The hiring process at Bungie is just like any other company in that education, experience, references and things of that nature are all considered. What sets Bungie apart from most other companies is its emphasis on such things as community experience, familiarity with Bungie's history and/or the Halo universe and that the candidate is a generally cool person that will fit in well with the team.
Educationally, there are tons of routes that you can take into the game industry these days. The safest and most conventional route is still your standard four year degree from a university. If you have the opportunity to do this you should absolutely take it. Many universities now offer degrees specific to game development. Broader degrees which can still be applied to game design - like art or computer sciences - are just as good and provide you with a vital safety net in the event that you are unable to get into the game industry, as you'll be qualified for more jobs.
The surge in credibility and popularity of schools which offer two year degrees which are entirely focused on game design has become a viable option. Schools like Digipen and Full Sail are now offering some pretty hardcore programs that will shape you into whichever member of the prototypical game developer's staff you wish to be.
The game industry is notoriously difficult to get a start in. The hardest part is getting your foot in the door with that first offer. As was mentioned, a full four year degree from a decent university is the route we would recommend. In the worst case scenario, if you don't get that first offer then you always have a full degree from a credible university to fall back on until you do. Moreover, even if you do get into the industry there's no telling where it could lead you. You might come in doing textures and end up doing PR. Say you want to move to another company and do PR for them, a broader four year degree from a university works a lot better than a specific two year degree from a specialized school. So while a two year degree doesn't really make you any more or less qualified for the job that it trains you for, we still recommend a four year degree for the safety net that it provides you in case things don't go exactly as planned.
We will never stop reiterating that point. Never. It will make your parents dig us too.
Once you've gone through all of your schooling, you'll need to break into the industry. I asked Bungie recruiter Jason Pankow, how to go about getting into the business and what he looks for when screening applicants for Bungie Studios.
How does one break into the industry?
Breaking in takes hard work and dedication. You will not break in by telling us how willing you would be to clean our toilets. You won't break in by telling us that Halo is the greatest game in the world but you can make it better. You break in by starting with one of the ideas I've listed below. I also recommend expanding your network. Attend conferences, join groups, meet people in the industry. There are many gaming conferences throughout the US. Each one typically has a potpourri of industry professionals. And... keep your portfolios updated with your ABSOLUTE BEST WORK. You are not the only person trying to break in. You need to stand out...in a non-obnoxious way.
What is the most important factor when you look at a resumé?
For artists, it all about the demo reel/portfolio. Sometimes, I don't even look at the resume until I watch their reel. For everything else, it's about skill and experience. For instance, a programmer needs to know C++. If that's not on the resume, we're moving on. Also, if you do know C++, how long and for what purposes have you been using it. Most positions at Bungie will require a further sample of some sort after we review your resume. This is to make sure that A) one is not fluffing their resume and B) that you're skills are where we need them to be.
What kind of experience is Bungie interested in and how does one go about attaining such experience?
The best experience is going to be solid experience in the game industry doing exactly what you're applying for. But, we realize that isn't always the case. If you do not have this experience, I would recommend trying to get it. This can be done a variety of ways. If you are in college, I cannot stress enough how beneficial an internship can be to your career. Someone who spends time in the industry while going to school just made themselves more qualified than the numerous students who didn't. If you are out of college, I recommend spending some time as a contractor. If you are a programmer, Volt places a lot of contract workers. If you are an artist or designer, look into Sakson & Taylor or Filter . Contracting is a great way to get the experience needed to be hired on full time. If neither of those are an option...do something on your own. Program your own games. It doesn't need to be the next Halo or KOTOR, but it shows that are committed to both getting into the industry as well as keeping your skills up to par.
What makes getting a job with Bungie so difficult? What are the odds that Bungie will be someone’s first job in the industry?
Bungie is hard to break into because it is one of the best gaming studios in the world. Bungie has some of the best artists, programmers, and designers in the industry. Any candidate being considered needs to make the studio better. I would not recommend making Bungie your only attempt at breaking in. Remember, Tom Hanks wore a dress on TV long before he won his first Oscar. Does this mean it's impossible that Bungie can be your first job? Absolutely not! Bungie has multiple people that were hired right out of college. We also have multiple people who worked in a different industry and were able to translate their skills into the gaming industry. Any job, ultimately, comes down to talent and commitment.
There are various paths into the industry and it's very unlikely that one person will follow the same path as another. To illustrate the point, I asked Joseph Staten, Robt. Mclees and Frankie how they got their start at Bungie.
Robt. Mclees - Story Bible Champion:
Back in ’94 ~ ’95 when I joined, BSPC was as close to a guerrilla operation as I have ever been a part of. Everybody had their specialties, but everybody needed to be able to do everything. At any rate, I believe I was let on board because I am a pushy jerk and underbid all the other applicants… that and, even though I am a full two heads taller than (Jason) Jones, at the time broads weren’t into scary pale jerks who stank of gun oil (and used expressions like "broads") so he didn’t feel threatened by my superior virility. Alex (Seropian) was already married by that time, so he was just happy my salary demands were so low.
