The industry is full of opportunities. If you’re a computer science graduate, you’re in a prime position to choose your path. For example, you can choose to be a software developer or a game developer.
To help you make your decision easier, we’ll go through different facets related to software and game development. By the end of the article, you’ll have all necessary information to make your decision.
If you’re not a computer science graduate, and just starting your programming journey, keep reading, as the article will clear many of your doubts.
Before we proceed, let’s briefly explain software development and game development.
What is Software Development?
Software development is a computer science trade. It deals with software creation, where individuals and teams design, prototype, and develop the software.
At the core of each software, you’ll find programs – a set of instructions for computers to perform a task. As a software developer, programmer, or engineer, you need to write combinations of instructions. However, the role is not as simple as it sounds.
In general, software development encompasses four basic software types:
- System software: System software provides core functionality such as disk management or operating system.
- Programming software: Compilers, debuggers, linkers, etc., fall under programming software.
- Application software: Application software lets you perform tasks. The best example includes productivity suites, media players, and office.
- Embedded software: Software that runs on devices and control machines such as cars, networks, and robots falls under embedded software.
There are a lot of ways you can involve yourself in software development. Software development roles are diverse. Let’s check them below:
- Programmers/coders: A programmer carries out specific task coding. For example, they write code for conducting searches, merging databases, or routing communication. They use programming languages such as Python, C, C++, etc.
- Software engineers: Software engineers focus on the broader aspect of software development. It includes devising solutions with modeling language tools. They focus on software complexity and generate tasks for programmers and developers.
- Software developers: Software developers deal with the overall software development lifecycle. They also write code and conduct testing and maintenance. Moreover, they manage development teams as well.
What is Game Development?
Game development is all about creating video games. Here, teams or individuals work on the game development process of designing, development, and releasing.
As a game developer, you must work on different facets of game development, including coding, engineering, conceptualization, rendering, and testing. However, there are specific roles to streamline the game development process, especially working on larger projects.
You'll find game development hard if you're from a non-programming background. However, it does offer more non-technical creative aspects, such as sound and design.
You'll find frameworks and game engines at the core of the game design. These provide a graphical user interface(GUI) to simplify designing and coding video games. If you're just starting out, you might find game engines such as Construct and Game Maker useful. However, the industry-leading game engines are Unity, Unreal Engine, and Cry Engine.
If you choose to be a game programmer, you start as a junior programmer with a focus on getting into more specialized aspects such as:
- Game engine programmer
- Physics engine programmer
- AI engine programmer
- Graphic engine programmer
- Tool programmer
In game development, you can choose any role that suits you. These include game developers, designers (level & sound), artists, programmers, and testers.
Software vs Game Developer
Software development and game development are closer than ever. So, if you’re thinking of transiting from software to game development, or vice-versa, you’ll find the transition relatively easier.
From an eagle-eye perspective, game and software development are similar. However, both are different, especially regarding goals and outcomes. Moreover, they also need different commitments, demands, and expectations.
Differences between Software and Game Developer
In this section, we'll take a closer look a the differences between software and game developer.
- Software developers create applications and services that match users' expectations. With clear goals, software development is more streamlined toward success. However, that's not the case with game development, as it is hard to know whether the game will succeed.
- You'll find game developers working more than software developers when it comes to working overtime. Crunch in the game industry is a common problem (we'll discuss it more in the “work hour” section.)
- Game developer requires a more creative approach compared to software development. However, this is up for debate, and many may disagree.
- You need way more experience to start as a game developer than a software developer. This is because game development is more complex.
- Game developers generally need to know more compared to software developers. They need to know about game mechanics, players' psychology, level designing, and more. On the other hand, software developers can master specific skills and learn things when needed.
- Software developers may not be worried as much about performance compared to game programmers, who always need to keep performance in mind when developing their games.
Similarities between Software and Game Developer
- Both software developers and game developers write code.
- Both of them work through the product/game life cycle.
- Crunch times are common among software and game developers.
Salary: Software vs Game Developers
Money is one of the puzzle pieces that will help you decide which path to take.
According to built.in, the average game developer salary stands at $114,589 with an average cash compensation of $13,021, making the total average $127,610. The salary starts at $70K per year for junior roles and goes upto $220K per year for a more senior role. Also, the average game developer's salary depends on company size, with smaller teams constituting more salary.
According to Glassdoor.com, the numbers are on the lower side. They report the average salary as $80,094 per year, more representative of the industry state. Entry-level game developers make $65,901 per year. And, if you look at Talent.com, it reports a $100K average salary.
If we take an average of all these sources, we get an average of $102,570 per year.
