Hi, I’m JR Honeycutt, and I’m the Community Manager at Level 99 Games. Like many of us who work in gaming, I started as a fan of games, and gradually found opportunities to help my favorite companies until I secured a permanent job.
Every person’s “origin story” is different, and there’s certainly not just one way to make it in the gaming industry. However, I’ve benefited from some great advice, and I want to pass on these five tips on to you.
Five tips for Getting into the Industry:
Do what you love, and do it a LOT
Find a niche
Introduce yourself to everyone
Ask for what you want
Tip #1: Do what you love, and do it a LOT
Many people absolutely love teaching games. Whether it’s to family, friends, or strangers, many gamers just enjoy sharing their love for the hobby with other folks. If you’re one of these people, you should be volunteering to demo your favorite games for the companies that make them. This is a great way to get a free badge for a convention, because you’re also providing a service for the attendees. If you’re looking for a job in the industry, this is a good way to build a relationship with a publisher.
Find ways to do the things you love that will also get your foot in the door.
Whether you’re a graphic designer, prototyper, or an at-home designer, the advice still holds. Can you provide a service? Put your name out there and offer to help. There are great places to look for these opportunities, like the Kickstarter Best Practices and Lessons Learned Facebook group.
I’ve heard so many stories from friends in the industry that start with, “I loved demoing (insert game), and I did that so much that (insert company) offered me a job part-time organizing their volunteers. Now I’m a director of such-and-such with so-and-so and I can’t imagine doing anything else.” This could be you!
Tip #2: Find a niche
If you have ambitions of success in “the industry”, it helps to have an audience. Our current golden age of gaming exists in parallel with a golden age of game coverage. The Dice Tower, TableTop, and Shut Up & Sit Down are examples of successful outlets that exist because hobbyists are paying attention to what folks have to say about games.
Whatever your message is, figure it out, then focus it
You want people to pay attention to what you have to say because it’s insightful, or clever, or funny, or motivating. The more “niche” you can be, the more likely you are to make a name for yourself. When you’ve built a reputation for that niche, people will treat you as the expert. Jamey Stegmaier is a great example of how a person’s audience can grow because of his niche!
Like content creators, event organizers add value by building the hobby and the community around it. Whatever you do, create something that people will notice and associate with your effort. If you want to get a job in the board game industry you’ve got to have a resume and a skill set, and working to create things on your own will increase the quality of both.
Tip #3: Introduce yourself to everyone
Most of us in this hobby have professional experience, often in a technical or educational field. I think half the people I know in hobby gaming are engineers or programmers by trade, and the other half are graphic designers or professors. The hobby gaming industry is brimming with talented, hard-working people. You want to know these people, not just because they might hire you someday, but because they’re damned neat people to sit and have a drink with after hours.
It’s no coincidence that many of my closest friends work in gaming. They’re a singular breed of people – industrious, creative, and passionate. Go meet them. Listen to podcasts and interviews. Introduce yourself at conventions. Thank them for the work they’ve done in bringing your favorite games to life.
I got my job at Level 99 Games in part because I introduced myself to Brad Talton at BGG.Con 2013. I shook his hand and took his card. After playing Noir at Thanksgiving, I called to personally thank him for making a game I could share with my family. That started a friendship that led to me being offered my first position with the company.
Tip #4: Under-promise, over-deliver
Once you’ve got a foot in the door it’s hard not to throw yourself at every problem and say “I can do that!” Margins in the gaming industry are slim, and that means that even the successful companies keep a trim budget and a busy staff. We rely on volunteers to do a lot of work for us, like setting up and running events, promoting our games, and even managing communities or playtesting and vetting game designs.
It’s tempting to involve yourself in everything you possibly can, and I encourage you to do as much as you have time for. It’s great to try a little of everything, but be aware of how much time you actually have in your life for your new ventures. It’s great to offer help, but make sure it’s help you can deliver when you say you will. Do a good job, and do it when you say you’ll do it – this is enough to get you noticed!
Tip #5: Ask for what you want
Once you’ve made connections, ask to get more involved. If you’re an avid game player, ask your favorite publisher if you can playtest their games. Most publishers have a newsletter, and many will freely offer behind-the-scenes info to their hardcore fans. Subscribe to these, then think critically about ways that you could contribute to the success of those projects.
If you want something, ask for it respectfully and with class. Don’t demand, and don’t make assumptions about how your audience will react – just politely ask and wait for a response. Remember that everyone is busy, and an answer of “I can’t answer that right now, but please remind me later” is the most common response you’ll get. Follow up when you’re asked and you’ll likely be rewarded with at least a healthy conversation about your ideas.
Being in the gaming industry is incredibly rewarding, even more so now that it’s my full-time pursuit. I can’t imagine having more fun or working harder every day, and before this year I never would have thought those two things went together. I hope you find similar success, and that you are able to contribute to this wonderful community!
Latest posts by JR Honeycutt (see all)
- Five Things I Learned While Developing SeaFall – July 8, 2016
- Cooperative Games: Advice From the Experts – May 18, 2016
- Player Autonomy: How to Let Players Have Fun – July 15, 2015
4 Readers CommentedJoin discussion
JR, I appreciate you sharing your path. Many who want to get more involved, myself included, see the people who are already “in”, and see a huge gap between themselves and their goal. We think the gap is bridged by one big moment–publishing a game, meeting a VIP, sheer luck, bribery… whatever–when really, as you laid it out, the whole process is just a lifestyle. Meeting people, being real, doing what you love. Thanks for closing the gap 🙂
Thanks for sharing your story! Along with the photos, glad to see that Poop comes after Twirk.
What an honest and truthful post on getting into the game industry. I totally agree it is about doing what you are passionate about and building relationships. Thanks for sharing this with such personal detail.
Great article, JR! I’m in the midst of this process now and I appreciate the advice! Having just gotten back from Gencon, I still find my mind remains blurry from the people met and connections made. I’ve found that, as you pointed out, it’s a process where you spend the majority of your time adding value to those around you. For sure, you may have your own game percolating. However, the best way to help your own success is by helping others. Not only do you make valuable connections, you learn a great deal. Well, and you can have a ton of fun.