What does it take to be a game programmer?

I’ve been a software engineer for over 25 years and have a broad range of experience from real-time systems, embedded software and complex mathematical algorithms, but I have never worked in the gaming industry. What would I need to do in order to land a rewarding and fulfilling job in this area?

The best way is to pick a specialization such as graphics or AI and start making games. Very few companies will hire you if you don’t already have a portfolio of games, relevant side projects, or you were working in film. The exception to that might be things like server-side networking if you have significant experience working on something that is high throughput and performance sensitive like database software (AI being another). Games have a huge dependency on programmers being creative self-starters with a solid comprehension of at least linear algebra but also usually calculus.


Lol, @inovaekeith, you a bit out of your depth here, not having released a single game and all that? :wink:

[quote=“cybercritic, post:3, topic:3303, full:true”]Lol, @inovaekeith, you a bit out of your depth here, not having released a single game and all that? ;)[/quote]As with anything you can start a game company yourself and do as you please :stuck_out_tongue:

Yes, indies these days don’t need much but dedication, will and a little coding skills, being a generalist and able to work on many different tasks is probably the best qualification for an indie. You can’t really be a specialist in a 1-5 man indie team, the most specialized you will get is a “coder”, or the game would never get done.

Thank you for your honest response. This sounds like good advice and I thank you.

Actually you are correct that most employers will myopically select candidates that meet their explicate criterion.

Ironically, however, their preferred choices are not necessarily the best candidate. This stragegy if flawed. This is due to the fact that this excludes those who can adapt to new environments and are not only the ones that can quickly pick up a new skill set they are also the ones who can excel in ever changing environments. This is why leaving older engineers is a weakness!

My carrier has been a constant struggle against being pigeonholed :slight_smile:


This is unfortunately true even in the usually “not so picky” domains: employers tend to try and find the perfect five-legged sheep. Must know all their technology, even more, for the lowest salary possible.

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@JBaker45 I’m in a similar position to you as I’ve worked as a business analyst/programmer or similar jobs for twenty years and I’m now looking to move into the games industry. I rejected the option of trying to get a job in the industry for a number of reasons; Most junior level jobs were targeted at young new graduates, I would have meant a large pay cut (even if I had been considered) and if I was honest I didn’t want to write games for other people.

So what I have done is go the indie route, I write games in my spare time and self publish them on Google Play and iTunes. I chose a small niche where a solo developer with limited time could find some success. I’ve now got four games published on Android with two of those also ported to IOS. I’ve reduced my hours in my day job so I can spend more time dedicated to games programming. It’s hard work and you will probably need to either partner with someone who has skills you lack or use contractors to get some stuff done. The benefit of being indie is that if you do achieve success with any of your games you get to keep all the credit.

By the way, you don’t need math skills to be a games programmer. Even if you need some math for something you can usually get a Unity asset to do it for you or just Google it and copy the equation into your code.


Most of the games programmers I know also work in mobile, and the games they work on are built almost entirely in Unity. Their math backgrounds are modest, at best. They work in a studio setting, though, so there are analysts available to help them with any tricky math that may come up. Your skill set appears to depend heavily on the medium you’re working in, the size of your team, and whether you’re using a custom engine or utilizing pre-existing assets.

Captain Obvious Alert: Do some research on the companies you are considering working for. The game industry is notorious for having wildly different working environments that range from pretty good to utter shit.

Thanks everybody, there is a lot of good advise here :slight_smile:

Take a pay cut.

It’s worth bearing in mind you’ll be being paid a whole lot less in the games industry. On a more serious note though, making games in your spare time is super important. Having a project or two that you can show off to say, “Hey, I finished this game,” is a huge benefit in trying to even get an interview. And playing with tools like Unity or Unreal will help you pick up skills on the way. Game Devs want to see you not only have the skills, but are enthusiastic enough to do it for fun.

It’s quite the problem with this industry: almost no other profession are expected to do their job “for fun” at home. It’s not seen for a lawyer, a carpenter, a salesperson, pick any other one… and I’m not talking about taking some of your job home, it’s litterally doing another project, not extending the same one.

But yeah, presenting a portfolio of achieved features is always a great help.

I think it’s just a way of working out who can hack it in the industry, cause with long hours in crunch time and poorer pay for equivalent skills in other areas (I could go earn twice as much if I went to work for a bank straight out of uni) it’s easy to get burned out unless you really enjoy it.

Edit: Misread your post.

It’s ironic isn’t it?

It’s actually a psychological phenomenon called “functional stupidity” and unfortunately it’s widespread in the corporate mindset. And the bigger the corporation, the stronger the influence of functional stupidity.

Corporate infrastructure is by necessity quite rigid. But such stability comes with a downside : any candidate who’s seen as maverick, or quirky, or even just a little rough around the edges can be seen as ‘undesirable’ because they don’t quite fit in the given job slot. Plus, the act of employing such a person could actually negatively impact the position of whoever hired them.

But there’s worse - the sting comes when someone actually gets a job, and they realise what they’re now expected to do does not remotely make full use of the skillset that got them the job in the first place. So what can they do? Do they go rogue and push for their full skills to be used?

Nope - the infrastructure already has them in its grasp, so they willfully dumb down their capabilities to fit the job they’ve been put in.

And that’s functional stupidity.

And it’s why we’ve seen such a rise recently in maverick, breakaway indie companies who realise that sometimes when you have a square peg, you don’t carve it to fit the round hole, it’s better to make a square hole for that peg instead.

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Not sure how I ended up with credits for the Lion King and Aladdin but hey, I’ll take it ;).


Pity you don’t know how, maybe because it was from the last century? :wink:

some indie developers welcome people to help for free. at least that is how i have been getting introduced to programming in the gaming world.

if you are going around looking for a paid job in the industry with no experience, you are probably better off playing the lottery because your chances of winning that are better =)