- Target your communications.The worst thing you can possibly do is send a generic cover letter that doesn’t mention anything particular about the company you are contacting. Do a little research on each company you approach – their games, their history, etc. and be sure to mention something particular about them when you contact them.
- Work your connections. Knowing someone who knows someone makes it 1000% more likely that you will get your foot in the door at a company. Contact faculty, friends, and colleagues in the industry and ask them about internships they know about. Go to local game events and SOCIALIZE. When you meet a developer working at a company, ask them if they have an internship program or if they are hiring. If they do, get contact info for that person as well as the person who you should contact about the position, and mention the person you met (or even CC them) when you contact the company.
- Be passionate. You MUST demonstrate passion for making games in your communication – that’s what the cover letter is for. Talk about your childhood of playing games, highlight a class project you loved, tell them what you are playing now. Ideally, you link your passion to something particular about the company – such as how you were addicted to their recent release. Don’t make things up, but find a way to authentically demonstrate your love for games. The implication is that you will translate that passion into hard work in your job.
- Name drop. If you had a class with any faculty that your target company might know about, mention that person in your cover letter and list them as possible references. You need to work every angle you can.
- Show them what you do. Be sure to give them examples of your work. If you made a great card game, find a way to share it (a description and images work much better than a set of rules). Put together a portfolio site that showcases your work. It’s also important to tell them (briefly) what was brilliant or interesting about each game you share.
- Present yourself well. Communication is a key skill for any game development position. Your writing should be perfect, your resume well-composed, and your website graphically clean and easy to use. Contacting someone with sloppy writing or visual design – when you are asking them to hire you as a designer(!) – is an automatic disqualification.
- Think about things from THEIR point of view. When you apply to a company, here’s what you have to imagine: a huge stack of resumes or an inbox overflowing with emailed cover letters. That’s your design context. You are in a competition and you need to figure out how to stand out. All of the above tips will help you do that. Think about what the company needs. They are not doing the internship out of charity – they are NOT doing it for you. They are doing for themselves, because they have work that needs to get done. Read their job or internship ad CAREFULLY and make sure you are really directly addressing their needs. If they are looking for a playtester, don’t try and convince them to hire you as a game designer (although it is perfectly alright to talk about your passion for game design). Any application process is a DESIGN problem – so just as in making a game, think about it from the audience’s point of view and create an experience. A company is not a faceless corporate entity – it is composed of individual people. It all comes down to catching the attention of the person sifting through the stack of letters and resumes, and convincing them that you are the right person for the position.
I haven’t made any kind of big announcement yet, but I just launched a new version of my site ericzimmerman.com – with a design that is more visual and allows for better browsing of my games, writings, and other assorted works. Right now there are only a handful of projects there – I have my work cut out for me trying to get it up to date!
Babycastles is a budding NYC-based independent game exhibition space. If you haven’t heard of them yet, a great introduction is this profile written by Leigh Alexander for the LA Times. Aside from annual festivals like Indiecade and IGF, independent games don’t have many venues for reaching the public, and in its short lifetime, Babycastles has put together a stellar program and a well-earned reputation for doing smart – and playful – curatorial work.
Recently, Babycastles secured an exhibition space in Manhattan that will run for a few months later this fall, and they are raising money for the cause on Kickstarter. Matt Hawkins, who has put together several excellent Babycastles shows, has written a more detailed blog post about this fundraising effort. As of this writing, Babycastles is $1000 short, and only a few days away from their fundraising deadline, so now is the time to support indie games – send in a donation!
And in the interest of full disclosure, I do have a selfish reason for asking you to support Babycastles. Nathalie Pozzi and I will be premiering a new game project in the Babycastles exhibition space in December. But more on that in another posting.
Prominent independent game festival Indiecade has just announced the conference schedule for their festival this fall. I’ve been tapped to reprise Iron Game Designer, a real-time, real-world game design competition where teams of game designers compete to create an innovative game on the spot, in front of a live audience.
The event premiered at the Games for Change Festival a couple of years ago, where I co-hosted it with Karen Sideman. Now I just have to think about the physical “secret ingredient” that the teams need to incorporate into their designs. (The audience brainstorms a thematic constraint.) At Games for Change, the secret ingredient was blank white t-shirts – which the three teams proceeded to cut to pieces, scribble on with markers, and otherwise transform as part of their games.
My architect collaborator Nathalie Pozzi and I may also be exhibiting a project or two there. We’ve applied for a grant to bring Sixteen Tons to the festival, and we’ve applied for another grant to do a new site-specific game project, titled UNFAIR, specifically for Indiecade. We find out in the next week or two. Big physical projects are expensive to present! I’ll keep my fingers crossed for the grants.
I am now officially blog-ified.
A year+ post-Gamelab and working on too many game projects to count, a blog seems like a good way to let my peers in the game community know about my ongoing endeavors. Check back for updates on the latest from Eric Zimmerman land.
We’ll see how this thing evolves.