To take your love for games and turn it into a major part of your life that sustains you—that is the ultimate dream.
At Simple Programmer, we specialize in the career skills to get you the job you most desire.
Let’s lay out a realistic roadmap you can follow to achieve your dream of becoming a professional game developer.
Developing games for a living – the financial perks
According to salary.com, the average salary of a game developer in the US is $73,427.
This is less than what you’d make in a Software Engineering position—but you might be willing to accept this, in exchange for getting to work every day at something you’re deeply passionate about.
What you need to do to become a Game Developer – 8 essential steps
If you follow this roadmap, you’ll maximize your chances of becoming a great developer and landing one of those sought-after jobs in the game industry—or finding success on your own.
1. Set your goals
How you’ll go about becoming a game developer will depend heavily on what you actually want to achieve. There’s a number of different paths and end goals available to you in the field of game development:
- You can make games just for fun as a hobby
- You can focus mostly on coding and specialize as a Game Programmer
- You can learn a wider set of skills and become a Game Designer
- Your goal could be to make your own games and go solo as an indie developer
- You could plan to join a prestigious game studio, working on the most advanced titles
- You might want to become an expert in a distinct coding language and game engine
The different types of game developers
These career paths are available for you as an aspiring Game Developer:
- Game Programmer
- Game Designer
- Gameplay Engineer
- Systems Designer
- Different types of Game Artist
Also ask yourself what kinds of games you want to create. Is it state-of-the-art 3D games (“AAA/Triple-A”), or 2D titles? And for which platform? Mobile, console, or desktop?
2. Pick your means of development
Let the goals you’ve set in the first step dictate which game engine you’ll learn to use. Each engine uses a specific coding language.
By knowing what part of which kinds of games you’ll want to work on, you can confidently pick the right engine to get into, as well as the programming language that goes along with it.
The most popular engines for professional game development
The vast majority of the highest-end 3D games are developed in Unreal Engine. Unreal does have a “visual scripting” function, meaning you don’t necessarily need to know how to code to create games.
But, if your goal is to one day work as a professional in game development with Unreal, you’ll need to learn its native programming language, C++. Writing custom code gives you the possibility to add unique features and behaviors to a game. You have complete control over every detail, and the performance of your game.
It’s not enough to be proficient with a built-in game builder. To have a chance to become a pro game dev with Unreal Engine, you’ll need to be able to code every feature of a game from scratch using C++.
Unity is the second major game engine in professional game development. Like Unreal, it does have visual scripting. When it comes to writing your own code to build a Unity game: You’ll need to use the C# programming language (“C-Sharp”).
3. Become good at coding
Now it’s time to start your journey into learning to code. For the language you’ve picked, gather some resources: Books, free tutorials, and courses. You’ll want to learn Computer Science fundamentals and programming principles along with writing your first code.
Your passion for game programming should push you to study hard: Watch 1-2 tutorials or course lessons per day, every day for 2-3 months—and try to apply everything you’re learning right away.
4. Further develop your game developer skills
Which skills do you need to become an in-demand game developer?
- Coding skills. You’re working on this. But it’s not enough to simply be good at writing code. A professional game developer needs to have many other abilities as well.
- Math and physics skills. The gameplay of games is based on physics. Learn as much as you can about it. Math underlies all code—understanding it will make you a much more effective programmer. Subjects to study are Linear Algebra, Calculus, and Trigonometry.
- Software Engineering skills. As a game programmer, you should become an expert in all aspects of making software. Further areas of focus should be knowledge of networking—working with databases and implementing server backends. Debugging is another crucial skill for a game developer: When working for a game studio, you’ll spend a lot of time working with, debugging, and improving other people’s code.
- Problem-solving ability. This is the number one skill for any programmer, and game developers are no exception. Work on your ability to analyze a problem. Then find, plan, and implement an effective and efficient solution.
- Imagination and creativity. The chance to use your creativity most days you’re at work is a blessing. Whether you’re working with your team on creating the next level of your game, or figuring out best way to code gameplay features, imagination and creativity are essential skills for game developers.
- Storytelling. Try to learn about linear and non-linear storytelling and narrative techniques. In a linear storyline, the players' actions drive the story forward, while in non-linear games, the actions players take will determine how the story will unfold. Understanding how stories develop and reach a satisfying end can give you a much-needed perspective in writing the increasingly complicated code necessary for such storylines.
- Work ethic and time management skills. Game developers are no strangers to looming deadlines and long hours worked. This is why it’s imperative to be disciplined in your work, and excellent at managing your time and energy.
