

Expectation 1: Getting hired for the first time is the hardest.

🎮 Think of it as a boss fight that requires you to use all your skills and intelligence.

And keep in mind, the first game design positions you’ll qualify for is one of the following entry-level ones:

  • Assistant
  • Associate
  • Junior
  • Contractor (part/full time)
  • Internship

However, once you’re already in, getting hired again becomes easier because now you have established experience, credibility, and a network.

3 tier vs 5 tier game design position heirarchy wireframe scaled
(Difference between junior, assistant, and associate positions)

Also, it’s a numbers game, so do expect multiple attempts before receiving job offers. Getting a job offer on the first try is the rare exception (this even applies to seasoned designers).

However, you can increase your chances for the factors you do control.

(I’ll share some practical strategies you can use to increase your odds, in a bit.)

Expectation 2: Game design is challenging yet fulfilling work.

Meaning, this is not a career you want to get into if you don’t enjoy the craft and process and just want to collect a paycheck.

However, if you do have an unrelenting passion for design, the feeling of receiving recognition from both the players and the studio is priceless.

Expectation 3: Game design positions are competitive and highly in-demand.

The reality is, each job post can have hundreds – if not thousands – of applicants depending on the studio.

On the flip side…

recruiter game design job ss
(Credit: Recruiter.com)

The demand for this position grows 5.31% per year with an expected 32,090 extra annual new hires by 2029.

statista steam spy release data e1686698393786
(Credit: Statista)

The total number of indie game releases on Steam is on track to surpass 11,000 this year, according to SteamSpy data.

gds statista entertainment industry stats game vs music and box office
(Credit: Statista)

And on the player side, the video game revenue is bigger than box office, music, NFL, NHL, NBA, MLB combined! 🤯 And is projected to reach $300 billion by 2025, according to Shorelight ‘sresearch.

At the same time, “game design” is a nebulous craft, which means many of the applicants are underqualified enthusiasts.

(Later, I cover the exact skillset studios vet for and how you can acquire them.)

Now we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s take a look at 👇

How does the studio hiring process work for game designers?

Let’s first get a clear understanding of each talent filtering phase work in this process, so the strategies I’ll cover next will actually make sense.

The entire process can be broken down into these 3 phases, with minor varying differences depending on the studio:

Phase 1: Source opportunities

In order for you to apply, you have to first find the opportunities, which come in the form of job posts.

wireframe studio hiring process phase 1

You can find these job posts from 2 types of sources: public and private.

[Source 1] Public job posts: These are the ones available on public job boards that everyone has access to.

Pros: These are easy to find, and there are many places to source them.

Cons: Since everyone has access to these, you have more competition, so there is a lower probability to get noticed.

game studios worldwide
(video game studios world wide)

Here are all the places to find public game design job posts:

  • General job boards & search engines: Indeed, Glassdoor, LinkedIn, Monster, ZipRecruiter, Simply Hired, and CareerBuilder.

[Source 2] Private job posts: These are posts that are available only through people you know via their personal social media or communities.

Pros: They are less competitive and those who shared the posts are insiders who know you and can vouch for you.

Especially if you can showcase your skills to them ahead of the time, they can directly refer you to a hiring manager, so you don’t have to compete just to get noticed.

mentor

Cons: These are harder to source, because they come through word of mouth, which means you can only access them through networking.

Keep in mind that it’s a common practice for studios to source talents from their teams’ network before opening them up to public job boards, which means you get first dibs.

☝️ This is especially true for entry-level positions, so make sure you take networking seriously.

The person might also put in a good word in for you if he believes you’re a good fit.

⚠️ Disclaimer: This only works if you have the skills, because the referrer’s reputation is on the line.

I will cover which skills you need and how to acquire them in a bit.

So don’t be a Snorlax and sleep on the power of networking!

🔔 By the way, I’m finishing up a guide on how to network effectively in the industry – you can get notified here when it’s finished.

