The games industry continues to grow. Indeed, as a result of additional usage during the COVID-19 pandemic, projections for gaming industry revenue in 2020 were predicted to surpass that of movies and sports in North America combined. A sector this large also brings with it varied employment opportunities — not just coders, but also artists and composers, among others. It’s a vibrant community of collaborators creating titles that entertain and challenge.
It’s no wonder, then, that there's a lot of competition for most roles in the industry. This means that to land even an interview for your dream job, you need to demonstrate that you have the skills to contribute in a meaningful capacity. In most cases, this comes from a solid balance of technical education and experience. However, it’s not always easy to know what can make a difference.
So, let’s take a closer look at the education and experience that can get you on the road to video game development.
Traditional education is not necessarily a requirement for many gaming industry roles. But that’s not to say that there is no value in heading to a university. Indeed, gaining a degree can act as a good short-hand that you have attained a certain amount of technical knowledge. Not to mention that one of the most valuable elements is that you have the chance to forge friendships with people who have the same interests as you do, which can build a valuable mutual support system in the future.
That said, what types of degrees can make a difference to your career aspirations? It depends on what type of role you’re aiming for, but generally, you’ll find university has value in the primarily technical paths. For instance, computer science degrees have a wide range of potential applications, most of which apply to the gaming sector — software development, information security, even database administration. The skills you gain in this type of program can demonstrate your ability to contribute to diverse gaming projects, including the development of artificial intelligence (AI) and app platforms. Pursuing this path can mean that you’re not just suited for the role you want now but can offer some flexibility if you want to make changes in the future.
However, when it comes to largely creative roles, it’s important to consider whether university is the best investment of your time and money. Specific game design courses are opening up all the time, alongside the graphic design and visual effects degrees. It is not often the case that studios will require a degree for an art department role, as more weight is generally given to ability. As such, you need to consider whether this type of course will boost your ability in ways that you can’t by using other, less costly methods. For some people, a degree is a gateway to unlocking their potential and bolstering the social development that they’ll need when working collaboratively, but they are not strictly necessary.
The video game industry has a rich history of being built not just by large studios but also by contributors who have taken a do-it-yourself approach. As such, there is a tendency for the sector to be open to contributors from less traditionally educational and experiential backgrounds. So, if you are unable to attend a university or it doesn’t mesh with your personal learning style, this is unlikely to be a substantial hurdle on your path to your dream gaming job.
From the perspective of getting the skills you need, a self-driven education is more accessible today than at almost any other point. If you want to contribute as a graphic designer, there are online courses available that introduce you to the theoretical and creative elements you need to thrive in the industry, while also allowing you to progress at your own pace. These courses tend to include introductions to the industry-standard software, specifically the Adobe Creative Cloud Suite. While online training doesn’t generally provide you with a degree, the certification you gain can still look good on your resume as a similar form of shorthand to describe the skills you’ve gained.
For coding, there is a thriving community for skills sharing. Many coders begin on their own, gradually building their abilities as they learn by doing. However, you can level up by engaging with online or in-person coding camps. Some of these, like FreeCodeCamp, have certifications too, which have been recognized by large tech corporations. It’s also important to recognize that your experiences in teaching yourself to code can demonstrate your commitment to your craft, and your perseverance here can be key points of discussion during interviews.
Whichever path you choose to go down — whether traditional schooling or self-learning — studios want to see that you can contribute to their projects. As such, part of your preparation for applying for your dream gaming job is making sure that you gain some solid experience and build a portfolio.
When you’re just starting out, it’s not always easy to know how to go about doing this. However, nobody is going to expect you to have worked on AAA titles when you’re new to the industry. Start by reaching out to the online community and get involved in indie development projects. Head to gaming forums and participate in game jams — these are time-limited contests that see teams and individuals creating games from scratch. This helps to gain you some experience, but more importantly, it builds your practical development skillset and connects you with other development contributors.
Your next challenge comes from knowing how to present these projects in your portfolio. You have a better chance of landing a job if you prioritize quality over quantity. This goes for any creative role you are applying for — whether coding, artwork, or narrative design. Don’t just put your best work front and center; leave out anything that doesn’t represent your best work. It can also be helpful to include planning materials in your portfolio, as this helps studios to see how your thought process works, and what kind of contributor you’re likely to be.
The games industry is vibrant and growing, and there are some incredible opportunities for careers. For the most part, there’s little preference between traditional education and self-driven learning — both have significant value. Be sure not to neglect to engage in projects, as a good portfolio is a more immediate demonstration to studios that you’re able to contribute and innovate.