How to get into the Video Game Industry (Sound Designer Edition)

Are you someone who is interested in Sound Design for Video Games or maybe just a hard-core gamer looking to break into the Industry but not sure where to start? Then read on to learn how to possibly get your foot in the door which is half of the battle now and days.

I get asked a lot by my Dj/Music Producer friends as well as students and gamers about how to get into the video game industry so I have decided to take some time to write this article in hopes that it will help some of you get your foot in the door. These are not the only ways of course, but I hope these ideas help you in some way to start in the right direction. If you happened to read this article and found it useful please let me know in the comments and forward the link to this article to your friends! Now, onto the good stuff…

Many ways

Whether you are interested in breaking into the Video Game industry as a Sound Designer, Composer or any of the other practices within the industry there are a many different avenues that may suite to you. Some are more obvious than others so read on to learn more!

(While this post is written more for Sound Designers you will find that much of the information to be useful for any of the other professions such as game designer, level designer, artist, texture artist, programmer, game programmer, audio programmer, scripter, producer or quality assurance.)

If you are strictly a Composer you might want to also read the article I wrote for beatportal here (Beatport’s Blog). It contains some great information on how composers can get their music into the hands of the important people who might be able to place your music or hire you for composition as well as a programming portion written by Sound Programmer Erik Pettersson!

Proper Schooling

If you already have decided which area you want to focus in the most obvious way is to go to school and get a solid background of knowledge about the skills you want to master so you can hit the ground running and start the search after you are done. Another great thing about schooling is that they have job placement programs that work with companies in the industry to help place their top students in intern or junior roles right out of school. I have worked with quite a few people who have come from schools as well as ones who have not. Check the links portion of this blog down at the bottom for some example in schooling.

Work on as many Indie games or mods projects as you can

This should go without saying, experience is key to learning. The more you can apply yourself to work on as many projects as you can while you are trying to break into the industry the better. Not only does it put you ahead of the pack in regards to shipped products it is also great for the resume for when you apply for a in-house job at a video game developer.

I would recommend to try to contact indie game developer groups to help them with their Audio (or any of the other professions if you want to try other areas of dev) for any of their current or upcoming indie games or game mods. Pay would be determined on your experience and size of the project and whether or not it’s a free game mod or an actual product for sale. If you happen to be lucky and are a part of a solid mod developer there are times when development studios hire them on to create a professional version of a mod they have created. One example of a team like this is the highly crafted Valve game named “Portal”. Check out this interview on Planet Half-life about how they came to be!

Video Game Mods are great for learning and experience in that the development engine is provided from a game developer for their community to continue to create content for the game long after the game is released. Some groups focus on new maps or even entire new different mods of the actual game where they design brand new content and would need Sound Design for. I recommend working in video game development engines that are suited for this sort of thing because they are usually the same tools that the real developers used to ship their main product. Implementing your own sound designed sound effects really helps shape your sound effects once you actually get to hear a sound you have made in-game at run time. Sometimes that really cool sound you just created just doesn’t sound right once you hear it play back at run time because the playback circumstances will dictate how your sound effects play back. So getting that experience early on is great to have up your sleeves.

Your Sound Design demo Reel

Usually companies require a reel (digital or on a CD) which show cases your best moments in Sound Design. Your demo Reel should contain only your best moments in Sound Design. If you are not sure if it is not going to show your best talent to the viewer then do not include it. Your Demo reel could contain individual sound effects, sound to picture (cut scenes or mini movies that you have sound designed or scored) and maybe even some of your music if you think the company you are applying for might be suitable. Try to remember to keep it to the point and not too much to overwhelm. But if your Sound Design is good then they might not mind as much. It’s a challenge to find that happy medium of content.

I’ve seen many different types of reels that go from just folders within folders that name the projects and year it was created to the high quality DVD motion video which you just pop into a DVD player and watch. My own personal comments on these is that I don’t think that your reel has to be super flashy so to speak. Your Sound Design should speak for itself no matter how flashy your reel presents itself to be.

Your Resume/C.V. as a Sound Designer

For Sound Designers without previous professional experience in any sort of public product (independent games, website work, music, etc) you would want to craft your resume to reflect more on any of your other sound related activities to show that you have a special interest in Sound, Music, Computers, Video Games or A/V (Audio Visual) at the minimum. I would omit any retail jobs unless they are focused in on audio or visual activities (Example: You worked in an Electronic Product tech department etc.)

Without the previous experience of working in the industry or going to school you could also try to apply to companies for the role or as an Intern or Junior Sound Designer but it might be tough to break through if you have no previous experience which is why I recommend schooling and or indie games a shot before you apply as it might give you the upper hand.

Always include any certificates of courses on tools or software you have been awarded and your proficiency in any tools, plug-ins, video game engines, programming or scripting knowledge.

Trade Shows

There are many industry trade shows like the Game Developers Conference (GDC) that you might be able to attend where you can bring your CD reel and a resume with you to give out to developers that you might run into on the show floor. I believe that they usually also have job fairs as well at some of these trade shows. I go a bit more in depth about which trade shows are great for this sort of thing in my other article on beatportal created more for composers but you will also find it useful for the other professions as well.

