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You want to break into the video game industry? Here’s how

Annie and Tibbers statue greets Rioters as they enter Riot Games Los Angeles headquarters.
Riot Games employees enter the game company’s Los Angeles headquarters.
(Al Seib/Los Angeles Times)
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Launching a career in California’s booming video game industry can feel daunting for recent graduates or mid-career professionals looking to shift into a new job.

But there is plenty of room to break into the business in the Golden State, home to the largest number of video game companies in the nation, according to the Entertainment Software Assn. trade group.

More than 700 game companies operate throughout California, the group’s database shows — about 200 of them in the greater Los Angeles region, including industry giants Activision, Blizzard and Riot Games, as well as popular studios like “The Last of Us” developer Naughty Dog. At least three varsity esports teams also call the state home.

“It’s kind of a gaming development mecca, between Silicon Beach and the proximity to the movie studios,” said Jim Huntley, an associate professor at the top-ranked USC Games program. “There’s just so much opportunity within this geographic region.”

Although the game industry has corrected its course following breakneck pandemic growth — nearly 10,000 video game workers have been laid off globally since January 2023, including hundreds at California-based companies, industry estimates show — experts said they felt optimistic that 2024 would prove a better year for job seekers, though it would probably remain an employer’s market.

The video game industry has been hit with more than 6,500 layoffs over the last year. The cuts come as the industry course-corrects after its pandemic-era expansion, experts say.

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The massive business is only expected to get bigger. The global games market was forecast to generate $184 billion in 2023 — up 0.6% from the previous year, Amsterdam-based industry tracker Newzoo said — and is projected to grow to $205.7 billion by 2026.

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“Even though the games industry and developer community was affected by the layoffs, we’re hearing that now they are looking at what their slates are going to look like in terms of development,” Huntley said. “Toward the second half or summertime, we’re going to start seeing more hiring ramped up at studios across the board, because we’re basically getting ready for a new set of games that have been green-lit.”

Huntley added that he feels “bullish” about growing job opportunities in Los Angeles in particular.

“There’s just a lot of energy and enthusiasm and momentum going on in California and Southern California,” he said.

The Los Angeles Times spoke with game industry experts on how to get started in the business. Interviews have been edited for clarity and length.

How would you describe the job market in the video game industry right now?

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The beginning of the year will probably see more layoffs, said Ben Kvalo, who recently launched his company Midwest Games in Wisconsin. In January, Amazon’s livestreaming platform Twitch announced plans to cut roughly 500 workers, while Unity Software revealed it would layoff 1,800 employees in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

But there is still “great potential” for growth, Kvalo said. Some workers who were laid off or who left their jobs last year are starting their own companies, he said. And those businesses are getting to the point where they will start to hire.

“We’re going to see a huge influx of new games, game development studios, game publishers, service organizations, all emerge from the fact that so many people were laid off,” said Kvalo, a former lead program manager at Netflix Games in L.A.

At the same time, companies that laid people off are hiring for other positions as they realize what their needs are going to be throughout the coming year.

Game industry experts have assembled several job resources on LinkedIn in response to turbulence in the business. Those tools, including a well-known package of free online games job resources from LinkedIn “top voice in video games” Amir Satvat, provide job directories, a place for people to sign up to connect with mentors and a chance for experts to volunteer as mentors and résumé reviewers.

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One challenge job seekers may face is the vast competition in the industry due to those cuts, said Thomas Marrone, art director for “Star Trek Online” at Los Gatos video game developer Cryptic Studios.

“It’s sort of an employer’s market right now,” he said. “Hopefully, by the end of this year, we’ll get to the point where there is a lot of demand again.”

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So what are some of the available jobs?

Despite the industrywide retrenchment, gaming giants and development studios in Southern California are still hiring. As of January, Activision had roughly 50 jobs and internship postings in the region. In L.A., Riot Games had 41 open roles listed, including in art, brand management and quality assurance.

Some of the most in-demand jobs in the gaming market are in software engineering, said Jasmine Coppin, a senior recruiter at Blizzard Entertainment in Irvine. There aren’t enough qualified software engineers and programmers available, Coppin said, adding that software engineers tend to want to stay in the tech world.

“But they fail to realize that video games is tech space — just a more fun tech space,” she said. “The industry also needs more game designers.”

At Blizzard, the company is hiring several engineer positions for its blockbuster action role-playing game, “Diablo 4.”

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Marrone said he’s seen opportunities popping up in technical and FX arts roles like user interface and user experience design.

“Art is always very, very much in high demand,” he said. “If you can build a good FX art portfolio, I think it’d be pretty easy for you to snag a job.”

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What’s your advice for someone looking to break into the industry?

Persistence pays. Just ask Kvalo, who broke into the gaming world after working in radio in Wisconsin, he said.

“You have to bring your passion and show how any skills you already have translate or transfer to the games industry,” he said. “I had to sell that all these things that I was doing to bring people together to operate the business would translate really well into a game publisher.”

Kvalo connected with a recruiter who could see that the skills he picked up in radio operations would translate to the game industry. She advocated for him with the hiring manager, he said, who saw potential and took a chance on him.

