Main image of article Game Developer Career Path: Key Things to Know

If you love video games and programming, you might consider a career as a game developer. Which skills do game developers need, and what’s an ideal career path? Let’s find out!

As with many technology professional roles, game developers don’t necessarily need a formal education to land a job building games—so long as they have the right mix of technical skills and experience to succeed. The best game developers also have an enviable mix of “soft skills” such as teamwork, problem-solving, and creativity.

A game developer career path also hinges on the games you actually want to build. Plenty of smaller games are built by a single designer working alone on a variety of tasks, from level design to coding and debugging. But if you want to work on AAA games for consoles like the Xbox or PlayStation, you’ll likely end up in a more specialized role, narrowly focused on an aspect of a game’s development.

Depending on a game company’s needs, you might find yourself tasked with anything from prototyping gameplay to debugging it; you might be in charge of porting a game between platforms, or taking artists’ work and transferring it into playable code. In addition, there are also lots of tech roles ancillary to a game itself; for example, storage and networking related to online play.

In other words, there’s no single “ideal” career path for a game developer, but there are definitely some things you should take into consideration as you proceed.

Do Game Developers Have a Future?

The answer to that question is a resounding “yes.” The gaming industry is expected to grow from $220 billion last year to more than $583 billion in annual revenue by 2030. The average salary for a game developer in the US is $74,649 per year, according to Glassdoor, while other software developers average $88,629; but as with so many other tech roles, that salary can rise significantly based on company, skills, geographical location, and other factors.

Do Game Developers Need a Degree?

Many of those involved on the programming side of the gaming industry have a formal degree of some sort, but it’s not essential. If you’re plotting your game developer career path without a degree, make sure your game developer resume and other materials show off your dedication, experience and skills. If you’ve worked on personal gaming projects, you should absolutely include those on your resume and an online portfolio of some kind.

If you don’t have a degree, you may be subjected to extra-rigorous rounds of technical interviews whenever you apply for jobs during your career—but if you can demonstrate your skills mastery, you have a great chance of landing the position.

What Skills Do Game Developers Need to Know?

According to Lightcast, which collects and analyzes millions of job postings from across the country, here are the tech skills that pop up most frequently in game designer job postings. While “game designer” isn’t necessarily synonymous with “game developer,” these skills pop up frequently in postings for game developers:

  • Game development (of course)
  • C++
  • Level design
  • Epic Unreal Engine
  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Maya
  • Art Direction
  • Microsoft C#
  • Zbrush
  • 3D Modeling/Design
  • Prototyping
  • Python
  • Animation
  • Software Engineering
  • Gaming Industry Knowledge
  • QA
  • Unity

At the most fundamental level, you need to master a handful of programming languages, most notably C++. If you end up applying for jobs at gaming companies, chances are extremely good you’ll be expected to know Unity and Unreal, the two most popular game development platforms. (If you’re a self-learner, keep in mind that Unity offers its own in-house education portal, while there’s lots of documentation available for Unreal via platform creator Epic Games.) 

If you want to pursue mobile gaming as a career, knowledge of iOS and Android is likewise critical. For iOS, that means mastering Swift and Objective-C; for Android, Java and Kotlin (the Android developer portal also features all the documentation you need).

Career Pathways

What’s the best way to break into the gaming industry? First, you’ll need to decide on whether to pursue a formal degree or learn the right skills on your own; if you opt for the latter path, keep in mind that certificate programs and bootcamps (while expensive) can help you stand out in a crowded field of potential applicants.

It’s also important to develop a portfolio of personal gaming projects. For example, build your own games, either on your own or as part of a team. “The only way to master game development, impress a hiring manager and land your first job is by developing a complete, downloadable, playable game,” Susan Shu Chang, founder of Quill Studios, a creator of narrative-driven games, recently told Dice.

Even if you don’t code a playable game all by yourself, participating in gaming projects allows you to build a portfolio you can show to recruiters and hiring managers. If you want to get to know the industry, you might also consider attending gaming industry events and conventions for developers (such as the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco).

From there, you could build games on your own—or you could apply for a job at either a small or large gaming studio. If you opt for a job at a company, keep in mind that cultural fit is really important—while GDC’s annual State of the Game Industry report shows that many game developers work reasonable hours, there are still studios infamous for brutal “crunch time” and punishing production schedules. You’ll need to decide what kind of environment fits you best; some tech pros find they’re more creative under pressure, while others want a more reasonable work-life balance.


Related Game Developer Jobs Resources:

Game Developer Degree

How To Become a Game Developer

Game Developer Resume Template