How to Become a Game Programmer

30 Apr 2020

30 Apr 2020

How To Become a Game Programmer: The Ultimate Guide 

“Do what you love and you will never work a day in your life”, so the saying goes. For many hardcore gamers, the realisation you can get paid to work in the gaming industry is probably a lightbulb moment! When it comes to being a video game programmer, however, there’s more to the role than simply a passion for video games. Strong technical abilities combined with a creative flair are essential. If that sounds familiar, this career path may well be suited to you. Read on to learn more about the specifics of this role and find out if you’ve got what it takes to be a game programmer.

What is a Video Game Programmer?

First things first, what exactly is a video game programmer? In essence, a video game programmer is responsible for bringing a game designer’s ideas and concepts to life. They do this by writing the code required to build a playable game. This code instructs the relevant computer, console or system what to do in order for the game to be played.

Game Developer vs Game Programmer: What’s the Difference?

“Game developer” and “game programmer” are terms that are often used interchangeably. However, there is a slight distinction between the two. Put simply, a game developer is an all-encompassing term. It is generally used to refer to those who contribute materially to the creation of a video game and can encompass animators, designers and programmers. A game programmer, more specifically, is primarily responsible for coding.

Game Designer vs Game Programmer: What’s the Difference?

Similarly, it’s worth clarifying the difference between a “game designer” and “game programmer”. A game designer is very much in charge of the creative direction of a game, whereas a programmer tends to bring that vision to fruition via technical means.

Game Programmer Daily Tasks: What can I expect to be doing?

So, should you pursue a career in game programming, what can you expect on a day to day basis? Daily duties associated with the role of game programmer includes:

  • Designing, developing and delivering high-quality code.
  • Ensuring code quality by carrying out code reviews.
  • Undertaking code refactoring. This is the process of restructuring existing code to improve its design and structure.
  • Conducting quality test coding. The purpose of this is to uncover problems or bugs in the game and to accurately record them.
  • Solving complex technical issues, and debugging programmes, that occur during the production of the game.
  • Mapping the terrain of the game environment, implementing AI for non-player characters and ensuring player input synchronizes with what’s happening on the screen. 

Game Programmer Required Skills

In order to carry out the above tasks, the following skills and proficiencies are required: 

  • You must be proficient in multiple programming languages, such as Java, C++ and C#, plus development engines like Unity or Unreal.
  • Specialisation in a particular platform (such as PC, mobile or consoles) can be beneficial and aid career progression. 
  • A knowledge and interest in recent gaming trends are crucial.
  • An ideal candidate for this role must be self-motivated and able to meet deadlines.
  • You must be able to interpret briefs and communicate well with other developers.
  • You must approach solving complex and technical problems in a creative and innovative manner.
  • An interest in a particular aspect of game programming can be beneficial (i.e. special effects, artificial intelligence or network performance).

What Qualifications Do I Need to Become a Game Programmer? 

Video Game Programmer Degrees

Generally, a degree in one of the following subjects is useful when seeking employment as a game programmer: 

  • Computer games programming
  • Computer games development
  • Computer games design
  • Computer science
  • Games technology
  •  Mathematics
  • Software engineering

In the UK, the following institutions are just some of the universities that offer degrees in the subject of computer games programming:

It is not totally inconceivable to break into the gaming industry without a degree. Demonstrable, real-life experience and enthusiasm is highly valued. That said, gaming is a highly competitive and popular sector to work in. Competition for jobs can be more intense than other areas of software programming or design. A lack of degree could potentially be the deciding factor when it comes to employers choosing one candidate over the other. Indeed, in order to succeed as a game programmer, any additional skills, knowledge or education is ideal and will give you a competitive edge.

What Work Experience Will I Need?

As with many creative roles, a portfolio of work can be great for demonstrating to an employer your enthusiasm, talent and skills. Start out by building your own games or volunteer on “mod” projects (a modification of an existing game). Also, it can prove beneficial to connect and network with other programmers via online communities such as LinkedIn.

What Else Should I Expect?

Workplace culture is hugely important and can make or break a job, even if you’re super passionate about your career. Here’s the kind of things you can expect when working as a game programmer:

  • A 40 hour work week is not uncommon and you will likely need to invest extra hours in a project when a deadline is fast approaching.
  • Typically, the role is office or studio based.
  • Depending on the company you work for, remote working might be a possibility.
  • Game programmer jobs are available across the country but recruitment drives are particularly noticeable in large cities such as London, Brighton, Bristol, Cardiff, Sheffield, Manchester and Edinburgh.
  • You should expect to travel occasionally for client meetings or to attend training courses. 
  • This career could involve working on a freelance or self-employed basis.

Game Programmer Employers

Game programmers typically find employment with game development companies and game publishers. An industry that operates regionally, nationally and internationally, should you wish, it is a job that can provide incredible travel opportunities. More locally, the games industry is booming in Brighton. Here are just some of the companies based in Brighton that recruit game programmers: 

What Is An Average Game Programmer Salary in the UK?

Whilst passion is, undeniably, important when it comes to choosing a career path, earning potential can, understandably, be hugely motivating too. If you’re asking yourself “do game programmers make good money?”, the short answer is “yes – after a few years”.As you might expect, salaries will vary according to whether you have any specialist skills and the company you work for (its size/location). The following can be used as general guidance, though: 

  • In the UK, a game programmer starting salary is typically in the region of £19,000-£25,000.
  • Upon gaining a few years experience in the industry, you can expect to earn in the region of £35,000-£50,000.
  • A senior games programmer, in a team leader or technical director role, can earn from £55,000-£75,000+.

Game Programmer Career Path, Development & Prospects  

A junior or entry-level game programmer can progress to a high position relatively quickly. It’s not unheard of to end up at lead level within 5 years. It’s worth noting, senior game programmers tend to specialise in a certain area (wireless platforms, interactive game apps or online gaming, for instance). Once you’ve enough experience behind you, working freelance or setting up your own development studio is possible. 


Next steps...

If you’re keen to learn more about working in the games industry, read our recent guest post from David Amor (Director at mobile gaming company MAG Interactive) for some great insights and advice. Alternatively, if you’re a games programmer seeking employment, whether you’re an aspiring trainee or experienced professional, why not check out our jobs board? Simply filter your job search by ‘Games’ to discover the current opportunities available.