Is Game Development Still a Good Career Choice?

Dianna Labrien
D. Labrien|02.08.17

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You love games. You are technically inclined and/or have rather decent drawing skills. You already spend a ton of money on new game titles. So wouldn't it be awesome to become develop games for a living?

Suppose that's a common thought process a lot of avid gamers experience at least once in their lives. As sort of an affectionate myself, I did think about turning my hobby into a career back in college.

Game development does look like a "funky, rock-star kind of a job" for the geeky types. Yet, actually getting a job and working within this industry comes with a lack of glamorous flair.

If you are currently considering your options, take the following data into account.

The Costs of Education

To break into game development, you'll need to either obtain an Arts/Design degree with a specialization in graphic and/or web design or a Programming degree.

Some universities are now offering specialized "game development" degrees even online, yet the quality of obtained education still remains questionable. In any case, you should be ready to pay between $18.000-$35.000 for an undergrad program.

And of course, merely obtaining a degree doesn't mean that large vendors like EA will be immediately line up to hire you. The job market is ruthlessly competitive (more on that shortly). Hence you may need to get additional credential before applying for a job. That includes anything and everything from taking part in gaming competitions and attending different out-of-school classes such as Vision Tech Camp to leverage your skills while still in high school, to applying for internships and heavily investing in additional self-education while in college.

In general, you need to accumulate certain skills and experiences if you want to make it into a big company right after graduation.

The Current State of The Job Market

While the game development industry keeps growing and is expected to hit $19.6 billion by 2019, the number of job openings has reduced significantly since 2014. To be exact Indeed has estimated a whopping 65% drop in open positions in gaming companies.

Indeed team says that the job market has become a bit too saturated – with more people trying to break into the industry, yet lacking the required skills. Most vendors are now looking to fill in very specific vacancies that assume dealing with the emerging technologies such as AR games for smartphones or VR.

Hence, if you want to increase your chances of getting hired, you should be strategically looking into those domains as opposed to "traditional" game development for PCs.

The Day-To-Days of Game Developers

David Mullich, a game developer with a decade of experience and big name clients such as Apple, Disney, and Mattel under his belt, recently commented on what it's actually like to work in this industry:
"Days are usually spent either in meetings or staring at a computer screen. The work can sometimes be monotonous. The stress level can be high as publishers make unrealistic demands in order to get maximum value for their investment and the results are inevitably disappointing".

Most game developers work over 60 hours per week and earn approximately $70.000 annually – a modest salary when compared to peer programmers working in other domains.

Sure your job will still assume playing a lot of games. Yet as Mike Sellers, a game dev with 20 years of experience, promptly pointed out on Quora:
"I play many games for research, and I'm sad to say that it's often not fun at all; it's a slog, like reading a poorly written book or article, just trying to see what the developer was trying to do (and remembering, somewhere in the back of my head, that someone thought this was a cool idea and fought long and hard to have it see the light of day)."

So Is This Job Really For You?

Most professionals agree that you need to be really, really passionate about this industry if you want to survive within it. Without having incredible dedication, the day-to-days can quickly become soul crushing.

While working for a larger vendor definitely gives you more job security, the pressure from the management can become hard at times and there's less room left for creativity.

Partnering with an indie studio, or starting your own once you get the expertise, means that your game (and salary) isn't securely funded. In fact, it could be particularly dreadful when the game you've been developing for months doesn't get any traction post release.

The bottom line is – game development is surely an exciting and rewarding career, yet an extremely competitive one too. You should come prepared for a challenge and give yourself a good reality check before entering it!
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