For my entire career in the gaming industry, people have asked, "how do I get to do what you do?" It's a fair question but difficult to answer. The real answer is you need to be connected and you need to have skills. It helps tremendously to have friends in the gaming industry, and if you want to make your living working with them, those friends need to respect what you bring to the table. It doesn't matter if you're an artist, designer, programmer, or just a nerd with people skills, contacts and skills are the surest way to get in the door. I've seen many people do very well with huge doses of one and not so much of the other, but most people need both.
Pick out the genius game designer or artist in this GenCon crowd
Social Skills. It's a stereotype that geeks lack social skills. I've seen this first hand at gaming conventions thousands of times over. That said, as geekdom gets more mainstream, and it clearly has, this stereotype has withered considerably. The people I consider the coolest people I know now fit squarely in the geek category. They are good, funny, decent, friendly people who can and do excel in most social situations, even non geeky ones. Also, they are nerdcore. My point is that the nerdy talent pool is so large that the total social misfit may have a harder time than they did when the industry was younger, and less polished. If you really have trouble with people, you'll need to be a genius in other ways. Provided people don't hate you, being a genius can get you a long ways (so I've witnessed.) If you're a genius and are great with people, that's the recipe for geek stardom.
Do What You Do. If you want to make games, the best thing you can do is make some games. If you're a programmer, program. If you're an artist, make art. My view is that until you are making money, you need to share whatever it is you do with as many people as you can manage. Don't get hung up on getting paid. If you really are doing work worth being paid for, the money will come. You have to get noticed and respected first. If you're a paper games guy, like me, make paper games. I'm not nearly as prolific as I'd like, and I believe that's why making games isn't my main gig. My friends who really are game designers design many more games than ever get published, and some that really deserve attention. I've designed maybe five truly playable games (spent nearly a year on one) and through a remarkable stroke of luck got one published. That doesn't happen unless somebody is really lucky and really connected*. At the time, I was both.
Share Share Share. It doesn't cost anything to share your work, ideas, art, or games. Do whatever is is you do and get it out to the world. Do things that get people talking and sharing. Gaming industry insiders do have expertise, but they have limited bandwidth. If you don't know them personally, give them another reason to pay attention to what you bring to the table. If you're standing in a crowded room, trying to get attention, get yourself flaregun.
I said at the beginning you need to have friends. Doing something really cool is the most effective way to get industry people to talk to you. Being really cool is the best way to make friends. Skills and Connections. Connections and Skills.
*Also lucky was the enthusiasm for our project my partner and co-designer, Luke Matthews, brought to the table. I wouldn't even have the one game if not for him.