The QA Tester

If you are not sure what you want to do in the video game industry yet or are just an avid gamer who would love a career in video games there is a not so obvious way to get into the industry. It is as a Quality Assurance (Qa) tester. Usually you can start in the qa department and move up and out into other areas of development after a year or two. You sometimes also get to work directly with the developers which can be key to getting up and out of qa and into the position you desire. It is when you work directly with the developers that you can mention to them that you are interested in getting out of qa and into a more creative type of role.

Many of my colleagues as well as myself, started as QA Testers many years ago. It can prove to be an invaluable stepping stone to getting your foot in the door of the industry and for learning game development standards.

Generally speaking the quality assurance tester position consists of testing a game in development over and over while writing up bugs and retesting to see if those bugs were fixed with newer revisions of the game. For hard-core gamers this is like a dream to come true to get paid to test video games. While it is pretty cool it is also long hours and hard dedicated work. The same can apply to being a Sound Designer in the industry as well as these AAA quality titles are not easy to create. It takes dedication and long hours to create great content.

I can recommend going this route as it is how I initially got into the industry and it also teaches you the basics of how video games work under the hood. This knowledge is extremely helpful down the line as a Sound Designer who creates his/her own sound effects and then implements them. It helps you to figure out why something might not be working when you try to play your sounds back real-time in-game. By narrowing down the reasons as to why your sound isn’t working you can figure out if it’s your own user error and other times it might be that the technology you are using is not working as designed. Knowing how to test can help you figure out what is going on quicker than thumbing around in the dark.

Not only does having the QA Tester position under your belt show that you have knowledge of how video games work it also shows your future or current employer that you have the extreme interest in Video Games and thorough dedication other than just being an avid gamer… Another step up!

Links

Audio Schooling:

Berklee College
Sae Institute (World Wide)
Full Sail

Searching for game companies:

Believe it or not there are video game companies scattered all across the globe. I’ve found the website Game Developer Map to be useful in figuring out where game companies exist. You might want to click on your general area and see what companies are close to you and then check out their Jobs/Career boards. You might find some companies that you never knew were just around the corner from you!

General Industry Websites

http://www.gamasutra.com
Industry website that contains a lot of very useful articles, job postings, news and insider information.

http://www.gamedev.net/

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~ by Kris Giampa on October 17, 2010.

10 Responses to “How to get into the Video Game Industry (Sound Designer Edition)”

  1. robert…

    excelent post, keep it coming…

  2. Thank you very much for this article. It gave me a clearer vision on how to get started.

  3. Thanks a lot Kris for that article, I’m actually a nurse with a past as a system/network administrator and thank to you I’m trying today to start as a QA tester in a big company to become after then a sound designer or composer (still don’t know). Could you tell me please what you think of a trailer I’ve modified on my myspace? I just put a song but without the voices and sound effects that I didn’t have off course.

  4. Thanks for the kind words!

    Hi Ronin (Hafid), I checked out your video and it seems like it would be geared more as a “Composer” demo than a “Sound Design” demo since you did not do any Sound Effects and only swapped out the music. As a “Sound Designer” you would have had to replace all the sound effects and voice (or use the existing voice if it were presented as part of a test). I liked the music within your quick demo but I would not try to show it as a “Sound Design” demo but rather label it as a “Composer” demo. Thanks and good luck!

  5. thank you for the post it was very informative.

    I now have a better idea of how to get into the game industry as a composer and what to focus on.

    If possible, I’d love to keep in contact.

  6. Great article.

    Do you have any ideas for someone who wants to get back into the sound design world after a long hiatus.

    Congrats on the job at Blizzard. I’m right jealous.

    Scott

    • Hi Scott! Thank you sir!

      I have been asked this in the past as well and I would recommend maybe trying to apply for Junior or Intern Sound Design positions if you have been on hiatus. The only problem is that Junior or Intern spots aren’t always posted publicly and you would have do some digging and asking around. A family member has had to do the same thing in a different area of the industry because he was gone for some time. So unfortunately if you happen to be out of the industry for more than 1 year I would try this route unless you have a top notch demo reel to toss around! In that case, apply where ever you would be open to relocating and give it a shot! Good luck with your search hope this helps!

  7. sound designer…

    […]How to get into the Video Game Industry (Sound Designer Edition) « Kris Giampa's Blog[…]…

  8. Really liked that article you’ve written Kris. It is very nice to see people like yourself sharing and advising to others. Your actions are greatly appreciated. I personally work as a Production Sound Mixer, Sound Designer and music composer (more of a hobby for now at least), but I was wondering for a very very long time of possible ways to get into the computer games. I’m quite a gamer myself for a long time from early 90s. And still a proud player 8)) I sadly do not poses a demo reel yet, but working on it. I really love to create sound design via recordings that I’ve made and via synthesizers, such as Reaktor for example, and many other tools. I’ll try to follow your advises and hopefully one day maybe work with you alongside 😉 Thank you very much.

  9. Thank you very much for this article! I was just feeling quite discouraged about entering the Video Game Industry since I didn’t know where to start (I mean, as of now I’m just a hardcore gamer), so I thought I wasn’t cut out for it. This was a very helpful article, so again: thank you!! 🙂

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