Once you source the opportunities, time to apply, which leads us to the next phase.

Phase 2: Mass Talent Filtering

This is the phase where the recruiters spend an average of 45 to 60 seconds to roughly skim through each of the hundreds and thousands of applications at scale before deciding whether to pass your application to the hiring manager.

wireframe studio hiring process phase 2

Note: The reason hiring managers don’t do the initial review is that they’re often the studios’ lead game designers, which means their time is expensive and valuable.

Here is some great advice on how to stand out in a sea of candidates by my colleague Greg Street, the head of Creative Development at Riot Games:

It all boils down to your ability to effectively communicate, present, and demonstrate your design skills through your design cover letter, resume, and portfolio.

wirefram game design resume cover letter portfolio

If you’re one of the final candidates, you will receive an automated design skill test contextual to the project for the position to see if you qualify to go to the next phase.

Phase 3: Detailed Skills & Cultural Fit Filtering

If you made it to this phase, then congrats, you’re the 10% who passed the mass filters of recruiters and ATS systems.

wireframe studio hiring process phase 3

(The hiring manager and lead designer can be the same or separate roles depending on the size of the studio)

This is where your soft skills, hard skills, and personality will be put to scrutiny under a magnifying glass by your future teammates.

Here is what the interview process to look like (the exact sequence can vary from studio to studio):

Interview 1: Prep call

Format: 1-on-1 over Zoom or phone

Interviewer: Recruiter

Purpose: The call is to prepare you for your initial interaction with the hiring manager. This one is optional, which means it depends on the recruiter.

Interview 2: Background & experience confirmation

Format: 1-on-1 over Zoom or phone

Interviewer: Hiring manager and/or lead game designer

Purpose: To verbally confirm the following in detail:

    1. Background and experience – Expect to articulate the impact of your role, responsibilities, contributions to the projects on your portfolio, and how these experiences align with the studio’s needs.→ You can prepare using these background & experience questions.
    2. Soft skills – Expect to articulate your ability to communicate and resolve conflicts to symbiotically collaborate with other game devs on the team to contribute to a single cohesive player experience.

❓ Here are some soft skills questions to help you practice for these.

Interview 3: Live mock design session to demonstrate your design skills (hard to fake).

Format: 1-on-1 or group (depending on the studio)

Interviewer: Hiring manager and/or lead game designer

Purpose: You’ll be presented with scenario(s) with a design problem live within the context of an already shipped game by the studio to assess:

    1. How you process and approach identifying problems and make design decisions in real time
    2. To check how familiar you are with the studio’s games (and whether you’ve played them.

Here is an example scenario former Ubisoft lead game designer Richard Carillo use:

The better you can showcase your thought process and understanding of game systems, the higher the chances of securing the position.

And make sure you play the studio’s games; most studios will disqualify you if you don’t play their games.

For example, I know that Riot automatically disqualified any applicants who didn’t play their games until recently.

❓ Here are 28 example skill tests for you to practice for this part of the interview.

Interview 4: Assess your hard skills (to project fit)

Format: Group interview on-site or over Zoom

Interviewers: Panel of game developers involved in the project your position will contribute to.

Purpose: Have those who are most qualified to assess your skills, expertise, and technical knowledge to determine if you are a good fit for the specific context of the game they’re working on.

❓ Here are some hard (design) skills questions for you to practice.

Interview 5: Cultural fit interview

Format: Group interview (or multiple micro 1-on-1 interviews) on-site or over Zoom

Interviewers: Game developers involved in the project your position will contribute to.

Purpose: Evaluate whether your personality, work style, and values align with the studio’s culture and the team dynamics. In a nutshell, if the team can see themselves enjoy working with you.

Outside of not being an a**hole, just be true to yourself and what you believe in.

❓ Feel free to practice with these cultural-fit questions.

