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I have a teenage son that wants to work in games development and design when he is older. We've been to several conferences that explain the importance of experience when looking for a job. Also being a IT developer myself that often interviews new hires, I know how critical experience is. So we've been looking to try and find him some work at Games Dev companies in London for several weeks over the Summer holidays but haven't got anywhere.

My son is very smart and is expected to get 8+ GCSEs of a high grade (7+ or A/Bs in old marks), he plans go on to get A levels and then study Computer Science at University. He has some programming experience in Python. All he wants is some work experience, if he ends up just running errands and making coffee that would be fine as long as he also gets involved in some way with the games development process. He also doesn't really expect to get paid (although that would be a bonus).

I've approached several companies with details and a CV but haven't had a single response back from them. This seems strange to me as apart from a little of their time these companies don't seem to have anything to lose here.

So my question is, is there something stopping games companies hiring teens in this kind of situation? Any other pertinent advice would be welcome.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I notice you describe his interest as being "in games development and design" - does he have a particular role in this space that interests him? In bigger teams especially, game makers can be quite specialized, so having a clear idea of where you fit in can be a big help when applying for work or choosing what to study. "Design" for example is just one (oft-misunderstood) family of roles in this ecosystem \$\endgroup\$ – DMGregory Jul 2 '17 at 14:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ He is a teenager, he needs to get his experience by making his own games. In a month there's the 39th Ludum Dare (an event where, at home, you create a game in less than 48 hours following a specific theme), it is a great opportunity for him to create a game. \$\endgroup\$ – Cedric Martens Jul 2 '17 at 16:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ The best way to show off his design is by creating his games and applying his design. He does not need to be an expert programmer, by being creative, with simple mechanics and good game design, you can make a great game. \$\endgroup\$ – Cedric Martens Jul 2 '17 at 17:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ I got my experience with game modifications, starting from the age of 13. I'm now 20 and have been accepted into every games programming university course that I applied to, as well as running a multiplayer backend for a game. My point is that experience doesn't necessarily mean that it must be within a company, just that they gain experience in other ways such as personal projects. As a bonus, I have 7 years of games programming experience under my belt, too. \$\endgroup\$ – AStopher Jul 2 '17 at 21:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ Be aware that the game dev industry is really tough. Because so many people want to do it entry is hard, hours are long, pay is low, and stress is high. Make sure he knows it's not all fun and games. \$\endgroup\$ – Tim B Jul 3 '17 at 16:58
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You've hit on a real problem in the games industry. We don't know how to judge game-making expertise. Training someone up to be productive on a new game project can take weeks on its own, so we're very skittish about making that investment. Our best guess is to look at games someone has already made, which leads to a catch-22 situation where you need to be hired to work on a game so you can have your name on a shipped game so you can get hired.

Going through the job postings for my studio for example, nearly all of them ask for 5 years of prior game experience and multiple shipped titles, and there's a lot of competition for the few student/new-grad level positions. This is especially prevalent at the big AAA companies. A lot of us were able to get our start because a smaller indie studio took a chance on us (or we took a chance starting our own indie studio).

Just to add to these troubles, of the studios that do hire students/grads/interns frequently, some have a reputation for churn - treating these beginners as cheap replaceable labour to work till they burn out, knowing there are always more out there to take their place. So make sure you read up on the work culture at any studio to which you apply.

There is a way to break this catch-22 though, and it might be perfect for the summer experience you describe. It just requires broadening the definition a little from "work experience" to "game development experience"

We do these things called Game Jams, which are a bit like a hackathon or charette: a group of game creators get together and decide to build a new game from scratch in a very short amount of time - often a week, a weekend, or even just one day. They're usually free or very cheap to participate in, and don't require any CV review to get in.

I'd particularly recommend jams that happen at physical locations like schools or coworking spaces, since they give you the opportunity to mingle with fellow creators, get inspired, ask for help, offer to help, and generally just ride the energy of all these people getting together to create.

There's also a continuous stream of online-only jams - itch.io catalogues many of these in a handy timeline format. If you can't find a suitable jam near you or starting on the timeline you want, you can always grab some friends and start your own. :)

Most jams will have a theme or challenge of some kind to spark your creativity, others will have constraints like using specific platforms / tools / genres. Most in my experience aren't a judged competition - they usually end with an arcade or showcase where everyone gets to play all the weird little games the participants came up with.

You can join a jam as a team of friends, or as an individual if you want to do it all solo. Some of the bigger jams also provide matchmaking services to help you assemble a team, or "floater" roles where artists/sound designers without a team get paired up with teams that lack artists/sound designers.

