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7 tips for making an awesome game development portfolio

MAGESJanuary 3 , 2019
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Whenever someone asks “How can I get my first job in the Games Industry”, the first and the most up-voted answer is always “Build a portfolio”.

But what does this really mean? How can you make a portfolio that sets you apart and gets you hired?

A portfolio is meant to display your best work. It’s like a tiny portable museum to showcase your abilities and how you can contribute to the job you’re hoping to get.

Traditionally, this was just for artists.

However, games are a very visual and creative medium. Anyone who works on games can display their work.

Traditional programmers might have very complex projects, but in the end, they might just spit out a few numbers – which is total genius to those who understand it, and gibberish to everyone else.

Portfolios have pretty much become a requirement in Games Industry.

Everyone wants to become a Game Developer. The competition is fierce. What used to be a way to stand out is now pretty much standard.

Your ability to present your work and sell your value is just as important as having the right skills.

It has become almost impossible to get a job now without a great portfolio.

You really have to go that extra mile for the Games Industry. That means working hard, getting A’s, working on passion projects. And it also means displaying it all.

What does displaying your work really mean? It is much more than just a showcase. It is an embodiment of the art of selling yourself.

Don’t let that scare you though. You definitely don’t have to become an expert in sales (Though it wouldn’t hurt). You just need to know the basics.

Choose a platform to build your portfolio

Choose a platform

Your portfolio should be easily accessible online. A common solution is to build a small website for it. You can choose to go the complete web development route, or you can choose platforms such as

  • Wix
  • Squarespace
  • Artstation
  • Behance
  • GitHub

The technical aspects are the easy part. You can find out about this easily. It is especially easy for those used to working on games. We all have above average technical skills.

Be picky. Put your most impressive work first.

Consider this: a portfolio is like a mobile capsule of your best work. Best being the key here.

Now maybe you blabbered about the hundreds of skills you have on your CV. But you don’t do the same with your portfolio.

A portfolio has to reflect your creativity in the best possible manner.

It cannot have just about anything or everything that you’ve ever worked on in your whole life.

A recruiter isn’t going to go through every piece of your work you send to them.

You have to show-off your work in the shortest possible time. Maybe send two pieces, instead of ten. But send your best work.

Quality, not quantity, is key.

Relevance, in turn, is a crucial ingredient of quality. What you send has to matter to the company you are wishing to work for. Tailor your portfolio according to the company’s needs. Tailor it according to the position you’ve applied for.

Make it easy to consume and navigate.

Presentation matters. Your portfolio has to be attractive enough to attract a recruiter’s eye. But first and foremost, it has to serve its purpose of efficiently presenting your work.

That’s a rule of sales as well. You can’t make it difficult to find what you want the buyer to see. It should be a smooth and easy process.

While designing it, you can apply some principles from UI design, graphic design, and web design. Again, you don’t have to be very fancy though – focus on making your website clear and easy to navigate.

Remember: a recruiter has hundreds of applications to sift through in a day. And that is what they exactly do. Sift through.

If they have to navigate through your website to find your work, they’re not going to bother to put in the effort.

  • The link to your portfolio should be clearly visible.
  • Your work should be visible immediately, without having to navigate to it.
  • It should open without any errors.
  • It should load quickly.

Simply put, if your portfolio is too difficult to access, it is going to simply be thrown in a pile of ‘rejected’ applications.

Describe your work

Describing isn’t just a follow-up to the above to pointers, it adds to them.

Describing your work in a concise manner will certainly add to the quality of your portfolio. The recruiter would know that you,

  • Know what you claim to know
  • Are sincere in your intention to work for them
  • Have put in actual efforts to stand apart from other run-of-the-mill applications

One good method is to have a few key points as bullets, which are easy to consume. This will certainly increase the readability of your work.

This can be followed with detail that shows all the work you put in. This lets you demonstrate more in-depth knowledge as well as elaborate on interesting points about the project.

Clarify what you did in each project

Clarity goes a long way in determining the quality of your portfolio.

With group projects, for instance, make sure you specify all of your work and responsibilities.

Don’t just leave it at ‘I worked as part of a group in so and so project…” Nobody’s interested in mere names of projects you did.

Communication and teamwork are essential to Game Development projects. This is what you demonstrate through projects you work on with other people.

However, your responsibilities and tasks should be crystal clear.

You should describe what you specifically worked on and how that contributed to the project as a whole.

Identify the impressive and technical aspects of every project.

Specificity helps. It makes things more clear and imparts quality to them.

Your portfolio should exhibit your skillset in the most efficient and impactful manner.

Be specific about your what you worked on.

Maybe this project taught you about lighting in 3D environments. The next one may have led to you exploring the possibilities of GPU particles. Highlight them.

It is essential that recruiters know exactly what you can do and how you can contribute to the job when they glance through your portfolio.

And that’s what they’re going to do. They’re going to only glance through your work. So just stop beating about the bush and get right to the point.

Should you use your school work?

This is a point of contention. The work you do for your courses has the potential to be very impressive.

It might be a great embodiment of everything you learned. Each project will be stronger than the last as you learn more.

However, some people recommend against showcasing your school projects.

Because by the time you’re done, you’ll have much more experience than you did when you started.

Even if you build just a few portfolio pieces, they’ll be higher quality and more impressive, and embody all the experience of the last few years.

This depends on the amount of work you were able to put in. There’s no harm trying. You can always ask your lecturers or industry friends for opinions. You can compare with fellow graduates.

If you feel like your work is impressive, use it.

However, if your efforts to find employment are not bearing fruit, don’t be discouraged.

Let the experience strengthen your will and drive you to further greatness.

Use the downtime to double-down and improve your skills. Throw out your old work and build even better pieces.

Demonstrate the skills you learned and you’ll find that the new pieces you create far outdo the older ones.

This process might be exactly what you need to finally get that job.

In Conclusion

Building a portfolio is really about packaging your best work to enable recruiters to see how well-suited you are for a certain job.

The game industry is a highly competitive and creative industry. And setting a foot in it is certainly no piece of cake.

A portfolio is a must to increase the chances of landing your dream job at the ‘Ubisofts’ and ‘Bethesdas’ of the gaming industry.

But building one isn’t merely about stuffing all your life’s work into one place. (That’s just going to waive off any chance of getting anything at all.)

Your portfolio, in essence, should have these ingredients to make it enriching and delectable:

  • Choose the right platform.
  • It has to be a consortium of your best Quality should take precedence over quantity. Send a few nearly-perfect and relevant samples instead of ten average and irrelevant ones.
  • It has to be easy to consume and navigate. If accessibility is an issue, landing a job would be one too.
  • Describe your work concisely to help recruiters easily understand what you’re capable of doing.
  • String in as much clarity as possible by specifying your role and responsibilities in projects you undertook.
  • Don’t shy away from highlighting the impressive and technical aspects of your work.
  • Don’t hesitate to create entirely new portfolio pieces if you have to. Perfecting your craft is always good. And it also makes sense to create different samples for different roles to make them relevant.

Remember, this is only one part of the employment search. Make sure you also,

  • Constantly improve your skills
  • Search and apply for jobs
  • Work on your CV (it is important)
  • Network – to make friends and to find prospective employers

All these efforts combined would make a huge difference in the kind of jobs you land in the gaming industry and how soon you land them!

You can also learn about tips on creating perfect portfolios in the field of game design here

All of MAGES’ courses help students build relevant and impressive portfolios – find out more here.

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