Your turn: You vet the studio and team

Format & Interviewers: This will happen in various stages of the interview with both the hiring manager / lead designer and the team mates.

Purpose: For you to assess whether the studio’s culture and team is good for you to prevent a lose-lose situation.

Keep in mind that it’s a 2-way street, which means as much as the studios are vetting you, you’re also vetting them.

❓ Here are some questions you can ask the studio.

Now that you have a better understanding on how the studio will assess you as a candidate, let’s go over how you can get your first gig faster. 👇

Here are the 3 strategies to get you hired (without betting on luck):

Over the years, my senior colleagues and I have had many conversations about how to help a beginner become a better designer and be a more desirable candidate for hire.

Which lead to these strategies, where each one builds on top of the other.

If I had applied this when I first got started, I could’ve saved a significant amount of time and headache to get hired for my first design gig.

Think of these strategies as reading walkthroughs for a game before you play it.

By implementing these and putting in the work, getting hired for you will be only a matter of “when” not “if.” 👇

Strategy #1: Apply, reapply, and keep applying to the same studios (and don’t stop)

I noticed that the majority of people who apply to their favorite studios, get rejected once, and never again try to reapply, thinking the door is forever closed.

This very limiting belief may prevent you from working in your dream job at your favorite studio.

This strategy is based on simple math and here is how it works:

Step 1: Keep applying to the next available entry-level (internship, assistant, associate, or junior) game design job post of the same studio.

Let’s check how the math works out: To keep it easy to calculate, let’s assume you have a 10% chance of getting a reply:

Apply 1x

(Input)

 vs

Apply 100x

(Input)

0 reply

(Output)

8 to 12 replies

(Output)

As you can see even if your odds are low, the more times you apply, the more likely you’ll get replies.

Step 2: Keep iterating, don’t just keep applying the same way.

hiring and design skills iteration scaled

Make sure you iterate and improve both for the following:

  1. Game design skills
  2. Get hired skills and assets:
    1. Cover letter
    2. Resume
    3. Portfolio
    4. Interview skills

This will increase the probabilities of receiving more design test replies, ultimately help you get more interviews, which results in more job offers.

😏 Also the more you get to later phases, the more opportunities for you to practice as well, which in-turn increases the conversion % from the previous step.

Let’s use the same example: Now imagine 5 iterations in, you’ve increased your reply rates from 10% to 15%.

Apply 1x

(Input)

 vs

Apply 100x

(Input)

0 reply

(Output)

14 to 16 replies

(Output)

As you can see, if you increase the # of iteration in addition to increasing volume from Step 1, there is an even higher chance of you getting replies.

📙 Here are 4 guides to help increase the number of replies:

  1. How to create a design cover letter that captures attention
  2. How to create design resume that’ll get you interviews
  3. How to build a design portfolio that’ll get you hired
  4. How to pass game design skill tests (with 28 practice tests)

(We’ll get to improving your game design skills part in a bit)

Step 3: Now multiply that volume by replicating steps 1 and 2 for as many studios as you can manage.

Using the same example again: Let’s say you applied this step for 10 of your favorite studios at 15% response rate.

Apply 1x

for 10 studios

(Input)

vs

Apply 100x

for 10 studios

(Input)

1-2 replies

(Output)

140 to 160 replies

(Output)

When you do this long enough, you’ll get hired. The growth curve looks like this:

strategy 1 job offer growth overtime

Keep in mind: It’s a numbers game at the end of the day and you have limited control.

There are 100 reasons why you don't get the job and only one of those reasons is 'you're not good enough.' My advice is keep applying, don’t stop applying. And until they tell you like ‘hey STOP’ I would just keep doing it. – @candacerthomas, Principal… Click To Tweet

Our mutual colleague Paul Kubit applied to Blizzard 8 times before he got in, then quickly out-leveled many more experienced designers (including me).

Strategy #2: Setup a process to track and automate strategy #1

The job hunting process is no different than sales reps sourcing for customers (studios in your case).