I recommend jams because they reproduce a microcosm of game development - all the same pressures and joys and frustrations, team dynamics and scope challenges (and oh gosh the bugs!) condensed into a low-risk opportunity. If a jam goes badly, ehn, I lost a weekend at worst - I didn't have to live through a studio I founded going bankrupt. ;)

And the games that get created aren't just throw-away. With a bit of dedication and polish they can become great portfolio pieces to bring to a prospective employer to prove you have game-making skills. Here in Ontario, we've had a number of success stories of creators taking experimental game jam prototypes and continuing to build them up into finished games you can buy on Steam/Xbox/Playstation/etc, including Runbow, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, Toto Temple, Mount Your Friends, Super Time Force, Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime, The Yawhg. (I have no affiliation with any of these games, I just think they and their creators are pretty awesome)

So yeah, all that to say: game jams can be a fun and accessible way to build up gamedev experience, sidestepping industry gatekeepers, and I highly recommend them even for experienced game developers as a way to periodically stoke your passion for making games. Feel free to hit me up on Twitter if you want more information about jams. :)

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This interview with Todd Howard, Skyrim's director, nails pretty much the point at 5:00. Your education does not matter much, they want to see if you are able to make your own stuff. \$\endgroup\$ – Cedric Martens Jul 2 '17 at 16:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ What a great answer thanks for taking the time. I hadn't thought of game jams & it's a great idea. I don't think my son's programming skills are up to this but if I assist it should work. This is something we'll definitely be doing. It's a shame that he can't get the experience until he has the experience, as you state a catch-22 situation, but I had half expected that to be the case. Hope with a few game jams in his portfolio we may get somewhere. \$\endgroup\$ – evoelise Jul 2 '17 at 19:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ Parent-child teams at jams are a force to be reckoned with! :D Best of luck to you both, and most important of all, have fun! \$\endgroup\$ – DMGregory Jul 2 '17 at 19:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ Great points. Not to mention that starting with small games has a great benefit in that getting started is usually a lot more conscious effort than tweaking a game that actually does something (I suspect this may be why many game developers nowadays started with modding existing games); once you have something you can actually play, it's easy to feel that burning itch to just keep tweaking it, making it better, investing more effort. It's just like with normal software - the best software usually comes from you having the need, using your own product, solving actual problems. \$\endgroup\$ – Luaan Jul 3 '17 at 8:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @CedricMartens Good reference - Todd Howard has come ever further since that interview as he is credited for much of the success of Skyrim (one of the most successful games of all time) and Fallout 4 after it. As such he was given the honour of a place within the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences' Hall of Fame - pretty good for a man who just wanted to get involved with building video games since childhood. I personally think he would make a fantastic role model for aspiring game devs. \$\endgroup\$ – Kallum Tanton Jul 3 '17 at 11:07
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As a current college student (2nd year) that is currently on paid co-op with a studio, my biggest piece of advice would be personal projects. Start playing with C# and Unity and constantly be messing around and doing quick prototypes of ideas that you have. All. The. Time.

A great way to build up real game dev experience is with game jams. They are fantastic ways to learn, experiment, and meat new people. If you want more info on some public game jams, check out Itch.

If you want to learn more directly and want some structure, then Udemy has amazing game dev courses. Great support and community, and they are on sale all the time. I just got a 54 hour long Unreal Engine course for $15. Totally worth the investment.

Lastly, have your son do the work. Companies don't want to hire someone whose parents reach out to them. You need to let him get out there and learn for himself, otherwise he will not learn.

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Just an addition to the other answers (because I can't comment): I agree that working on a game at home first is a better way to get started than trying to get experience at a company rigt away. He can start making is own small games to get used to the development, and get to know some of the components a game usually has. Another step I suggest as soon as he has enough experience is contributing to some game. It is not in Python, but as an example the game Terasology is a Minecraft-like project where everyone can contribute code, assets, anything on GitHub. Through things like that he'll also learn to use important collaborating tools like Git(maybe even advanced stuff like CI), learn about code style, and generally how a workflow can go (as GitLab puts it, "From idea to production"). Staying at the example if Terasology, they also take part in Google's Summer of Code (GSOC), another thing he could participate in (probably a little later) to learn more about Coding and Game Design.

When he has already made a few smaller games and maybe even participated in one that is a little larger, it might be a better idea to come back at some companys. Then they'll know he can actually understand what is going on, and they are not wasting resources on someone who might just get bored of coding some months later.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Getting involved in community game development projects is a great idea. Consider game modding communities too. :) Especially for level designers, a portfolio of maps and mods for an existing game can demonstrate an ability to master and innovate within a given set of mechanics and tools. \$\endgroup\$ – DMGregory Jul 2 '17 at 21:09
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Companies do have something to lose: time

I have worked for companies that have accepted work experience students, although as part of formal work experience during schooltime rather than ad hoc. These students are not able to usefully contribute to the game development process but rather take up considerable amounts of time from developers who could otherwise be doing useful work. Time is required to plan things for them to do, show them how to do said things, and supervise them whilst they work. Further, as they are children, there are insurance and oversight considerations not present with normal staff.

