How to become a video game developer: from learning the basics to getting your first job
Becoming a video game developer is a dream for many game enthusiasts. Heck, being involved in video game creation is a dream for many game enthusiasts. Growing up in the 90s, a lot of us 90s kids thought being a “video game tester” was like the coolest job in the world. You get paid to play video games, right? Mind-blowing! And then you grow up and your dreams are shattered when you realize video game testers basically play the same levels over and over (and over) again, documenting every little bug they find.
The same can be kind of said for video game development. Kids dream of being game develops, creating their own video games. It’s simple, right? You design some characters, write a plot for your game, and then….you create your game, right? By magic. Your awesome game just magically appears once you have an idea for it.
Sorry kids, that’s not how it works. Developing video games is one of the most arduous, time-consuming projects you can embark on. First off, you need to know how to code. That is singly the most important skill for a game developer. Sure, graphic design and storytelling are complementary skills to have, but Mario ain’t saving Princess Peach without 6502 assembly code to get him there.
Getting started on your own
Other incredibly simple viral games include titles like Slither.io, Flappy Bird, 2048 – the latter which was created in a single weekend.
If you focus on creating simple browser games for a while, you can move onto creating multiplayer games. This will greatly enhance your skill set, because developing network code is one of the hardest parts about multiplayer game creation. It’s when you start getting into things like server hosting, chunk per frame updates, and everything else that makes multiplayer games run smoothly for everyone connected to the game.
In any case, developing a few games, even if they’re simple browser games, is a great thing to put on a college application and future job resume. It shows you’re passionate about games, are motivated, and it also showcases your personal work.
Finding a job in game development
In the old days of game development, it was possible to get a job with a big studio through portfolio examples alone. Epic Games, the developers of Unreal Tournament, have a history of hiring people directly from the modding scene. If you had experience in designing levels, graphics, and gameplay mods, you could show your work to big studios and possibly be hired for future game developments.
Things are a bit deeper these days, however. Many of the big name studios want someone with a resume. That means a college education (preferably in game development courses), and some experience in the professional game development field, such as interning for smaller game studios.
Some of the top-rated universities that offer gaming courses are:
- University of Southern California
- University of Utah
- DigiPen Institute of Technology
- Rochester Institute of Technology
- Savannah College of Art and Design
- Drexel University
- Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
- New York University
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- Carnegie Mellon University
This is just a short list, you can check out more on “The Top 75 Video Game Design Schools: College World Rankings & Reviews”.
While you’re in college, it’s the best time for polishing your skills by creating games in your free time, working with other studios, and interning for small game studios. For finding internships, you can either apply directly at game studios, though be prepared to explain why you applied specifically to that studio. Some of the top game companies that offer intern programs are:
- 2K Games
For a better idea of what’s available near your specific location, you look through game company internship listings on a focused site like GameDevMap. Also be sure to check out our podcast episode featuring Michael Casalino, a gaming industry veteran with 15+ years of experience in game design, who is currently the CEO and Chief Creative Officer at 5518 Studios.