Video game sales surpassed the £4billion mark in 2020, showing that the UK's gaming industry is going from strength to strength - leading to a growing number of opportunities available for video game enthusiasts
UK gaming industry trends and statistics
Prior to the 2020 national lockdown, Britons were already among the biggest global video game consumers - market intelligence company Newzoo reported that as many as 37.3 million people in the UK play video games.
However, the Entertainment Retailers Association (ERA) has revealed how sales are now at record levels - increasing by nearly 15% compared to the previous year - as people inevitably turned to other forms of entertainment they could easily access at home.
This substantial amount of revenue was driven by digital gaming, which accounted for £3.6billion. Players increasingly chose to purchase digital subscriptions, direct to console games and downloads rather than physical media.
Games such as FIFA 21 (2.1 million units sold), Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War (1.4 million) and Grand Theft Auto V (1.1 million) have proved to be global hits for UK gaming companies - of which there are about 2,284, according to Ukie, the industry body for the UK's gaming and interactive entertainment sector.
Ukie's Playing On report (July 2020) has highlighted the resilience of the UK games industry during COVID-19 and its importance to the economy in recovering from the pandemic. Games businesses were operating at around 80% productivity during the restrictions and how it rose to meet these challenges shows how the future-proof sector can play a huge role in the nation's rebuild.
Virtual reality (VR)/augmented reality (AR) and artificial intelligence (AI) are among the industry's fastest-developing technologies - especially following the success of Sony's PlayStation Virtual Reality (PSVR) headset, which is becoming more affordable for casual gamers.
The release of Sony's new PlayStation 5, console with 4.5 million units sold worldwide in late 2020 despite demand far exceeding supply, shows how gamers are still keen to have the latest technology in their homes and means that the future of gaming looks very bright indeed.
Jobs in the gaming industry
Trade association TIGA has reported that the nation's games development workforce is now 18,279 strong - up by over 12% from November 2018 to April 2020 - the fastest growth it has recorded (since 2007).
It's therefore no surprise that this entertainment form is becoming an increasingly popular career choice, with lots of different technical and creative roles available for those with a passion for gaming.
To get started, you'll need to decide what type of game industry job you're interested in. Here are the three most common roles on offer:
- Game artist - Your job is to create concept art, storyboards, and designs for packaging and marketing materials. You'll need technical ability to master specialist software packages and tools such as ZBrush, Maya, Photoshop, 3DS Max, Substance Painter and Mudbox.
- Game designer - A senior role that involves coming up with original ideas for games and overseeing the creative process. This could be across a number of platforms, including mobile, console and VR/AR. Game design requires a mix of technical and creative skills to develop and test your creations as you may need to work with a range of programming languages and software packages including C#, C++ and Python.
- Game developer/Game programmer - You're responsible for taking the ideas of the designers and writing the code required to build a playable game. It's vital that you're able to understand and follow instructions to bring the creative vision to life. You'll typically work in a team headed by a lead programmer. A knowledge of game programming languages and specialisation in a particular platform, such as PC, mobile or consoles, would aid your progression. You could focus on an area of programming such as AI, audio, controls and interface, game physics or 3D engine development. Learn more about how to be an applications developer. If you're interested in coding games, see IT courses.
Other creative and technical specialists
- Animator - Collaborating with teams of artists, designers and programmers, you'll be responsible for animating the characters and other elements of the in-game environment in a way that matches the overall visual style. You'll require artistic ability and knowledge of technical computer packages such as Maya and 3DS Max. You'll also need to bear in mind the technical strengths and limitations of the game's graphics engine and the platform it's being developed for.
- Audio engineer - Music, sound effects and character voices all play a key role in immersing players in the game world. You'll work with producers and designers to create and mix the soundtrack. A technical understanding of audio recording equipment and software is essential, but you should also be creative and imaginative as your responsibilities may extend to composing music, producing sound effects, and auditioning actors for voice roles. This is similar to being a sound technician in the broadcasting and film industries.
- IT technical support officer - Technical support officers link video game publishers to their audience. You'll be the point of contact for gamers who have issues with the product. Communication skills are essential as you'll need to listen to customer complaints and questions, understand them and resolve them in a professional manner - whether by phone, email or replying to forum posts.