Even a smart child, such as your son, cannot be expected to turn up and produce worthwhile work in a few weeks. Even when we took project students from the local university who were considerably older and taking a specific game development course it was rarely the case that they'd produce worthwhile work within the first few months. Some never managed it at all, or produced little enough good work that their cost in terms of other people's time was not covered.

So, in fact, taking students on for work experience or projects is frequently not beneficial to the companies involved. Instead it is offered out of a sense of community and duty to wider society. This role is less well achieved by taking on a random child interested in game development than it is by participating in formal programmes of work experience.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I think you're right about everything, however it would be nice to provide some alternatives. \$\endgroup\$ – Michael Jul 3 '17 at 12:23
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DMGregory is right. Finding job as a game developer is not just the same as throwing a CV at some engineering company. Basically because Software is something quite new, and a low percentage of the youth knows how to do it, and a tinier percentage does it well. I never went to any jam, but if your son has time, I'd strongly recommend him to create games himself and publish them. They don't have to be hard, they can be simple 2D games. Even simpler than a platformer. Look at "Pop the Lock" in Play Store. It's so simple and it got up to 5 million downloads. Besides, he could end up not wanting to be employed by anyone but to have his own company of game development, which he doesn't need money for, since he could get it by his own if he has success. The Android Play Store is a good start. Many frameworks have very good support, be it native like Android Studio, or Unity.

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There are many good answers so far, but I wish to emphasise one point in particular.
To be blunt: You want to be a games designer? You mean programmer.

A lot of games come out of small teams or from lone developers. In this case each person has multiple roles. Unless you get to large corporations there's simply no way a dedicated games designer can be justified (or is even relevant), and even then I wouldn't trust someone who claimed to love games design and yet never made their own games. In big studios a lot of the senior staff who happen to be designers are usually industry veterans who have an awareness of everything required to bring a design into reality. There's little if any space for juniors in this field.

Being able to demonstrate technical competence and initiative; to bring a polished product from concept to market, is the most relevant thing you can do for a future career in games or IT. Forget about internship, you want to be able to evidence your ability, dedication, and talent. The only way to do this for games is by programming. People will notice your CV if you can mention such achievements.

Games, broken down to their most fundamental element, are about play. Narrative, sound, art; strip those away and you're left with the mechanics, and the only person who can make them happen is a programmer.

The good news is that these days it has never been easier for anyone, regardless of age, to learn programming, download a quality game engine, and just start implementing their ideas. Computer Science is an excellent start, and there's no reason you'd have to wait for university to teach yourself the basics. Acquire a copy of Bjarne Stroustrup's "Programming Principles and Practice using C++" (written by the man who invented C++ for his first year university students). I only got through the first 100 pages, but that was enough theory to get started in Unity with C#. And there's plenty of online communities, forums, wikis, to help with all manner of questions a novice might have. Google it, 9/10 times you'll find a solution on StackOverflow or a specialist forum. It's never been easier to go it alone.

Additionally, companies may be unwilling to look for interns partly because a lot of what they do is secretive. Employees usually sign a Non Disclosure Agreement, and an intern is something more of a liability than a salaried employee.

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We've been to several conferences [...] we've been looking to try and find him some work [...] I've approached several companies

Do you want a job or does your son want a job?

Stop being a helicopter mom. If your son wants a job, he needs to apply himself. Nobody will take him seriously if his mother is constantly behind him.

Besides that, I can reiterate the advise given by the other answers. Game development studios get swamped with application from teen gamers who think they have what it takes to become game designers because they have "the idea for the greatest game ever" but have absolutely no relevant skills. Those go to the trash can immediately. The best way to prove that you are a game developer is creating a game on your own. It doesn't need to be commercially successful. Some small freeware game is enough.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The son in this case will be 15 or 16, I think the term "helicopter mum" is unfairly employed in this case as it is quite appropriate for the parents of a child this age to be involved. \$\endgroup\$ – Jack Aidley Jul 3 '17 at 11:34
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Everybody apreciates your effort and good intentions, but let your son break the egg shell and fly. A mom approaching several companies for a job for her son beacuse "he is very smart" it is not serious.

The companies have their own ways to contract people. You have to fit them. Don't think they have to hire a teenager with 0 knowledge just because he lowers himself to work for free and his mom says he is very smart.

He is a teenager, looking tutorials and developing his own games it's a good start.

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If the goal is experience, then your son could contribute to an open source project. There are lots of open source games that would welcome contribution. Even if not contributing code to the official game repository, many games have an open API to develop your own mod/plugin. See for example https://endless-sky.github.io/, a great place to start would be to have him build a plugin

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