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How to Become a Video Game Developer

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At the Games Hub, we talk a lot about how to progress with video game development (e.g. how to get funding, how to release a game, how to plan), or we talk about video game news.

But what if you’re unsure on how to become a video game developer in the first place? Then this blog piece is for you!

Take a look at our 5 steps below!

Step 1 - Is Video Game Development for You?

If you follow games and their news at all (which you probably do if you’re looking to become a developer for them), you’ve probably heard all of the hellish stories that come from working in the companies. You know, the late hours, the tight turn arounds, how awful the deadlines are at crunch time…and well, while the majority of these stories come from professional game development studios, it is something you should be aware of.

Also, be mindful that the industry is highly competitive. While there’s no official figure for it, it’s likely that at some point, most avid gamers have considered getting into the development side of things. After all, who doesn’t want to get into an industry that they’re passionate about? So for any job you go for, there will be stiff competition for it.

And it’s the above point that feeds into the issue of brutal working conditions. There are so many people willing to work, that if someone chooses to leave, there’s someone waiting to take their spot.

Obviously, if you work in an independent studio, these issues will be less present but it will have their own challenges.

However, if you’ve read the above, and you still only feel passion for this career path, then perhaps video game development is for you!

Step 2 – Do You Need Formal Qualifications?

The answer to this is both yes and no.

There are plenty of self-made video game developers and many of them will be doing well. And if you take a look on Amazon, there are plenty of books which will help you on your way. Here’s one of them.

But, video game development is extremely complex and it’s easy to get in over your head and feel overwhelmed. Do you think you’ll manage to teach yourself 3D modelling, graphics engines and level design on your own?

You don’t need to know all of the above, but it will help to have a basic understanding of most aspects of development, and it’ll be helpful to have someone guide you through.

If you’re working on your own indie game, you can probably skip needing a formal education. However, if you’re looking to get employed by a big triple-A studio, or even just an established independent, it’ll be helpful to have a formal qualification.

If you think this is a route you might like to go down, check out this Graduate Prospects page. It details what you’ll be expected to be able to do, needed qualifications, a rough estimate on salary and even has links to job vacancies. 

Step 3 – Game Developer Skills

Let’s jump right in. If you want to become a developer, you’re going to need to be pretty darn good at writing in both C++ and C#.

C++ is a high-level language but it’s essential in learning to create video games, it’s probably the most used language in the big game development studios. It gives you the basics of object-orientated programming and it’s easy to distribute across different platforms. It also allows you to pick up C# more quickly.

C++ is fast, the compilers and optimizers are solid, and you get control over memory management. C#, on the other hand, is a set of tools and runtime environment by Microsoft – which means anything developed on this, makes it particularly suitable for games on Xbox and Windows.

Whilst there is a lot of languages you can learn, the above two will help you the most. Game development may one day move away from C++, but the language that replaces it is likely to be very similar, so you should take the time to learn it.

You’ll also need to become familiar with game engines. As of 2019, the two most popular engines are Unity 5 and Unreal Engine 4. You can read more on them and other engines here. Game engines are reusable components that you’ll use to build the framework of your game. Engines give you the ability to focus on unique elements like character models, textures and how objects interact etc.

Other popular engines are GameMaker;  RPG Maker;  Construct 2 and 3; and Godot!

Lastly, you’ll need to be really good at maths. You’ll need to know how to do matrix transformations and all other kinds of complex calculations. Whilst some engines will do some of the work, not all of them do, and you’ll need to understand the rules regardless.

Step 4 – Game Developer Industry/Entrepreneur

If you’re serious about this as a career path, you have two options: work for a big studio or become an independent. There are pros and cons to both.  

Most video game developers choose to work for a studio at some point and this makes sense. You’re guaranteed a paycheck and you can focus on the one area of development that you enjoy, rather than needing to know and understand every aspect (including things like releasing a game).

You’ll also get to work with more experienced developers, who you’ll be able to learn from, which is an invaluable thing.

Of course, there are cons of working with a big studio. You might not get the cool parts you wanted to work on; you might have to work on the same things for weeks on end; the long hours and pressure; it doesn’t feel like you’re creating a game.

But, you do get to be part of something much bigger, and you’ll work on a game you could never do by yourself.

If you decide that isn’t for you, then your options are to become an independent or work for a small company.

Working for in these kinds of conditions is a huge amount of fun, but you should be aware that it comes with risk.

As you know by now, video games are competitive, and it’s difficult to make a best-selling game or even create a profitable one. You can invest a huge amount of time, resources and money into your game only to find no-one buys it.

Of course, you might make the next Minecraft or Cuphead, but those games are far and few between.

But there is something to be said about making your own game and getting to call all of the shots.

Step 5 – The First Steps & Resources

Before you can really make the above choice, we recommend that you simply start making games once you’ve got down the basics.

Start with something really simple and slowly increase the complexity as you build your confidence. Not only will you develop your skills and learn the pitfalls, challenges and rewards of development, but you’ll also get to work on your ideas. And, it’ll help you build a portfolio you can show when applying for a job.

But most importantly, stick at it. As mentioned above, Minecraft is an incredibly successful indie game, but it’s worth noting that it was Markus Persson’s had been in the industry for 18 years before starting work on Minecraft. And not only that but Minecraft initially released in 2009. It didn’t gain mainstream popularity until 2011.

Another example is Rovio Entertainment. You’ll have heard of Angry Birds, but did you know it was actually Rovio’s 52nd game? You can read all of their games that came before it here.

So what we’re basically trying to say to you is, don’t give up!

Below, we’ve included some links to help you get on your way!