Your story begins...
You wake up. You're brimming with energy and enthusiasm. You know that today is the day, the day that you will meet your destiny! The day that you begin your quest, your journey into the games industry...
You look to your right and see a very strange creature stood beside you. After introducing itself and explaining that it is here to aid you on your quest, you decide that it seems friendly enough.
[You speak to the creature]
I, the creature, am Liz Mercuri. It's not a very mythical name I know, but bear with me here. In 2014 I was super lucky enough to be awarded a Prince William Scholarship. This meant that I was able to study a Masters in Computer Game Software Development at Sheffield Hallam University. I am a proud member of BAFTA Crew Games, Warner Bros. Creative Talent and the Institute of Engineering and Technology Women's Network.
Phew! That's a lot to take in, right? Don't worry, it will all become clear very soon.
I'm Here to Help
The last two years have been exceptionally demanding but also extraordinarily rewarding. As my graduation draws near, I think about how much I have learned, about those who have inspired me and about what is yet to come and how selfish I would be to gain all this knowledge and keep it all for myself...
During this adventure, I would like to share with you my experiences of being a student in the games industry. Hopefully in doing so, you will feel more prepared and be able to more fully realise the opportunities that await you in such a thriving collaborative industry.
A hero in training...
Before you embark on your adventure, you are reminded of the importance of being prepared. You sit and ponder thoughtfully for a moment. You think more about what skills you would like to learn and what your ultimate goals are. You think about how you are going to achieve these goals and about how many gold coins you will need to forge your master weapon.
[You speak to the creature]
What is Right for You
Hmm. Allow me to ask you a question, adventurer. What are you wanting to achieve in setting out on this quest? Be true to yourself about what skills you wish to gain and what your ultimate goals are. Don't forget about the skills you have or are currently learning too. All those experience points count!
Whether you are choosing A-Levels or choosing a university course, you will be surprised by how the subjects you choose to study, can lend themselves to a career in computer games. Whether your strong suite is graphic design, computer science or creative writing, all of these contain skills relevant to the realm of computer games.
Working in the computer games industry is not just about developing games, there are opportunities to enter the industry in roles outside of development such as journalism, events management, marketing and much more.
As working in computer games becomes more widely accepted as a viable career option, many university courses now tailor their content with a focus on computer games. More on this later.
Regardless of your current skill and experience level, do not be afraid to be yourself! If you're passionate about your work, talk about it and show it. If you have an opinion, don't be afraid to voice it. Be open to the opinions and advice of others but never be afraid to be yourself and always show pride in what you create and what motivates or inspires you.
Choosing a University
This very much depends on what is right for you. The possibilities are boundless but do not let this intimidate you: If you have identified which skills you definitely would like to learn, then you are off to a very good start in finding the right university for you. To aid you on your quest, keep an eye out for those courses which have an industry recognised accreditation. One of these accreditations is the Creative Skillset tick. This tick means that the course content is relevant and contemporary, adhering to the requirements of the creative industries. I have provided a link to these Creative Skillset accredited courses in the Supplementary Items available to you at the end of this piece.
You will find that university course leaders and the teaching faculty are happy to answer any questions you may have about course content, accreditations they hold and your prospects on graduation. Remember adventurer, it is always important to look at the bigger picture. What further enrichment does the university offer you beyond key skills?
Many universities hold student memberships with organisations such as UKIE and TIGA. These memberships hold the potential for closer working relationships between academia and the games industry.
If it is a particular skill or technology that you would like to master, a number of universities hold specialised partnerships. With the rise of virtual reality for example, many universities are becoming involved with Crytek's VR First programme. In fact, what first attracted me to Sheffield Hallam University was their involvement in the PlayStationFirst Academic Development Programme. Universities involved in the fantastic PlayStationFirst partnership are able to provide their students with development tools and software in order to create games for the PlayStation platform. This unique insight into and experience of developing for the PlayStation, offers the students relevant skills and familiarity with contemporary tools and practices.
"If professional experience is what you strive for, many universities offer placement years whilst others even have their own game studios."
If professional experience is what you strive for, many universities offer placement years whilst others even have their own game studios. One university led game studio is Steel Minions at Sheffield Hallam University. Steel Minions provides industry standard tools and a professional working environment to allow students across different disciplines to collaborate and create games, with this year seeing the release of Steel Minions first PlayStation4 title, PieceFall.
Some universities even encourage collaboration with those outside of the university. Events such as Dare to be Digital, in association with Abertay University, not only provides an incredible opportunity for graduates but also inspires those wishing to pursue a career in games. Whatever it is that attracts you to your university of choice, make the most of it and be open to opportunity. I never anticipated being offered the chance to get to grips with developing for virtual reality, but when I was, I was so excited and I couldn't wait to get started. There are so many opportunities and resources available to you at university, be sure to make the most of them.
