There are countless career paths in the video game industry, but no area has quite so many routes to go down as the programming field. After all, our favorite games are powered by lines and lines of code, as are the apps, websites, and streaming services that we use to consume and interact with them.
This got us wondering: just how many different job types are available within the programming arm of the gaming industry? As the leading video game job platform, we felt well-poised to answer this question.
So if you're technically-minded or a programmer-in-the-making, this article should give you an idea of where you could be headed within the industry.
1. Game development
Job function: Game developers are the people who take all of the assets produced by other members of the game development team, program them in the game engine, and bring the game to life in a technical sense.
Primary responsibilities: While game development is a niche sector in and of itself, there are also different forms that game development jobs can take. With so many different parts making up a game development team, game programmers might be specialized into one area. These could be animation programming, weapons programming, 3D programming, or generalist programmers with expertise in one of the major game engines.
Whatever specialism these roles take on, the responsibility of a game developer is to code game systems and tools, as well as to debug any errors that arise or are reported by the QA team.
Languages used: C++, C#, C
Unique requirement: Knowledge of major game engines like Unity and Unreal Engine.
Types of hiring companies: Game studios.
2. App development
Job function: App developers are programmers who specialize in mobile apps. They are able to build the infrastructure of an application, implement wireframes and designs, and deploy additional features.
Primary responsibilities: The primary responsibility of app developers is either to ship new apps or maintain on existing ones. In the case of shipping the app, the focus will be on developing the core feature set and testing it to catch any bugs ahead of launch. This feature set could be adapted from an existing website or game, or could be produced from the scratch if the app doesn't have source material to reference.
For those working on apps that have already launched, the priority will be improving the app by shipping new features, improving existing ones, increasing performance, and responding to bug reports.
Languages used: Swift, Kotlin, Java
Unique requirement: Knowledge of iOS App Store and Google Play quality requirements.
Types of hiring companies: Startups, game studios, service providers
3. Cloud & network development
Job function: With so many companies storing information in cloud-based technology now, it's the responsibility of cloud & network developers to manage this process, design the technical architecture, and provide maintenance as it's needed.
Primary responsibilities: In a broad sense, cloud engineers manage all things cloud-computing for a company. This could include the setup through a cloud service like AWS or Microsoft Azure, but will always involve maintaining the cloud software and seeking improvements for how an organization stores their cloud-based data.
Another responsibility for people working with cloud technology is often to manage or be involved in a 24-7 support network. Generally, if an organization is having problems with their cloud solution, there is going to be significant outages and problems with their service. For this reason, cloud engineers will often be part of a coverage team that's on-call to rise to these problems should they occur.
Languages/programs used: Docker, AWS, Microsoft Azure, MongoDB, SQL
Unique requirement: Familiarity with database management and IT services.
Types of hiring companies: Large-scale game development studios and technology companies.
4. Audio engineering
Job function: Just as game developers are the people who bring a game to life technically, so too do audio engineers bring the score and soundtrack to life. A game is so much more than just what's on your screen: it's the soundtrack as you walk through a deserted building, or the delicate snapping of twigs as you traverse a moon-lit forest. In each of these situations, it's the work of talented audio engineers who are making these effects enhance the playing experience.
Primary responsibilities: The responsibilities of an audio engineer are multifaceted. At any point in the playing experience, it's the audio engineer's job to immerse you and transport you into a living, breathing world. This can involve defining the ambient sounds that you hear in different zones within a game, but with so many different types of sounds in the average game, it then becomes a delicate job of meshing these together in the perfect way.
The backing track should be immersive, but not deafening. During cutscenes, the character voices must be in-sync with the game's animation and sound crisp. In essence, the entire sound track of a game is an audio engineer's responsibility, so it's not for the faint of heart!
Languages/programs used: Digital audio workstation (REAPER, Pro Tools, etc), Wwise, mixing tools
Unique requirement: A great musical sense and the ability to mix and master audio.
Types of hiring companies: Game studios.
5. Quality assurance
Job function: Quality assurance (QA) testers are the individuals that comb through a game title to identify any bugs that exist, ranging from huge, game-ruining errors that make the game unplayable to smaller, quality-of-life issues. They're the last line of defence before a game, DLC, or patch is released to the world.
Primary responsibilities: The primarily responsibility of a QA tester is fairly straightforward, but absolutely crucial for the quality of the game. QA testers will test a game from top to bottom, making record of any bugs or irregularities they encounter so the game development team can rectify them.
While this may sound simple on the surface, QA testers need to rigorously run through a game so they can account for the potentially millions of players that will be doing the same in the future. That means covering all eventualities of how the in-game world might be used. What if, during the main storyline, a player takes an alternative route than the one the game designers intended? Is the level still going to function? Do they miss out on any items that are essential to the quest, or are there any areas of the map that are off the beaten track and riddled with bugs or code issues?
