Games developers are involved in the creation and production of games that range from computer, handheld, console and arcade games to games on the internet, mobile phones and other wireless game applications. Their work involves either design (including art and animation) or programming.
Games development is a fast-moving, multi-billion pound industry. The making of a game from concept to finished product can take up to three years and involve teams of up to 200 professionals. There are many stages, including creating and designing a game’s look and how it plays, animating characters and objects, creating audio, programming, localisation, testing and producing.
The games developer job title covers a broad area of work and there are many specialisms within the industry. These include:
Tasks vary depending on your specialist area but may include:
Salary figures are intended as a guide only.
Although this role is open to graduates in all subject areas, a relevant degree, HND or foundation degree in one of the following subjects may increase your chances:
Entry without a degree, HND or foundation degree is sometimes possible with relevant experience, although most people who work in games are graduates.
An alternative entry route into games development is as a quality assurance technician or tester. Although you do not need to have an HND or degree to enter at this level, some programming experience is desirable, as well as extensive experience of game playing, an understanding of different styles, and platforms and database skills.
A relevant postgraduate qualification, while not essential, may be useful, especially if your first degree or HND does not involve a games specialism element. Several universities offer Masters degrees in games-related specialisms.
With the increasing popularity of games and advances in technology, the industry offers a wide range of opportunities, but competition is intense at all levels and games developers need to demonstrate a high level of commitment and achievement. It is essential that you create a portfolio (for artistic roles) or working demo (for programming roles) with examples of work you have created. This gives employers a good idea of your talent and creativity. The ability to code in C++, scripting experience and knowledge of specific software tools are also useful skills.
Relevant work experience gained, for example, through an industrial placement during your degree, is also valuable.
Candidates will need to show evidence of the following:
A strong interest in games and knowledge of the industry is also vital. Get involved in online forums to increase your knowledge of current industry hot topics and read relevant games development magazines, such as Game Developer or 3D World .
Entry-level jobs are rarely advertised so it is important to build up contacts in the industry. Approach companies speculatively, making sure you do your research first and target your application accordingly. Any recruitment tends to be via company websites, through specialist recruitment agencies or advertised in specialist games publications.
It is widely predicted in the industry that games will become even closer to film in terms of technological advances. Because of this, skills in cinematography or story writing are likely to be welcomed within the games development role. As games are sold internationally, developers also need to have a good level of cultural awareness so that games are appropriate to their markets.
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Games developers often begin at a junior level and are managed by a more experienced lead developer, who will give training on the job. The games development industry is fast-moving, with changing technology, software packages and working methods, so an ability to manage your own learning and keep up to date with technological developments is essential.
Quality assurance testers within games development can take the BCS Professional Certification in Software Testing at Foundation, Intermediate, Practitioner or Higher level to increase their knowledge and employability. The BCS (The Chartered Institute for IT) also provides a range of accredited courses for IT professionals.
e-skills UK - The Sector Skills Council for Business and Information Technology promotes continuing professional development (CPD) in the sector and supports the professional development of graduate IT professionals during the early years of their career.
Creative Skillset: The Sector Skills Council for the Creative Industries advertises a range of relevant courses on their website, for example in 3D modelling and animation, for those entering the design side of games development. These courses range from short training courses to Masters degrees.
Games developers are expected to acquire confidence in new technical skills as part of their job and some companies develop their own software, specific to their needs. Much of the training is done in-house and on the job.
A common entry route into games development is to begin as a quality assurance tester. Testers can then progress to a lead tester role within a few years and then potentially move on to the design or production side or into management. Entry is also possible straight into programming and artist roles, although previous experience is preferred.
Career progression within games development is relatively fast. Many who enter the industry at junior level end up at lead level within five to seven years and can reach senior level within their first ten years. Senior-level positions include technical directors, developers, producers and team managers. Higher level and specialist programming skills are increasingly in short supply and this is currently an area in which career development can be particularly fast.
There are also opportunities to develop your career overseas. Games development jobs can be found in several other countries including Japan, the USA, Canada, Germany, France and Scandinavia.
Freelance work is possible and, with experience, some games developers choose to build up their own business and set up their own development studio or similar.
Recent significant developments in the industry include the growth in the use of the internet and online multiplayer gaming. Most games now have an online component whereby players can compete with others across the world. In addition, smartphones and handheld games devices have led to developments in wireless platforms and interactive game applications. As a result, there are opportunities to move into these newer areas of games development.
There are about 485 computer games businesses (the majority of which are games development companies) in the UK, employing over 7,000 people (Skillset, 2011). The UK is the fourth largest games-producing country in the world after the USA, Japan and Canada. The industry is also strong in Europe.
Employers are largely games developers or games publishers. Development studios may be owned by a publisher or may be independent and they may do business internationally, nationally or regionally. Games production companies and studios vary in size from small companies employing fewer than five people to multinational studios employing hundreds.
As well as games for PCs, consoles or handheld gaming devices, games are created in a variety of different forms and can be commissioned by such diverse clients as educational institutions, broadcasters, DVD and CD-ROM authoring companies, information providers such as local and national government, Internet Service Providers (ISPs), marketing and advertising agencies, mobile phone companies and design companies.
Project work accounts for a considerable proportion of employment in this field. For many games projects, developers work in teams. For example, it may take a team of up to 200 people to design a prestigious game. Developers may work on a project for a long period of time as games can take up to three years to complete.
Specialist recruitment agencies regularly handle vacancies for games development; for example, try:
The Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) is the professional body for recruitment agencies. Visit their website for a list of relevant member agencies.
Entry-level jobs are rarely advertised so speculative applications to companies you are interested in can be useful. The Association for UK Interactive Entertainment (UKIE) and Datascope have lists of UK games developer/video games companies and publishers.
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