As a game artist, you'll apply your creative and technical skills, using specialist software packages, to create visuals for digital games

Game artists use software packages to create the visual elements of a game in either 3D or 2D for one or more platforms, such as mobile, PC, arcade or console.

You'll typically work as part of a multidisciplinary team with designers, developers, animators and quality assurance testers, as well as those involved in the management and marketing of the game.

Job titles vary and may include 3D artist, games artist, environment artist, character artist, texture artist or lighting artist.

Types of work

In larger game companies in particular, you may specialise and work on a specific area of art, such as:

  • character
  • texture
  • environment
  • lighting
  • specific assets, such as vehicles or weapons.

Roles may not have such clear boundaries in smaller (independent, or 'indie') companies, and you may get involved in other elements of the game creation process such as design or development (programming).

2D artists are sometimes known as 'concept artists' and their sketches can help 3D artists to picture what the game could look like.

Responsibilities

Specific duties and responsibilities will depend upon the size of the company and the nature of your role. These may be broader and less clearly defined in a smaller company.

As a game artist, you'll need to:

  • create high-quality artwork for a game, such as the texture, characters, environment or certain assets
  • ensure artwork follows the agreed project style
  • work collaboratively with other game artists, as well as members of the wider team, such as designers, developers, animators, quality assurance testers, and those involved in management and marketing
  • take on board and implement feedback from the art lead by making appropriate changes to the artwork you've produced
  • report progress to your manager/lead artist on a regular basis
  • work to deadlines to help the team to produce the game efficiently and in line with the required schedule
  • keep your skill set up to date and learn about new software as and when required.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for game artists are typically between £18,000 and £25,000.
  • More experienced and senior artists can earn between £30,000 and £40,000.
  • Lead artists can earn higher salaries ranging from £40,000 to in excess of £60,000.

Salaries vary depending upon the type of company you work for, including its location and size. Salaries are often negotiable, depending on your experience.

Some companies offer additional benefits such as health insurance, gym membership, profit-sharing schemes, bonuses and extended holidays.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours are usually 35 to 40 hours per week between 9am and 5pm, but flexible working may be possible. You may need to work early mornings, evenings and weekends at busier times, particularly as deadlines approach.

The majority of game artists are employed on a full-time basis. Some positions will be on a fixed-term or contract basis and you may be able to work as a freelancer once you have experience. Part-time working is uncommon.

What to expect

  • You'll sit at a desk in an office or studio environment and work on a computer for extended periods of time. Work can be pressured, particularly when deadlines are approaching.
  • Jobs are available across the UK, but the highest concentrations of game companies are in London, Manchester, Guildford and Aldershot, Slough, Heathrow, Cambridge, Bristol, Sheffield, Glasgow and Liverpool. The majority of game companies in the UK are microbusinesses, with only a handful of employees. Larger companies will employ more staff, so the proportion of roles available in a particular area will depend on both the number and size of companies.
  • Women and ethnic minority groups are under-represented in the profession. Women in Games is a not-for-profit organisation which works towards getting more women into the games industry, as well as helping to support those already employed. BAME in Games encourages more diverse talent into both the games and wider entertainment industry.
  • The dress code is usually informal.
  • You may need to travel occasionally to represent your company at conferences or events.

Qualifications

You don't need a degree, foundation degree or HND to become a game artist, as most employers will judge candidates based on their experience and portfolio. However, many individuals entering the industry will have a relevant degree in a subject such as:

  • games art
  • computer games modelling.

The Independent Games Developers' Association (TIGA) accredits a number of games courses at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. It's important to look at what exactly you'll be covering on a specific course, as titles and content vary. Search for a TIGA-accredited course at TIGA - University Accreditation.

Other courses that may be relevant include:

  • game design
  • animation
  • graphic design
  • interactive media.

There's high competition for entry-level art roles so getting relevant work experience, as well as having a strong online portfolio, can help to boost your chances. Networking and entering relevant competitions is also beneficial.

Although new entrants to the industry normally start in a junior/intern art role, working in a different role - as a quality assurance tester, for instance - could be another way to enter the industry.

