Video game development is an exciting new career path that has seen dramatic growth in recent years. Before, most video game developers had to study something else before jumping into the profession.
Today, specialized degrees and certification programs can help would-be video game developers jumpstart their careers. This guide is all about becoming a video game developer and finding the right degree.
Video game developers, often also called video game programmers, take a designer’s vision, drawings, and rules under which the game universe operates and turn them into a playable game with physics and all. They achieve this via code and create games for all formats such as PC, mobile, web, and console.
Game developers usually work with designers to implement the graphics within the code and often use APIs to give the game more capabilities. Sometimes they also use AI (Artificial Intelligence) for the NPCs (Non-Playing Characters) in the game or generate digital environments. But most importantly, they code the base engine of the game, which is the foundation of it all.
There are two very powerful tools game programmers often utilize to build games: Unity and Unreal Engine. These development platforms allow game developers to create real-time interactive 2D & 3D games with out-of-this-world graphics. Therefore they are important for anyone looking to have a career in this field.
As a developer, you will need to develop both soft and hard skills. Though knowledge of programming languages such as C & C++ is a must, being a team player, a creative problem-solver, able to work long hours and under pressure are things employers place as much importance on when hiring a candidate.
But what does it take to become a game developer?
How to Become a Video Game Developer
Like in modern video games, there are many ways to go about your journey and get where you want to be. However, here is a basic outline of how to go about becoming a video game programmer.
Get a bachelor’s degree in computer science and/or certification at a coding bootcamp. Just like in most professions, education has a high place amongst employers. It tells them you have the knowledge required to get the job done. This is especially true in software engineering, which is a complex and demanding field. The good news is unlike in other sectors, less traditional forms of schooling are widely accepted since the field of technology is constantly evolving, so it’s hard to keep up. What you learned today might not be relevant tomorrow, so things like coding bootcamps that quickly teach you things have become more relevant than ever. Moreover, there are a lot of successful self-taught coders, so if you can demonstrate talent and skill, there is no reason you can’t be part of the competition.
Understand the video game development process from start to finish. The video game process is an arduous process with many moving parts. You will have to work with other teams whose members range from audio engineers to writers and animators. Therefore, having a basic understanding of their job and how to work with them seamlessly is an integral part of being a good game developer.
Be active in your job search and utilize all available resources. The video game industry is one of the most competitive when it comes to job placement, so being involved in the community and building strong connections is a must if you want in. Having talked to Blizzard and Riot Games employees, they all agree that referrals play a big part in the hiring process. So don’t just apply online. Go out there and join a gaming meetup, check out E3 and maybe even take some Unity workshops at a hacker space.
Build your experience and portfolio. Just like in any other field of software engineering, employers will want to see your work. Therefore, having helped develop a couple of indie games or developing your own can be your golden ticket to your first well-paying job. Even if your experience is not extensive, those things can be bypassed if you can show something that will impress. An excellent way to get your foot in the door and build your portfolio is to join a team or a company that designs indie games. They tend to be more flexible and open to new talent since their budget is usually lower. Working on an indie game will also force you to wear many hats to gain a better understanding of the whole process. Who knows, you might even be part of building the next Crash Bandicoot.
Video Game Developer Degree
It’s time to discuss the first step to achieving your dreams: Getting the right education.
A good idea is to start with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, software engineering, or another related field. Most schools do not offer a niche degree in game development, so starting with a bird’s eye view might be your best bet. In these programs, you’ll learn several coding languages such as C++ and Java so you can eventually build games for many different platforms utilizing various game engines. Other core courses include mathematics, physics, computer algorithms, data analysis, and labs where you work on projects.
Some schools do specifically offer a degree in game development, though they’re far and few in between. A solid foundation is most important, so having a degree in any of the above fields will do. Supplementing this with some courses in animation or graphic design will also give you a boost in the long run.
For some employers, a BA is enough to get your foot in the door, but in many cases, an advanced or postgraduate degree might be required. This is where you can get more granular and pick a program specializing in games technology where you learn animation and interaction design.
Not into the idea of getting a four or two-year degree? Do not despair. There are also other options. Nowadays, because the demand for developers has skyrocketed, you might get away with attending a coding bootcamp. Though coding bootcamps, just like in 4-year degrees, give you a general overview of software engineering, more recently, a few have popped up that offer programs specializing in video game programming.
What is a coding bootcamp?
A coding bootcamp is a short and intensive program that teaches students the necessary coding skills to get a job right away. These programs are usually cheaper than traditional schooling, and though not as comprehensive as programs at universities, they prepare students with relatively high success. Most of them offer career guidance upon graduation and sometimes even job placement.
Video Game Developer Career Paths
As a game developer, you have many options available to you. For example, you might decide to focus only on building mobile games or PC games, or you might want to explore the VR (Virtual Reality) & AR (Augmented Reality) worlds. You can even transition gaming careers and eventually become a game designer, a 2D or 3D animator, a game tester, or just focus on the AI aspect of developing a game. Finally, you might want to go corporate and work for a company like EA Sports or decide the pizza-eating, beer-drinking indie game programmer career better suits your personality.
So let’s take a look at the average salaries of different game design positions:
- Game Developer: $70,661
- Game Designer: $90, 270
- Game Tester: $53,030
- 3D Animator: $82,292
- 3D Modeler: $61,263
- VR Developer: $181,152
The gaming world is fascinating, and being the one who makes a game come into existence can be very rewarding. Of course, doing so requires blood, sweat, and tears. But with everything in life, if you’re passionate enough, nothing can stop you. Your kids will see you as their hero, your friends will get wrong what you do at work all day, and your husband will fail to understand why you didn’t become a data analyst instead. But it’s all worth it for that moment you hold the controller and see your game character take their first step.