Adventurer, will you help me spread the word?
The scholarships and internships available to those wishing to embark on a career in computer games appear to be a very well kept secret. Let us change this. When I was accepted onto my Masters and offered the opportunity to apply for the BAFTA scholarship, this was the first I had ever heard of it. BAFTA and Warner Bros. offer scholarships for a number of selected university courses. These scholarships, offer financial aid, mentoring and access to industry events and workshops which help to give context to your studies.
I have provided links to these eligible courses in the Supplementary Items available to you at the end of this piece. What is an adventure, without a little alchemy? A marvellous mixture of both the BAFTA and the Warner Bros. scholarships create the Prince William Scholarship. The Prince William Scholarship is awarded annually, to three individuals across film, television and games. The scholarship provides an industry placement and membership to Warner Bros. Creative Talent which provides a wealth of mentorship and master classes. The opportunities and experiences offered by this scholarship absolutely transformed my career! I am so grateful for the support and guidance the scholarship and those associated with it have offered me.
"Be sure to check the websites of your favourite games companies, as they may have an internship that suits your aspirations. The Microsoft Careers website contains a listing of available internships and details of how to apply."
That is why I urge you, to ascertain whether your university of choice is eligible for applications to these scholarships. If it is, I insist that you apply: It will be one of the most terrifying but undoubtedly one of the most rewarding moments of your career adventure. There are also a number of internships available. Be sure to check the websites of your favourite games companies, as they may have an internship that suits your aspirations. The Microsoft Careers website contains a listing of available internships and details of how to apply. Games companies such as Creative Assembly have previously offered internships to those who have graduated from courses with the Creative Skillset accredited tick.
If university is not for you, Creative Skillset also offer accredited apprenticeships. I have provided a link to more information on the apprenticeships in the Supplementary Items available to you at the end of this quest. As I have previously mentioned, the BAFTA and Warner Bros. scholarships provide mentoring opportunities. I wouldn't be half as competent or half as confident without the patience, guidance and feedback of my BAFTA mentor, Lizi Attwood of Furious Bee.
A mentor offers valuable advice and insight that only comes with experience. Don't be afraid to ask those who you admire and who inspire you for a little guidance or a little feedback. It is also a great idea to ask for input and advice from your peers and your tutors. In turn, don't be afraid to offer your help, guidance and support to others too!
A hero's inventory...
The creature in front of you bows its peculiar head, congratulating you for your successful journey thus far. "Now that you're well on your way to becoming the hero that you have always wanted to be" it begins, "you will find that it is so much more enriching to do more than just your main quest. Allow me to explain how the side-quest system works." Before you have a chance to reply, the creature has already begun its explanation...
[You interrupt the creature with a question]
Student Initiatives & Memberships
Stay alert! There may be great opportunities to add depth to your studies and meet likeminded individuals right under your nose. Universities may have student memberships with organisations who offer ways to add depth and context to what you are studying by attending events and workshops or by providing relevant literature.Be sure to check with your course leader, which resources the university subscribes to and student memberships it belongs to.
For example, student membership with UKIE offers the opportunity to attend the annual UKIE Student Conference, which holds a number of workshops and knowledge share lectures. Subscriptions to academic resources, such as magazines and journals provides a great way to read around your subject area but also draw inspiration from areas outside of your course content. I am a member of the Institute of Engineering and Technology, an institute to which my university subscribes. Not only has this membership provided a fantastic insight into the applications of programming outside of computer games, through receiving their magazine, but it has also presented opportunities for me to mentor and offer guidance to others.
BAFTA offer a great number of resources to those wishing to pursue a career in the creative industries. Sign up to their news letter to receive details of events which support upcoming talent such as Young Games Designers and Guru Pro. Beyond graduation, they even offer support to industry newcomers with initiatives such as Breakthrough Brits and BAFTA Games Crew. Adventurer! Get involved!
If you want to get into games, then make them. You have probably heard this a number of times and it won't be the last time that you hear it, and for good reason.
Game Jams are a great way to not only make games, but also gain experience of working with those in different disciplines. It is a super way to meet and collaborate with likeminded individuals and find sources of inspiration and motivation. With third party engines and tools available for free, it's an exciting opportunity to get to grips with new engines, learn from others and consolidate your existing skills. It is not uncommon for ideas and collaborations born in a game jam to continue to grow even after the jam has ended.