Skills

You'll need to have:

  • good communication and teamworking skills, to be able to liaise effectively with other game artists and members of the wider team
  • self-motivation and the ability to work independently for extended periods
  • the ability to calmly problem-solve issues that may arise in an environment which can be pressured
  • strong organisational and time management skills to enable you to work to deadlines and complete tasks efficiently
  • excellent attention to detail to ensure work is completed to a high standard and in line with the desired style
  • the knowledge and technical ability to effectively use computer software packages and tools such as ZBrush, Maya, 3DS Max, Substance Painter, Mudbox and Photoshop
  • a good understanding of games engines, such as Unity or Unreal
  • a desire to keep building your skill set and to learn how to use new software packages as they come onto the market
  • a knowledge of, and passion for, games and the games industry.

Work experience

There's strong competition for entry-level game artist roles, and getting relevant work experience can help you to stand out. It's an opportunity to build up your much-needed portfolio and strengthen your CV. Companies will want to see that you've done more than just complete your degree.

Undertaking a sandwich placement as part of your degree could be a good way to get industry experience and to build contacts in the field. Internships do come up from time to time, particularly with bigger companies, and it's important to do your research and contact companies in good time.

Look out for opportunities to take part in game jams, where you collaborate with others (such as developers) to create a game within a short space of time. Sites such as itch.io and Indie Game Jams list upcoming game jams.

You can also get involved in competitions such as Grads in Games, which run the annual Rising Star and Search for a Star challenges. Consider joining Ukie (UK Interactive Entertainment) as a student member to find out about exclusive networking opportunities, game jams and internships.

Even creating a game in your own time will be looked upon favourably by employers as this shows your motivation and enthusiasm to keep working on your skills. You could team up with someone who has the required coding skills.

As well as responding to advertised work experience opportunities, you could increase your chances by applying speculatively to companies of interest when no role is advertised.

Employers

Employers are mostly game developers or publishers, with the majority being indie studios. However, companies vary in size considerably, from those with a handful of employees to those employing hundreds.

The use of computer games is diverse and opportunities for employment are widening. They're now being used in a range of industries, including:

  • broadcasting
  • education
  • entertainment
  • gambling/betting
  • learning and development
  • marketing.

This means there can be opportunities to work for companies outside of the more obvious entertainment games industry, or to work on games for non-traditional purposes.

Opportunities also exist to work abroad. China, Germany, Japan and the US, for example, have large games industries.

Look for job vacancies at:

Specialist recruitment agencies include:

Roles may not always be advertised, particularly those that are entry-level or with smaller companies. Networking is therefore particularly important, as is making tailored speculative applications.

Platforms, such as ArtStation and LinkedIn can help you to showcase your work and make connections. To find employers, visit sites such as Ukie - Explore and Made in Creative UK.

Professional development

Training is typically on the job and you'll receive guidance from more experienced colleagues, and may have the chance to shadow them. There is often in-house training available in relevant software packages, for example, which may be peer-to-peer.

It's important that you use your initiative and seek out opportunities to develop and keep your skills up to date as the games industry is fast moving. Being aware of software and technological developments, for example, is important. Look to websites such as ArtStation and Polycount for tutorials, forums and community competitions. Video sharing platforms such as YouTube are also places where you can learn new skills and develop your existing ones.

Relevant training and events across the UK are advertised by Ukie. You can sign up for free to their newsletter. Attending relevant events can help you to network with others in the field and find out about opportunities. Find out more at Ukie - Events & training.

You could also undertake a postgraduate course to develop your skills further. Courses are available in areas such as 3D games art, 3D computer animation and virtual reality game design and development.

Search postgraduate courses in games art.

Career prospects

The game industry is growing, which means that once you've managed to get your first role, career prospects are generally good. Game artists with the right combination of skills, knowledge and experience should be able to do well.

Competition for entry-level posts is strong and you'll normally start in a junior art/intern role, although it's possible to get into the industry through work in quality assurance. You could then progress into a mid-level game artist role. After around three to six years you could move onto a senior art role. It usually takes a minimum of five years' experience in the industry to become a lead artist with management responsibility. After experience in a lead position, you may be able to move onto higher-level roles such as art director.

The range of opportunities available and the time it takes to progress depend on a range of factors. These include the size and type of company you work for, the needs of the company and your skills and experience - including the types of games you've worked on, such as triple A (AAA) or double A (AA) games.

You could choose to specialise in a specific area, such as virtual reality (VR) or mobile gaming, or move into game design. You could also branch out into 2D or 3D art for other areas of media and interactive entertainment or alternative industries, such as marketing or education.

With experience, there are opportunities to work on a freelance basis or set up your own game development studio.