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Internships in the Game Industry

My Summer Internship at Electronic Arts

This past Spring I interviewed with EA and was offered a position to work as a software engineering intern with the Sims team. Although every game studio is different, the following describes the process I went through to obtain an internship as well a few tips for obtaining the summer internship of your dreams!

Preparing for the Game Industry
Getting an Internship
Making the Most of the Internship
Pictures of the EA Redwood Shores Campus
Rankings of Internship Experiences (EA, Morgan Stanley, Sandia National Laboratories)

Preparing for the Game Industry

The first step in obtaining an internship in the game industry is to prepare. This consists of researching the industry, playing games, taking classes, developing your skills, and creating demos.

Research the Game Industry

Working in the game industry can be a lot of fun! Where else can you get paid to create virtual worlds? To most people this sounds like the dream job. Casual dress, choosing your own hours, free caffeinated beverages, and stock options are all attractive qualities of many game studios. Furthermore, the entertainment industry is expected to continue it's phenomenal growth for years to come.

Although playing games is fun, that's not always the case when creating them. Game development is possibly the most demanding form of engineering due to tight deadlines, changing requirements, and reliance on brand new hardware. This translates into a lot of work for employees in the game industry. Team members put in well over 40 hours per week on average and during crunch time it can ramp up to 80. Deadlines are tight and external events like E3 and the Christmas holiday set deadlines that can't be negotiated.

Play and Analyze Games

To excel in the game industry you must be passionate about video and computer games. Obviously this involves playing all the latest hits to be familiar with the different features. You should be able to distinguish a game's genre and compare a game to other games. You should try to identify traits that make a game successful. All these skills will be extremely useful when talking to game companies to convince them to hire you as as intern.

Take Challenging Classes

Because working in the game industry seems so glamorous, competition for jobs is fierce. Breaking into the industry is extremely challenging and the days when one could just join a game company without prior experience are long gone. Most game studios require at minimum a Bachelors of Science degree to even be considered, and some companies like EA prefer a candidate to have a Masters Degree. Thus, obtaining a computer science degree or liberal arts degree will be helpful to get your foot in the door.

At college take as many game-related classes as you can. Because producing a computer game involves a wide range of talents, don't limit yourself to classes in your major. Computer science classes are great, but don't forget to take advanced math classes including vector algebra (useful for 3D graphics programming) and numerical methods (used in animation). Science and history classes are useful for designers to provide inspiration for game ideas. Communication classes are useful for all positions, game programmers included. Although more rare, you should definitely take a class on game theory if your school offers it.

Work on Independent Projects

With so much competition for game industry internships you need to set yourself apart from the crowd. Sure, you have a college degree, but so do all the other applicants!

One way to differentiate yourself is by working on independent projects. Practice your programming skills by creating small, stand-alone demos. There are many tutorials available online to get you started in areas such as artificial intelligence, graphics, sound, engines, and networking. When you think you've created enough small demos, take the knowledge you learned from all those pieces and create a simple game. This can be as simple as tic-tac-toe or tetris. Doing this will give you the opportunity to develop many different skills. As an added bonus you'll have a game/demo to show a potential employer.

Getting a Game Industry Internship

After you've prepared and researched the game industry, the next step is finding a game studio that will employ you. This is best accomplished by first creating a resume and cover letter targeted at specific game studios. Next, send these documents to game studios and talk with them to see if any internships are available. With time, skill, and luck, you may be rewarded by being offered an internship!

Prepare Your Resume and Cover letter

Unless you know someone working at a game company you can speak to directly, your best way to get a game company's attention is to create a stellar resume and cover letter. The purpose of these two documents is to show that you have valuable skills to offer that game studio and encourage them to interview you. Often these two documents will be the way to get your foot in the door, so making sure your grammar and spelling is perfect is extremely important.

Your cover letter should be a one page document that tells the company about why you want the job and what skills you can offer their game development team. It should be quite brief and to the point. The cover letter is a great place to show that you have researched the game industry. Make sure to describe some of the game-related classes you've taken in school as well as some of the independent projects and demos you've created on your own.

Your resume should highlight you academic and professional achievements. For students, this will focus more heavily on academic performance. Regardless of what position you are applying for, make sure to include a section on skills where you can list all the technology (buzzwords) you are familiar and skilled with.

Apply to Game Companies Online

Almost all game companies have a web site listing available job opportunities, though only a few list internships. Many smaller game studios may not have the resources to train and employ interns, so try focusing your search on larger game studios like EA, Sony Entertainment, Ubisoft, etc. If information about internships is not available online, you may have to send an e-mail or call their HR department. Your cover letter and resume will come in handy as you can send it along to immediately get their attention and allow them to redirect your information to the correct person

Ace the Interviews

To land a job in the game industry will required a few rounds of interviews. To get a software engineering position with the Sims at EA I first interviewed on-campus. EA had a schedule on their web site listing what days they were visiting my campus, MIT. Two HR employees asked me questions about my skills, interest in computer games, past projects I've worked on, and what I'd like to work on that summer. Depending on your skill level and what positions available, you may be contacted for a second-round interview with a member of a game development team. My second interview was over the phone with the lead software engineer on the Sims. He asked me about my interests, past programming experiences, and a few questions about how I'd solve specific game-related implementation issues (dealing with network latency, shading 3D graphics). About a week later I was contacted and offered a summer software engineering internship on the Sims team.

To ace the interview you should confidently know your skills and abilities. You should be able to describe in detail everything listed on your resume and cover letter. For technical questions, the best way to prepare is to simply practice using different technologies and understand their uses in the game industry.

Making the Most of the Internship

Network with other Employees / Game Companies

Will be written this summer while at EA!

Game Internship Links

EA_Spouse Blog
  Describes working conditions at EA, though the comments apply to many game studios
EA Academy
  How to apply for an EA internship in software engineering, graphics, production, or marketing
Approaching Internships in the Game Industry
  Describes the pros/cons of the game industry as well as tips for applying


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