One maxim that has been true from the earliest days of computing technology and onward: where there are computers, there are games. The microprocessor has been linked to both productivity and entertainment since its creation. The early computer games were primitive electronic translations of traditional board and card games, or minimalist versions of sports like table tennis (Pong, anyone?). The limitations of early graphics meant that most old-school computer games were highly text-based, and audio was limited to a few select beeps and boops. And, due to the mostly non-networked nature of early home computers and video game consoles, electronic games were usually limited to a single player experience.
As computing technology advanced, so did computer games. On the hardware side, more powerful sound cards enabled stereo music and voice delivery capabilities. New computer displays came with higher resolutions and increased color palettes, driven by new graphics adapters with faster processors and more video memory (VRAM) that resulted in more dynamic and detailed visuals.
Software programming was advancing alongside the hardware. New device drivers and iterative improvements to programming languages enabled the creation of games with more complex game logic, and "smarter" computer opponents for players to face off with.
In many ways, computer gaming was the primary force behind the feverish evolution of computing technology during the last decade of the 20th century. The consumer desire for more sophisticated and entertaining computer games was the motivation behind increasingly more powerful PC hardware and software. The end result was a lucrative home PC market based on a constantly updating list of faster, more powerful components. This booming market activity would not have been sparked by home and office productivity software alone, as it usually required less processing, memory, and display power than PC games.
Today, the computer game industry is one of the largest entertainment industries in the world. A 2013 Reuters news story reported that global video game market revenue is expected to reach $78 billion by 2017. This includes games played on PCs, on dedicated video game consoles like Microsoft's Xbox and Sony's Playstation, and on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. Major game studios are now making higher profits than major Hollywood studios.
All of this activity has led to opportunities for game designers and developers. Whether it's working for gaming software houses or creating the hot new mobile game from the comfort of their home office, designers and devs are benefiting from the hot market in computer gaming.
Game Design and Development Specialties
Game devs create all of the code and software linkages necessary to fulfill the requirements of a computer game's design blueprint. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the following specialized game programmer roles:
- Artificial intelligence programmers
- Graphics programmers
- Lead programmers with supervisory roles
- Network specialists who enable multi-player online experiences
- Physics programmers who write the game code for natural laws such as gravity
- Tools programmers who can automate tasks for team members
- User interface programmers who collaborate with designers and artists
With a small game (like a mobile phone app), there may only be one game dev involved. Major game studios have hundreds of devs working on specialized teams in roles like the ones listed above. As with other software companies, all of the developers working on a game must communicate and collaborate with each other, from pre-production all the way through post-production.
The terms "software developer" and "software designer" are often used interchangeably. However, there is a key distinction between the two roles. Developers are the ones who create all of the code that enables the software to do all that it has to do. Designers are the ones who decide what the software should do, how it should look and sound, and how users should interact with the software.
Game designers work alone or as part of a creative team to design all of the user-facing aspects of a game. The design team for a computer game can include one or more of the following professionals:
- Graphic artists
- Sound engineers and Foley artists
- Musicians and composers
- Story and dialogue writers
- Voice-over actors
- Motion capture actors
- Game theorists and mechanics experts
Game designers and devs each have some knowledge of what the other does, which helps during the collaboration phase where a game design becomes a living piece of software.
Game Design and Development Degrees and Education
The computer gaming industry presents attractive opportunities for individuals with a passion for arts and technology and specific interests in computer game development. In order to take advantage of the exciting career options in computer gaming, consider the pursuit of computer game programming and design training. Here are some things to know about getting a degree in this field and what to expect after graduation.
How a game design degree works
A career in the computer game programming and design field requires a unique blend of skills ranging from the creative and artistic to the technical and functional. Because of this, individuals looking to pursue a career in the computer gaming industry should incorporate a range of coursework in their degree plan.
Elements of software engineering, computer programming, graphic design, and multimedia art should be an integral part, with both classroom and practical experience involved. Depending on whether an individual is more interested in the art aspects of computer game design or the technology of game engineering and programming, one might pursue additional electives in one area or the other. But to become a true game developer, it is wise to become proficient in both the art and technology of computer game development.
Depending on the emphasis for artistic versus technical training, computer game programming and design training will typically lead to one of two degrees. A Bachelor of Fine Arts with focus on computer game design is appropriate for those with a strong interest in the design of computer games. This degree would focus more on the dramatization and storytelling components of a computer game. On the other hand, for those with stronger technical interests, a typical degree program would culminate in a B.S. in Computer Science with a focus on computer game engineering and programming. Either degree will contain coursework in the following subject areas:
- Computer Programming and Software Engineering
- Game Design and Development
- Data and Computer Systems
- Electives in the liberal arts and other core courses
Most computer game programming and design degree programs will also include a supervised studio component where students build on their practical skills of game design. Here, students have a chance to try new techniques and turn their classroom-learned skills into reality. Students will often complete a capstone project during their senior year which is a critical piece of a graduate's portfolio to show potential employers.
Game Design and Development Job and Salary Outlook
The job market for all software developers (including game devs) is likely to grow substantially over the next decade, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
|Software Developers and Software Quality Assurance Analysts and Testers-U.S.|
What is the salary outlook for game developers?
Software developers continue to feature well in compensation statistics from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Game developers fall into this categorization.
While the US Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn't track data specifically for computer game designers, it does have numbers available for the category "Computer Software Engineers, Applications." These are designers of software applications primarily for the productivity market, but this category can be helpful when discussing the job market for game designers.
What is the salary outlook for game designers?
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics does not keep salary information for computer game designers, but it does have statistics for the job category "Software Developers, Applications." This information is a useful starting point when researching compensation for game designers.
Game Design and Development Certifications
Many people looking to break into the computer game industry as a designer or dev choose to enrich their resumes by earning one or more IT certifications, which are offered by several hardware and software vendors, and from vendor-neutral industry associations.
When it comes to computer game design and development, the most relevant technical certifications are those based on the programming languages and software tools used to create games. Some of the relevant certification vendors for this field include the following:
- Microsoft (programming languages like C#; software design with Visual Studio)
- Adobe (software tools like Flash, InDesign, and Premiere Pro)
- Oracle (the Java programming language)