The field of game development may appeal to students for a wide range of reasons. Perhaps these students have great ideas for enjoyable games suited to the educational setting. Perhaps they see work in this field as an opportunity to use their creative skills in a fun and competitive environment. Maybe they find it rewarding to spend hours writing code and then see the “tangible” result of a playable game. And of course, they may simply think to themselves: I like playing games… Hey, why not MAKE them?

However, as with any career choice, it makes sense to consider all the factors involved with pursuing that path prior to devoting one’s entire energy to it. To help students make this choice, we asked Jeannie Novak, lead author and editor of Game Industry Career Guide as well as other titles in the Game Development Essentials series: What advice do you have for students hoping to enter the field of game development? Here are her insights:

1.Stay informed. Follow industry blogs and other outlets such as Develop Magazine, Edge Online, Gamasutra, and GamesIndustry.biz. Keep up with the current trends, game launches, and all the “players”—including publishers, development studios (large and small), and hardware manufacturers.

2. Know yourself. Explore different game development roles—such as artist, designer, programmer, sound designer, tester, and producer. Understand why you decided to study game development in the first place. What are your strengths? The game development process can be a grueling experience at times—so you’d better love what you do! Don’t pursue just any game development position; only focus on those you can imagine doing everyday.

3. Explore more. This might seem like it’s diametrically opposed to #2 above, but consider expanding your horizons by stepping out of the box and trying something new. If you’ve never experimented with sound, make some field recordings and edit them. If you’ve never written dialogue, create a scene featuring two characters that are extremely different from you. Take a chance on something new.
4. Show off. When you’re ready to knock on doors, so to speak, you’d better have something that will “wow” prospective employers. Make sure your online portfolio is impeccable—and devoid of spelling errors and clunky layout snafus. Don’t create a “cookie cutter” system that looks like every other game portfolio out there. This is the time to focus on your strengths—while letting your personality shine through!
5. Don’t wait. Why wait until you graduate when you can get a head start with an internship or project? If your school has an internship program, participate in it. If there’s a special course that allows you to work on a real-world team project, take it. If there’s a game development club at school, join it. If none of the above is readily available, create your own opportunities. Participate in a contest such as the Independent Games Festival. Start a side project and scout for team members online. Make it happen!

How might students in your field of study contribute to the growing field of educational gaming? Are there particular skills, ideas, or talents relevant to your discipline or field that might give those students an edge in this line of work? Share your ideas in the comments section below.