To get into the industry is really hard. It helps to know people and to know a thing or two about a specialization in the field. This can be tough for a lot of students and other people to understand without years of rejection from game companies telling you that you are not the type of person they are looking for. So the question is what skills can you learn and how can you get into the industry.
The first step for getting on the way into the industry is getting contacts. Contacts inside the industry will make or break you. You would be surprised how many people at GDC told me they have not received a single job from cold calling (having no contacts at the place you are trying to get work at). It was astounding how many people have gotten jobs from someone they played D&D with, or by just being the guy who stood out in the crowd and was able to share their opinion with someone they did not know. Always follow up with these people with a short e-mail; make sure you keep yourself in their minds so if a job comes up they think of you as a guy who can possibly do it for them.
Learn to market yourself to everyone around you. Marketing yourself is a great thing because it allows you to sell yourself to people for a job, and it helps build up your presentation skills. Think of it this way: you can use these skills at a later time when possibly pitching your own games to companies.
The next step that goes along with the first is going to conferences. You need to go to conferences and other events within the industry. By doing this, you get your name out to people and you learn quite a few things from people who are willing to share what they have learned. GDC is not cheap to go to, so I highly recommend getting lucky and trying to win a contest for one of the badges or becoming a volunteer for the event. Yes, you might have to work during the event by standing around making sure people have the correct badges for the current talks or sitting around and doing audio work or translating or even working at a desk for people to check. If you can volunteer, do it. It saves money and it is another way to make contacts with fellow peers and volunteers because they might be in the same boat as you, and if that is true who knows which one will be the next Warren Spector or Will Wright. So to reiterate, go to whatever game conferences and expos you can. To go along with this entire train of thought, another helpful thing I learned was to not geek out and just enjoy the event. Don’t walk up to a developer and geek out because they worked on Brutal Legend (I am sorry, Tim Schaffer, I did not mean to get so hyper). You might think you are paying them fan service but really you are just embarrassing yourself.
Keep an eye out for internships also. Even if it is not a big company, it will help you out because it is experience for you to have and use in the long run that makes you a great addition for the team you work with. Places do have internships become full time jobs if they like you, and it puts your name on a title, which may be something companies look for when hiring for positions within their development teams.
If you get that call someday in the future asking you to come work for Bioware or Bethesda, be willing to relocate. This is a key factor in anything, because if you are not willing to move out of the little town you currently live in, you will most likely not be able to get a position at a big name studio like you always dreamed about. If you sit around in a small town not willing to leave you might never get a job within the industry.
That doesnt mean you should not start up your own little teams in the town you are at making games and modding levels. By doing this it creates a portfolio for you and gives you practical knowledge into what goes into making a game, the amount of time needed, and shows you how to communicate with other team members from various disciplines. On top of these skills it also broadens the skills you have because with a small team you will have to do multiple tasks on a project, making you another well rounded member for any team you work for.
And if you do get that job in the industry don’t forget about everyone else who is trying to get in as well, because someday it might be you who goes out on a limb for someone else so they can get their very first job. In other words, be kind to the up and coming.