How to Start A Career in Game Development
Many of us from a young age dream of making games. I remember watching my older brother with his NES playing the latest Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda back in the 1980s and knowing that is what I wanted to do. If you’re here, there is no doubt that you too wish to start a career in game development.
This is where we at GameTutorials are here to help!
Having spent several years as game developers with varied backgrounds in the industry, we will give you everything we know on how to become a video game developer.
This includes the initial steps to take, how to use different development platforms, and which programming languages to focus on. We will also take you through how to land yourself a job and what you can expect from a career in video game development.
What are you waiting for? Start learning how to program and make a career from your love of gaming now!
What Actually Is Game Development?
That’s right, you’ve guessed it – video game development is the process of developing a video game. Seems simple, right? But what does it actually entail?
In order to make a video game, you need to design the gameplay, create the visuals and audios, code the game, and test it. For small and basic games, one person could do all of this work. It would take a considerable amount of time, but it is possible. However, development teams for major titles will have hundreds of employees working together as part of the development process.
To break it down, there are five main job roles for a career in game development:
- Designer – Comes up with the gameplay, narrative, rules, and structure usually thought of as the main visionary of the game.
- Artist – The individual who creates the artwork for the game, be that 2D or 3D concept art, textures, background, and animations.
- Programmer – A software engineer who develops code to program everything from the graphics, sounds, movement of objects, and everything in between.
- Level Designer – Creator of levels or mission for games using specific programs produced by the programmer.
- Sound Engineer – Responsible for the game’s music and sound effects.
Once the preliminary game is made, it will then be passed on to video game testers who will test its performance and entertainment.
What First Steps Should I Take?
Before you even think about starting a career in game development, there are several things you need to do to prepare.
Hey, I bet you’re happy this one is on the list! Playing games may seem like a stupid thing to mention, but how can you be expected to develop an epic game if you have not played them yourself? You need to completely immerse yourself in the gaming world.
That’s right – you now have an excuse to play games all day and all night (you’re welcome).
Try all different types of games and think carefully about what you love and hate about each title you play. Chances are the things that you love are the reasons others love the game, and the frustrations you feel are also replicated by other players.
You need to get into the mind of a game developer and think about what you would do better about each game. Assuming you want to be a successful programmer, these games are your main competition. Yes, you have a long way to go, but someone has to develop the new Call of Duty: Cold War or the soon-to-be-released Diablo IV.
Play, play, and play some more.
Learn Programming Concepts
No matter whether you are still at school or mid-way through your career, if you wish to enter the game development industry you need to learn how to program. Programming is central for pretty much all roles in the development process.
Programming concepts should be your main focus initially.
Don’t stress too much on the specific language at this stage – the concepts are what is important and can be applied to all different programming languages. They are universal in programming.
Start by looking online to learn more about the basics of programming to get you started.
As you start to learn programming basics, you need to put your knowledge to the test! Try making mini-games just to get a feel for the concepts you have learnt and to put it into real-world practice.
Text Adventures, also called Interactive Fiction (IF), are some of the easiest games to start creating as no graphics programming is required. You can choose any topic you like so have a play around and see what you can come up with.
No matter how terrible your first attempt is, keep it! Even the most basic games that might look ridiculous are great when applying for jobs. It can impress your future employers that you love developing games so much that you do it for fun. As you learn more, looking back at the first games you made also acts as a healthy reminder of just how far you’ve come.
Practice Your Math
The last (and probably least welcome) on the list is to practice your math. If you are going to be a developer, understanding the principles of math, especially 3D concepts, is a must.
Yes, not all games will be in 3D, but understanding the math behind it will increase your chances of employment hugely. Essentially all gaming programmers can do simple logic in games but optimizing a BSP tree and writing collision detection routines or skeletal animation systems is what will separate the wheat from the chaff.
To be a great game developer, you need to have a mathematical mind.
Which Programming Languages Should I Learn?
After you understand a few programming concepts, have played a few games, and have got your math down to a T, you can start looking at programming languages.
There are literally thousands of different programming languages, so trying to learn them all is next to impossible. Here, we have tutorials on each main language needed for gaming so you can start learning the basics today!
Our recommendation is to focus on C++ as this is the most commonly used programming language in the gaming industry. However, is is difficult to learn so don’t expect an easy ride. It is available on almost every operating system and is relatively easy to port between them. You can learn how to use C++ here.
Games written with C++ include well-known titles such as Counter-Strike, World of Warcraft, and StarCraft.
