If you love video games, it’s natural to be interested in making them. But if you’ve done even a little bit of research, you’ve probably noticed there are dozens of different job types in the video game industry, making your career research a bit overwhelming. What are the different jobs? Which ones should you consider? Which ones would you be good at? Which would be the best fit for your personality?
Fret not, because I have good news for you: Even though there are dozens of different game jobs, most of them fall into just six high-level job “families.” Simplify your research by reading about the job families below, then follow the links to dive deeper into the areas that seem to catch your interest.
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Video Game Designer
Related Jobs: Game Designer, Level Designer, Content DesignerMore than any other job in the game industry, a Designer needs to have an incredibly deep and wide understanding of video games. You can only get that kind of insight by playing a ton of games, analyzing them, discussing them with other design-minded people and, eventually, by making your own games so you can learn through trial and error.
On a given day as a Designer, you’ll do things such as:
- Talk about and advocate for your design with producers, programmers, and artists
- Play competitors’ games to analyze and understand their strengths and shortcomings
- Write sections of game design documents (GDDs) to help explain your design to your team
- Design game levels and gameplay mechanics, tune and balance gameplay, make sure the game is fun
- Play the current version (build) of the game and make notes on how the design or implementation can be improved
- Work in software such as Microsoft Excel, XML editor, or custom tools, to create or tweak the numeric data that drives game play
Most studios break the design job down into separate areas like level design, mission/quest design, or overall game design. Larger games will break things down even further – a big team might have one or more designers dedicated to things like combat design, tuning and balancing, or pacing.
It can be challenging to start out as a designer unless you’ve already created some games, or have a degree or certificate from a game design school. Some designers start out as QA Testers or Production Assistants, and move into a design role once they prove that they have a talent for it.
If you’re the kind of person who loves to analyze games and truly understand what makes them a big hit or a big flop, then this is the job for you.
Video Game QA Tester
Also called: QA Tester, Quality Assurance Tester, Black Box Tester
Let’s start by busting a common myth: testers do not just “sit around and play games all day.” It’s real work! You’ll be playing games that are under construction, well before they’re finished. They’ll be buggy and missing content. At the early stages, they won’t even be “playable” in any real sense.
The tester’s main job is to play the latest under-construction version (“build”) of the game, and report anything that looks bad or doesn’t work right (a “defect”). That’s why it’s called quality assurance — you’re making sure the game is high-quality.
On a given day as a QA Tester, you’ll do things such as:
- Play the build, looking for defects
- When you find a defect, figure out how to make it happen predictably
- Type up an “issue report” — a description of the defect, along with steps to reproduce it — into special software called a “bug tracker” or “issue database”
- Submit the report to the game team so they can fix the problem
- The programmer that receives your report might ask for more information to help find and fix the issue
Some QA testers work with the game build only (called “black box” testers) while others may have some access to the source code and aid the developers with debugging (called “grey box” or “white box” testers depending on the level of source code visibility). The tester’s role is critical because they’re the last line of defense before the game is released to players. If they don’t do their jobs well, it leads to millions of disappointed fans as they realize the game has bugs, crashes, or — even worse — loses their progress. If you’ve had that happen, you know how frustrating it is.
Starting your career as a QA Tester is one of the best ways to get into the video game industry, and it’s a great way to learn about how game studios work and how games are made. I know many people who started as testers and then went on to become producers, artists, designers, or programmers. In fact, I started my career as a tester and later went on to run a large game studio!
Learn how to become a game tester with my book, Land a Job as a Video Game Tester. You’ll learn the basics of game testing, and all the steps to apply, interview, and accept job offers. It’s got everything you need to know to get a job testing games.
If you have questions about becoming a QA tester, check out the how to become a video game tester FAQ.
Video Game Programmer
Also called: Coder, Engineer, Developer
A video game programmer uses a programming language like C++, C#, or Java, to instruct the computer on how to take all of the art and other content and turn it into a working game.
Programming is by far the most technical job in the industry. Most programmers start by getting a degree in computer science, but if you’re a good self-starter then you may be able to learn on your own and try for an entry-level programming job at a game company. I know many successful programmers who do not have a computer science degree, but it’s a difficult way to start out. (You’d better hope you have a great game developer resume!)
On a given day as a video game programmer, you’ll do things such as:
- Read documentation or talk with the team about how a given game feature should work
- Plan your approach to coding the game feature by talking with other programmers, drawing diagrams, researching, etc.
