Career Insight

What is a Video Game Developer and How Do I Become One?

Remember being a kid, barely old enough to hold a controller, and marveling at the landscapes and features of your favorite video games? Maybe that passion you felt gave way to the dream of one day making a video game of your own. You’d help craft a riveting story, build huge and inviting levels, and release the next big installment for all to explore. Well, now is the time to do some exploring of your own! Let’s take a closer look at what makes a video game developer, what their day-to-day life is like, and how you can prepare to join the profession.

What is a Video Game Developer?

Video game developers, or game programmers, are the professionals behind the software and programming efforts that develop games into the fully accomplished works you know and love. They spend months (and even years) creating the artificial intelligence used to dictate non-playable character actions, building fundamental mechanics, and fixing any issues that can potentially arise. To accomplish this, programmers write code using their knowledge of popular game development programming languages including Java, C++, and Python. They also need experience using game engines such as Unreal, CRYENGINE, or Unity. These are software frameworks with relevant libraries and support programs used to develop video games.

But life as a video game developer isn’t just spent in front of a screen. These tech professionals are experts at delegating tasks to their team of coders and master communicators, ensuring everything the design team creates gets as close to their vision as possible.

Let’s Talk Salary

It’s important to remember video game developer salaries vary depending on experience, the hiring company, and even the general time in which you get the job. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for computer programmers including video game developers is $93,000.¹

Video Game Developer Responsibilities

The primary responsibility of a video game developer is to take the designs and assets the game design and art departments produce and bring them to life. In essence, they’re the technical side of the crew, who use their knowledge of computer programming to create the game’s infrastructure. While they generally write thousands of lines of code to build the gaming experience, video game developers can also go the length of a production without actually working on the game itself.

When working with a large team of coders, game programmers may instead build tools and frameworks that will help the rest of the team complete their assignments. Or they can spend a majority of their time aiding the audio team to ensure game sounds play exactly when they’re needed. In fact, one of the most important video game developer duties involves zero computers! When game designers bring ideas to the table that are too ambitious for the project, video game developers are there to tactfully say no.

Once the development team has everything it needs to continue and complete its tasks, it’s the video game developer’s job to help finalize other aspects of the game. For instance, whether the game is a 2D platformer or a 3D first-person shooter, it’s the game programmer’s job to ensure the camera is always where it needs to be. If the design team is working on a certain asset, such as a vehicle, it’s not uncommon for video game developers to step in and help.

Let’s Talk Skills

Video game developers must possess a well-rounded set of hard skills to help them complete the technical aspect of their job effectively. Some of these skills include:

  • Software engineering
  • Math and physics
  • Code review
  • Knowledge of object-oriented programming languages such as Java, C++, and C#
  • Familiarity with game engines such as Unreal, Unity, and CRYENGINE

The video game industry is all about team interaction, which means strong soft skills are also a must. These attributes include leadership, time management, problem-solving, and, perhaps most importantly, communication skills. Video game developers need to communicate well with all team members, relaying important information and directions. This means having the ability to take the most technical information possible and shape it into something anyone can understand.

The Day-to-Day

Generally, video game developers begin their day sorting through their emails and messages. They organize any important information and outline their tasks to prepare for the day ahead. Meetings are important to keep the project on track, so it’s common to attend multiple meetings per week. At these meetings, team members discuss the status of their projects, the outlook of future tasks, and any concerns or questions they may have.

Any time spent outside of meetings is usually allotted to the development process, writing code, testing, debugging, and assisting other team members when possible. A day in the life of a game programmer can sometimes get hectic, especially as deadlines draw closer. These crunch times usually mean work piles up, days become longer, and the environment becomes a little more frantic. While crunch time does not always happen, it’s important to prepare for it if you want to pursue a career in video game development.

Becoming a Video Game Developer

One of the first steps to becoming a video game developer is preparation. Whether you attend a 4-year institution or a coding school, building a foundation with computer science, software engineering, and coding skills is a must. Different video game studios prefer different programming languages, so learning more than one is generally advised. We recommend starting with the following:

  • Java
  • C
  • C++
  • C#
  • JavaScript
  • Python

Additionally, knowledge of 3D models, game engines, and software creation is eye-catching for hiring managers and always a good addition to your resume. Studios are interested in seeing the work you produce. This means a developer portfolio cannot be overlooked. An effective portfolio showcases the projects you’ve produced as well as the ones you’ve been a part of. When displaying a team project, always provide a clear and detailed description of your contribution. Remember, your portfolio showcases how you can be an influential asset to any company, so highlight projects that truly represent your skills, abilities, and strengths.

Begin Your Quest With Kenzie Academy

Our Software Engineering certificate program specializes in Java, one of the pillar programming languages in the video game industry. With Kenzie, you’ll learn Java fundamentals through a hands-on approach with project-based learning and the support of our dedicated course facilitators.

At Kenzie, you can also take a Career Curriculum class and get assistance from Career Services. They’ll help you calibrate your technical artifacts such as your resume, build your job search strategy, prepare for your interviews, and more. Apply today or contact us to learn more.


References: Sources & Citations (1)

¹Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, on the internet, at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/computer-programmers.htm#tab-1 (viewed June 27, 2022).

Cited projections may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions and do not guarantee actual job growth.

Ready to Discuss Your Future In Tech?

Click the button below to apply today!

Apply Now

Related Reading