Finding Your Path in Game Development: 6 Tips from the Walker Labs’ Team

Game development is a lifelong dream for many aspiring developers and gamers who love the game industry.

But it’s not always easy to get into.  

That’s why we asked our talented team here at Walker Labs for their best advice on getting into the world of game development and thriving as an upcoming game dev.  

Meet Anthony Merle, Environment Artist and Simon Rogers, Character Artist.

Anthony Merle is an environment artist with a background in traditional art, graphic design, photography and 3D. Anthony is an Unreal Engine artist who can do everything from concept and asset creation to level design.

Simon Rogers was previously a member of Free Radical Design. Simon creates amazing game characters using ZBrush, Maya, Substance Painter, Marvelous Designer, Marmoset Toolbag, Photoshop and Unreal Engine.

Now, let’s hear what they have to say…

1. Never Stop Learning

If you’re seriously thinking of getting into game development, you know how much learning and practice is needed to get your foot in the industry. And it doesn’t stop there.

As Anthony says, “The gaming industry is always evolving quickly, so you must never stop learning. There will always be a new tool or workflow to try. Instead of getting overwhelmed by all this, you need to approach it as if you’re always a student.”

You need to cultivate a growth mindset. What this means in practical terms is that you start to see every day as a new opportunity to become a better developer. 

This means learning from your team and coworkers and networking with industry professionals. You’ll also want to stay up-to-date with industry news, trends and tools, and, of course, get hands-on and learning through practice.

And this shouldn’t just be your specialization. It’s important to know the wider industry and specializations outside of your own, especially when working in-house for a game studio. 

As Anthony continues, “To be a 3D artist in the real-time rendering industry, you have to be passionate about your work and know more or less what you want to do. While it is important to specialize in one area, the more you can do, the better, especially in smaller studios or as a freelancer.”

2. Always Be Open to Opportunities

The next project, big or small, is always just around the corner if you make yourself open to it. 

Even if nothing is going on in your area of expertise at the moment, you might find a new, exciting challenge in a different area. And with these leaps, you never know where you’ll end up. 

Simon’s advice is to, “Be open and flexible to opportunities. And if there’s anything outside of your discipline that interests you, pursue it and use those skills and inspiration in your work.”

If an opportunity pops up and it’s not directly what you do, don’t immediately say no, especially if someone has asked you specifically. We’re not saying you should say yes to everything – you shouldn’t – but there’s so much value to be gained, even just from finding out more. 

Inspiration can strike from anywhere. Some of our best ideas come from entirely unrelated industries. With innovation at the heart of everything we do, we’re all about those wildcard, “how did they ever think of that” ideas. They’re often the difference makers in staying one step ahead of our competitors. 

That’s why we encourage our team to explore all their passions and share their insights with each other, even if it’s from outside projects.

3. Try Freelancing

“Freelancing can be a great way to quickly experience things outside your day-to-day, ” Anthony says. 

Even if you’re happily employed full-time in game development, it’s worth (if possible) making the time to try and freelance every so often. 

There’ll be times when you’re working on the same project for months or years at a time. Adding a little variety to your work can make the day-to-day more exciting and fulfilling. 

If you have a particular skill or experience you’ve always wanted to add to your portfolio, freelancing is the quickest, often easiest way to do that. You may even be able to get involved with some of your dream games or developers and check that off your professional bucket list. 

It’s also a great way to build your network organically, without relying on networking and industry events. We know not everyone thrives in these environments.

And, of course, the extra income is always welcome.

4. Find Mentors

If you follow the personal development space, you’ll already have heard that you’re the combination of the five people closest to you. That’s why you should be intentional about who you listen to and learn from. 

Anthony says, “Finding mentors can be a great way to catapult yourself. Network and make friends in the industry. Discord servers can be a great way to meet like-minded people to learn from or even work with.” 

The right mentor can completely change the trajectory of your career. Not only will they provide valuable insights from their experiences, but you may also be able to tap into their network (if they’re open to that). This can lead to new opportunities you wouldn’t have had access to.

Alternatively, you don’t have to have a mentor in the traditional sense. While not as impactful, you can instead have a virtual mentor where you consume all the content, books and knowledge that they have created. Eventually, you should feel like you know them well enough to ask yourself “What would they do?”. 

5. Develop Your Communication Skills

Strong communication skills will make you stand out and become a valued member of any team. You’ll also find you naturally attract more opportunities. 

As Anthony advises, “Be the best communicator possible. You should aspire to learn the technical aspects of your work and how it integrates with others. You should then be able to communicate this to your coworkers, stakeholders and employers in a way that’s easy for everyone to understand.”

It’s important to remember that you’re specialised in a particular area and have dedicated more time to developing a unique set of skills. Not everyone has followed the exact same path as you. What you find easy to understand may sound completely alien to someone else – even if they’re in a similar discipline. 

As a best practice: always aim to communicate clearly and avoid unnecessary jargon. Save the geeking out for those you’re certain will appreciate it. 

And be open and transparent where necessary. In game development, we know how easy it can be to put your head down and get immersed in your work for hours. But when you’re done, remember to communicate your progress and any changes you’ve made to anyone who needs to know. 

6. Build a Portfolio That Excites You

Your portfolio isn’t just a tool for getting hired, it’s a journal of all the incredible things you’ve created and worked on. It’s a highlight reel of your achievements. Your portfolio should inspire and motivate you to reach new heights and keep improving. 

Anthony describes this: “Developing an impressive portfolio is very important. One of the wonderful things about working in game development is that you can visually showcase your abilities. Experience is important, but a demonstration of your talent always holds greater weight.”

Over time, you may take your portfolio for granted. If you’ve started to get desensitised to your portfolio, try looking at it from a different perspective. Think of a gamer either not in the dev world at all or an aspiring game developer. Your past projects may be projects they dream of. You may have worked on their favourite game. 

Did you find any of this advice useful in your game development journey? We’re growing our team, so come learn and grow alongside some of the best minds in the AAA Gaming and Tech space here at Walker Labs. Check out our open roles and apply today.