Video games were once seen as the domain of youngsters - a distraction that they soon outgrew. Then games grew up and now everyone plays them. As games developed, so did the demand for game developers, which includes animators, 3D designers, computer programmers, and project managers.
Since the field is so multi-faceted, there are many ways to become a game developer. Some are strictly involved with the programming side while others have a more visionary role that involves big-picture aspects of a game's development. There are also artists and writers whose talents are vital to the gaming experience. This page is all about how to become a video game developer.
What is a Game Developer?
A game developer is a person who uses their computer programming and design skills to develop video games. Developers are often video game enthusiasts who have a love of puzzles, action, art, and design. While many work for video game studios, like Ubisoft or EA Games, others toil in their home offices or with a small group of like-minded independent game developers to create something of their own.
Steps to Become a Game Developer:
The first step on your way to becoming a game developer is to establish a love of games. When you play a lot of games, you're sure to develop opinions as to what makes a game fun, challenging, or less than good. Eventually, you may be inspired to start developing a game of your own. This starts by first deciding your game's genre, game-play characteristics, and intended platform to name a few features.
Once you have a concept, you'll need to start creating a document that describes the game, its characters, and how the player can solve and beat or complete the game. Depending on the game you have in mind, you might write out the story of the game. You'll also need to have a strong idea of the game objectives, the overall aesthetic, and a target audience that you hope will line up to buy your creation. Keep in mind that every game developer needs money to fuel their passion.
When you have a game in mind, you'll need to assess your skillsets. To succeed as a game developer, you'll need ample command of multiple technologies. You'll need to understand animation, gameplay physics, computer programming, graphic design, and perhaps even fine art. These days, you’ll also need to have a firm grasp on Unity, the premier game developing platform, or another platform of your choice. Some developers are moving into VR gaming, which has its own set of requirements.
To master these skills, you could decide to make use of an academic program. There are many computer science options and game design degree programs that include game development in their curriculum. On the other hand, if you are more of an artist, you might want to consider focusing your efforts on 3-D graphics and animation. If you want to move into creating role-playing or adventure style games, you might also consider taking creative writing courses to gain a deeper mastery of story, character, and dialogue. This is less important for those who wish to develop sports, action, or non-character-based puzzle games.
As you move your way through a game design degree program, you should consider developing some simple games in your spare time. These could be offshoots or expansions on classroom projects, or you might want to develop a game idea with friends or colleagues. Another way to make the most of your time in school is to complete an internship if you’re looking to be hired by one of the larger game studios.
Your department may have a list of game studios that offer internships in their game development departments. If you are able to land an internship with a large, established game studio, you can gain an insight into how the game development process works in a large organization. There also may be internship opportunities with smaller game design studios where you may even be able to provide hands-on contributions that you can use in your own portfolio.
Some aspiring game developers choose an internship in some other field where their coding or other tech skills are useful. These students may choose non game-oriented internships if they wish to develop their games at night or on the weekends.
Once you've completed a bachelor’s degree in computer science or game development, you have a few options. If you have a game already in development and you think it will be successful, you can try to land a job with your technology skills while you complete the game. Keep in mind that it may take several years to prepare your game for the big time. Some even take non-technology jobs so that they can save their tech skills for their first love, game development.
You can also pursue a master’s degree in computer science, information technology, or software development. A graduate degree can help you land a higher-level job with a game studio or you may choose to teach undergraduate students while you continue work on your game projects.
What Does a Game Developer Do?
A video game developer builds a career on conceiving, planning, and building video games. On a day-to-day basis they might be involved with creating the game concept, writing code, or developing the artwork that creates an aesthetic experience that gamers will love. Game developers who work for larger game studios may have more narrowly defined roles within the larger game creation team. Some may specialize in coding or implementing game physics while others work on the logistics of the game itself.
Those game developers who work for larger studios likely work in an office and keep set daily hours. However, there are many independent game developers who might work from home and collaborate with their teammates using video chat or other communications solutions. Independent game developers may have steady jobs to support them while they create a game, or they might raise cash in the form of investment capital to aid in their development.
Game Developer Skills to Acquire
Game developers are nothing if not multi-faceted. Unlike their programming peers, they have the ability to embrace concepts related to art, creative writing, and game play. First and foremost in a game developer's skill set should be the ability to write code. After that, you'll need to have a mastery of Unity, the Unreal engine, or some other game development platform. Those two tech skills are fundamental to the process, but you may also find that you need to understand artificial intelligence in order to create believable NPCs in a larger game world.
You can also work on your ability to create the artwork that goes into your game. Some games feature hand-drawn elements while others have a more retro gaming feel yet which still rely on blocky, pixelated graphics fueled by cutting edge game engines. You can develop these artistic skills on your own or you might find someone who is more focused on these elements of game design. From that point you may start sliding into the role of a project manager who assigns work for the artists and others.
