What a video game developer does and how you can become one
Class Summary: What Does a Game Developer Do?
A video game developer is somebody who takes the designs, mechanics, and assets that the game design and art departments have produced and brings them to life. They’re the technical side to the game production team and possess strong computer programming skills and knowledge of game engines. Game developers lay down the code that powers our favorite games.
For clarity, we could do with a few definitions first. At Hitmarker, we use the term ‘game development’ to describe the job sector that is programming games. You’ll sometimes also hear the term used to reference the game development cycle as a whole.
In this article we’ll be talking about the former: what game developers do, what skills are needed in the role, and, if you’re interested in being a game developer yourself, what you can do to increase your chance of landing a job.
Your Primary Quest:
In the simplest terms, developers build a game’s infrastructure. From small details like how water ripples as you pass it to more overarching points like the physics system used within a game, this all needs to be detailed by thousands upon thousands of lines of code. Game developers will work to implement gameplay experiences, revise existing code, and debug parts of the game where needed.
But that’s not all. Game development as a profession is a broad one. You might also find yourself building tools that empower the rest of your team rather than touching the game yourself, so that they can bring their designs to life as seamlessly as possible, or by programming the technology supporting a graphic engine, or by working with the audio team to refine when recorded clips are triggered in game.
It can also be a developer’s job to let game designers know that something isn’t possible, which can be a skill in and of itself to deliver this information tactfully. It’s not the easiest thing to tell somebody that their idea can’t be done.
All in all, there are many facets to being a video game developer, so here are some of the skills that will help you succeed as one.
Another key skill to be building if you think game development is for you is an understanding of how game engines work. Unreal, Unity, and CRYENGINE, are some examples here, with Unreal and Unity being the most common. The good news is that aspiring game developers can download all of these engines for free, so you can play around with the mechanics and get a feel for how the engine works. Engine knowledge is another big requirement in game development jobs, so make sure you’re taking steps to tick that box early.
Aspiring game developers should also be able to explain themselves articulately over written and verbal communication. Crucially, you should be able to convey your ideas to non-technical teammates as you’ll be interfacing regularly with designers, producers, leadership, and other departments. Being able to distill a complex problem down to its simplest form is always going to be a valuable trait.
So you want to be a video game developer? It’s time to build your character profile then!
Don’t skip the tutorial
You don’t necessarily need a degree to be a game developer. While it’s asked for in some positions, it’s not a hard requirement. That said, a formal education is certainly going to be a powerful asset if you do have one to your name whilst job searching. Not only that, but a good computer science course should leave you with a strong foundation across multiple forms of programming — games being one of them.
We are aware that a formal education isn’t practical, nor possible, for everyone. It’s here where we’d recommend other forms of tutorage. There are countless YouTube videos out there that can teach you the fundamentals of game programming as well as how to condense this into a usable portfolio to support your job applications. Online certificates also exist, usually taught by existing or former game development professionals, which could be something for you to consider if it’s within your means.
The three C’s
Unlike traditional software development where there’s a whole array of programming languages that a company might ask for, video game development is different in the sense that C, C#, and C++ make up the vast, vast majority of positions.
What this means as a junior or aspiring developer is that you know what you need to start mastering. C is the foundational language of the three, but different studios work in different languages, so it’s certainly beneficial to have a good grasp of them all.
C# is an easier language to learn than C++, but C++ is the most commonly used across PC, Xbox, and PlayStation games — except for those that are running Unity. As such, if you’re wondering which programming language you should learn if you want to be a game developer, we’d advise all three, with a primary focus on C++.
As to where you can learn these languages, we’d refer to the above section: YouTube, articles, online courses, and formal education are all possible avenues.
Buy the extra armour
As a junior game developer, you’ll likely be working closely with a more senior member of the team. It’s important here to seek out and listen to feedback about your work as often as you can. We’ve heard it from numerous professionals in the games industry that feedback is invaluable, so always look to buff yourself up with it wherever possible — whether that’s through colleagues, online forums like Reddit, or something else.
Never start a quest unprepared. Here is some essential equipment you’ll need to succeed as a video game developer.
No matter the point of your career that you’re at, you should have a resume that conveys who you are as a professional. When applying for game development positions, you should look to highlight any experience you have programming, whether that’s in school, your own projects, or indeed professionally. The skills you should hone in on are communication and math ability.
Mods, personal projects, and code examples
Something that can benefit junior developers as they look for their first job in the industry is having something to showcase their ability, and there’s a few ways to do this.
First, it’s not uncommon for companies to accept a modding background in their junior listings as acceptable work experience. This is where people have gone into an original game and changed elements in the codebase. If you can present modding experience well, then the company will see your work in action. This will be even more effective if you’ve modded a game that’s relevant to the job or studio you’re applying to, as you’ll both have worked in the same code base.
Personal projects are another good way to showcase your ability, and the free game engines we mentioned earlier are an effective tool to produce something tangible. You could then present this to a hiring company so they can actively see you’re qualified for their position.
Another regular occurrence in junior game development positions is companies asking for a code sample. This could be in the form of a personal portfolio or a GitHub page — either way, you’re providing the company with a flavor of what you can do, so we’d certainly recommend aspiring developers have one of these prepared.
Game developer salary
If you decide that video game development is the right job for you, and you have taken the right steps to prepare yourself for this career path, what can you expect to earn?
Entry level positions can start at around $40-50k per year, heading to upwards of $100k annually for senior and lead positions. The industry average in the US is around $70k, according to Glassdoor.
If this sounds like your ideal career, then why hesitate? Take a look at all the game dev jobs currently open on Hitmarker here.
Good luck with your search — we're here to help however we can.