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  • How to Break in as a Game Programmer

    - Steven Messinger

  • Sitting in a tiny cramped cubical, wearing an uncomfortable and stuffy suit, working on 25-year old financial software with a boss over your shoulder asking for those TPS reports ... Or sipping a beer, relaxing in a T-shirt and shorts, working on the next Xbox 360 smash hit.

    My Story

    I think it's pretty clear why so many people want to get into the video game industry. It was a no-brainer for me, and for the last four years, I've tried, failed, and finally accomplished just that.

    I'm going to share the things I found that helped and hurt my journey into the game industry.

    I recently graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in computer science and a minor in Digital Media and Arts. While I was in school, I interned at Image Space Inc. (Rfactor), and Electronic Arts (BFME2). I'm currently employed full-time at Rockstar Games as a software engineer.

    Is the Game Industry for You?

    The first thing you have to ask yourself is will you like the game developer lifestyle. While many software engineers are used to working all hours of the day for school, anyone who has a dream of raising a family may not be so keen to work six days a week during crunch time (anticipated overtime that's pretty inherent in the industry), or come home after 9 p.m. some nights. Game studios are getting better at paying for overtime and not allowing anyone to work 7 days a week, but the hours here are not anything like a typical 9-to-5 job.

    I personally love the flexibility of being able to come in around 10 in the morning and take an hour or so break to hit the gym or go to the beach in the middle of the day. As long as I get my work in on time and put in at least eight hours five days a week, my company is relatively flexible.

    Office Environment

    The work environment is also very relaxed. Dress is almost always casual, and drinking beer at meetings, playing video games, and talking to the studio president about his level 60 undead mage are common.

    Another great aspect of working with games is the sheer variety of work. The programming disciplines include artificial intelligence, graphics, network, tools, gameplay, and is pretty much limitless. As a gameplay programmer I can't begin to tell you how much more exciting it is to test my work in this industry than in a regular software company. It's the difference between making Saramon kill all of the little hobbits and clicking a drop-down box repeatedly to make sure it doesn't crash.

    So, what do you have to do to land the job of your dreams in the game industry?


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