Let’s explore what to study to successfully get a job in the gaming industry, whether you are technically oriented or you have a strong artistic side. Computer Science, Art, or Animation, are the top three disciplines to get you into the gaming industry, and access popular career paths such as Game Designer, Programmer, Artist, Animator, or Writer.
So you are passionate about video games, want dedicate your career to your passion, but are uncertain where to start. Below we’ll walk you through the journey.
The gaming industry has been constantly growing over the past years and is now one of the biggest in the world. At the moment, approximately 3 billion people across the world are playing games. And according to Statistica, it is expected that by 2025 the global gaming market will expand to over 260 billion US dollars per year, which brings great news for any student interested in how to get into the gaming industry: there will be plenty of new jobs.
The market, however, is not equal everywhere. The biggest players, at the moment, in terms of revenue are China and the US, while France, Japan, the UK, Germany, and Sweden are also important countries for game development.
Let’s start by understanding the industry a bit better. Studios range in size from a one-man band to multinationals, but in general, they fall into one of these two categories: AAA (triple A) companies and indie game developers.
AAA companies are large companies with equally large budgets for their games (Square Enix, Ubisoft, or Naughty Dog are a few examples). Their huge budgets allow for technical innovations, impressive graphics and world-building, as well as complex storytelling. Think about The Witcher, Red Dead Redemption, Final Fantasy, or God of War.
As an employee of such a big corporation, you will be part of a large team with clear structures, tight deadlines, and precise tasks. At the same time, there are many opportunities to grow professionally and more financial stability and benefits than you would usually get in a small company.
Indie developers are independent companies that don’t have the same budget and resources as AAAs, but enjoy more creative freedom and make all the decisions regarding the game and the company themselves. Indie studios tend to be more focused on their artistic vision, on creating a unique experience for the player.
Think about Journey, Fez, Gris, or Hades, which through their original topics, beautiful graphics, and attention to added value are great examples of how games become art. Working for an indie studio also means that your own vision will play a bigger part in how the game ends up to be.
Another important difference between indie developers and AAA developers are the roles of the people who make the games. The bigger the company the more specialised the roles. The smaller, the more compact. For example, a 3D Artist in a small studio can do everything 3D, characters, assets, environment, but in a big studio you won’t just have a generalist 3D Artist. Instead, you’ll get a Level Artist, an Environment Artist, a Character Artist, and so on.
What types of jobs are there in the gaming industry
Now, let’s tackle how to get into the gaming industry, regardless of the size of the studio. We’ll divide gaming jobs in 3 big areas to understand things better:
Those working in Production are the ones who actually make the game.
Quality Control (QC)
Those working in QC are the people who test the game and make sure there are no bugs or other issues. It is not uncommon for people in QC to migrate in time towards jobs in Production.
Jobs that are not specific to gaming companies include HR, finance, administration, and any other roles that keep a company afloat. From these, two I would say tend to be more particular to gaming companies: talent acquisition and event planning. They are also fun and challenging.
Before we get into more specific jobs and degrees, you can get broad knowledge of video games, that covers more areas of the field with these degrees:
Bachelor’s in Video Games and Animation
Let’s take them one by one and explore how to get a job in the gaming industry by choosing some of the most popular career paths out there.
1. Production: the art and craft of creating a game
There are many diverse roles in Production, and today more and more video game specific degrees appear, but at their core, video games are a marriage between Arts and Computer Science. So here’s the bottom line: the most popular degrees to study for the gaming industry are Computer Science or Arts.
Computer programming is a trending career path and, of course, working in the gaming industry is just one of the many directions to take. Same , these are the jobs that interest you. To get one of them, in general, you need a degree, a portfolio, and some kind of experience to get you into the industry.
Some roles definitely need a Computer Science degree, like the Game Programmer, others need an Art one like the Concept Artist, but there are also quite a few in between art and tech, such as Technical Artist, VFX Artist, or Sound Designer.
A Computer Science degree will teach you programming languages and how to work with algorithms among other things. And of course all this technical knowledge can be applied to video games.
>> To learn more about Computer Science and the types of careers you can have with this degree, see this article.
To work as an artist in the gaming industry, any branch of art will do. You can get a Bachelor’s in:
- Fine Art
- Industrial or 3D Design
- Graphic Design
- Fashion Design
- Music (if you work in sound)
More recently, you can study Concept Art or Digital Art as well. But any Art degree will give you the foundation you need to be a gaming artist.
Ok, now let’s understand the jobs in the gaming industry better.