The only difference is that job hunting is way easier since you only need to get hired once. For sales, you have to hit a monthly quota in order to keep your job.

Effective sales reps track their results and manage their follow ups using CRM in order to:

  1. See what’s working (or not), so they can iterate and improve the process.
  2. Consistently follow up on all potential customers without taking up their mental space.
  3. Focus on actions with a higher return on time invested by reducing unnecessary data entry tasks.

The best part is, you can track and manage your job hunting process the same way using any Kanban board such as Trello, Notion or Huntr.co (highly recommended by many junior designers).

hutr kanban

Here is the simple setup you can model after:

sample job hunting CRM kanban scaled

Currently, I’m in the process of putting together a tutorial including plug n’ play templates on how to set up your job application management system.

🔔 You can get notified here when it’s finished.

Strategy #3: Approach strategies 1 and 2 like a professional

amature vs pro

One of my mentors once told me:

If you want professional results, then execute like a professional. Click To Tweet

When I truly understood and applied this, my career trajectory changed.

Here are 6 main differences that separates professionals from amateurs:

#AmateursProfessionals
1Stop when they achieve somethingKnow the initial achievement is just the beginning
2Focus on the end goalFocus on the process
3Gets discourage at the first sign of troubleKnow that failure is part of growth & mastery
4

Take feedback and coaching as personal insults

(and actively avoid them)

Understand feedback is necessary to improve

(and actively seek them out)

5Value isolated performance luck through inconsistentValue consistent incremental improvements compounded over time
6

Depend on reactive ad hoc execution

(Feels like they are playing lottery)

Proactive and systematic execution

(Know that results are inevitable)

☝️ Now let’s see how this translates to job hunting:

  • Expect to be bad at it first before you become good at it (just like learning any other new skill). So start applying today, when you’re not 100% ready.
  • Don’t take the rejections personally, in fact, always ask for feedback (even though you may not alway get a reply).
  • Approach this systematically instead of gambling. You can do this by applying strategies 1 and 2.
  • Don’t expect initial outlier results. Know that if you apply strategies 1 and 2 long enough, getting hired is inevitable.

⚠️ Disclaimer: These strategies won’t matter if you don’t have the core design skills the studio wants.

gds primary vs secondary

What do studios look for in an ideal candidate?

For entry-level positions, the overall ‘game design skill set’ studios hire for can be broken into these 3 skill components:

Design skill 1: Analysis skill, which is your ability to…

  1. Step out of your own player archetype.
  2. Recognize design patterns from player feedback.
  3. Identify the root player experience problem.

Design skill 2: Problem solving skill, which is your ability to…

  1. Have productive design discussions with other game devs on the team.
  2. Come up with practical design solutions that work.
  3. Make design decisions that are meaningfully impactful.

Design skill 3: Implementation skill, which is your ability to…

  1. Clearly communicate and pitch your ideas to the lead designer and the rest of the team.
  2. Prove your idea through low-cost rapid prototyping.
  3. Be the glue between the other game devs (artists, programmers, other designers) to ensure your idea is implemented cohesively with others.

enthusiest vs designer

The entire talent filtering process is designed to weed the enthusiast from the professional designer.

By the way, since game dev is a team sport where the end result depends on how well you work with others, make sure to hone your collaborative skill set which includes the following:

  1. Communication skill – Be able to clearly articulate (write + verbalize) and demonstrate (visualize + prototype) your ideas clearly.
  2. Listen skill – Be able to understand your team’s ideas and feedback so you can adjust to or build on top of accordingly.
  3. Conflict resolution skill – Be able to drop your ego and disagree productively and respectfully with your team mates and resolve conflicts.

📙 Use these resources to improve the skills above:

Keep in mind that for junior design positions, studios will vet these soft skills even harder, because you’re not expected to be very good at design yet.