Game jams come in all shapes and sizes with differing themes and objectives and different time frames and team sizes. I have supplied a schedule of upcoming game jams in the Supplementary Items available to you at the end of this piece: find one that is right for you.
Events offer the opportunity for gaining knowledge and forming relationships. Most of the information that led me to the university course of my choice and gave me an insight into the skills I needed, were formed from speaking to professionals at events and attending careers fairs. I gained an insight into nationwide events by subscribing to newsletters and mailing lists of companies I have an interest in or publications relevant to my interests. GamesIndustry.Biz for example, give a list of upcoming events at the end of each newsletter. I gained an insight to local events by connecting with local professionals on social media and asking others in my peer group what events they attended and enjoyed. I find that once you have attended one event, other related events naturally present themselves.
Sheffield Digital covers a range of local events including Women in Tech meet ups, indie game developer meet ups such as SHINDIG and the East Midland Indies and larger events such as Doc Fest which held an exhibition on alternate realities in Sheffield earlier this year. Wherever you are, there will be events relevant to your career interests. Social media websites, Eventbrite and Meetup are great ways of finding details on both local and nationwide events.
Attending events on the recommendations of others is a great way to gain inspiration from areas that you wouldn't normally consider venturing into yourself. Last year, I attended ProcJam, an event that focuses of the art of procedural generation, following a recommendation from a fellow student. ProcJam wasn't an event I would have originally chosen as I had no prior knowledge of programming for procedural generation. However, I left the event wanting to know more, feeling educated and also having made some great friends. It was refreshing and inspiring to gain an insight into a subject area outside of my studies.
"Many events hold talks and workshops with a focus on those new to the games industry. Be sure to check the itinerary of the event to discover these talks and find those relevant to you. Many events will also have an area dedicated to careers"
Many events hold talks and workshops with a focus on those new to the games industry. Be sure to check the itinerary of the event to discover these talks and find those relevant to you. Many events will also have an area dedicated to careers. Here, you can present your CV or examples of your work to gain feedback or have the opportunity to ask industry professionals any questions you may have about a career in games. The UKIE Careers Bar at EGX is a great one to attend.
As well as attending talks and workshops, another great way of making the most of events is to volunteer at them. Volunteering is a fantastic way to gain an insight into the inner workings of an event and meet those instrumental in the running of it. It's a lovely feeling to help out as a volunteer but also it's important to get an appreciation of what it's like on the other side.
I attended Unite Europe as a helper on the technical day in which two hundred men and women gathered to learn how to make an adventure game in Unity. This was an incredible experience as it gave me an insight into what went into the successful running of an event, the hard work and preparation that goes into a workshop and how rewarding it was to help others learn new skills. This level of appreciation I feel, better prepares you for when you do a talk or workshop of your own or take to a panel. You can find a list of upcoming nationwide games events in the Supplementary Items available to you after completing this article.
There are a number of student competitions waiting for you to discover them.The truth is, that there are so many fantastic opportunities and so many different ways of finding them, that it is impossible for me to list them all here. I can however, offer a few clues to their whereabouts!
If you are after competitions to test your skill, then keep an eye on your key areas of resource. For example for concept artists, competitions are regularly featured on ArtStation and for digital artists competitions are sometimes featured on CGSociety. Be on the lookout for student competitions on the run up to large events such as the Games Developers Conference and E3. Whether they are detailed on the conference webpage or on its sponsors or held exclusively by certain games companies, there will be a number of student competitions lurking and waiting to be discovered.
One competition that I entered, and can't recommend watching out for enough, is the Microsoft Game Changers competition. Entering this was suggested to me by a lecturer from my undergraduate studies in Games Design, after he had seen it posted on the Microsoft Careers page.
The Microsoft Game Changers competition provided twenty female students with an all access pass to the Games Developers Conference in San Francisco and an invitation to the Microsoft Women in Games Luncheon. The Microsoft Game Changers Initiative does not only address women in the games industry but also extends to BAME.
" The UK Games Fund this year launched Tranzfuser, in which eighteen graduate teams were chosen to receive funding and guidance to develop their games concepts. Keep an eye on the UK Games Fund and the Indie Fund for similar fantastic opportunities"
Keep an eye on the Microsoft Careers page for details of the Game Changers Initiative and of this incredible competition. The games company King also held a similar student competition to grant access to GDC. There are a number of competitions and initiatives which aim to promote and encourage emerging talent. The UK Games Fund this year launched Tranzfuser, in which eighteen graduate teams were chosen to receive funding and guidance to develop their games concepts. Keep an eye on the UK Games Fund and the Indie Fund for similar fantastic opportunities.
