Gaming

The UK video games sector is the largest in Europe and according to TIGA's 2018 report, games development contributed £1.8 billion towards the UK's GDP and c. 40,000 people work (directly and indirectly) in games development and with studios. The industry is one of the few that has thrived during the Covid-19 pandemic, as creators were able to switch to remote working with relative ease and consumers had even more time to dedicate to "gaming" whilst at home.

Video games development is an important and vital part of the screen industries and is often at the forefront of innovation in the sector, developing new technology and techniques that can be adapted for use in other media eg: the use of visual effects (VFX) in film and TV. With over half of games developers based outside of London in locations such as Oxford (Rebellion Studios), Leamington Spa, Sheffield, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Manchester, there are lots of opportunities to work across the UK.

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Like the other parts of the screen industries, a career in games development offers a wide variety of different roles – from freelance roles to permanent employment contracts. There are roles in programming, art, marketing, project management, sales, finance and a number of roles that cross over with film and TV eg: acting, music/score composing and research. So, it's important to think about what type of work you want to do. Below are examples of some of the types of work that you can do . The Screenskills website also has a list of job profiles for the sector on their website.

Production

This is the team that organises the creation of the games, including oversight of their development, funding, scheduling, marketing and distribution. A typical entry level position in this team is usually as an assistant and the role can be very varied, including responsibilities such as managing the day-to-day running of projects, liaising with the designers and sometimes helping with publicity and marketing. 

Design

These teams are responsible for designing the overall appearance of the game, story, characters, levels etc. Team members can include lead games designers, level designers (often an entry level position), user experience designers and writers. The most senior person on the team is usually the lead designer who will work with other team members to develop ideas about many aspects of the game such as character development, what the environment should look like, whether external researchers need to be hired to ensure historical accuracy and/or authenticity of the world that's been created. In larger studios these roles may be very defined and each team member will only work on a specific area, however in smaller studios these roles may be combined eg: a lead designer may also be involved in programming and/or other work too. 

Art

The art department create 2D and 3D work for characters, the world/landscapes etc. A concept artist will often take the lead on creating illustrations of the various components of the game and will be supported by other members of the team who are then responsible for creating 3D versions of their work eg: the environment artists and texture artists who make locations and surfaces look as realistic as possible.

Programming

There are different types of programming roles within the department, but overall the team has responsibility for writing, testing and fixing the code for the game. Depending on the size of the studio, programmers may have a range of responsibilities or just focus on one particular area eg: an engine programmer develops the game engine, a gameplay programmer creates character interactions, a network programmer writes the code to allow multiple on-line players to play the game at the same time.

There are many different entry points into the sector and each person may take a slightly different path. So it's important to chart your own course and consider what works for you eg: before applying for jobs do you need to do some more self-directed learning, perhaps take a course in a specific aspect of games development and/or further build your portfolio? Reading as many entry and mid-level job descriptions in your preferred area can really help you to gain a good understanding of the skills required.

Some people may start their career in a permanent role and become a freelancer at a later date or vice-versa and some people become games developers later in their careers. Finding work in the sector is often dependent on  companies' needs at that time - but the good news is that the sector is very busy! Many companies also offer in-person, remote and/or hybrid roles, so think about which type of working environment would suit you best.

Many entry-level roles require specific and often high levels of technical (programming, software) skills that you have developed either through a degree course or self-directed learning. According to TIGA (trade association for the industry) 80% of staff within a a typical games development studio will have a degree and many companies will offer staff training, to keep up to date with new developments. 

On the "production" side of games development where you won't necessarily be involved in the "technical" aspects of development, one of the entry routes could be as an assistant games producer . You still need to have a passion for games and very good understanding about how a game is made, so that you can work effectively with the various teams eg: programming, design, art audio etc.

Entry level roles that involve the various aspects of the games design are broad and the same role can be named different things in different companies - so check the job descriptions carefully. Some typical entry level positions are level designer, 3D artist and animator. Some companies have rolling applications for roles in coding and programming and will look at applicants at all levels, so keep an eye out for these.

 

 

It goes without saying that you have to have a passion for playing and creating games to succeed in this sector. Beyond that you have to be up to date with all of the new developments in terms of software, game launches and companies in the market. This is a very fast-moving industry with a very knowledgeable customer base that have very high expectations, so having the general skills below are also very important:

  • Strong understanding of the industry and marketplace
  • Flexibility - you may need work on fixed-term and permanent contracts throughout your career.
  • Curiousity - about innovation and developments in the sector
  • Problem solving  
  • Collaboration - you may be working with other teams and require their input to do your job
  • Ability to work to tight deadlines

Building your technical expertise

Different roles require different levels of expertise in different software, but generally you must be able to use the relevant software (for your type of work) and have the willingness and ability to continue learning and updating your skills throughout your career.

N.B. The best way to develop the relevant skills is through practical application, so create your own games!! Even entry-level roles often require a high level of technical knowledge and evidence that you have put this into practice. There are a number of free tools and software you can use to develop your skills.

Portfolios

It's helpful to have a website with examples of your work that prospective employers can see. When you apply to a company for a role or make a speculative application, they may also want to see a portfolio of your work. Screenskills offers some great tips about how to build your games portfolio which can showcase your best work. 

Getting Work Experience

Some companies have formal internship programmes, however many people gain work experience in the sector by making speculative applications. Identify the companies you want to work for  - an easy option is to choose the companies who make the games you enjoy playing....or take a look at the UKIE Games Map of where companies are located in the UK. Contact them to ask if they can offer any work experience - there is further guidance on how to make speculative applications on our website.

Will I get paid?

Internships and summer jobs are governed in the UK by National Minimum Wage law, which means that if you are carrying out activities that class you as a “worker” by the employer, then you should be paid. Full details of Employment Rights and Pay for Interns are published by the government.

If you are undertaking a learning and development opportunity such as a micro-internship, or volunteering for a charity or statutory body, or shadowing or observing, then you may not be eligible for the National Minimum Wage. The organisation may reimburse you for your travel and/or lunch expenses, but they aren’t obliged to do so.

Advertised vacancies

There isn't a formal "recruitment cycle" in the industry, vacancies appear when the need arises so keep a regular eye on company and job vacancy websites (eg: Games Industry Biz). Consider both fixed-term and permanent roles, as many companies hire additional staff when they have a big project to complete. A fixed-term role could be a great opportunity to work for your "dream" employer and also a fantastic networking opportunity.

Speculative approaches

Making speculative approaches (in addition to advertised vacancies) can increase your chances of finding work. And, network to meet people in the industry by attending events, conferences and expos.

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Recruiters are keen to have a diverse workforce, and many will have policies and processes that are proactive in recruiting students and graduates from diverse backgrounds. An increasing number of recruiters are offering traineeships, internships and insight events that are aimed at specific groups and many are being recognised for their approach to being inclusive employers. 

Try the following to discover more about the policies and attitudes of the recruiters that you are interested in:

The UK Equality Act 2010 has a number of protected characteristics to prevent discrimination due to your age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or beliefs, sex or sexual orientation. For further information, visit the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s webpage on the Equality Act and the visit the Government’s webpages on discrimination.

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