How to Break Into the Children’s Games Design Industry

The children's game industry is booming, which means a lot of people are looking for ways in - more than I can possibly speak to one-on-one. In the spirit of growing our industry, however, here are thoughts that I find myself frequently sharing during informational interviews on how to get your foot in the door.
April 29, 2013

Dr. Carla Fisher is a game designer and digital strategist with fingerprints on more than 300 games for kids and families. She continues her musings outside this blog via a free weekly newsletter (sign up here) that curates articles, videos, and games that catch her eye. She can be reached at or @NoCrusts.

I have an awesome job. And lots of people want an awesome job like this, too, which means a lot of people ask for informational interviews. They’re a great tool for breaking into any particular industry, children’s media included. Not only have I done tons with students and those aspiring to transition into the industry, but I also have been on the requesting end many times. Chatting with folks about the work you do is great fun, and I do my part to pay forward the kindness of those who gave time to talk to me when I needed guidance.

But alas, the children’s game industry is booming, which means a lot of people are looking for ways in, more than I can possibly speak to one-on-one. In the spirit of growing our industry, however, here are thoughts that I find myself frequently sharing during these informational interviews on how to get your foot in the door of the children’s games industry.

Be well played

It’s age-old advice — you need to familiarize yourself with the market you want to be part of. So start playing as much as you possibly can, especially games that are made for the target audience you’re interested in.

If you’re not sure where to start, hit the app stores and start plowing through the top lists for education, kids, and even games in general. Check out recommendations from Common Sense Media or Parents’ Choice or the Media Macaroni or Moms with Apps blogs.

I know this can get expensive, though, so if you’re on a limited budget for high tech toys, hit the review sites, YouTube trailers, and your friends to look at as much as you can. A lot of cities feature demo events, too, so you might be able to get a sneak peak of games that are up and coming and meet with other like minded folks.

Have an opinion

Once you’re playing lots of stuff, prepare for the question, what are you playing? Or what games do you like? My secret is that I don’t actually really care what specific game you tell me. I want to know why you like that particular one in concrete, intelligent sentences. It’s a moment to shine in your critical thinking skills. Show the person you’re talking to that you can actually think about the game, that you understand the design behind it.

After all, isn’t the goal of this to impress me (or whomever you’re talking to) so you get a job or a referral to someone who is hiring?

Blog and/or tweet

Now that you’re well played and have thoughtful opinions, you have things to share with the world in a blog (or social media method of choice). Will you get a bazillion views of your blog and become a break-out review star? Probably not. But when someone starts to consider you for a position, a blog can be a powerful platform for showing off your brilliance.

The key is to update it regularly, even if only once or twice a month. (In other words, show commitment to the field you want to be part of.) Write and proofread carefully. Add in some reviews of articles, resources, and books that you may be reading relevant to the games industry. Poof! Now you stand out above the other candidates.

While you’re on the blog front, make sure all your social media is updated, LinkedIn, Twitter, online resume, etc. You don’t have to have all of these, but whatever you do have should be consistent to each other and updated regularly.

Make something

Even better than a blog, however, is a demo (if you’re applying for a producer, designer, artist, or other position that requires making things, that is!). I’m not even talking about something that’s released to the world in one of the app stores, but something that shows what you would do if you could. It might be a design document with some treatments or a prototype you cobbled together in Game Maker or GameSalad.

It speaks volumes of your design sense, your commitment to joining the field, and, once again, you’ll stand out.

Network, baby

Conferences, informational interviews, meetups, the works. A lot of interesting people are at conferences. (I even share my schedule pretty readily in the blog.) Even if you’re not attending, many people are happy to duck out to coffee shops near the conference or event venue.

If you’re requesting an informational interview, ask for a phone call instead of an in-person meeting. It’s easier to schedule and you can always meet in person if all goes well.

Some bonus advice that I don’t actually share out loud on interviews

I’ve never shared this advice out loud, since it’d probably sound rude if I told it to an individual. When you’re networking your way into the field, be on your best behavior. That means confirming a meeting the day before, being on time for a phone call or meeting, and sending thank you emails. (I don’t care what internet decorum says, everyone likes to receive thank you notes.) If you meet someone at a conference, follow up with them to say it was nice to meet and remind them of who you are and/or what you’re looking to do (briefly!!!). It takes 5 minutes, and you’ll stand out as a polite person.

And treat the leads you receive with care. When I chat with someone I like, I’ll ask them to keep me posted on their progress. That’s not an empty request. It means that I actually am curious how things progress for you. Or if someone connects you with another person, follow up to let them know how it went.

Here’s another way to think about it. You want to find every (reasonable) excuse possible to be on the mind of a hiring manager. If you’ve recently dropped a note to share an update on your search or a noteworthy item (even if they didn’t respond), you’re more likely to hear about the gig. (This is true of professors and academic funding, by the way. The squeaky wheel gets the grease!) The folks who contacted me six months ago are far less likely to hear about a new opportunity than the ones who been in touch with me in the last month.

Mass mailings do not count as thoughtful, targeted messages. That said, don’t abuse the power. Once a month is more than enough. :-)

Have patience

It’s a competitive space, and I know far more people who are looking for gigs than openings.

Consider related fields

At some point in the search, you may decide to expand your search to parallel or related fields. This actually isn’t a bad thing, provided you approach it in a smart way. Make sure the gig has skills that are transferable to the children’s space. For example, many marketing techniques for casual games could apply to the kids space, but not quite everything. I’d still say to have marketing experience in the casual games space is more valuable than no experience at all. If you’re not sure whether a related job is a good idea, you can always ping that network you’ve been building and ask for advice!

Get some education (maybe)

This is a tough one, and I really recommend it with a heavy dose of caution. If a job search is not working out, it’s very tempting to assume that more education will solve the problem. I’ve written about this before and the same thoughts apply — don’t go back to school unless you know that the job you want requires the degree. But, if you can find a workshop or single class, go for it. Especially if it involves programming skills.

Take a contract gig

Media production is fraught with contract work, but not everyone is able to skip benefits and predictable paychecks. That said, it often is the easiest way in the door. You’ll know what’s right for your particular situation, but don’t automatically assume that contract gigs are a forever thing. (Use that network to discuss how to convert a contract gig into a full-time position!)

So those are my thoughts for now. Please know that if you reach out to me for an interview, I’ll do my best to accommodate your request. But know it’s not personal if I’m unable to schedule something. I hope you’ll in turn find these ideas useful.

Meanwhile, lots of events coming up… Looks like I’ll be at these conferences in the next few months: INPlay in Toronto, Games + Learning + Society in Madison, Wisconsin, Cartoon Digital in Munich, The Children’s Media Conference in Sheffield, England, and Casual Connect USA in San Francisco.

If not in person, then we’re always at or @NoCrusts on Twitter!

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