Another widely-used programming language for is Java. It is used not only in gaming, but has many applications from microwaves to printers and everything in between! The basics of Java are similar to C++, meaning learning these two languages side-by-side would not be too challenging.
Games made with Java include things like Star Wars Galaxies, but you are unlikely to see any major titles.
Another popular programming language is C# as it is compatible with the program Unity, one of the most widely used game engines. This language is also extrememly popular for programming indie games.
C# manages memory for you, unlike C++ where this is manually programmed. This makes the language easier but does have some disadvantages. However, for smaller teams and smaller games, C# is an excellent choice.
Although not preferred for video game development, C programming is still a useful lanaguage to know. Many programmers start by learning C due to its simplicity and it serves as a good introduction to programming. From C, many developers will then go on to learn Java or C++.
Many APIs have C-compatibale interfaces so the language can be used on most operating systems. For proof of is success in gaming, Quake 2 was written entirely using C!
What Do Employers Want?
The gaming industry is by far one of the most difficult lines of work to enter.
Programming is now something that tons of kids can do. Children are being taught to code at school and toys suitable for kids as young as three-years-old start teaching coding at a young age. Believe it or not, there are plenty of 15-year-olds who are fully competent in coding and developing a video game.
Times have changed and we are now in a digital era where being able to understand the brains behind a computer is more common than not. This means now you need more than knowledge to land yourself a job as a game developer.
Of course, gaming knowledge and programming skills are essential, but everyone you are competing with will have these. So, what do you need to do on top of that?
Here are our top tips for landing your first job in the gaming industry:
- Sound Passionate – This applies to any job ever, but in the gaming industry it could not be more important. Make sure you play the companies games, know their history, and if possible talk to other employees that work there before your interview.
- Bring Examples of Your Work – If you had to choose between a guy who has spent four years studying computer science at college vs. a guy with a portfolio of games he’s made along with his latest demo, who would you employ? Employers will want to see that you can apply the knowledge that you learn, whether at college or elsewhere. Don’t think just because you have a degree you will top other applicants.
- Write Clean Code – If working for a gaming company, you will be working as part of a team and so your code needs to be clean. All your colleagues will need to read your code, so show that all your work is precise and accurate.
- Showcase Good Communication Skills – How common is it for a computer geek to be able to hold a decent conversation? Good communication skills are, unfortunately, something which many coders, programmers, and mathematicians lack. You will need to work in a development team, so communication skills are essential.
What Can I Expect from a Job in Gaming?
Once you have landed yourself a role in game development, what can you expect from it?
In terms of salary, you can expect a fair bit. When first starting out in your game development career, your salary is likely to be around the $40,000 per year mark. However, once you have a few years under your belt this can rise up to an average of $70,000 – $90,000. Being a senior programmer can see it rise above $120,000.
As there are so many different branches of game development, your salary will depend on what you specialize in. Are you a 3D artist? A C++ programmer? A game designer?
Regardless of which area you choose, you can work your way to the top and earn way above average. Take Markus Persson, for example. He is the richest game developer with a worth of $1.3 billion. He created the epic and timeless classic Minecraft.
Game developers typically work 40 hour weeks. However, they aren’t necessarily your usual 9am to 5pm. There is often quite a bit of flexibility in your hours.
With deadlines approaching, your workload may increase and you’ll be required to put in extra shifts at weekends and work in the evenings. But when you see the finished product of a game you have helped create, there is no prouder feeling.
As a game developer, your role will generally be in an office, studio, or production house. If you prefer, some companies will allow developers to work remotely and so you may have the opportunity to work from home or anywhere in the world.
Jobs are available throughout the US and the United States is actually the top game development country in the world. Although you can find work all over the states, you’ll find the most game development companies located in San Francisco, Austin, Los Angeles, and Seattle (check out the pie chart below to see the percentage distrubution).
Your work environment is pretty chill and you won’t have to bother with fancy suits and ties. Really it’s just a bunch of big kids who have a shared love for video games and computers working towards an epic project together.
The average salary for a video game developer is $70,000 o $90,000 per year. This depends on the gaming company you work for and your role in the industry.
The average time taken to develop a PC or console game is 3-5 years, but for mobile games this is shorterned to around 3 months. This is when working for a professional company. To make a small and simple game by yourself you can expect to spend up to 6 months on the game.
The best programming language to learn for gaming is C++. This can be used across multiple platforms and gives the most flexibility and control in what you program. However, it can be challenging to learn so don’t expect an easy ride! The pay off, however, is worth it.
The richest video game developer is Markus Persson who designed the game Minecraft. He has a net worth of $1.3 billion from creating this title.