Breaking into video games

competition is stiff when your projects are video games -- so plan your entrance into the industry carefully

By Matthew Birken, PMI-ACP

AS A PROJECT MANAGER at a video game company, I’m often asked how to break into the industry or how one becomes a project manager in this field.

There’s a good reason for these questions. The game industry offers the chance to work in an area that many people are passionate about. And project management is booming, with 15.7 million new project management jobs projected to be created around the world between 2010 and 2020, according to PMI.

Students interested in combining these interests should first research game design schools and programs. When choosing a school, make sure its program is suited to your goals. Do you want to become a technical project manager or an art manager? Do you want to handle client expectations or lead teams? Focus is very important, and being able to demonstrate expertise in a specific area vastly improves your chance of finding a job. In addition to the information you learn in school, massive amounts of free and premium training are available on the Internet.


Because people skills are so crucial in project management, students should also work on leadership, emotional intelligence and the ability to trust a team. Effective project managers need to be skilled in bringing out the best in people, teamwork and intuitive problem-solving.

Obtaining a professional certification in project management will likely improve your chances of finding a job. Agile approaches like Scrum are especially popular in software development. If you’re considering becoming certified, I recommend the PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)® certification. The certification exam covers multiple agile approaches, including Scrum, and their fundamentals. The knowledge you’ll gain from preparing for the test is invaluable.

While you’re applying for jobs, you can volunteer with game hobbyists or create your own titles. Some great tools for nontechnical people and beginners are Game Maker and Game Salad. These programs feature a drag and drop interface and do the bulk of the engineering work for you. Your first game should be simple and straightforward. It doesn’t have to be digital. Design a simple game on paper, then iterate the rules and play again.

Another option is to talk with your local PMI chapter—many of the chapters accept mentees.

Internships are a terrific way to get your foot in the door. Most of the large game studios in the U.S. offer paid internships, but they are extremely competitive. If you’re fortunate enough to be offered one, grab it. It’s the way I got my start.

An internship will expose you to the building blocks of the game industry, including managing product milestones and deadlines, interacting with team members, creating documents and possibly even leading a small project. It should also be great preparation for your first full-time job in gaming project management. PM

img Matthew Birken, PMI-ACP, is a project manager at High 5 Games, New York, New York, USA.




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