The Games Game
Each month, industry veteran Tom Sloper provides career guidance to game biz wannabes, newbies, and junior professionals with the goal of helping them break into the industry, and stay in. Submit a question to Tom for developer-oriented advice in this column (IGDA members only).
Gushers Not Wanted
I have been having the hardest time getting my career started. I've got a degree and a portfolio, and I live near numerous game companies. Maybe there's something wrong with my cover letter? Check it out: "Dear John Smith: I don't suppose you'll remember me, but I introduced myself to you at GDC last year. I loved the game you worked on! Ever since I was a kid, I have always loved games. Since the fifth grade I've known that I wanted to work in games. I eat, breathe, and dream nothing but games! Please have a look at my resume and portfolio (link here) and consider my application for any opening that might fit my experience and abilities. I'm willing to take any kind of job you and BigGameCo may have open." So, what do you think? Thanks in advance, Tom!
Your cover letter is definitely a problem, on several fronts.
First, you started off putting yourself down. Don't do that. Second, it's great that you had met the guy and could point to that in this case. But if you haven't met the person, you can still demonstrate knowledge of the company's products, and at the same time show some analytical thinking about what's great about them. A tip: when you compliment someone or his game, don't make it about you. Rather than "I loved your game," say "your game was superior, in this specific way."
Drop all the gushiness. Saying how you always loved games doesn't impress anybody. Everybody in the industry and everybody who applies for a game job can say the same. Rather than gushing about how much you love games, you need to prove your passion for game development, and your enthusiasm for working at that company.
And you sound unfocused and desperate if you say "I'll take any opening." You should apply for one specific opening. It is quite possible that, if the company sees potential in you, they might well hire you for another position instead.
Okay? Tell you what. I'll show you a better way to write it, but I suppose you (and hundreds of readers) will now start using this as a template. And that's no good either (after the tenth cover letter that sounds like this, any hirer will see that the applicant has little or no originality).
"Dear John Smith: It was great to meet you at GDC last year. BigGameCo's games are renowned for their production values and user-friendly control systems, and user friendliness is what I focused on in my student projects (link to portfolio here). My studies in psychology and architecture have been very useful in my level designs. I live nearby, and am available to meet anytime. It would be great to see you again so I could answer any questions about my portfolio and my resume." I'm not saying that's an "ideal" cover letter.
But it's a lot less gushy than yours.
Tom Sloper's game biz career began over twenty years ago at Western Technologies, where he designed LCD games and the Vectrex games "Spike" and "Bedlam". There followed stints at Sega Enterprises, Rudell Design, Atari Corporation, and Activision. In 12 years at Activision, Tom produced 36 unique game titles (plus innumerable ports and localizations), designed four games, and won five awards. Tom worked for several months in Activision's Japan operation, in Tokyo. He is perhaps best known for designing, managing and producing Activision's "Shanghai" line. He is currently consulting, writing, speaking, teaching, and developing original games. Find out more at Sloperama.
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