You'll need a passion for games, technical skills and the ability to work on your own and with a team to succeed as a games developer

Working in games development, you'll be involved in the creation and production of games for personal computers, games consoles, social/online games, arcade games, tablets, mobile phones and other handheld devices.

Large games companies producing console games, for example, will employ games developers as programmers. You may focus on a particular area of programming such as network, engine, graphic, toolchain and artificial intelligence. In these roles, you're unlikely to have any involvement in the visual design or the story.

However, if you're developing a small independent 'indie' game, there's often much less of a distinction between the role of developer and designer, and your job may incorporate both programming and design. In these roles, development is in the broader sense to mean making the game.

The making of a game from concept to finished product can take years and involve teams of professionals. There are several stages, including creating and designing a game's look and how it plays, animating characters and objects, creating audio, programming, localisation, testing, editing and producing.

Responsibilities

The exact work you carry out will vary depending on the game you're producing and the size of the company you work for. You may focus solely on turning the designer's vision into reality or be involved in the whole process from the design onwards.

You will need to:

  • design, develop and deliver systems and high quality code using programming languages, such as C++ and C#
  • perform code reviews to ensure code quality
  • refactor code to improve the design of existing code
  • quality test coding in a systematic and thorough way to find problems or bugs and record precisely where the problem was discovered
  • debug programs and solve complex technical problems that occur within the game's production
  • work closely with games development team members to meet the needs of a project
  • work closely with designers, artists and other staff involved in the design process in order to create a quality product to schedule
  • perform effectively under pressure and meet deadlines to ensure a game is completed on time.

Depending on the role you may also:

  • develop designs or initial concept designs for games including game play
  • generate game scripts and storyboards
  • create the visual aspects of the game at the concept stage
  • use 2D or 3D modelling and animation software, such as Maya, at the production stage
  • produce the audio features of the game, such as character voices, music and sound effects.

In a more senior position, you might:

  • have responsibility for technical strategy and execution of projects from concept to market
  • plan resources and manage both the development team and the process.

Salary

  • Typical starting salaries are around £19,000 to £25,000.
  • Once you have a few years' experience, you may earn a salary in the region of £35,000 up to £50,000.
  • One you're in a senior position, such as team leader or technical director, your salary can range from £55,000 to in excess of £75,000.

Salaries vary depending on your specialism, as well as on the type of company you work for, its size and location. Some companies offer bonuses or a profit-sharing scheme.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Developers often work a 40-hour week, although the role offers some flexibility and you won't necessarily work 9am to 5pm. You may have to work extra hours when deadlines approach. On these occasions you could work over the weekend and into evenings.

What to expect

  • The role is typically office, studio or production house based, although if you're a freelancer you may be able to work from home. Team members may be located remotely, either in the UK or other parts of the world.
  • Jobs are available throughout the UK although the largest concentrations are in London and the South East, the Midlands, and major cities such as Bristol, Cardiff, Sheffield, Manchester and Edinburgh.
  • The working environment is often informal and the dress code is usually casual, although this may depend on the amount of client contact you have.
  • You may need to travel occasionally to meet clients, attend training courses or carry out research.

Qualifications

Although you can become a games developer with any degree subject, employers often look for a degree, HND or foundation degree in:

  • computer games (development or design)
  • computer games programming
  • computer science
  • games technology
  • mathematics
  • physics
  • software engineering.

If your work includes design as well as development, a degree in a subject such as animation, interactive media, games design and art or graphic design may be useful. The Independent Games Developers' Association (TIGA) accredits a number of games courses at both undergraduate and postgraduate level.

Entry without a degree, HND or foundation degree is sometimes possible, particularly if you have relevant experience, although most people who work in games are graduates.

An alternative route into games development is as a quality assurance technician or tester. Although you don't need to have an HND or degree for this role, some programming experience is desirable, as well as extensive experience of game playing, an understanding of different styles, and platforms and database skills.

Although having a postgraduate qualification isn't essential it might be useful, especially if your first degree or HND doesn't involve a games specialism element.

With the increasing popularity of games and advances in technology, the industry offers a range of opportunities, but competition is intense at all levels and you'll need to demonstrate a high level of commitment and achievement.

Skills

You will need to have:

  • technical ability, in particular familiarisation with a range of programming languages and/or software packages
  • team working skills to liaise with other developers and other teams involved in making a game
  • self-motivation and the ability to work independently on your own projects
  • a creative and innovative approach to solving complex technical problems
  • communication skills
  • flexibility to meet deadlines and client requirements
  • organisational skills to manage and prioritise your workload effectively
  • attention to detail
  • a forward-thinking approach to work and willingness to keep learning and developing your skills
  • enthusiasm for and knowledge of the games industry.

Work experience

It's essential that you create a working demo with examples of game programming you've created to show employers your technical skills and creativity. The ability to code in programming languages such as C++, scripting experience and knowledge of specific software tools are also useful skills. For design roles, you should also have a portfolio of your artistic work.

Relevant work experience gained, for example, through an industrial placement during your degree, is also valuable and may help you to network and build contacts.

A strong interest in games and a knowledge of the industry is vital. Get involved in online forums to increase your knowledge of current industry hot topics and read games development magazines.

Employers

Employers are largely games developers or games publishers. Development studios can be owned by a publisher or may be indies, and business can be done 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.

Games are created in a variety of different forms and as well as being used for PCs and games consoles, they 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
  • design companies.

Project work accounts for a considerable proportion of employment in this field. Fixed-term contracts or freelance work may be available and there are opportunities to work on a self-employed basis.

Look for job vacancies at:

Specialist recruitment agencies handle vacancies for games development. Examples include:

Entry-level jobs are rarely advertised so it's important to build up contacts in the industry. Approach companies speculatively, making sure you do your research first and target your application accordingly. For lists of UK games developer/video games companies and publishers, see UK Interactive Entertainment (UKIE).

Professional development

You'll typically begin at a junior level and will train on the job under the supervision of a more experienced lead developer. Some companies develop their own software, specific to their needs and much of the training for this is done in-house.

As the games development industry is fast-moving, with changing technology, software packages and working methods, you must be willing to manage your own learning, teach yourself new skills and keep up to date with technological developments.

It's also possible to study at postgraduate level to develop your skills in a specialist area of games development. Courses in subjects such as games programming, software development and game engineering are available.

Search for postgraduate courses in computer game design.

Career prospects

Career progression within games development can be 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.

It's also possible to specialise in the developing areas of the industry such as wireless platforms, interactive game applications and online gaming.

There are also opportunities to develop your career overseas. Games development jobs can be found in countries such as Japan, the USA, Canada, Germany, France and Scandinavia.

Freelance work is possible once you've built up experience. - you could start a business and set up your own development studio.