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“It’s not only just looking for a job in the industry, it’s looking to go into the right place that is invested in growth that is going to give you opportunities,” he said. “My other advice is look at smaller companies, look at midsize companies ... the ones where you can create more impact and get more involved in more areas and learn more.”

Karla Reyes, founder of interactive media studio Anima Interactive, said “game jams” — events where people try to make a video game from scratch — present a great opportunity for job seekers to get their feet wet and start building and developing games without having industry experience.

And if you live in a big city, Reyes said, there may be opportunities to attend a gaming conference or festival. Some studios may host recruiting events.

“Those tend to be expensive, but there are scholarship opportunities for those conferences and festivals,” she said. “There’s also this notion of ‘lobby conning,’ which means you don’t actually need to get a pass for the festival because a lot of the networking actually happens outside within the hotel spaces or spaces outside of the conference itself.”

Attending any of those meet-ups is useful, Reyes said, because you can speak to game developers and potentially find out about roles that aren’t marketed. Smaller studios might not be advertising open jobs, but they could be attending those events because they are looking for talent.

There are also free online resources like Udemy, she said, which people can use to teach themselves skills relevant to the gaming jobs they want.

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Blizzard recruiter Coppin said she is shocked at how many people who approach her about how to get into the video game industry haven’t applied for jobs on a company career page. Applicants shouldn’t wait to send in their résumés because of nerves, she said.

“You’ve got to get that application into the system, like now,” she said. “Even if you know someone in the company and you are able to get a referral, you still have to apply for the job. So don’t be afraid to apply. And quite honestly, the faster you apply to a position, the faster a recruiter will see your application and potentially get it in front of a hiring manager.”

It’s also important to proactively check company career pages because being an early applicant can give you an edge, said Justin Williams, senior technical recruiter at Blizzard. Timing — and a bit of luck — play significant roles in the job market, he said.

Soft skills are often the unsung heroes in the gaming world, Williams added. People looking for industry jobs should find ways to showcase teamwork, communication, and adaptability in their applications. And with the gaming industry’s rapid evolution, Williams said, a commitment to continuous learning is crucial.

For roles like software engineering, applicants should make sure their portfolios are up to date and include detailed descriptions, links and any certifications. A strong online presence can also make a difference, he said.

“Contribute to gaming forums, write blogs or create content that highlights your passion and expertise,” he said.

What about someone looking to switch industries mid-career?

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Applicants should look beyond the usual job titles, Williams said — search for keywords related to your skills on career pages to uncover unique positions. Roles like game marketing, community management, user experience design, game analytics and QA testing are integral to a game’s success, he said.

“Recognize your transferable skills and start to look for the skills and keywords in job descriptions within the gaming industry,” he said.

Because of the competition for game industry roles, applicants need to be at the top of their game when it comes to the quality of their craft, Coppin added.

“Remember, video games support all types of jobs, not just developers,” she said. “The path into video games may not look like you originally thought it would or should, and it may take a while.”

It’s important not to give up just because the job market is tough, she added.

“Sometimes you need to change how you’re doing something,” Coppin said. “If you’ve been trying to get into the industry using one method for a while and it just doesn’t seem to be working, change things up and try a different method. Try something new.”

People often think that the only available gaming jobs are in game development. What are some other fields?

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Video game companies need people to work in roles outside of typical game development. Recruiters pointed to other key positions, including human resources, finance, legal and public relations as areas in which people without coding or art skills could find a job in gaming. There are also opportunities in marketing, operations and facilities and analytics, they said.

“Every studio still needs an accountant or people to support with the budgeting,” Reyes, of Anima Interactive, said. “There’s a lot outside of the trope of people thinking that you either have to be a programmer or an artist. It’s simply not the case.”

Huntley, the USC professor, added that there are opportunities to work as a game designer — someone who comes up with how the gaming experience unfolds for players.

“That’s an incredibly hard job. We train the students the basics of how to start in that job,” he said. “And then there will be a lot more on-the-job experience, because you can in some cases only learn game design by designing games.”

What’s the best way to apply to a gaming job?

Across the industry, experts noted the importance of networking and maintaining relationships with people in the field — whether they are recruiters or potential mentors.

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“Look at it like a piggy bank. Put in so that you can take out, otherwise like it just feels like they’re being taken advantage of,” Kvalo said. “Turn it into a relationship-building exercise that builds a bridge.”

A lot of people in the industry champion diversity and inclusion, Reyes added. Not only demographic diversity, she said, but also diversity of experience when it comes to people working in different industries. She advised that job seekers find those types of advocates and turn them into mentors like she did.

“I reached out to them saying, ‘Hey, I really admire and respect your career. I’d love to learn about how you got from point A to point B,’” she said. “A lot of people are willing to help and share their their stories and journeys, and provide resources and support.”

USC’s Huntley said his top advice to students is to maintain their portfolios because employers won’t care about a college GPA. In fact, he advises his students to remove their GPA from their résumés because the work they can demonstrate is more important.

“If you’re an engineer, here’s the scripting that I did on GitHub,” he said. “Here’s the credits that I worked on in my student project and our project idea outside of school — things like that go a long way in the industry. They want to see what you can do and less about what you got in class.”

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