Game developer playing their game, testing out project

Video games are bigger than ever, powering a global market worth roughly $188 billion last year. If you grew up playing video games, and you’re excited about their potential as a business and an art form, you should consider game developer as a career.

But what skills do you need to actually succeed as a game developer? That hinges on the kinds of games you want to develop, as well as the platforms you want to develop for. While every career path is different, here are some key skills necessary for most types of game development—whether you ultimately want to build mobile games for phones or massive AAA games for consoles.    

Console and PC Gaming

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,” with the latter generally focusing more on the technical implementation of a game, there’s enough skills overlap for us to treat knowledge of the following as pretty essential for game developers, as well:

  • 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

Whatever your specific gaming interests, knowledge of Unity and Unreal, the two most popular game development platforms, is an absolute must for any game developer or designer. While these platforms’ rendering tools have uses beyond gaming (the architecture and film industries rely heavily on both), the major game-development companies will want you to have mastered one or both.

Unity offers its own in-house education portal, and major online learning platforms like Udemy also have courses available. It’s a similar story with Unreal, with lots of documentation available via platform creator Epic Games. A handful of colleges also offer formal programs in game design; for example, the Game Development Degree at Southern New Hampshire University and Game Development and Design Degree at Purdue University.

Depending on the specific role you’re targeting, you’ll also need to know the nuances of the various platforms. For instance, if you want to work with current-generation consoles, you have to become familiar with the developer backend of the PS5, Xbox, and Nintendo Switch.

Mobile Gaming

The mobile gaming world is essentially a duopoly: iOS and Android dominate the phone and tablet ecosystem. If you’re targeting a game toward iOS, you need to not only learn Apple’s App Store and developer portal, but also Swift and Objective-C, the programming languages that power Apple’s ecosystem.

For those who want to work with Android, learning Java and Kotlin (the languages for that platform) are essential; the Android developer portal also features all the documentation you need about Google Play (Android’s app/game store) and Android Studio (the IDE for Android app development).

Soft Skills

Chris Nye, technical lead at Experis Game Solutions, recently told Dice that game developers need the following “soft skills” in order to succeed in the industry:

  • Critical thinking and analysis
  • Creativity and originality
  • Reasoning and problem solving
  • Reliability and self-discipline
  • Resilience and adaptability

Unless you’re building games by yourself, you’ll generally work as part of a team (a very large team, in the case of the biggest game studios), so skills like communication and teamwork are likewise critical. You’ll need to convey your ideas, progress, and challenges to a variety of stakeholders, from your manager and fellow team-members to others throughout the organization. Development of these skills is a lifelong effort, but it definitely pays off.

Specialized Skills

Game development is a highly specialized field that many people want to break into. If you want to stand out from the crowd, you’ll need to learn some in-demand and highly specialized skills. As more game companies embrace machine learning and A.I. (for making “smarter” opponents in action games, for instance), knowing those disciplines could make you stand out.

According to Lightcast, defining and distinguishing game designer skills include level design, world building, and visual design. No matter what the size of the company, if you can show you have the technical skills and a creative vision, chances are good you’ll land a second interview. Game development requires skills, but true passion for gaming is also a deciding factor.