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All work for all play: Video game programming skills

Laura Isaacs, September 27, 2011

Computer and video games have come a long way since the early days of Pong and Pac-Man. According to recent figures from the Entertainment Software Rating Board, more than 67 percent of U.S. households today play video games and the average gamer logs at least 8 hours of screen time each week. In 2009, video and computer games racked up $10.5 billion in revenue in the U.S. alone, and numbers are only projected to rise.

Numbers from Strategy Analytics show the video game market, on a world-wide level, is projected to rise from $51.7 billion in 2010 to $81.1 billion by 2016. With such a rapid market increase, job opportunities for those with video game programming skills are also likely to rise.

Pros looking to enter the growing video game programming market will likely find they need to have a few specific skills to enter this sector. To get a clearer picture on the video game programming skills needed to make a difference, the International Game Developers Association recently asked some of its members what newcomers to the industry ought to focus on, and many of them mentioned C++.

Ben Board, an experienced game programmer who now runs a programming team, told the IGDA that "learning a good structured language like C++ to as high a standard as you can" and practicing your skills by devising your own computer games until you can use it at an expert level can help IT pros enter or advance in today's competitive job market.

C++ programming skills can open doors

A quick search of Dice.com, a tech-oriented career database, recently showed more than 6,000 open positions nationwide for programmers and developers with C++ skills. Though these jobs were in all sectors, the ads specifically looking for game development professionals had a few similarities. In addition to C++ programming skills, most organizations preferred that candidates have:

  • A bachelor's degree in computer science or a related field, or equivalent experience
  • Problem-solving experience
  • The ability to think "outside the box"
  • System architecture experience

Training options for C++ developers

Those seeking to gain the C++ or video game programming skills needed to enter or advance in a game developer position are likely to find many ways to gain the needed expertise.

Many colleges and universities offer both online and in-person courses in C++. These courses can range from basic to advanced C++ skills, and many are specifically oriented for those interested obtaining video game programming skills and design. Some schools even offer a computer science major specializing in game design.

Though C++ isn't attached to a particular vendor, those wishing to learn with Microsoft's Visual C++ will find vendor-specific options for basic and advanced learning. Microsoft has a vast online collection of both text-based and audio-visual resources for its Visual C++ platform, including compliers, libraries and a development environment.

With an increasing number of opportunities for game programmers and a plethora of training opportunities, now could be the time to obtain the video game programming skills needed to make a difference in today's growing market.

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