How to get a job in games
Level up Recruiters from leading video game studios tell Tom May what they’re looking for in an artist
Recruiters from top video game studios reveal what they’re looking for in an artist, and the errors applicants often make.
I’m looking for a very specific match between the role and your portfolio
Want to work as an artist in video games? Then good news: the industry is booming and most studios are hiring. So how should you go about getting your dream job?
The first step is pretty straightforward: check out advertised jobs on your preferred company’s website. Right now, for example, British games studio Creative Assembly has five artist roles listed at www.creative-assembly.com/careers. “We recruit in a wide range of fields,” explains
Kevin McDowell, the art director for its Total War series. “These include concept art, concept design, UI design, character art, animation, rigging/tech animation, technical art, real-time VFX, environment art, cinematics, illustration and art management. And we will scan the globe to find the right people.”
But the ‘right people’ aren’t just talented artists. More importantly, they’re the perfect fit for the job. Which means it’s vital to familiarise yourself with the company’s games and tailor your portfolio precisely.
“Make sure it’s not a big leap for the hiring manager to see you working in their team,” stresses Johnny Taylor, who’s the director of visual development at social games giant King. “You’d be amazed at how many artists apply to work on a game like Farm Heroes Saga, but they have a hardcore AAA-style portfolio and little else.”
Instead, “each piece in your portfolio should be specifically designed to answer a question about your skill set,” says Kevin. “See it from the art director’s point of view. I’m looking for a very specific match between the role and your portfolio. For example, if I’m looking for a character artist I’ll want to see both male and female characters. But amazingly, some portfolios I see
feature only men or only women.” Another no-no is just including complete work. “We don’t just want to see the end result, we want to see how an artist gets to the final image,” says Johnny. “Concepts, sketch books and moodboards all really help form a picture of what an artist is about. Often, inexperienced artists are scared of including this work in a portfolio, but it’s so important to see how they work through an idea.”
Getting your CV right is also crucial, stresses Amy Madden, lead recruiter, story and franchise development at US games developer Blizzard Entertainment. “Most of those I see are missing details about what the applicant did in their current or previous role. Plus they’re usually too brief – for example: ‘Created concept art for [insert company name].’ You need to give the recruiter more to go on. Did you work with a team of artists? Did you draw characters or environments? Did you work on colour keys or the lighting?”
don’t make me google you!
And don’t forget to link everything up, or you’ll end up with one cheesed-off recruiter. “About a third of applications I see have no link to their portfolio in either their cover letter or résumé,” says Kevin. “I’m dumbfounded at how common this is. I end up Googling the candidate’s name plus ArtStation, in the hope that I’ll find their work. So put your portfolio link everywhere: on your cover letter, on your CV, on the application form… everywhere!”
What about software? Many job ads will specify exactly which skills you need. If not, Photoshop, Illustrator and 3D packages such as Maya and ZBrush will always help your cause, while a broad knowledge of game engines like Unity will certainly be a bonus. That said, every role is different and some companies are even software-neutral, so it pays to do your homework.
Take, for example, online gaming company Yggdrasil, which is opening a studio in Barcelona next year. “We’re always on the lookout for illustrators, concept designers, 3D artists, animators, UI designers and graphic designers,” says creative director
Hendrik Blaauw. “I don’t mind which software they choose to use – or indeed, whether they prefer PCs, Macs or Wacoms – as long as they deliver the quality that we’re known for.”
If you’ve having no luck with advertised jobs, most games studios do recruitment through other channels, too. “Recruitment fairs, conventions, portfolio reviews, email submissions and ArtStation are all channels through which we find artists,” says Amy. “I’ve
Concepts, sketch books and moodboards all really help form a picture of what an artist is about
met some amazing talent at events such as Comic-Con, SIGGRAPH, CTN and Game Developers Conference, not to mention coffee shops, LinkedIn and Game Developers Monthly Meetups.
“So my advice is to get yourself out there! Be visible in the artistic communities and to recruiters, and make it easy for recruiters to review your work, such as on your website, Instagram, ArtStation or YouTube.”
All those we spoke to for this article told a similar story. “When I set up the Yggdrasil art department, I turned to ArtStation and hand-picked all the artists I felt we needed,” says Hendrik.
“We’ve started attending conventions in Europe and the US, where we had portfolio reviews and that’s worked well for us,” Hendrik continues. “But I’m always on the lookout for talent, so I still check ArtStation daily.”
Many artists hold back from posting online, because they don’t want to engage in a popularity contest. But by and large, recruiters don’t really care how many likes or followers you have.
“Social media is helpful for being spotted by art directors and other hiring managers, but that’s all we’re really interested in,” says Kevin. “We’re looking for artists who produce the sort of work that we can use – that’s it. So make sure it’s visible to us, and don’t worry about the numbers.”
And if you do get an interview, here’s one final piece of advice from Kevin. “Please be familiar with our games,” he urges. “Play them if you can. If you can’t, then watch gameplay videos and trailers on YouTube. If you’ve not bothered to do this basic level of preparation, then it’s a huge red flag to us.”
And finally he says, “At an interview it’s okay to be nervous or excited, to be an introvert or extrovert – but be engaged, positive and curious.”
“We’re hiring for a wide ranges of roles at King, from art internships to art directors,” says Johnny Taylor.
Landscape art for Blizzard’s World of Warcraft. “It’s a company where creative talent can thrive,” says Amy Madden.
“The games we make at King require artists to be flexible and adaptable with their technique and styles,” says Johnny.
“I don’t care if you have a degree – a strong portfolio is what I’m looking for,” says Hendrik Blaauw. Amy warns against “applying for as many jobs as possible. Recruiters know this as the serial applier.”
“You need to show you have a handle on the production and craft of creating game art,” says Johnny.
Art for Diablo III. “Before applying, I’d recommend researching portfolios of artists working at Blizzard,” says Amy.
“In your portfolio, showcase the art you’re proudest of, and as you improve, remove the old work,” says Hendrik. “At King, we find that a lot of artists apply for roles they’re not suited to,” says Johnny.