- QA tester - Software testers, or quality assurance (QA) testers, ensure that the product is ready for release. This involves playing the game in various scenarios and on different hardware configurations to check for bugs, inconsistencies and any other faults. You'll need to be able to work methodically, concentrate for long periods and have a great attention to detail. Patience is vital as you'll replay sections of the game repeatedly in your search for anything that needs fixing or improving. You'll also have to communicate your findings and suggest solutions.
If you want to work in the video game industry but aren't interested in technical IT jobs, there are still lots of options. These include:
- Game producer - As well as overseeing the game's development, you'll also be responsible for project management from a business and financial perspective.
- Translator - To localise scripts, in-game text and documentation for sale in international markets.
- Writer - To write scripts, in-game text and instruction manuals. While sometimes known as a narrative designer, you won't typically be heavily involved in the game design process, but will be tasked with creating a story, adding depth to the characters and working within the overall game design structure.
Another alternative - if you're an incredibly skilled player - is to explore the possibility of becoming a professional gamer. The eSports scene continues to grow in popularity, as well as in terms of the money that can be earned. Ukie reported that UK eSports sector generated £11.5million in 2019 and supported over 1,200 jobs.
How to find video game jobs
Job vacancies in the UK game industry are regularly listed on studio websites such as:
- Creative Assembly
- Electronic Arts (EA)
- Rockstar Games
- Sony Studios - PlayStation
- Sports Interactive (SI)
- Team 17
- Traveller's Tales (TT Games)
While many of the bigger game publishers take on graduates, specific gaming graduate schemes are harder to come by compared to other job sectors. Instead, having gained work experience is crucial for landing an entry level role with the likes of Rockstar Games, Codemasters, Ubisoft and Jagex.
Despite the well-publicised commercial success of larger firms, TIGA research showed that nearly three-quarters of UK development companies are micro studios, with four or fewer full-time staff.
Vacancies are often listed on specialist game industry job websites such as GamesJobsDirect and GamesIndustry.biz. You can also search for employers in the UK gaming industry by making use of Ukie's map of game developers and publishers.
Breaking into the gaming industry
To boost your chances of success, attend gaming events and join forums to hear about the latest opportunities. Making contacts is key to working in the industry and you'll need to be armed with a portfolio that showcases your talents. To build your experience, offer to test early versions of games and have a go at designing your own game.
Many gaming professionals choose to work on a freelance basis, explore how to go about this by reading the ScreenSkills Freelance Toolkit designed specifically for those working in the screen industries.
Adam Boyne and two of his fellow students from the University of Hull decided to set up their own company BetaJester after coming up with the idea in their final year.
'When I was looking at universities, I didn't even consider game development as an option,' explains Adam. 'I was always told it was too competitive and that I couldn't get in, but now I'm running my own games company and received funding from the UK Games Fund. It's just about hard work and dedication, but anyone can break into the games industry.'
Adam advises students to first learn how to code, as he only acquired these skills through his degree course. He also took part in a game jam, which revealed to him how much he enjoyed making games. By grasping opportunities at university, this helped him to determine his career path.
Video game courses
If you're interested in going to university to study the subject, you could consider the game-related degrees offered by these universities:
- Abertay University - BA Game Design and Production.
- Birmingham City University - BA Video Game Design and BSc Video Game Development.
- Bournemouth University - BSc Games Design.
- University of Hull - BA Game Design.
- Leeds Beckett University (LBU) - BSc Games Design.
- University of the Arts London (UAL) - BA Games Design.
There are also specialist Masters programmes:
- Birmingham City University - MA/MSc Video Game Development.
- University of Hull - MSc in Computer Science for Games Development.
- Kingston University London - MSc Game Development (Programming).
- University of Plymouth - MA Game Design.
- UAL - MA Games Design.
Find out more about the skills, qualifications and work experience you need to work in gaming by reading the information provided by UK-based ScreenSkills.
As this industry is notoriously tough to break into, gaming apprenticeships offer a structured entry route, combining classroom-based learning with on-the-job training.
There are game developer apprenticeships for those looking to start out in a development position. Gaming apprenticeships are also available for roles such as game tester, visual effects artist, software development technician and animator.
If you can't find any opportunities with the major game publishers, specialist recruitment companies such as Aardvark Swift often advertise apprenticeships in video gaming.