I was hired primarily to perform the duties of an artist/animator (I elbowed my way into other aspects of development later), so that is the only facet that I really feel comfortable speaking about. And so, as I’ve always said, if you’re going to be an artist you should either invest in life drawing classes or a spatula – because you’re going to be using one or the other in your future job. This is the way I’ve always looked at it… being able to draw the human figure well shows that you are serious about your craft. It teaches you proportion, balance and the ability to construct a complicated three-dimensional object in two dimensions. If you can draw it well, you should be able to draw just about anything well or at least you don’t have a good excuse why you can’t. Other than that, do what you can to learn to use the industry standard tools like Adobe Photoshop, 3D Studio Max and Maya, though any paint or 3D package will help. You’ll be reducing the amount of time it would otherwise take you to be brought up to speed on whatever software the developer uses. Being able to work well within a group is also supremely important.
I can only guess that the demands to get into this industry are far more demanding than they were when I got in – so much so that I doubt I would be able to get a job in the industry today with the skills I had then.
One more thing: You had better love games – not just love playing them – but love them enough to make them a big part of your life. If you already have an S.O. (significant other) that understands and supports your love of games you are already a little bit ahead of the curve. But if you cannot find a balance between your work life and your social life don’t expect to maintain a relationship longer than the development cycle of a single game. It will grind you apart.
Joseph Staten - Writer:
In 1997 I started writing articles for “Inside Mac Games” for free and just for fun. The Editor-in-Chief of IMG was Tuncer Deniz, Producer of Bungie’s “Myth II.” At some point he mentioned that Bungie was looking for a localization and international licensing manager, and I managed to convince him that my masters in International Studies was sufficient qualification (though I had absolutely zero practical experience in either aspect of the job).
My interview with Alex Seropian – Bungie’s Commander in Chief back in the day – was more rigorous, but I guess I came across as a hard-working guy that was capable of learning on the job. My role evolved as Bungie began to see the need for promotional trailers, and since I was the guy that had taken a bunch of film classes in college, I got to use the Mac with a video-capture card and copy of Premiere. From there, it was a pretty logical jump to the work I did for Halo 1 and 2, writing and directing the cinematics.
The industry is a lot more competitive now. I doubt I’d get the same break today. But I know (especially in the mod community) there are still small teams that need jacks-of-all-trades. And, to a certain extent, that’s what Bungie was in ‘97. So I guess my advice is not to get frustrated if you bang on the industry’s “big doors,” and get turned away. Lower your sights a little, see what teams are active at your college etc. and build up experience. The one thing that hasn’t changed over the years is that folks with demonstrable skills and “playable resumes” are invariably the most attractive candidates.
Frankie - Content Manager:
I traded a 1992 Audi 90 with 87k miles on it to Pete “Mango” Parsons. I then did 50 pushups (man style) and 20 pull ups (girl kind). After that I had to eat a live potato bug and beat him at a game of Rockets on Hang ‘Em High. I imagine my experience was pretty typical. But that said, I do have some real advice for potential game industry employees.
1. Get a degree from the best college you can afford. If that’s Harvard, fine. Do it. If it’s Full Sail, make sure you pick a course applicable to what you want to do. The important thing to remember when choosing an education is: Can I apply this to a realistic career? Bluntly, working in the video game industry is a long-shot. It’s not as remote as say, trying to get into the NBA or becoming a pop star, but it’s hard, it’s a small-ish industry and there a lot of competition. It’s also a cyclical business. It’s booming now but will it be a big deal when you graduate? Or will folks have moved on to a new fad for a few years? It’s hard to say. So think flexibility. Try to pick a course that will allow you to do something else, should your initial plan fall through. And guess what? We often pay college graduates more at entry level, so consider it an investment.
2. Look at where the game industry is headed. Games are getting bigger and more complex and more detailed. The fundamentals of how they work aren’t being revolutionized anywhere near as much as the sheer amount of content required. Sure, we need far more programmers than we used to, but animation, special effects, texture artists, audio engineers, fine artists etc – they’re all creating content, and content is king.
3. Entry level positions DO exist for folks without all the right qualifications, or Ivy league education. The simplest way in for enthusiastic, smart folks is Test. Testing used to be sort of frowned upon – as a bunch of teenagers simply playing the game and -blam!-ing about it. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Test is the thing that makes a game truly great. It hones the product, sharpens its edges until the experience is razor and laser perfect. And it’s hard work. And if you think Test is a dead end career, you’re stupid. Bungie Studios overlord is Harold Ryan who started in guess what? Test. And now he’s the king.
Now you know what exactly what Bungie looks for in a candidate, what kind of experience and education we expect and how to go about acquiring those things. Armed with this knowledge, head over to the Bungie Jobs page and take a look to see if there's anything you're interested in.
Remember that the path to Bungie is rarely a straight shot, you might not make it your first time but don't lose sight of your goals. Keep trying. Your hard work and dedication will be rewarded.