Whether you work on an independent gaming project or for a major game studio, you will likely need some project management skills at some point. With that comes the ability to communicate effectively, provide leadership and motivation, as well as make sure that everyone's task is complimentary and helping bring the game to fruition.
There are many paths to becoming a game developer. In fact, all you really need is a computer, an internet connection, and the next big idea. You'll also need lots of computing skills including computer programming, 3D graphics knowledge, artistic sensibility, and much more. Since so many skills are involved with developing a video game, it's preferable to utilize formal and informal educational resources to gain the skills you need and build out any skills that are lacking.
While conventional students may head off to a university, you can also find courses online that will teach programming skills, how to use Unity, project management, and more. There are online courses that even provide a certificate upon completion. The best thing about this method is that you can pinpoint exactly what skill you need, learn it, and then apply your knowledge to your own video game project. You will also have verifiable credentials that are be helpful in finding a job and which will bolster a college application.
If you desire a job with a top game development studio, one way to land a job as a game developer is by creating small games that demonstrate your skills. Keep in mind that a polished, complete video game doesn't necessarily need terrific state-of-the-art graphics. If your strength lies in game physics or overall game design, your portfolio pieces will surely land you an interview. You can even publish your best work on a platform like Steam, where you might be able to make a few dollars.
Game Developer Career & Salary
Where Might You Work?
Game developers are found working for many different employer these days. While the most coveted jobs may be with larger game development studios that create the dominant titles, there are many other options. For example, you could develop educational games and work for a company that specializes in that market.
You could also apply your game development skills in other areas. You could help create simulation software to train professionals in medicine, aerospace, engineering, or education. For instance, many top geologists were trained on an oil drilling simulation that was created by a college professor and molecule simulations are making drug development many times faster than the old analog methods.
If you wish to apply your computer programming skills to other industries, you can land a job with a tech startup or any sort of corporation. If you have skills with SQL or other database languages, you can land a job with any number of employers, including government agencies. These jobs often pay quite handsomely and may allow enough free time to develop games on the side. If you also have strong art and design skills, you can work as a freelance graphic artist or work full-time for a marketing agency. Note that some marketing agencies develop game apps that promote various brands.
The future for game developers is quite bright. Not only is the video game market red-hot, but the skills you develop as part of your training can apply to many jobs you can do while you complete your passion project. For instance, you could work as a multimedia artist or animator. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) currently shows their median salary at $75,000 per year. The occupational growth rate for this job type is also healthy. The BLS projects a 4% growth rate, as fast as average, in the ten-year period between 2019 and 2029.
You could also work as a software developer, which demands more computer programming skill and computer science training, but pays well. Currently the BLS shows this occupation netting a median salary of $107,000 per year. The sector is also exploding, as the BLS projects a 22% growth rate in the years between 2019 and 2029.
There are many more options for someone skilled in game development. Some may branch into web development, digital design, or computer programming. If you are dedicated to your game development projects, you can pursue these on a freelance basis, which will surely open up time to work on your passion project.
The skills required to be a game developer are in demand across the technology sector. If you can complete a college degree program in game development, software engineering, or computer programming, among others, you could land a top spot with a game design firm or a tech start-up. In fact, you might consider going to a college or university to study computer science with a concentration in game development. That will help you form a versatile skill set that you can adapt as your career develops. The following jobs are a brief snapshot of the opportunities available.
Each position is different, but this one requires that you have experience with the Unreal engine as well as Maya, Modo, and Zbrush. You’ll find it more common that you will be able to work from home in these types of positions, but you may need to live within a certain time-zone so that you can collaborate with your team. When you work remotely you will need expert written and verbal communication skills.
This position is certainly outside the realm of game development, but you can apply a bachelor in computer science to create solutions for financial services organizations. This type of job requires systems thinking and experience in software development. Most jobs for financial organizations are on-site as their data security is very important.
This position may require you to have experience with Unreal, Maya, Modo, or Zbrush, to name a few software packages. You may be able to work from home or be required to spend time in an office. Depending on the type of game you’re working on, your employer may wany you to have a passion for a certain genre such as science fiction, western, anime, etc.
Game Engine Product Engineer:
For this position you will need a lot of experience working with Unreal or Unity as they need you to develop applications. You may be required to have a high level of education, up to a master’s degree in computer science or GIS depending on what your project is. Experience with project management may also help as you will be working with a team.
This position may require you to integrate your computer programming skills with your visual side. However, some web development professionals only work on the coding part of a website and leave the visuals to someone else. Either way, you’ll need excellent organizational skills and communication skills as you are likely to work with a remote team that is spread all over the country, or even the globe.
Find Game Developer Jobs Near You
Advancing from Here
The video game industry is on fire. If you can launch a game developer career, you will soon find that the sky is the limit. There will be terrific pressure to create the next hot game, but you may also find opportunities to apply your game development skills in other fields. For instance, you could take your 3D modeling and animation skill and land a job on a Hollywood blockbuster. You could even transition from creating video games to directing films or working for a film studio in their art department. The possibilities are endless.
Computer Career Paths