These are the types of questions QA testers must ask themselves. And, upon discovering a bug, they need to document it in a clear, concise manner; there's no use in reporting something the developers can't recreate.
Languages/programs used: Project management systems (Scrum, JIRA, etc)
Unique requirement: An eye for detail, clear communication skills, and a cursory knowledge of game development.
Types of hiring companies: Game studios.
6. Software development
Job function: While 'software development' is a broad term, jobs in this sector involve programming the backend features of a website or technical product. It's the behind-the-scenes work that make features—and indeed the product as a whole—function as it should.
Primary responsibilities: The responsibilities of a software developer can vary. It will always involve writing code and building features, but some of the specifics may vary. If you're in a startup company or a small team, you might only be working with a few other developers, so you might need to wear some additional hats like picking up devops-related tasks as they come up.
In larger teams, you'll likely have a set focus or department that you work in. This could be building internal tools to save the company time in other areas, working on upcoming features, or writing new APIs/maintaining existing ones.
Another key responsibility in software development jobs at the intermediate level and above is the code review of other developers. Code reviews are an essential way that junior developers can improve and learn to correct any mistakes they're prone to, so it falls to the more seasoned developers on a team to fill this role.
Unique requirement: Problem-solving skills and the ability to work within other people's code.
Types of hiring companies: Any company involved in gaming or tech.
Job function: IT professionals support a company by managing their technical software and hardware. This can involve getting new team members set up on their devices, to infrastructure duties, to managing the network in order to avoid downtime.
Primary responsibilities: People that work in IT are likely to wear various hats. A key responsibility of IT professionals is managing the company's server infrastructure and avoiding downtime. For game studios, a crash in the server could cause millions of players to be unable to access the service. Too many of these will frustrate the community, and the game itself will develop a reputation for being unstable. This also goes for websites being inaccessible. If either of these are down, it's never a good look.
Another component of the job is supporting the wider company with their tech needs. A common form of this is through administration work, such as setting new hires up with their workstation and getting them hooked up with access to company email and any other programs they require, as well as maintaining the equipment used, managing software updates, and replacing it with better tech when needed.
Languages/programs used: MySQL, MongoDB, Linux, MacOS
Unique requirement: Database management, knowledge of hardware, network management.
Types of hiring companies: Medium to large tech companies.
8. UI Programming
Job function: UI programmers work within the UI/UX team of a game studio to implement the designs provided to them into the game engine. For this reason, it's important that they understand the fundamentals of UI/UX design but also have the ability to write high quality code.
Primary responsibilities: The key responsibility of a UI programmer is to flesh out the user interface in-game, but what does this actually entail? Well, after receiving designs from other members of the team, these need to be programmed into the game engine. Decisions need to be made on how certain objects will perform when you press them and what you can do to improve the general flow and smoothness of the game. Whilst the UI designers put together the layout, it's the UI programmer's job to make this something that's easy to interact with and functions as the UI designer envisioned.
UI programming is a collaborative role, so another element of this job is working with the wider UI team to make sure the player experience is the very best it can be. If something a UI designer wanted to implement isn't technically possible, then considerations need to be made of how this can be addressed. It might be that the general idea is possible—it just needs to be tweaked—or it could be something that needs to be written off all together. Either way, a UI programmer's input is invaluable here.
Languages used: C++ and C#
Unique requirement: An understanding of UI systems and best practises.
Types of hiring companies: Game studios.
9. Web development
Job function: To develop and build websites and web products.
Primary responsibilities: A web developer, as the name suggests, works on developing and maintaining websites and web applications. It's a programming role with an added emphasis on design, as the best web developers will be able to code features that work smoothly and also look great. Common responsibilities for a web developer are building new pages and features both externally, to be used by a company's users, as well as internally to support staff members.
As such, another responsibility of web developers can be to produce wireframes and design mock-ups that they'll later code into reality. This is a multi-faceted job role that lies in the middle of design and programming.
Unique requirement: Some proficiency in design.
Types of hiring companies: Startups, tech companies, service providers.
Job function: To eliminate unnecessary work and tasks from your teammates, and utilize automation to speed up team workflows.
Primary responsibilities: DevOps professionals support a company's engineering team in several ways. For one, they seek to speed up workflows and deployment processes wherever possible. This could be by introducing new automation systems or generally improving how a company releases new code updates. They might also be building tools for other members of the development team to streamline their regular duties.
DevOps also collaborates closely with IT in order to maintain the company server's health and infrastructure by troubleshooting issues that arise, as well as supporting the 24-7 live support rotation we mentioned earlier. This will especially happen during major code releases.
Languages/programs used: Docker, Ansible, SQL, Python, Ruby
Unique requirement: Capability to set up automated tools and systems.
Types of hiring companies: Game studios and large tech companies.
Those are the main types of programming jobs that exist in the industry, and we hope this list has helped you better understand the different career paths you could go into!
Whatever you do choose, we'll be here to champion your career search the whole way.
Best of luck from all of us here at Hitmarker! 🧡