This article will focus on answering a question that usually boggles the mind of those thinking to pursue a career in video games. Do you need a degree to work in Video games? The answer will be ”it depends on which position or job are you interested”.
This answer comes from my personal experience. As I mention in other articles, I personally work in Video Games as an artist. In my case, I know by fact, an artist doesn´t need a University degree to get hired. I never finished my University studies and I´ve been working in Video Games since 2010. And let me clarify, the courses I was taking during my time on University were History related.
But maybe you can think my personal experience is just an exception, but trust me, this is not the case. I have many colleagues who don´t have a University degree and they´ve been working for many years in this industry. Some of them are programmers, others are artists and game designers.
I will say that some jobs, like the ones on the Human Resources and the Marketing departments, require to the candidates, a formal education and a University Degree.
Why some video games jobs don´t require a degree?
The reason why some professions like, artists, designers and programmers allowed applications of candidates with no degree, is very simple. The candidates for this jobs will be mainly tested by two factors:
- The quality of their portfolio
- How well they will perform on the test
Of course, there are other factors, like how well you will perform on your personal interview, your communication skills and your knowledge of the company culture and the industry in general. But this factors will be secondary compared how good is your portfolio and the result of your test during the hiring process.
A degree will have very little influence on the company recruiters final decision if your portfolio and your test are not on point.
Why pursue a college degree then?
In this segment, I will focus on the pros and cons of attending college and having a degree, versus studying at home and learning from yourself.
Pros – If you attend the right college, you will have the time and the resources to build a portfolio that can land you a job on the industry. You will be mentored by professionals and guided towards a successful career on the industry.
Cons – The price can be too much for some people. A college education is very expensive and in some cases is not worthy. This is the reason why I said before you need to attend the right college. You need to check who is going to teach the classes. Check their resume on Linkedin and their level of professionalism. Colleges sometimes hired teachers with very little or non-experience at all on the industry.
Academies and ateliers are good alternatives. These are expensive too and sometimes doesn´t provide you with an official degree when completing their courses. But, on the good side, their teachers are usually professionals working on the industry and teaching as a side job. I know this because I´m one of this teachers. We teach using the latest techniques and software used in the industry.
The road of the self-taught education can be an intimidating one. I know this by personal experience, but with the right information and guidance, you can succeed.
Pros- Is very cheap compared to the College education. Also, you can find lots of online courses dedicated to specific areas of knowledge related to the job you are interested in. You can pick and choose which courses interest you the most and tailor your education to your personal needs. Usually, University courses include lectures about topics that are not directly related to the main topic of study.
Cons- Basically you are on your own and unless you join an online group or some sort of art community you will lack the vital feedback a professional can give you about your work. You gotta be careful who is giving you feedback. You can enroll for some mentorship programs that some pro artist offer online, but those can be expensive.
I have an article written about the best and most affordable online art courses, for those who want to become a Concept artist, Marketing artist, and Illustrators, and don´t want or can pay College fees.
How to succeed following the Self-Taught route?
Your final goal on both options will be to build a strong portfolio. If you want to learn by yourself, you will need to be very disciplined and focus, in order to achieve this goal. You will lack the structure of a formal education, so you will need to create your own plan of studies:
- First: learn very well the basics and don´t rush. Take your time and create a solid foundation of knowledge.
- Second: Once you know the basics, practice day and night. You gotta be very constant and motivated. In my case, I remember several moments of frustration and roadblocks. I used to motivate myself repeating in my head “Perseverance is the mother of all victories”.
- Third: Once your skills are developed is time to build a solid portfolio. Target the companies and studios you like the most and create a portfolio that matches what these companies are looking for.
Tips for newbie artist, designers, and programmers
For artists, designers and programmers to be able to demonstrate their skill and the quality of their work is almost everything in order to be hired. This is why a strong portfolio is key in order to demonstrate you are the right guy for the job. Let me suggest you some useful tips for each professional area:
- Build your portfolio as if was part of a project. If you can join an indie project you find interesting. Maybe they will pay you a little or maybe nothing doesn´t matter. The goal here is to build a project based portfolio and gain experience.
- If you are interested in joining a particular studio, tailor your portfolio to the projects this studio has published or is currently working on. Try to match the style and the work quality.
- For concept artist is good to show your work process ( sketches, thumbnails, color variations ). This helps the recruiters to know more about you and the way you work
- Similar to what I said on the artist section, try to build your portfolio around a project. Can be a game created by you or you can join some indie project you find interesting and build your portfolio around it.
- Modding existing games is a good option of showcasing your skills over existing published games. You can show how your expertise can make an existing product better.
- Be active on your portfolio and don´t leave big time gaps in between. What I mean by that is you gotta update your code quite often. Due to the nature of this industry, where technologies are in constant change and evolution, a coder can´t afford to leave their portfolio to rest for a long period of time. Employers looking your portfolio will question your knowledge if they see your work is not up to date.
- Small freelancing is a good way to gain experience while you are building your portfolio. Also is a good way to get testimonials from clients about the quality of your work.
Before we wrap this one up, I want to make clear I´m not discouraging people to search for knowledge. I want totally the opposite. I want to encourage you to learn as much as you can, whatever the path you want to choose. If traditional education is what you prefer, by all means, go ahead. If you are more like me and you wanna do it by yourself, I´m here to tell you, it´s possible!!!, but you will need to work hard.
If you are an aspiring artist looking to get a job in video games, my article on “How much an artist earn in video games” is totally made for you. If you have artistic inclinations but you don’t know which path to choose let me recommend you 3 articles:
Hope this article was useful to you. Stay tuned for more articles and tutorials and see you on the next one.