Parents' FAQs About Game Development [12.17.07]
- GameCareerGuide.com staff
Parents' Frequently Asked Questions About Game Development
Q: What does "game developer" mean?
A: People who make video games or computer games are called game developers. You can think of them like software developers, as video games are essentially just a specific type of software.
Within the term "game developer," there are a host of other job titles, which we generally break down by discipline or field of study: art, programming, design and writing, production (producers), audio, quality assurance (game testers), and business. The most well known of these are artist or animator, programmer or engineer (sometimes also called coder), and game designer.
Game developers are usually employed by a game development studio, which some people use interchangeably with the term "developer." On this web site, we try to differentiate between "studios" or "houses," which are the companies, and "developers," or the people.
Q: My child wants to make video games for a living. Is this something s/he can actually do?
Video and computer games currently make up one of the largest segments of the entertainment industry. It's a multi-billion dollar industry that's thriving widely across the world. The biggest and strongest companies in the market hire throughout the year, with no shortage of applicants.
You have probably heard or assumed that getting a job in the video game development industry is competitive. This is absolutely true, and something that parents should be very clear on.
There are an estimated 47,000 game developers in North America alone, with more and more jobs becoming available each year. The number of jobs is increasing because many mass-market video games are on the cutting edge of technology, so as the technology evolves, it takes more and more people to keep up with it.
Ten years ago, development teams of big-name games might have comprised 20 to 40 people, whereas now they are more likely to be 80 or 100 people strong. However, video game development has become better recognized as a respectable and promising career during that same time frame; so while there are more jobs, there are also more applicants.
In general, the job market for college graduates in all fields is more competitive now than it was 15 or 20 years ago -- so what makes a job in game development any more competitive than a job in any other field? For one, working with video games is considered a "sexy" job, so it can attract a huge pool of applicants for the wrong reasons (it's actually very hard work and does not pay as well as other programming jobs). Second, game developers must be highly skilled and talented. The video game industry pushes to be on the cutting edge of technology and entertainment, and studios strongly weigh talent and demonstration of applied knowledge when looking at job candidates.
Q: What educational path should my child take to become a game developer?
A: There is no one best route to becoming a game developer. Each person's path will vary widely based on the following factors:
Some developers do not have a formal higher education but are self-taught in their field. Some have advanced degrees in seemingly unrelated subjects, such as anthropology or classics. Some have more typical degrees in a subject closely related to their work, like a BS or MS in computer science for programmers, a BFA or MFA for artists and animators, or even a special degree in game development.
- area of interest or discipline (see the "Introduction" articles in the Getting Started section)
- learning preferences
- previous education
- available funds.
To make it easier to get started, GameCareerGuide.com has a list of schools that offer game-related education with a quick list of basic facts about what each school offers, how much it costs, and a link to the school's web site. The schools in this list range from traditional four-year universities to game-specific programs to community colleges to art colleges to online learning institutes.
Q: What is the likelihood that my daughter/son will be able to get a job upon graduation?
A: No school can guarantee that your child will be placed in a full-time job after graduating, even if the university says its employment rate for graduates is 100 percent.
Some factors that can increase a graduate's chances in the marketplace are:
- independent pursuit of games and game development: Did the student participate in game projects in his or her spare time as well as in the classroom?
- demonstration of talent: Does the student have a strong, clean, and original portfolio, demo reel, or code sample? Is the student only showing his or her very best work to employers?
- involvement in the game community: Has the student become involved in the professional game development community by joining organizations, attending conferences or local chapter group meetings, participating in online discussions?
- networking: Has the student made friends and acquaintances in the game development community? These can include well-connected professors, other recent graduates, and professional game developers, whom they can meet at professional meetings and events.
- location: Is the student willing to relocate to take an entry-level job? Does the student already live in one of the hotbeds of game development (see "Ask the Experts: Location, Location, Location! Parts I and II).
Q: Some of these games schools are really expensive. Do I have to send my child to one?
A: No. Game schools are a wonderful option for certain students, but they are only that: an option.
Game-specific schools are best for students who learn best by doing, work well on group projects, can dedicate around 40 hours a week to full-time study, and who can afford them (or are willing to take out hefty loans to afford them).
Students who attend a traditional private or state university or even a community college are equally capable of working in the industry if they are also dedicated to becoming game developers. See the previous question for more insight on what the student needs to do in addition to attending school.
Finally, although it's becoming more of a norm for game studios to require its new hires to hold a bachelor's degree or better, it's not a hard and fast rule. Though GameCareerGuide.com does not encourage students to shirk their higher education, we do acknowledge that in some rare cases, a student is not best served by attending a university or college, but is more likely to succeed if self-taught -- again, these are rare cases, but they do occur.
Q: If my daughter or son studies game development, what will happen if s/he can't get a job in this competitive industry?
A: When researching schools, parents should always ask the faculty what other fields graduates have worked in. This is a good way of gauging whether the school is preparing students to use their skills in the real world or whether they are training them vocationally only.
A degree in game development can be applied to other fields (given the student has learned a breadth of theory in conjunction with application), which include: software development, computer programming, industrial design, animation or writing for film and television, project management, and more.
Q: What educational background or experience do game companies look for when they hire?
A: Different companies look for different things for different jobs. It's becoming more and more common for game developers to hold degrees, though the type of degree still doesn't seem to be the deciding factor. Some game professionals believe that finishing a degree shows follow-through more than anything else, so having a well-rounded education in liberal arts is just as valid as having an MFA.
Basically, most employers are looking for examples of talent or examples of promise of talent, not a piece of paper saying an individual has achieved a degree. It's common for job candidates to be given an exam during their first interview. Programmers will be asked to complete a coding test. Designers will often have what's called a whiteboard test, where they must solve a game design problem visually by presenting their solution on a marker board. Quality assurance testers might be quizzed on what it means for something to be "broken" in a game. And while artists and animators typically don't have an exam, they will have their portfolios critiqued, putting their work up for scrutiny alongside everyone else's.
In the game development industry, who you know still goes a long way, so networking is an integral part of the job hunt.
Q: My family and I are of the opinion that video games do not contribute to society and are harmful to young children. Why should I let my son/daughter pursue this career?
A: GameCareerGuide.com acknowledges that violence in video games is a controversial topic; however the primary goal of this site is to educate -- not to defend or condemn violent games. With that goal in mind, we can inform you about a number of growing sectors of the game industry that may be of interest to you.
Casual games, or small games that are often playable online or on mobile phones, rarely if ever contain a highly violent context and range from electronic versions of card games to hobbies, like bird watching. Game studios that make children's games also steer clear of sensitive subject matter. There's also a small group of developers who make Christian games, which are also generally targeted at young children and deliver moral teachings.
Serious games are video or computer games that are used for non-entertainment purposes. Within the realm of serious games, there are games for health, games for training, and educational games (sometimes called "edutainment"). Game applications can be used to conduct scientific research, or they can be examples of research projects.
Though called "serious games," these applications are hardly all "serious." They usually take the entertaining aspects of video games, such as high quality graphics, interactivity, good storyline, competitive game structures, and use them for a greater purposes.
For more information about serious games, see SeriousGamesSource.com, Serious Games Initiative, Games for Health, and Games for Change.