Therefore, you need to be coachable and moldable to learn.

How do you acquire this skill set?

Obviously, you can figure out what works for you through trial and error, but that’ll take forever.

If it’s your style of learning, go for it.

Here is a much more efficient approach 👇

Step 1: Learn existing frameworks from established game designers so you don’t try to reinvent the wheel.

📙 Here are 3 sets of proven frameworks that sprouted from different schools of design thoughts and approaches:

  1. [Book] Clockwork Game Design – It’s a design system built around a core mechanism, with nothing but the necessary supporting mechanisms and a carefully chosen goal.
  2. [Book] Art of Game Design – A Book of Lenses – This is a classic that provides you with 100 psychology driven lenses (aka insightful questions) that will help make your game better.
  3. [Free Guide] Player Centric Game Design Framework – These 7 principles work cohesively to put you in the players’ perspective, identify what’s missing the mark, and improve the gameplay.

    ☝️ I built this framework throughout my 20+ year game design career based on the legacy Blizzard and Riot Games schools of thought mentored by devs like Tom Cadwell, Michael Heiberg, and Wyatt Cheng.

I encourage you to check out all 3 frameworks and use what works best for your context.

If you have any questions about these frameworks, you can ask me in our Discord.

Step 2: Turn these frameworks into analysis skills

You can do this by playing games and reverse-engineering how these principles are implemented.

First, start with the games used as examples in the resources from step 1, so you can experience these frameworks first hand as a player.

Then, repeat this with the games you enjoy and are already familiar with. This way your attention won’t split between learning the game and pattern recognizing frameworks.

Once you get good at seeing the implementation of the underlying principles in the games you’re familiar with, now you can finally repeat this with games you haven’t played yet.

💡Pro tip: Practice this with all the games from the studios you want to work for. This will impress the interviewer when you can clearly articulate concrete examples of how these frameworks are implemented in their games.

In fact, if you’re really serious about getting good, dedicate 10-20 hours each week to play & study all the top 90% rating game titles and new releases in your desired genre.

This was the same advice my mentor Tom (Chief Design Officer at Riot) gave me when I first started, which led me to get hired at Blizzard.

(Riot, to this day, has a “Play Fund” that provides their game devs with $25/month to do this exact exercise.)

Step 3: Practice implementing these frameworks through mimicry.

You can do this by mimicking and replicating implementations from other games (based on the analysis you’ve done from step 2).

You don’t even have to create an entire game, recreate a mechanic, level, or character encapsulating the same principles.

💡Pro tip: As go through this step, document your thought process and how you’ve implemented the principles and add them to your game design portfolio. This is the exact type of information that catches the hiring manager’s attention. They call this “think out loud”.

When you start, don’t try to be original. First learn the rules before you break them.

Demonstrating thoughtful recreation is good enough to get you hired for an entry-level position.

💡Pro tip: Get feedback and mentorship from experienced game designers to speed up your learning process.

Here is how:

  1. Join Funsmith Club Discord and get feedback on your game project, career decisions, and job-hunting process from game developers of all skill levels, including myself.
  2. Use the Skill Development Program where I provide you with specific design patterns & examples, guided exercises, and personalized feedback to help you hone your design analysis and decision-making skills faster.

I hope this guide was helpful to you.

Feel free to comment below if you have any additional questions.

👇 

3 Responses

  1. I am planning on switching careers and diving into game writing and narrative design. This guide was not only full of resources and tips, but it effectively ‘talked me down’ from my big ideas and breaking the rules. I am eager to join this community, but now in the right way. I will definitely be joining the discord.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

EXPERIENCE & BACKGROUND:

[STUDIO] Blizzard Entertainment: Content, mechanics, and systems designer

(Creator of Apex Legends & former Creative Director at Respawn)

[GAME] World of Warcraft: MMORPG with 8.5 million average monthly players, won Gamer’s Choice Award – Fan Favorite MMORPG, VGX Award for Best PC Game, Best RPG, and Most Addictive Video Game.

