When you look at your favorite video game, you are looking at the work of a team of people. They include at least one game designer, some programmers, a team of animators and other technicians and testers. Then there’s the guy who thought who the whole thing up. This leader is called the game developer.
In many ways a game developer is the first step into gaming management. If there is a close parallel to this position, it’s probably the producer of your favorite animated TV show of movie. Although the developer more than likely rose up the ranks from a particular specialty, they have to have at least a solid general knowledge of what others in the development team do.
It’s also a highly creative position as the basis of the game starts with the developer. Many these days keep their eyes on publications such as the Hollywood Reporter or Variety for the next ultra popular book, sport, TV show or movie, and then try to figure out how to make a game out of it.
The ones that software publishers truly treasure are the ones who come up with a totally original game concept. That’s because the publisher doesn’t have to share any licensing fees with the original property. In fact, the savvy software company turns around and starts brokering their trademark and copyright to film and TV studios, toy manufacturers and whatever else they can collect a licensing fee from.
Once upon a time computers were so simple that the development could all be done by one or very few people. That was back in the days of Pong, Brick Out and maybe Alien Invaders. These days, a contemporary computer game may include advanced physics, artificial intelligence, 3D graphics, digitized sound, an original musical score, complex strategy and may use several input devices and may be playable against other people via the Internet or over a LAN. Each aspect of the game can consume several programmers, each working on a particular aspect of the game.
Most jobs for game programmers specify a bachelor’s degree (in mathematics, physics, computer science, “or equivalent experience”). Many online colleges offer courses and degrees in game programming. Any such degrees should offer a well-rounded education that includes all the fundamentals of software engineering and some side courses in business management. From there, it’s up to the developer to work his way up the chain of command.
Once there though, the salary can be considerable. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average developer makes about $100,000. The benefits package usually includes insurance, retirement program, expense account and, most importantly, profit sharing. Developers becoming millionaires are not unheard of.
As for the future of game development? One need only look at the video gaming industry. Even though the business took a bit of a hit thanks to the recession, it still made over $20 billion in 2009. With the expansion of the Internet and such platforms as the smart phone, both the profession and the industry will be growing again very soon.