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How to Become a Video Game Developer

Enrique Corrales
Published: September 2, 2022

Video Game Developer Tools

Video game developers are in high demand nowadays, and companies are paying close to six figures per year for those with the relevant knowledge to fill such positions. If you want to become a video game developer so you can do what you love and get rewarded handsomely for it, this guide will teach you how.

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What Does A Video Game Developer Do?

A video game developer, also known as a game programmer, gives life to creative concepts via the use of coding languages, such as C++, Python, and HTML5. With code, a developer can turn an idea into a visually stunning, challenging, and enjoyable game on various platforms, including computers, gaming consoles (PS5, Xbox, Nintendo), mobile phones, and tablets.

Programmers can specialize or partake in various roles in the video game development process. While some may specialize in visuals, others may be tasked with tackling a game’s logic, user interface, or artificial intelligence (AI).

What are Video Game Programmer’s Responsibilities?

Your role as a game programmer will depend on various factors, including your education, knowledge, specialization, experience, the size of the company you work for, and the project at hand. The bigger the company, the more likely you will perform specialized work involving specific elements of the game. The smaller the company (like an indie publisher, for instance), the more likely you will fill several roles in the game’s lifecycle.

Daily tasks of video game developers may include:

  • Coming up with innovative ideas to design new games.
  • Transforming visual concepts into code.
  • Working with artists, designers, quality analysts, and producers on a project.
  • Prototyping, iterating, and refining gameplay.
  • Reviewing existing code and giving constructive feedback to improve it.
  • Porting games or elements across systems or platforms.
  • Monitoring game stability across different platforms.

What Skills Does a Video Game Developer Needs?

You will need a mix of analytical and creative skills to become a successful video game developer. Soft skills most developers possess include problem-solving, time management, communication, storytelling, and teamwork. Hard skills include math, physics, software engineering, and programming (languages like C++, Java, C#, etc.).

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What Types Of Video Game Developer Jobs Are There?

The gaming industry usually offers work in four basic roles, which are listed below. The role you choose or find yourself working in often depends on your experience level and the areas of game development you specialize in, along with the amount of creative control you desire.

  • Game developer – Internally develops games for a particular console or platform, such as Retro Studios (Nintendo) or Naughty Dog (Sony).
  • Second-party developer – Programs games exclusive to a single console or platform, but is not owned by that console or platform, such as Game Freak, which is not owned by Nintendo but develops Pokemon for the console maker.
  • Third-party developer – Develops and publishes its own games or games for other publishers, such as Activision Blizzard, Electronic Arts, and Ubisoft.
  • Indie developer – An individual or small group specializing primarily in creating self-funded indie games, such as Thekla.

Besides those four main categories of video game developers, there are also specializations to consider. For instance, you may want to strengthen your development skills to create games for a specific type of system, such as mobile, console, computer, etc. Or, you may want to focus on some aspects of games, such as the user interface, level design, environment, etc. Lastly, you may want to hone your skills to only work on a particular game genre, such as adventure, simulation, role-playing, or platformer.

As you start to research working as a video game developer, you may run across these roles. Take a closer look at what each does to see if you find the right fit:

  • Animator
  • Audio engineer
  • Game artist
  • Game tester
  • Producer
  • Video game designer
  • Writer

Video Game Developer Career Outlook And Salary

You may want to become a video game developer due to your love of gaming. While that is a significant motivating factor, you will be glad to know that working in this industry will not only help you fulfill your passion, but can also fill your wallet. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average computer programmer (which includes game developers) made just over $93,000 per year in 2021. Meanwhile, Glassdoor reported that game developers made an average base pay of just over $71,000 in 2021.

As for the job outlook in the gaming industry, it appears strong. The Entertainment Software Association noted that in 2020, the video game industry is growing fast, and it looks like it will continue well into the future. And, as video game technologies become more advanced, demand could grow for developers in emerging AI, augmented reality, and virtual reality fields.

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How To Become A Video Game Programmer

If your love of gaming has your eyes set on a career as a video game developer, here are some of the steps you should take to get there:

Get Your Bachelor’s Degree or Game Developer Certification

Will having a Bachelor’s degree on your resume guarantee that you get a job as a video game developer? No, but it can certainly help since it will give you a solid, knowledgeable foundation in various areas of development. And, while some people get developer jobs without a bachelor’s degree, it can give you a leg up on the competition since so many are seeking positions in this desirable field.

Before picking a school to attend, make sure it holds regional or national accreditation. Some universities have bachelor’s degree programs in gaming design or game art and development. If your school of choice does not, a computer engineering or computer science degree could suffice.

As you work towards your bachelor’s, you should build a solid foundation in development skills as you take classes in physics, math, and computer technology. But to make the most out of your time in school, try to take electives linked to game development, such as coding languages, game algorithms, 3D computer graphics, etc. The more of these classes you have on your resume, the better.

Learn Coding Languages for Game Development

The more coding languages you know, the better. Some of the most common coding languages used in game development include C++, Java, Python, Perl, Assembly, and HTML5. Study these languages in your free time to get up to speed. There are plenty of online courses on programming via providers like Udemy, CodeAcademy, and MasterClass.

Build Your Game Development Portfolio

Besides having that shiny degree on your resume and having plenty of programming knowledge, you want to have a full portfolio you can show off to potential employers. It will show relevant experience and roles you held while working on projects, giving employers a glimpse into your skills and what you could bring to the table. Some schools offer classes, apprenticeships, and internships to help you build a portfolio.

Internships in Game Development

You may not pay all your bills with an internship, but it can give you valuable experience to hone your skills and boost your resume to help you get that game developer job you desire down the line.

Apply for Game Developer Jobs

Once you have your bachelor’s degree, programming knowledge, portfolio, and internships in your back pocket, you should be ready to apply for a high-paying job as a video game developer. You can apply to studios of varying sizes to get an entry-level position. You can also seek freelance work and gain experience via sites like Upwork and Fiverr.

Besides job boards, look for game developer positions by finding contacts in the industry through Facebook and LinkedIn. Ask for interviews, and do not get discouraged if you get rejected, as this is a highly competitive industry.

One route many take to becoming full-fledged video game developers is to start as quality assurance (QA) testers. As a QA tester, you will test games for bugs or flaws. While it is an entry-level role, working as a QA tester can give you solid experience and help you gain connections in the industry.

Read more programmer tutorials and software development guides.