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9 Tips for Aspiring Game Developers

So you want to make video games. Awesome! Although the path isn’t easy, it’s worth taking. Like any other career, there are highs and lows, with pitfalls to watch out for and moments to seize. We asked ten game developers to share their advice for women interested in game development.

Overwhelmingly, the main point each of these women stressed was to GO FOR IT. But Renee Nejo, a freelance games artist and designer, points out that passion is key if you want to be successful in this industry.

“I would probably say ‘Don’t do it’. It’s not practical, it’s not safe, it’s not even stable. But, if she said, “I’m doing it anyway”, then I have something to work with. She has what you need to get anywhere in this business. You can’t just say to someone ‘You need to be determined.’ You can’t tell someone what to be passionate about. It takes a lot of sacrifice and work and humility to get your work to a professional level,” she said.

You may have heard that the game industry is not a great place for women, or that it’s difficult, or you’ll need XYZ skills to become a developer: don’t let any of that stop you. Follow your dream and make some games.

Here are nine tips to get you started.

  1. You don’t need a “Game Dev” degree

Jolie Menzel, Level Designer at Ubisoft, said not to worry about whether you went to the right school or have the correct degree.

“This industry is made up of people with a wide variety of backgrounds–from art, audio, programming, to studies such as architecture and biology, whose course of study may have nothing directly to do with video games. It doesn’t take a “Game Development” degree, or a degree at all, to be a developer. The moment you make a game, you are a game developer, no matter who you are,” she explained.

  1. Do your research

So without a game development degree, how can an aspiring game maker learn how to make games?

Sharon Price, a producer at BioWare, recommends thorough research. “Go to every open games event you can, meet and talk to the developers to get first hand accounts of what you would be getting into, and how different studios approach game development,” she suggested.

Price also advised looking up everything you can on project management and agile development.

Find out if groups such as WIGI or IGDA have chapters near you. If not, consider joining a relevant LinkedIn group or online forum.

  1. Look for online resources

Ashley Alicea, Community Manager at IndieCade, recommends using online resources to hone your skills. For starters, check out RPG Maker, Construct 2 and GameMaker.

“Take a weekend to learn one of these tools and make a tiny game of your own. When you’re done, make another! Be sure to Google all of your questions and to read developer forums and websites. You’ll develop a great foundation for your career no matter what area of games you decide to branch out to,” she suggested.

  1. Make a game

The number one advice most people interested in game development will hear is to make a game. But how can you make a game if you aren’t working at a company yet?

“Just start with some concepts on paper and start building your game,” explained Jana Reindhart, artist, Game Designer and co-founder of Rat King. “Find out what interests you most about the medium and try to find your own style, tools and self-expression.”

Another great way to make a game is to attend a game jam. Search online to find one near you, and make an effort to attend and contribute. If there are no game jams nearby, make a game on your own or connect with other like-minded folks via forums or game dev groups to contribute virtually.

Rebecca Cohen-Palacios is a UI Developer at Ubisoft and also co-founded Pixelles with Tanya X. Short. Cohen-Palacios notes that creating a game showcases your skills to potential employers. “Not only will you get a better understanding of the pipeline, but your skills will improve with practical projects. You can show these projects during an interview or explain a challenging thing that you overcame,” she said.

  1. Create an awesome portfolio

Once you gain the skills, don’t be shy about what you can do.

Tanya X. Short, Creative Director at Kitfox Games, recommends creating a portfolio to show off your projects and skills and then sending out applications. “Don’t be discouraged if the first twenty don’t respond: that’s normal. Use gamedevmap.com and just keep applying. You’ll make it!” she encouraged.

  1. Ask for help

If you’re going to make games, you need to learn to ask for help.

“Ask for help, even if doing so feels uncomfortable,” said Catt Small, UX designer, artists and co-founder of Brooklyn Gamery.

“I was taught not to cry or show too much vulnerability, so I was never very good at asking people to help me with projects. However, the past few years have shown me that collaboration is important. When one works with other people, they can not only do more, but also produce higher-quality work,” she explained.

  1. Find a Mentor

Speaking of asking for help, almost every game developer interviewed for this article mentioned the importance of mentors and/or a support group.

Kari Toyama, who works at Valve, recommends observing someone you look up to in gaming. “What do they do when they’re stressed? How do they handle an uncomfortable situation? How do they give feedback to others? What would you do differently if you were faced with the same situation? You can learn a lot by observing awesome people,” she noted.

Taking it another step, a mentor is someone in the industry who you can look towards for inspiration and advice.

Composer and sound designer Alyssa Menes said that many people in the industry want to help. “I know I personally want to inspire other women to get into games, whether it’s programming, audio, art, V/O, production, whatever it is! It helps so much while trying to break in to have someone more experienced guiding you. No one should have to go at this alone,” she advised.

While a mentor can help with the business side of gaming, a support group can help keep aspiring game developers sane. “Because game dev is full of ups and downs, it helps to have a community you can rely on for happiness, friendship, support, networking, and advice,” Cohen-Palacios said.

“Harassment and discrimination is slowly changing, but we still experience it or hear stories nevertheless, so it’s important that you surround yourself with good people who will encourage you and keep you going through any tough times,” she explained.

  1. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself

A unique challenge facing women and other minority game developers is the pressure to somehow represent their entire race, gender, sexuality, etc.

“You need to have the room to fail, to ask questions, to take risks, and put in your all in order to grow to your full potential, and that’s very difficult when you feel like everything you do will change others’ perceptions of women in general,” cautioned Short.

Small agreed. “Your perspective and voice are important. You don’t need to conform to anyone’s notions about games, women’s experiences, or marginalized people,” she explained.

We hope these tips help you on your path to game development and be sure to tweet us if you have any other advice for up-and-coming game developers!

Sarah Rodriguez
Sarah Rodriguez is the author of Marvel’s Agent Carter: Season One Declassified and the co-host of Woman Up! Podcast. Catch up with her on Twitter @SarahTheRebel, or on Twitch at twitch.tv/sarahtherebel
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Sarah Rodriguez
Sarah Rodriguez is the author of Marvel's Agent Carter: Season One Declassified and the co-host of Woman Up! Podcast. Catch up with her on Twitter @SarahTheRebel, or on Twitch at twitch.tv/sarahtherebel

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