When the video game industry started, back in the days of Pong, Atari, Commodore, and of course, the coin-op arcade, the majority of the developers were hardcore programmers who became game developers because they knew how to work in the language of the machines at the time. It was the generation of the mainframe programmer and the self-taught hobbyist turned pro.
As time went on, traditional artists, designers, quality assurance, and other personnel became part of the development process. The concept of game developers being limited to elite coders began to fade, and the term “game design” became formalized.
Beginning as a Tester
Testing games for money have been a dream job for countless teens. For a while, testing was a viable path for the industry, although many quickly realized that it wasn’t the job they imagined it would be.
This path worked for quite some time, but as game design, development, and publishing grew into a multibillion-dollar industry, the potential game designer needed more formal training and the office became a more professional setting in the times past. It is still possible to progress from tech support or quality assurance into the development, but doing so without higher level education and training has become a rarity inside the big development companies.
QA and testing were once considered a no-qualification-required or entry-level job, but many publishers and developers have test teams with higher education and even development skills as well.
Applying for Development Positions
Getting a development position isn’t just a matter of having some programming or art classes on your resume. Long, sometimes multi-day interview processes stand between the aspiring developer and their dreams of making games.
Questions you will want to ask yourself:
Programmers: What titles have you shipped? If you’re still a college student, what was your final project? Have you worked in a collaborative programming environment before? Do you know how to write clean, concise, documented code?
Artists: What does your portfolio look like? Do you have a solid command of the tools you use? Can you take direction well? How about the ability to give constructive feedback?
Game designers or level designers: What games are out there that you’ve made? Why did you make the decisions you did about gameplay, level flow, lighting, art style, or anything else that you did to make your game unique?
Those are the easy questions.
Programming interviews frequently involve having to stand up in front of your potential coworkers at a whiteboard and solve logic or programming efficiency problems. Level designers and artists may have to talk about their work on a video projector in the same sort of environment. Many game companies now check for compatibility with teammates. If you’re not able to communicate with your potential peers, you may lose the chance at a job that you’d be perfect for.
The recent rise of independently developed and published games has opened a new path for those looking to get into the game industry—but this is not an easy route by any stretch of the imagination. It requires a significant investment of time, energy, resources, and a drive to face a very competitive market.
And most importantly, it requires that you know how to fail, and despite this to get up and move on to the next project until you make it.