As a games developer you can work in design, programming, art or animation and are likely to progress quickly in this fast-paced industry

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 hand-held devices. Your work will usually be concerned with either design (including art and animation) or programming.

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 and producing.

Types of games developer

The games developer job title covers a broad area of work and there are many specialisms within the industry. These include:

  • quality assurance tester;
  • programmer, with various specialisms such as network, engine, toolchain and artificial intelligence;
  • audio engineer;
  • artist, including concept artist, animator and 3D modeller;
  • producer;
  • editor;
  • designer;
  • special effects technician.

Responsibilities

The exact work you carry out will vary depending on your specialist area but it may include:

  • developing designs or initial concept designs for games including game play;
  • generating game scripts and storyboards;
  • creating the visual aspects of the game at the concept stage;
  • using 2D or 3D modelling and animation software, such as Maya, at the production stage;
  • producing the audio features of the game, such as the character voices, music and sound effects;
  • programming the game using programming languages such as C++;
  • quality testing games in a systematic and thorough way to find problems or bugs and recording precisely where the problem was discovered;
  • solving complex technical problems that occur within the game's production;
  • disseminating knowledge to colleagues, clients, publishers and gamers;
  • understanding complex written information, ideas and instructions;
  • working closely with team members to meet the needs of a project;
  • planning resources and managing both the team and the process;
  • performing effectively under pressure and meeting deadlines to ensure the game is completed on time.

Salary

  • Typical starting salaries for artists/animators and programmers in games development are around £19,000 to £25,000. Entry-level roles, such as quality assurance tester, may attract a lower salary.
  • Once you have a few years' experience, you may earn salaries in the region of £35,000 up to £50,000.
  • At the higher end of the scale, technical directors, developers, producers and team managers can earn up to £70,000 and beyond.

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

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours are usually flexible, meaning you won't necessarily have to work 9am to 5pm but this can vary depending on your employer. Developers often work a 40-hour week but it can be longer when games completion deadlines have to be met. On these occasions you may be expected to 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. It's not uncommon for team members to be located remotely, both in the UK and other parts of the world.
  • The games industry is traditionally male dominated but employers are looking to redress the balance and networks are in place to help.
  • Jobs can be found around 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.
  • Extensive hours spent using a mouse and monitor may have health implications, with some potential risk of back problems, eye strain and repetitive strain injury in the wrist and hand.
  • Depending on your specialist area, some overseas travel is possible, although many multinational games companies have their European headquarters in the UK. Occasional travel, including international travel, may be required in order to meet clients, attend training courses or carry out research.

Qualifications

You can become a games developer with any qualification but a relevant degree, HND or foundation degree in one of the following subjects may increase your chances:

  • animation;
  • computer games development or design;
  • computer science;
  • graphic design;
  • interactive media;
  • mathematics;
  • multimedia design;
  • physics;
  • software engineering.

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.

A relevant postgraduate qualification, while not essential, may be useful, especially if your first degree or HND doesn't involve a games specialism element. Search for postgraduate courses in computer game design.

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 show:

  • technical ability, in particular familiarisation with a range of software packages and/or programming languages;
  • the ability to work in a team and liaise with other professionals to complete the complex games;
  • self-motivation and the ability to work independently on your own projects;
  • creativity and problem-solving ability;
  • communication skills;
  • flexibility to meet deadlines and client requirements;
  • enthusiasm for the games industry.

You may also need to demonstrate skills in cinematography or story writing as games become even closer to film in terms of technological advances. It's also important to have a good level of cultural awareness to make sure games are appropriate to international markets.

Work experience

It's 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 programming languages such as 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 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 relevant games development magazines, such as:

Employers

Employers are largely games developers or games publishers. Development studios can be owned by a publisher or may be independent (known as 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 you may need to consider working on a self-employed basis.

Look for job vacancies at:

Specialist recruitment agencies regularly handle vacancies for games development; for example:

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 The Association for UK Interactive Entertainment (UKIE).

Advice on how to get into digital careers and case studies of people working in digital jobs can be found at Bubble Digital Career Portal.

Professional development

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

If you've started as a quality assurance tester within games development, you can take the BCS Professional Certification in Software Testing at Foundation, Intermediate or Higher level to increase your knowledge and employability. A range of other accredited courses for IT professionals are also provided by The BCS (The Chartered Institute for IT) and continuing professional development (CPD) in the sector is supported by Tech Partnership.

You may decide to take a Masters while working in order to specialise in a certain area. Courses in subjects such as games programming, software development and game engineering are available. For details see Creative Skillset Courses.

Career prospects

A common entry route into games development is to begin as a quality assurance tester. You can then progress to a lead tester role within a few years and potentially move on to the design or production side or into management.

Entry is also possible straight into programming and design or artist roles, although previous experience is usually 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.

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, you may choose to build up your own business and set up your own development studio or similar. There is also the option to specialise in the developing areas of the industry such as wireless platforms, interactive game applications and online gaming.