- Teamwork and communication skills. Completely self-created games are an exception in the world of professional game development. The most likely career situation for a pro game developer is working at a game studio, in a team. This makes the job more fun and interesting—but it also requires you to be a team player, empathetic leader, and good communicator.
- Passion for game development. You will face hardship—while learning, while trying to get into a job, and while on the job—and you need to be able to deal with it. Your unwavering love for game development will get you through anything.
5. Consider a degree
Do you need a degree to succeed as a game developer?
- You do not need a degree to be a good game developer, nor to get a job at a games company. Game studios are above all looking at the practical value you can bring them.
- You can bypass the need for a degree with an exceptional portfolio and superior demonstrable skills, or even with creative ways of hunting for jobs.
- But, a university education in a relevant field will give you a good theoretical foundation, as well as some applicable or transferable skills.
- The prestige it still holds with many companies can get you into interviews more reliably.
Game degree vs Software Engineering degree
Keep this in mind:
- Game degrees aim to teach you a bit of everything. But companies are often looking for specialists vs generalists.
- Degrees that include a 1-year placement are preferable. You might get hired back by the same company if you did a good job. Plus you already have experience to show—and game studios are looking mostly for candidates who already have experience.
6. Start developing games
To get started developing games, it’s recommended you pick a simple game that already exists, and try to recreate it with the help of tutorials and courses. Any time you’re stuck, you’ll have to learn new concepts and pieces of code to keep progressing. This is the best way to increase your game development skills—intense, hands-on, and fast.
It’s a good idea for an aspiring professional game developer to make games in different genres, just to be exposed to a wide variety of technical challenges, and develop a wider set of skills.
The best game devs are constantly creating (and recreating as more advanced versions) games. They learn how to ship a finished product from early on, which will prove invaluable as they enter their career.
7. Create a strong portfolio that stands out
The field of game development is competitive. If you want to attract the attention of game studios—or your application be considered for an interview as a game dev—you need to take every chance to stand out.
A portfolio is a must. But the competition has caught on to this need. It’s not enough to show simple games made with the Unity editor in your portfolio—that just puts you at the level of most others.
Ideas for an outstanding game developer portfolio:
- Showcase excellent coding skills by creating your own game engine from scratch.
- Make your own physics engine
- Develop a game with unique features (vs. making a me-too game)
The portfolio should be visually appealing as well.
Always include screenshots of the game scenes so that potential employers can assess the games. Also, include the links for the game installation software so that they can try playing the games.
8. Prepare and hunt for your first job
Before you start applying for game developer jobs, you’ll need to prepare your knowledge and coding skills to be able to answer the questions asked at game developer interviews.
Getting a job as a game developer is not easy. Try hard at getting your foot in the door of the industry, even if it’s not for your dream company or position.
Internships—or placements during your university studies—are an amazing opportunity. Most employers only want to hire someone who already has experience, which these let you gain. Moreover, if you do a good job and really prove yourself, there’s a good chance you’ll get an offer to join that same company you interned or were placed at full time.
Shooting for a junior position at a game studio
Good places to find open game dev positions are on game companies’ websites and job boards. Send your resume to any studio that’s hiring, even if it’s not your dream position. In addition, you can contact companies that aren’t officially hiring—they might still consider finding a place for you if they’re impressed by what you have to offer. This is a good way to avoid competing with dozens of other developers, as you do for job openings advertised on job boards.
Your portfolio and marketing can help you get a job
A game developer who is constantly building interesting projects and showing them off online can pique the interest of a game studio. This underscores how important an impressive portfolio and getting your name out there really is. Another way of becoming more known and building relationships that could lead to a job in the field is going to meetups, game jams and conferences. You’ll be able to make interesting new friends, get feedback on your games, and network with industry insiders and potential employers.
Plan B: Gain more experience in a regular programming job & pivot into a game development position later
Because of the fierce competition in the market, you might not be able to get into a game development job right away. Another viable option could then be to apply for a general programming job. You’ll gain experience programming and finishing projects. Some of the skills you learn might be the exact specialties a company is looking for. Armed with practical experience—a valuable point on your resume in the tough industry—your chances of getting a game dev job will have increased significantly.
9. Stay ahead of the competitive market
Once you’ve scored your dream job, keep learning. Stay ahead of new developments and trends as well as technological advancements. Make sure to talk with friends in the industry, be part of online communities and attend conferences. That way you’ll stay in the know and never get left behind.
There’s many ways to get paid for game development
If working as a game programmer at a studio doesn’t sound like what you want to do, then there’s other ways to make money as a game developer. From selling indie games to freelancing—if you’re serious about making a living creating games, you’ll have multiple options to do that.