I hear a lot from guys who live in countries where there is no game industry. The Frequently Asked Question: "How can I get into the game industry? There are no companies here, and since I don't have any practical experience, it's going to be extremely unlikely that I could get hired in the US."
That's the typical question, anyway. I wrote about this topic in my IGDA column, "The Games Game," in August 2004. You can find that column archived HERE. That August 2004 column was entitled (not by me) "The Lone Wolf." I think that was an unfortunate choice of title, because it didn't accurately portray the gist of the topic. And the guy whose letter prompted that column wasn't a "lone wolf" type. I hope to improve upon that column with this article.
The short answer to the Frequently Asked Question is: you have to gain experience either on your own, or with a collaborating group, or in another country that's easier to get work in, and/or form your own company there in your country.
Normally I advise against the "lone wolf" route. But if there truly is no game industry in your country, and if you truly need to stay in your country, then you have no choice but to start the game industry there yourself.
If you haven't yet finished your university education, I recommend that you get more education than the usual industry hopeful would. In addition to your programming and/or graphics courses (whichever way your talents lean), I recommend that you also study business, management, and marketing.
Once done with your education, if you cannot find any collaborators, there is much work you can do on your own. You can program small games for the web or for mobile devices, and you can self-publish them. (See Article 60.) Do this well enough, and publish enough small games, and you will have a strong portfolio you can leverage into some development contracts with game companies.
Once you have a portfolio of completed products, you can go to game conferences (GDC, TGS, MIGS, SGS, AGDC, CTIA Wireless, GDC London, etc.) and look for (small) projects. (See Article 6 and Article 46.) New conferences are popping up all the time, and in new parts of the world. Subscribe to trade newsletters, such as GameBizDaily (GameDailyBiz), GamaDaily (Gamasutra), and FierceGameBiz, for instance. These will keep you abreast of the news and of new conferences. Rather than give you the links, why don't you go find those newsletters yourself, and subscribe. If you want to be a lone wolf, you have to figure this stuff out for yourself! (^_^)
Most people can't do it all, all by themselves. I think you'd do well to find like-minded people in your area and find creative ways to get started working together. Do the same thing I listed above (create a portfolio of small projects, self-publish them, and take your portfolio to conferences to schmooze for projects).
Or join some multinational mod teams engaged in long-distance collaborative projects. Doing this will help you to develop your skills and help you learn how to discipline yourself and how to work with others, even if remotely. Making independent games and entering them into competitions can be one way to get noticed.
And if you don't want to start your own company, having a strong portfolio of games you made yourself (or made collaboratively) may just help you break through the immigration regulations and get yourself hired!
There are game companies in many other nations, not only the US. Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, France, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Russia, China, Indonesia... Yes, I said Indonesia. I had a guy write me once, asking this very Frequently Asked Question. He said "I live in Indonesia, and there are no game companies here." I hit the buzzer and told him, "Wrong!"
And I only listed a few countries, off the top of my head. There are more. You have to do your research. I've given you a tool to do that here on this website. On my Game Biz Links page I have several sites listed where you can look up game companies around the world. And use Wikipedia and Google too (just do multiple searches for different terms).
If indeed there are no game companies in your area, look at countries with easier immigration regulations than the US. It is possible to move to the US, but if you don't have experience yet, don't even try. But maybe another country where there are game companies will be more welcoming. Do your research - I can't help you with the immigration regulations for any country. I did have to do some paperwork in preparation for my months living and working in Japan, but that was a long time ago and my situation was different from yours.
Start small. Set yourself up in business as described above for the lone wolf and pack wolf paths, self-publish some games, and advertise locally for employees. Article 16 (about starting a "garage game" operation) and Article 29 (about starting a company) may offer some useful thoughts as well.
Take it slow. It'll take a long time and much patience to start making money from your endeavors. After you've published enough games and started getting noticed, you'll start finding companies to do some projects for.
When you do start getting contacts with mainstream companies, though, beware of speculative work offers. If somebody says "make me a demo, I can't pay you anything but it could turn into something," just say "no, thanks." You need to be paid - it is typical for startups to get less, but it just flat doesn't pay to work for free.
I hope these ideas are helpful. These are just some thoughts I can offer you from my position here in Los Angeles. I've met lots of up-and-coming developers who've already gone down some of these paths. I don't know how they got where they are, or how they're going to get where they want. So I wish I could tell you more, but... you're going to have to try things yourself, be creative, be patient. You are trying to blaze a path to a place I myself have not gone. You're a pioneer! I wish you success.
A couple more links:
Jill Duffy gives advice for non-Americans, American expats, and gamers from the sticks -- anyone worried that the game industry simply doesn’t exist in their neck of the woods, at http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=14647.
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© 2006 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved. May not be re-published without written permission of the author.