According to Glassdoor.com, the average software developer is $95,516 per year. If you're starting, you can make $83,587 per year. If we look at USNews.com, the average software developer's salary is $110,140 per year. Lastly, talent.com reports the numbers at $107,300 per year.
If we average all these sources, we get an average of $104,318 per year, which makes it more than the average game developer's salary.
Qualifications and Skills
- Graduate in Computer Science or higher
- Basic understanding of character animations and digital assets
- Good programming knowledge in C or C++
- Good working knowledge of game engines such as Unreal, Cryengine, or Unity
- Familiarity with Android or iOS if into mobile game development
- Good communication skills
- Graduate in Computer Science or higher
- Knowledge of open-source technologies such as Linux
- Knowledge of agile methodologies and software development lifecycle
- Good communication skills
- Have a working knowledge of atleast one software development framework.
- Understands how data works, especially in relational databases, and can write queries in SQL or similar technology.
- Computer networking knowledge.
A game developer needs to do the following duties:
- Be creative and develop new game design ideas.
- Improve gameplay by prototyping and iterating.
- Convert visual ideas to code
- Collaborate with artists, producers, quality analysts, and designers.
- Improve code quality
- Maintain games after launch
- Manage games across platforms
- Port games from one platform to another
Software developers have the following tasks and responsibilities:
- Program new ideas into code
- Build and deploy code into production
- Maintain and test the codebase after the release
- Know how to use popular software development tools
- Know how to document software while writing code
- Know how to optimize code for faster application
Work Environment and Work Hours
Crunch (working overtime) is a common practice in gaming, especially during project release time. Kotaku published an in-depth article about Crunch in Rockstar, establishing that crunch is a “common occurrence.” In fact, a former Rockstar employee said in the article that the company stated 80 hours of work per week with mostly no overtime payment.
Vulturebeat also reported 76% of game developers still work under crunch conditions.
However, should you worry? Well, not really. Even though crunch is common, it completely depends on your company’s culture and project. Many companies see crunch as unproductive and mismanagement. If you look at GDC’s State of Game Industry 2021 survey, you’ll find that not everyone works more than the traditional 40 hours.
On average, software developers' work environment is better than game developers. However, you'll still find companies asking software developers to crunch, especially during product launches.
In most cases, a company with the “right” measures, such as transparency, good planning, and an agile approach, does enough to avoid crunch culture. Your company's culture determines your work culture and work hours. In general, expect to give 40 hours per week to your company.
Job Security/Level of Risk
When it comes to job security, you’ll find conflicting information online. Many sources cite less to no job security for game developers. However, that’s not the case for most companies.
In most companies, your job as a game developer relates to your project. Simply put, you complete your project and then take on another one. This can give you the flexibility to choose projects and do something interesting.
However, you can always find cases where massive layoffs take place, especially when other big gaming industry giants buy up a company. Also, an unsuccessful project can lead to layoffs. On the brighter side, game developers rarely sit unemployed. Depending on your city or location, you can find new opportunities, especially with good networking skills.
Compared to the game industry, the software industry offers better job security. However, it also depends on the project you’re working on and your value to the team.
In most cases, if you have extraordinary skills, you hardly have to worry about job security. Technically, the private sector doesn’t offer job security. However, the employability chance is higher compared to other trades. If you lose your job, you can get multiple opportunities, considering that you have excellent technical skills.
Which one is for you? Software development or Game Development?
In this section, we’ll take a look at different scenarios. Let’s get started.
Can a software engineer become a game developer?
Making a choice completely depends on your experiences. And, to gain experience, you need to build things.
Therefore, if you're a software engineer and want to dive into game development, you must make a game. Simply put, you make game development a hobby and finally switch when you feel confident in your skills. This approach is also beneficial, considering you'll have a portfolio of demos and games when you're ready to switch.
If you consider switching from software to game development, you must ensure you have the necessary skills. You should know at least one of the two industry-standard game engines, Unreal Engine or Unity. You may also have to learn new programming languages.
Can a game developer become software developer?
But what about game developers who want to shift to software development?
Even though it's rare to see developers choosing software development once they have become part of game development, you're free to choose your path. There can be multiple reasons, including a lack of growth opportunities to allow yourself to settle down into a more stable work environment.
In any case, shifting from game development to software development is easier. Here, you may need to learn a new toolset or programming languages. As for the approach, you can follow the same pathway we mentioned above. Start with hobby projects and build a portfolio.
Once you're ready, make the jump!
What if you’re just starting out?
Lastly, we have people who are just starting.
In that case, the general advice is to do projects (again!). Sooner or later, you’ll find which trade matches your long-term goals and passion. You can choose to do serious software development and create games for fun or vice-versa. The choice is yours!
However, the general advice is to start with software development and then move to game development once you better understand your skills and the industry.