Game Art tests - it's fair to say they are not well loved in the industry. Even for the studios who include this method when bringing on a new recruit, they are often seen as one of those necessary evils in the hiring process; essential to separate artists that have the technical ability (and can prove it) and those that just aren't right for the job.
Art tests certainly do play a pivotal role in the selection process. In an ideal scenario, it would be just another stage which the artist will appreciate and happily accept in order to secure that new job opportunity - but in reality, this extra hoop that artists are being asked to jump through is a question mark over their ability. At a time where talent is in high demand, it raises the question from them; 'is this worth it?'
Before you decide to supply or take part in your next art test, make sure you think about the situation from both sides and what your actions will show about you or your company.
The advantages of a test
- (Studio) Determine the technical ability of the artist - So they've proven themselves in the interview, but can they actually do the job? Can they work to the art style that's needed and can they follow instruction and a brief? The test will be able to pinpoint those must-have skills and be a quick and easy way to identify the most qualified artist.
- (Studio) Cut down the number of applicants - For those studios in the privileged position of having multiple applicants, an art test can really cull that to a shortlist of only the most suitable applicants in a short time
- (Studio) Get them invested in the opportunity – Investing their own personal time and effort is a sure-fire way to see just how much an artist wants the job. A test will determine those serious about pursuing the position (as opposed to a more passive applicant) and be an indicator as to their motivations.
- (Artist) A chance to highlight your skills - An art test can offer up that opportunity to prove yourself and demonstrate just how capable you really are. This can be vital for those artists that struggle to sell themselves during the interviews, so the test can be a stage to showcase what's most important - your ability to do the job at hand.
- (Artist) Build up your portfolio - Now not all studios will encourage art tests to be publicly presented but, providing you are not breaking any rules, then this work can be an opportunity to further develop your skills and more importantly add to the collection of work you have created which is essential, particularly for those at an early point in their career.
- (Artist) Beat the competition - The test stage is a level playing field and arguably viewed more objectively than an interview. The artists are assigned the same task and if one chooses to devote more time, effort and really apply themselves, they put themselves well ahead of those other applicants.
The disadvantages of a test
- (Studio) 'Passive' applicants will drop-off - Talented artists meeting all the criteria can be hard to attain - even for the top studios. Adding in a lengthy test that requires them to work alongside their current full-time job may be the issue that prompts some people that were intrigued about the position to remove from themselves from the process altogether. You may say this is a good thing, they never wanted it in the first place, which may well be true, but there is still a responsibility on the studio to sell themselves, so the smart studios will maintain the artist's interest throughout the hiring process.
- (Studio) Longer interview process - Depending on the length of the test (for argument's sake let’s say a week) this is then a week that you are waiting on the artist with likely no communication in between, and then time to review and give feedback. This is not to mention the addition of any new artists applying during this period in which case you run the same timescales alongside one another which can become disjointed and time-consuming for all involved.
- (Studio) More tasks for hiring managers - Together with creating the test, reviewing, providing feedback, this is all potentially an unnecessary task and one that takes valuable time away from the hiring manager.
- (Artist) The best may not test - Artists that have proved themselves in the industry and potentially risen to a reputable position already may not have either the time nor inclination to complete a test for a studio with no guarantee of a firm job offer. Some may even feel slighted by the fact they have to demonstrate their ability when they have held senior level positions previously.
- (Artist) Why work for free? - Artists may see a test as a non-profitable use of their time and whilst it can be argued it is an investment beyond this, time remains very valuable, particularly for those who provide freelance work, so this is a typical objection to completing the test.
- (Artist) Other studios don’t need a test - You can be sure talented artists will be receiving multiple job offers and headhunted on a weekly if not daily basis. If studio 1 doesn't require a test and studio 2 does and they’re both great places to work with great teams, then the artist will almost certainly look more favourably on studio 1. This will be seen as a quicker route to the end-goal and whilst it won't dictate the entire decision, they will have an advantage over a more efficient and simpler interview process.
For those studios that do include a test, how should they approach this stage to ensure it runs as smoothly as possible?
- Decide early on - Is this going to be mandatory? Will it be on a case-by-case basis? Will it only be used for those artists that do not demonstrate the right style/quality in their portfolio?
- Be organised - Have the test prepared before applications come in. Keep the test as short as possible - outline timescales explicitly and make sure the brief is succinct and easily interpreted.
- Avoid doing the test as the first stage - artists are unlikely to offer up their time and effort on an application where they have had little to no communication beforehand with the studio. An initial call with the hiring manager, if only to outline the test requirements and answer any questions, will be seen as professional and courteous and will add to the artist's investment in the task.
- Timing is important - Most tests are unpaid, this is generally accepted (albeit contentiously), but be conscious of the time required and know that the longer it is the greater the withdrawal of applications.
- Provide feedback in a timely manner and be as detailed as possible - not only will this help the artist with further applications and understand your reasoning, it will go a long way to build the reputation of the studio if they are known to have hiring managers that demonstrate this level of attention.
Art tests are undoubtedly a useful tool in the selection process and, if managed correctly, can work to identify and assess the right people for the job without discouraging the artists from seeing an application through. It just depends on how much emphasis the studio wishes to place on this stage and whether they feel it will be worth it for the outcome.
Do you think they should be included for all game art vacancies? Is there a better method to determine a candidate’s capability? Please do get in touch with your thoughts, and if you are looking for new game art positions or want to know what opportunities are available, feel free to get in contact directly (no tests are required!)