- Use special software called an “integrated development environment” (IDE) to type your instructions as “source code”
- Run the game to test your source code and make sure it works as intended, and make changes/fixes if it didn’t work
- Receive bug reports from the QA testers, and attempt to fix the issues that they’ve discovered
- Implement game features, debug systems, optimize performance, and translate the players actions into game results
All but the smallest teams have several sub-specializations for programmers, focusing on well-defined areas of the code base such as the server code, combat, characters and AI, player input and movement, physics, graphics, or tools and pipeline.
The job of video game programmer requires deep technical know-how, focus, and patience. But if this job sounds right to you, then it can be extremely fun and rewarding. Also, programmers generally get the highest salaries in the game industry, so your hard work will definitely pay off.
Video Game Artist / Animator
Related Jobs: Animator, Modeler, Concept Artist, UI Artist, Technical Artist
Art is one of the hardest game jobs to get into, because you need strong artistic talent. You also have to be good with various art tools that are used to create digital content, such as Autodesk Maya and Adobe Photoshop, and have assembled a great portfolio.
The good news is that there are many different kinds of art jobs in the video game industry, so if you’re not good at one then you can try another. Some of the jobs include:
- Environment Artist: Create the landscapes and building architectures of the game worlds
- Character Modeler: Create 3D models of the game’s characters and enemies
- Character Animator: Take the models from the Character Modeler, and create the animations that bring them to life
- Concept Artist: Envision and plan the look and feel of the game’s worlds and characters
- User Interface (UI) Artist: Design and draw the menus, heads-up display, and other navigational components of the game
There are many sub-specializations that any artist could spend an entire career working to master. Examples of specialized areas include concept art, character modeling, character rigging, animation, environments, and visual effects. Each art career has a different skills set, as well as a different salary range.
If you’re just starting out, you might know that you love doing art but aren’t sure which job is right for you. Going to an art school is a good way to try out different areas (and earn a degree while you’re at it!), but I also know many successful artists who are self-taught. If you’re more interested in the visuals of games instead of the technical aspects, then a career as an artist might be a great fit.
Video Game Audio Engineer
Related jobs: Sound Designer, Composer, Audio Implementer
There are precious few audio jobs in the game industry, because just one audio engineer can often serve multiple teams. In fact, it’s common to have a single audio engineer covering an entire game studio. Many studios don’t have any full-time audio staff at all, instead choosing to contract on a temporary basis as needed.
On a given day as an Audio Engineer, you’ll do things such as:
- Talk with the game team to determine what sorts of music or sound effects are needed
- Search through commercial audio libraries to find sounds to use as source material
- Record new sound effects in a studio or out in the real world (“in the field”)
- Use specialized audio hardware and software to record sound effects, create new sounds, build immersive audio soundscapes, or modify and tweak combinations of sounds to make new ones
- Create and record sound effects, use fancy software to make otherworldly sounds, and build immersive audio soundscapes
- Use custom software and editors to integrate your sounds into the game
Under the “game audio” umbrella you’ll find a few specializations including music composer, Foley engineer, audio engineer generalist, and various jobs of programming/mixing/implementing audio in the game build.
Most of the audio jobs in the industry are contract positions. You can contract through a staffing agency, or as an employee of a contract audio firm. Most of the Audio Engineers that I’ve met are self-taught, although there are audio engineering schools that you can attend to get targeted training.
Video Game Producer
Related jobs: Associate Producer, Production Assistant
Every team needs a person who helps guide them and focus them, so they can concentrate on doing great work. For a game team, that person is the Producer. They’re responsible for the daily planning and management of the team. At some studios, they’re also responsible for shepherding the “vision” of the game.
On a given day as a Producer, you’ll do things such as:
- Meet with your game team to plan and schedule work to be done in the near future (usually the next 2 to 3 weeks, called a “sprint” or “milestone”)
- Check in with people on your team to make sure they aren’t stuck, and help them get whatever they need to be productive
- Talk with various people who are not on the team but have a stake in the project — studio directors, publishers, marketing department, etc.
- Maintain budgets, negotiate contracts, order food and supplies for the team
- Keep a long-term view, handle the biz, and keep the dev team focused and working together toward the goal
Entry-level producers may be called associate producers, and may be more focused on the daily tasks of scheduling than on the bigger picture. More senior producers often become “product owners” and are responsible for the long-term planning, and possibly even the finances, of the game project. Executive producers often oversee the development of multiple games at once.
To be a successful producer, you need to have great planning skills and be a good communicator. It helps a lot if you’re good with numbers, since you may be managing budgets and other expenses.
There are many ways to start your career as a producer. Producers often get their start as Game Testers, where they can learn all about making games before moving onto a team as an Associate Producer. Many game studios also have openings for associate producers or production assistants, which is another good way to get started.
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