- Study options: Computer Science degree
A game programmer will write code for all the systems in the game, from game-play to the movement of water. Of course, in a big company, there will be several game programmers and it’s likely that they will specialise in particular aspects of the game. You will probably find jobs like:
- Gameplay programmer
- Online programmer
- Render programmer
- Study options: Game Design degree or Computer Science degree
The game designer produces the documentation for the game which explains in detail all the systems in the game. Having technical knowledge of different game engines or programming languages is not a must as you would mostly work with Powerpoint and Excel to present your designs, but they are appreciated if you have them. What does matter a lot is being a passionate gamer and truly understanding how gameplay systems work.
- Study options: Computer Science degree or Art degree
The main job of a technical artist is to ensure the game works well. You would need to understand art but also to have technical knowledge so you can optimise everything based on the budget, the resources, and the technology you have available. For example, you would assess how big the map can be, how many objects you can have on a map, with how many frames per second the game can run. Basically, you need to know a bit of everything and find the right balance.
- Study options: Computer Science degree, Animation and VFX degree, or other Art degrees
A VFX artist has to design and create special visual effects, and for that, understanding art is very useful. At the same time, you have to master rendering and modelling tools and know how to create particles and different materials.
To learn all of it, you can choose a degree in Visual Effects like this BA in Visual Effects Technical Art from Anglia Ruskin University in the UK, but you can also study Animation, Computer Science, Physics, or Art subjects and put in a little extra effort of your own to learn the tools.
If it sounds intriguing but you’re still unsure what VFX entails, try this Youtube channel and see what you might end up doing as a job.
Study options: Fine Arts degree, Design degree, Concept Art degree
Creates concepts of how the game should look like, including environments and characters. The final game won’t look exactly like in the concepts which serve as an ideation process and to create the atmosphere of the game.
The Concept artist uses a digital tablet to draw and paint in Photoshop, so you should master these mediums before applying for the job.
- Study options: Fine Arts degree, Architecture degree
Creates detailed environment concepts, also painting digitally in Photoshop, but they are sometimes required to know 3D art as well.
- Study options: Design degree, Architecture degree, Sculpture degree
Creates the assets, the terrain, and anything else that might go into the game by 3D modelling. The level artist doesn’t deal with characters or NPCs (non-player characters).
- Study options: Design degree, Computer Science degree, Game Design degree
Is the one that creates the level, using the 3D objects created by the other artists. In this role, you put together the puzzle pieces and build the space in the game. A degree in Architecture would certainly come in handy.
- Study options: Graphic Design degree, Industrial Design degree
The User Interface Artist has to design all the graphic elements that inform or interact with the player. This includes text, buttons, icons, menus, and so on.
- Study options: Fine Arts degree, Design Degree, Graphic Design degree
Depending on the size of the company, a 2D artist might do promotional materials, illustrations, icons, and any other piece of 2D art if the studio isn’t too big to afford several specialised artists.
- Study options: Animation degree
As an animator, you will work at animating the characters’ movement in game, as well as creating CGI scenes, but you also have the possibility to work in the film industry and make animated movies of TV series.
Game writer or Narrative designer
- Study options: Creative Writing degree, Literature degree, Journalism degree
If you want to write for video-games, you can expect to find a job entitled either Game Writer or Narrative Designer. Sometimes they are used interchangeably, but in some companies, especially the large ones, you can’t become a Narrative Designer without being a Game Writer first.
As a Game Writer, you can expect to write descriptive texts in the game, dialogue between characters, the story or parts of the story. On the other hand, Narrative Designers typically do more than write texts, they are the ones who design quests and the narrative experience of the player. Often, as a Narrative Designer you need technical skills as well because you will probably have to implement those quests in the game.
- Study options: Music degree, Sound Design or Engineering degree
A Sound Designer creates pretty much all the sounds in the game, including sounds for buttons, ambiental music, and other default sounds such as doors opening or closing.
What you probably won’t do is to write the theme songs. That’s usually composed by musicians, not in-house Sound Designers. But, that is not to say you cannot be both a Sound Designer and an independent musician if you want to.
2. Quality Control: This is how to get into the gaming industry with no experience
As you’ve seen, there are many career paths in the gaming industry and a few degrees which are more popular among game developers than others. But what if you don’t have a degree at all or you haven't graduated yet? Could you still work in the industry? The short answer is yes.
You can start working in a gaming company in Quality Control, popularly known as Game Tester jobs. And yes, that’s exactly what you’ll be doing: test games before they launch. Quality Control offers opportunities to grow in the company as well and, most importantly, they are a good entry point in the industry. After some time or once you graduate, if you wish to apply for a Production job, you have considerably higher chances of getting it.
3. Non-specific jobs in the gaming industry
Working directly on the game is not the only way to be in the industry. There are many other positions which you can find in other companies as well.
Here are some of the areas in which you can get a job:
- Human Resources
- IT Support
- Event Planning
- Talent Acquisition
A final thought: whatever career you choose, there is one requirement typical for all jobs in the gaming industry, one that all companies require: you must enjoy playing video-games.