  • Classic:
    • Designed Cosmos UI
    • Designed part of Raid Team for Naxxramas
  • Burning Crusade:
    • Designed the raid bosses Karazhan, Black Temple, Zul’Aman
    • Designed the Outlands content
    • Designed The Underbog including bosses:
      • Hungarfen, Ghaz’an, Swamplord Musel’ik, and The Black Stalker
    • Designed the Hellfire Ramparts final bosses Nazan & Vazruden
    • Designed the Return to Karazhan bosses: Attumen the Huntsman, Big Bad Wolf, Shades of Aran, Netherspite, Nightbane
  • Wrath of the Lich King:
    • Designed quest content, events and PvP areas of Wintergrasp
    • Designed Vehicle system
    • Designed the Death Knight talent trees
    • Designed the Lord Marrowgar raid
  • Cataclysm:
    • Designed quest content
    • Designed Deathwing Overworld encounters
    • Designed Morchok and Rhyolith raid fights
  • Mists of Pandaria: 
    • Overhauled the entire Warlock class – Best player rated version through all expansion packs
    • Designed pet battle combat engine and scripted client scene

[GAME] StarCraft 2: Playtested and provided design feedback during prototyping and development

[GAME] Diablo 3: Playtested and provided design feedback during prototyping and development

[GAME] Overwatch: Playtested and provided design feedback during prototyping and development

[GAME] Hearthstone: Playtested and provided design feedback during prototyping and development

[STUDIO] Riot Games: Systems designer, in-studio game design instructor

(Former Global Communications Lead for League of Legends)
(Former Technical Game Designer at Riot Games)

[GAME] League of Legends: Team-based strategy MOBA with 152 million average active monthly players, won The Game Award for Best Esports Game and BAFTA Best Persistent Game Award.

  • Redesigned Xerath Champion by interfacing with community
  • Reworked the support income system for season 4
  • Redesigned the Ward system
  • Assisted in development of new trinket system
  • Heavily expanded internal tools and features for design team
  • Improved UI indicators to improve clarity of allied behaviour

[OTHER GAMES] Under NDA: Developed multiple unreleased projects in R&D

Game Design Instructor: Coached and mentored associate designers on gameplay and mechanics

[STUDIO] Moon Studios: Senior game designer

(Former Lead Game Designer at Moon Studios)

[GAME] Ori & The Will of The Wisps: 2m total players (423k people finished it) with average 92.8/100 ratings by 23 top game rating sites (including Steam and Nintendo Switch).

  • Designed the weapon and Shard systems
  • Worked on combat balance
  • Designed most of the User Interface

[GAME] Unreleased RPG project

  • Designed core combat
  • High-level design content planning
  • Game systems design
  • Game design documentation
  • Gameplay systems engineering
  • Tools design
  • Photon Quantum implementation of gameplay

[VC FUNDED STARTUP] SnackPass: Social food ordering platform with 500k active users $400m+ valuation

[PROJECT] Tochi: Creative director (hybrid of game design, production and leading the product team)

  • Lead artists, engineers, and animators on the release the gamification system to incentivize long-term customers with social bonds and a shared experience through the app

[CONSULTING] Atomech: Founder / Game Design Consultant

[STUDIOS] Studio Pixanoh + 13 other indie game studios (under NDA):

  • Helped build, train and establish the design teams
  • Established unique combat niche and overall design philosophy
  • Tracked quality, consistency and feedback methods
  • Established company meeting structure and culture

Game Design Keynotes:

(Former Global Head of HR for Wargaming and Riot Games)
  • Tencent Studio
  • Wargaming
  • USC (University of Southern California)
  • RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology)
  • US AFCEA (Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association)
  • UFIEA (University of Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy)
  • West Gaming Foundation
  • Kyoto Computer Gakuin – Kyoto, Japan