A game developer will use their creative and/or technical skills on one or more aspects of the complex video game development process. There are many jobs in that process that a developer might be tasked to do, from pre-production design and prototyping to software coding on a single aspect of the game during production, to testing, refinement and quality assurance on the game in post-production.

Entry into game development can be a challenging experience, often requiring computer science training and education and the ability to demonstrate one’s coding (and other) skills in the highly competitive video game industry. We will look at the job of the game developer and training and educational requirements in this article. For those who put in the time and training, the good news is that the demand for game developers is high and does not seem likely to be dropping any time soon.

game developer

Game Developer Career Overview

Let’s first look at three job areas one might work in as a game developer:

  • Designer - responsible for concept development and design of a game
  • Programmer - responsible for software coding at all stages of a game's development
  • Artist - responsible for the visual look and feel of a game

Within these main job areas there are many different specific job descriptions for individual tasks a developer might do. For example, while programmers usually work on writing or editing computer code, here are some specific types of programming jobs in game development:

  • AI programmer - codes the behavior of computer players and characters within the game
  • Graphics programmer - works with artists on 2D/3D graphics
  • Physics programmer - implements physical laws in the game so characters perform realistically
  • Lead programmer - manages and coordinates programming teams
  • User interface programmer - designs and codes game menus

Career Paths of a Game Developer

Entry-level positions as a game developer could find a person coding a small part of a large project or doing testing of code to make sure it runs reliably and without bugs. Taking on more complex responsibilities, a game developer could be involved in such tasks as 3D-modeling, leading one or more teams of programmers, or even in prototyping game design where the stories that drive video games are created and first developed into code.

Eventually, positions such as “technical director” or “creative director” might be part of the future of a committed and successful game developer. These are individuals who oversee all aspects of the coding process for large game development projects

Being an Indie Game Developer

It should also be noted that some game developers begin and operate as independents, owning and designing their own games from inception through to publishing. Generally, “indie” projects--which might be game apps for mobile devices, for example--have to be done on a much smaller scale than console or computer video games, since the graphics and narrative complexities of large modern video games would overwhelm a lone game developer.

The advantages to being an indie game developer are:

  • Creative independence: you are in charge of everything
  • Immense learning opportunity: because you’ll need to do it all
  • No deadlines: except the ones you yourself make

The disadvantages of being an indie game developer are:

  • Funding: most likely there won’t be much
  • Scale: projects have to be kept small
  • Marketing: see “funding”
man in the office

What Does a Game Developer Do?

While many people who play video games think it would be really fun to be a game developer, the actual job--which often involves working long hours without any days off, especially during “crunch times” when projects are pushed by publishers to meet deadlines--can be an enormous amount of hard work.

What kind of work?

For programmers, work will often be sitting at a computer and writing thousands of lines of software code and working many long days and weekends to accomplish their parts of the project; always being mindful to keep pace with other teams. Remember, the contribution of any one team, or any one part of the game development process, has to merge with all the other parts on time and cleanly, and without causing any bugs that will crash the game or put the process behind schedule.

To ensure that happens, another big part of the work that a game designer may be asked to do is software testing. This will mean checking portions of code to make sure they deliver what is expected without bugs or negative effects on the rest of the code. Again, this can be a tedious and time-consuming process.

Communication and Coordination

In addition to this kind of work, programmers and other members of the development teams may be required to coordinate their various activities to ensure that production goals are being met. For example, artists and writers need to supply graphics and character dialog to programmers for inclusion at the appropriate parts of the game.

Actions required at different parts of the game or story need to be clearly communicated to the programmers; so that, for example, a tool that is supposed to perform a certain function at a certain point in the game will do what is required of it at the correct time, but then not do it when that function would get in the way of another part of the story.

All during the game development process, feedback from various teams on the aspects of the game that work, and especially on the parts that don’t, will keep programmers busy. This is why a game programmer, in addition to all their other job skills, must be highly flexible and adaptive to changing circumstances.

Necessary Skills & Educational Requirements

Whereas there is no specific academic training or degree for the position of “game designer,” most programmers in game development will be expected to have acquired a bachelor’s degree in computer science.

Further, a programmer will be expected to have mastered the computer languages being used in the development project they are assigned to; for example C++ or Python to mention two popular languages.

All members of any larger game design project are expected to bring good communications skills to the job, since intra- and inter-team communications are essential to success. As noted above, often programmers will be interacting with artists and writers, while the idea people on the design team. The programmers need to be good listeners who are able to translate the narrative and graphical ideas and elements of the game into workable, reliable code.

Other required skills for programmers in game development include:

  • Analytical skills
  • Advanced math skills (depending on the project)
  • Creativity
  • Problem-solving
  • Detail-oriented

These skills are basically the same as for any other type of software developer, which brings up a useful point. Game development is largely a software development project. There may be many other aspects to the total process besides the coding, but coding is what translates the game’s ideas, coordinates the game’s graphical elements and sounds, and animates the game’s characters into an exciting experience for game players.

For other kinds of jobs in game development, the skills and education will vary by the job. For example, artists may be required to have an art degree and to demonstrate mastery of one or more digital design programs. Meanwhile, quality assurance testers can get by with just a high school education. Requirements for coders are as high when it comes to game development as they are for any other type of software design.

Work Experience & Career

Work Experience & Career Prospects

One interesting aspect of game development is that, because demonstrable programming skills are often valued more highly than a long list of career accomplishments, experience may not be as important to getting a job as a game developer as it is in other fields.

For example, if a person can competently code and can show their facility with the language required for a project, it is not always the case that a college degree will be demanded before that person can begin working for a game development company. Many younger workers either intern or start off as fully compensated programmers because they can show they have the needed skills.

This is the general case with STEM jobs. As a recent Pew study revealed, roughly a third of STEM workers have no bachelor’s or higher-level degree.

Career Prospects

As for career prospects, software developers, of which game developers are a subset, are expected to see steady job growth for at least the next decade according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

Even entry-level game programmers can make substantially more than the average job, with beginning programming positions paying $60,000 and up. Experienced game developers can make $100,000 or more.

Conclusion

The outlook for game developers is excellent. Playing video games is a popular pastime, and in times of economic downturn actually increases in popularity rather than decreases. People play on all kinds of media, from mobile devices to large-screen televisions and 3D platforms. While preparation and education for a game programmer can require advanced computer and math training, a skilled coder can sometimes get in the door of a game development company without a college degree.

Being employed in game development can be a deeply interesting and rewarding career. It can also mean long hours, hard and sometimes tedious work, and plenty of pressure to achieve deadlines thrown in for good measure.

So long as an aspiring game developer understands the real challenges of this job (in its varied forms), they can focus on the considerable upside: a skilled game developer earns a good salary has enjoys excellent job security.