A career in the video game industry is a path for intrepid, tech-savvy folks with a passion for what they do. Behind every first person shooter or action-packed RPG, there exists a team with laser-focused attention to detail and a willingness to put in long hours to meet deadlines.
It’s not just enough to love playing
video games. A professional developer must
be well-versed in different game styles, how each one handles, and be able to
identify what goes into making a great game versus an average one. These “soft
skills” are just as much a part of a successful as more specific, technical
A recent infographic created by Big Fish, a leader in online casual games, afforded a glimpse at the top schools offering undergraduate and graduate programs in the field, where top game studios are located, and salary expectations for each aspect of the industry and stage of career.
Given the impact that video games have made in the past decade, collegiate programs covering all facets of the gaming industry have sprung up as a result to the increasing demand and technical prowess required to advance.
Not all developers have gone to college, however. Some have managed to enter the industry while picking up programming, art, and design skills without a formal education.
Debbie Lee, a 60-year-old, high school-educated Texas grandmother, parlayed her passion for bingo into a job as a spokesperson for BingoVega.com. Debbie acknowledged that soft skills such as being able to communicate well with players and developers helped her land the spokesperson opportunity. Although more technical positions such as the website’s development team require advanced training, spokesperson positions require strong communication skills in maintaining a warm, welcoming atmosphere and creating an enjoyable user experience.
“I love getting feedback from customers. They are the key. Hearing what they have to say and sharing that with the staff and developers, we can come up with better promotions based on their input.”
Although a college degree is not necessary, the field is becoming more competitive. Aspiring developers are seeking higher education to give them an edge.
Depending on your strengths and areas of
interest, there are a variety of career paths to take within the industry.
A central figure in the process, a producer is responsible for the budgeting of time, resources, and finances for a project. A degree in business or finance may be beneficial, considering the producer works with the development team, as well as the game’s publishing company and financial backers to negotiate license deals and contracts.
A designer’s role requires a mix of communications and technical expertise. They must be able to articulate vision via complex design documents detailing each facet of the game to assist programmers, sound engineers, and graphic artists in rendering the concepts needed to execute the game. Designers often have experience as producers or programmers before stepping into this position.
Finely-tuned software engineering skills are required of programmers in writing the foundation code that controls the game’s program and artificial intelligence. Programmers build the mainframe for the rest of the development team to work off of during the production phase.
Graphic Artists and Animators
Aspiring animators often specialize as either character, background, or texture artists to bring a game’s “world” to life. Innate artistic skills can be further bolstered by degrees in fine arts, 2D and 3D animation, and the ability to write code to give these areas of the game movement.
Audio professionals tackle a variety of tasks during production including composing or selecting music for the game, recording, and editing sounds. Audio engineers often cut their teeth in their high school’s A/V program before moving on to college degrees incorporating a mix of computer science, music / fine arts, and sound engineering.
Quality Assurance (QA) Testers
QA testers have one of the most arduous tasks in the development process: ensuring the final product is glitch-free. They play the same portion of a game repeatedly and report any software “bugs” that cause errors in gameplay. Although typically viewed as an entry level position and doesn’t require formal education, attention to detail and logical thinking are crucial. Many QA testers are hired on a temporary, per-project basis. However, QA positions requiring more technical expertise and degrees in computer science are gaining ground, offering significantly longer-term employment to those in this sector.
Whether you choose to
carve out a career with or without a college degree, the one factor required is
a passion for what you do. There are multiple avenues to land your first
“achievement” of a job in the game development industry and “level up” in your
career. If you have a love of the game (or games, in this instance),
you’re already on your way.
Conor Murphy is an SEO Marketing Manager with Seattle-based Big Fish, a global leader in casual games dedicated to providing engaging entertainment on any device. More of his work can be read on Big Fish’s blog.