Working in the videogames industry sounds like a dream job for most coders and creatives, but there’s no manual about how to break into it.
The local industry in South Africa is quite small, and while there’s a thriving indie games scene in the country, they’re a pretty tight-knit bunch; approaching from the outside can seem intimidating.
Without a ready-made network of contacts, newcomers can find themselves at a loss. What if you’re an artist with an idea for a game and you don’t know any programmers. What if you’re a coder and you can’t draw worth a lick? Events like A MAZE/Johannesburg and Game Jams can put likeminded folk in a room together, but if you don’t mark your calendar and buy some tickets, you lose out.
What if there was a way to put creative minds together without having to attend an event or travel for miles on end?
This is a question Ruan Smit found himself pondering while lounging on a bed in Namaqualand in 2010. An SEO strategist by trade who’d studied photography for three years at Pentech, Smit is passionate about animation and was trying to come up with some way to make a difference in the growth of South Africa’s the creative industry.
That’s when the idea for a platform to put creative types in touch with each other popped into his head. Pixelsmithstudios, which Smit describes as a local “creative community and job board” platform was launched the following year.
“From the launch of the site, and the dark ages of pure forum based websites disappeared, the idea grew and evolved into what you see today,” says Smit. “A platform where local creatives can network with others, get exposure via interviews/features, learn from each other, create a free online profile and most importantly find a job.”
Smit says that 4 years after the launch he met Neal Strydom, a man “with insane networking skills and a memory like an elephant drugged on boxes of Lumonol.” The pair are now co-owners of the site.
“Neal and I noticed a lack of industry-networking and intermingling between the different industries (Animation, VFX, Illustration, Game Developers) and that’s what we’re trying to build,” he says.
“[Pixelsmithstudios is] a local network where creatives/studios from different industries and potential national and international recruiters can find each other.”
Pixelsmithstudios works like a local LinkedIn for creatives – that is, if LinkedIn also operated as a digital display case. It’s free to join, free to sign up and users can pick an occupation or field that best describes their talents. Once they’re in they can start showcasing their creations that prospective employers or collaborators will have access to.
“We’ve heard of a few employments happening through Pixelsmithstudios, which makes all the hours, blood, sweat and social media stalking worth it,” says Smit. “We’ve only recently started our Job board and Free profiles but we’re already receiving emails and direct messages on how the site is helping people.”
“We’ve also had more than one meeting with producers in the different industries who talk about how difficult it was finding workers for their projects before the listing and how international jobs coming in had to be turned down due to lack of hands on deck.”
Smit says that Pixelsmithstudios has plans to expand its site in the coming months. While the base membership will always remain free, the site has plans for paid membership to that will offer additional rewards and gear to subscribers. Smit says the site’s founders also have plans expand their profile section to include job offers and accounts for writers. Events are workshops are also in the pipeline.
Crucially Pixelsmithstudios seems to be trying to tackle a challenge that digital firms and the government have been sounding off about for the last few years: the creation of new generation of school-leaving and graduate entrepreneurs.
“The real success for us lies in how people are coming back to us and telling us how they are meeting new people, finding mentors and expanding their own network,” says Smit. “We get an even greater rush when fresh blood in the industry are finding studios they didn’t know of to apply for internships or young pups finding easy access to a list of schools instead of just one to enrol to.”
“Ultimately we would also like to become a source of employment and add our stamp of awesome to the South African community.”