There's nothing like a bit of healthy competition, especially if the competition is with yourself. I've known of writers who have set themselves the challenge of regularly writing flash fiction (usually stories which are under fifty words), artists who complete bi-weekly speed paintings and programmers who regularly tackle HackerRank challenges. Setting yourself little challenges is a great way to keep your skills relevant and your morale up.
A hero is born...
You always knew that this moment would come. This is the moment for which all of your rigorous training has been for. You have anticipated this moment in equal measures of wonderment and dread. This is the final battle and your chance to be the hero that you have always wanted to be. As you save your game and prepare for battle, the creature offers you some final words of advice.
[You listen to what the creature has to offer]
Advice from the Experts
If you are fortunate enough to kindly be offered help and advice during your adventures, be sure to take notice. This advice can be used to enhance your strengths but also to identify and banish your weaknesses.
"Inspiration is everywhere. I think a designer should read, watch movies and TV series, go outside, travel, maybe play sports, go to museums, understand different cultures and ways of thinking and shouldn't just be entrenched in the world of videogames."- Gary Napper Game Director at Supermassive Games
"Luck = Preparation + Opportunity has always been a key phrase for me. You have to go outside of your comfort zone to grow both personally and professionally. In my experience being genuine and having a strong passion for what you want to do seems to carry you through."- Sam Hughes Audio Designer and Founder of The Sound Architect
"Be nice. And treat people how you would like to be treated at all times."- Cat Channon International Integrated Communications Director at Warner Bros.
"It never hurts to be enthusiastic towards what you want to do in games. Let your love of art, audio, programming, design, videogames, whatever it is you want to do shine through. Don't be afraid to let yourself and what you're passionate about shine through as the passion and enthusiasm is what drives game development."- Catherine Woolley, Senior Designer at The Chinese Room
"Never stop learning. Use your passion to guide you towards what you want to learn next." - Timea Tabori, Engine Programmer at Rockstar North
"People working in games are often really keen to help new talent join the industry, but you have to meet us halfway with a clear idea of what you want to do. The more specific you can be about your ideal job title, the more help we can give. Perhaps you want to be a programmer, sound designer, concept artist, animator. And don't forget about the other essential roles that exist in order that games reach their market - publisher, marketer, PR, HR. There is more to games than making them! It's really important to look for a role that you're passionate about in of itself, because being passionate about games alone won't be enough to keep you interested if your daily job function bores you to tears. What do you enjoy doing every day? Is it the elation you get from programming, the buzz of communicating as a PR, the joy and struggle of writing? Think about how your previous experiences, your hobbies and your temperament could help games to get made and go from there."- Roz Tuplin Business Development Administrator at Games London
"In linear media, it's good to be seen as a specialist - to pigeon hole yourself as The Thriller Person or The Comedy Person, or whatever. But in games, writers don't really have that luxury; cycles are too long and specific narrative genres are made too infrequently for you to have a stable career only doing one thing. So, you have to be a generalist - you need to be an expert in multiple genres of narrative; multiple genres of games, otherwise you'll be waiting too long between jobs."- Rob Yescombe Freelance Writer and Director for Games and Film
The Elder Gods have spoken. Heed their advice.
Now, there is one trait that every hero should have: bravery!
If there is any advice that I would like to reiterate, it is to be brave. Anne Morrison, Deputy Chair of BAFTA , delivered a keynote at the Women in Games Conference this year in which she said, "Don't underestimate yourself, be brave and do what scares you the most." I couldn't agree more. I hate to delve into the back-story of a NPC such as myself, but if I hadn't been brave and stepped outside of my comfort zone, if I hadn't had a few knock-backs and if I hadn't learned a few difficult lessons, then I simply wouldn't have any advice to give you.
So, be brave, but also be resilient. Even the strongest of heroes and heroines lose a few battles along the way. If you suffer a knock-back turn that negative into a positive and look for the lessons that you can learn from the situation and ways in which you can improve and be prepared for if the situation presents itself again in the future. Don't give up!
- BAFTA Scholarships
- Warner Bros. Scholarships
- Warner Bros. Creative Talent
- BAFTA Initiatives
- Microsoft Game Changers
- Microsoft Internships
- PlayStation First Partnership
- Game Jam Schedule
- UK Game Events Schedule
- UKIE Students
- TIGA Events Schedule
- Creative Skillset Accredited Courses
- Women in Games
- Institute of Engineering and Technology
Thank you to Gary Napper, Sam Hughes, Cat Channon, Catherine Woolley, Timea Tabori, Roz Tuplin and Rob Yescombe for providing a huge source of inspiration and encouragement during my adventures but also for contributing to this article. Thank you for the wonderful art wizardry provided by Lap Pun Cheung, concept artist at Plarium.
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