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Sample requirements to break into the game industry

rukib’s cube
Original image by Toni Blay

For those interested to overcome video game programmer requirements, I previously wrote on working while still in school. Though game development is a tough field, and it takes more than just computer programming skills, even for student level jobs. Positions that will contribute to your “two years of experience”, and especially “one shipped title” are difficult to come by. For a better perspective, out of 950 Computer Science related jobs advertised at my University, only 3 have to do with game programming (although, not many students have applied). One, I have mentioned before already.

Clearly, student opportunities for a career in game programming are scarce. To succeed, one needs to prepare to meet what is looked for. So I am going to reflect on another video game job posting, and highlight the trends. Once again, the actual company name is omitted.

Our company has an opening for a bright, talented and passionate co-op student that has always dreamt of a career in the video game industry. Here is your opportunity! We offer a competitive salary and benefits package as well as the opportunity to work on the cutting edge of software graphic and interactive program development.

As a programmer on one of the most highly anticipated next-gen console games, you will take on tasks that apply to your interests and skill set. These can range from engine programming to graphics to gameplay programming, networking to Playstation 3 or Xbox 360 specific coding. We are looking for individuals near or at the top of their class who are dedicated, enjoy video games and would love to be part of an elite programming team where your efforts will have substantial impact on the outcome of this product.

Sounds demanding, but the game title is indeed highly anticipated. This gem of a position would look amazing on a resume of anyone looking for a video game developer job. Lets take a look at the technical requirements:

  • Working towards BS in Computer Science, Engineering, Mathematics or a related discipline.
  • A burning desire to write code you can be proud of.
  • Strong communication skills, work ethic and motivation.
  • Expertise in C++.
  • Previous experience working in a fast paced team environment.
  • A strong interest in video games.
  • Must be comfortable working on projects with a large code base and long development cycles.

With bonus points for:

  • Having worked on personal projects in the domain of game development.
  • Knowledge of PERL.

Once again C++ is shown to be essential. It’s simply fast, so it is still in demand. Personally I would recommend to stay away from C++, if you are relativly new to programming – save it for later. It is much easier to gain your required “expertise” once you know what to look for in a language.

Obviously strong interest and passion are required for the field. For computer programming in general, but especially in the game industry. Show why you want this job so much!

I am especially excited over the inclusion of the last point: Having worked on personal projects in the domain of game development. Incidently, this term I have joined University of Waterloo’s Game Development club. More info to come.

So the observation remains the same: continue building up your programming experience. The concepts are language independent, but experience is still required. C# is good, but C++ is still more common in the industry (for now). Have something to show for yourself – a complete personal game project will demonstrate many of your traits. And, of course, passion for what you do! Good luck.

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  1. Posted by vlad | January 24, 2007, 1:13 pm

    You are definitely correct this is a hard field to get into, but once you get a job how much does it pay for a person with 2 or 3 years experience.

    Reply to comment

  2. Posted by engtech | January 24, 2007, 10:32 pm

    I don’t know about that… one of the problems with NOT starting with C++ is that you will learn programming without understanding pointers and memory allocation.

    If all you’ve ever dealt with before is automatic garbage collection…


    Reply to comment

  3. Posted by Tony | January 24, 2007, 11:54 pm

    @vlad – actually the pay is below average, at least at the start. The reason being is that there is a lot of competition, so employers can get away with offering lower starting salaries. Afterwards it’s difficult to say, might easily depend on a particular title’s budget. That is why I keep on saying that this field is for those with a passion for what they do.

    @engtech – on the other hand, when students are struggling to set up their if statements in the correct order, they really would rather not worry about how their strings are represented. I think C++ requires too much overhead to properly jump in, with little background.

    Reply to comment

  4. Posted by mkmage | March 18, 2007, 7:27 am

    Well I have just finished going to the Art Institute where I did game programming for a year and a half. I started 2 weeks after graduating from high school. I have to say, yes, to work in the game industry, you gotta work your butt off. I remember my last week of school when I was getting my portfolio finished, I must have had multiple times where I was working on my portfolio for more then 16 hours at a time. I sort of planned my time out but I still had a big crunch at the end. I came to the school with no prior experience with C . I had done some web programming but didnt really get into it much. Sort of bounced in and out. I say it was my own determination that I got through the school. The first day of my classes, there were 25 people in my game programming classes. When I graduated, there was only 5 of us left.

    Sorry for this rant about my school lol. Well this sorta shows how hard it is to get into the industry. I have been looking for 2 months so far and have just got a job offer right before I have one more interview which took me 1 and a half months to get to. All I know is that only if you have the talent, passion, work ethic and drive to make it in the industry will you succeed as there are not many job offerings for junior level positions.

    Reply to comment

  5. Posted by Tony | March 18, 2007, 4:05 pm

    @mkmage – Thank you for sharing your experience. It’s good to hear some relevant real life stories. Good luck with your game programming career!

    Reply to comment

  6. Posted by Khaild | March 24, 2007, 3:04 am

    hi dear Tony i am doing BCS in pakistan is it good for me for game programmer to do BCS

    Reply to comment

  7. Posted by Tony | March 25, 2007, 12:11 am

    @Khaild – a Bachelor of Computer Science degree would fit well with game development. Even Engineering, Mathematics or a related disciplines would do, as long as you show knowledge, experience, and passion for the subject.

    Reply to comment

  8. Posted by Kyle | April 26, 2007, 8:36 pm

    Hi, I’m 16 and looking to get into this field…. is there any tips that anyone can give me? Such as would I be able to find a job relatively easy? or what courses should I take in college?

    Reply to comment

  9. Posted by Zane | September 10, 2007, 5:48 pm

    I’m 15 and seriously thinking about becoming a video game designer. I want to create games and i have a lot of great game ideas. What type of classes should I take and what skills would give me an advantage at succeeding in this field?

    Reply to comment

  10. Posted by Tony | September 10, 2007, 6:03 pm

    Zane, there are still a couple of years before you have to commit yourself to a college of a university of choice. Until then you best bet is probably to take some computer classes while in high school and start working on some of your games now. Start out really simple, and work your way up. The above article emphasizes on having experience with personal projects, but more importantly you will get a much better idea of the entire process yourself, and hopefully figure out what kind of a direction is the most appealing to you.

    Reply to comment

  11. Posted by anil | September 19, 2007, 2:03 pm

    Hey Tony
    iam anil from india i have lot of ideas on new games but i don’t know how to start or how to break into the industry
    please can u advice me on how i can do this .

    Reply to comment

  12. Posted by Tony | September 19, 2007, 2:29 pm

    Anil, a good place to start would be to express your ideas. It could be done in a variety of mediums – writing stories, drawing artwork, or developing a prototype of a game in a programming language of choice. You need to have something to back up your ideas.

    Reply to comment

  13. Posted by Carlos | September 20, 2007, 11:23 am

    Hey Tony,
    So are there any books I can read before going into a gaming college like fullsail or digipen, I think I am going yo a CC for two years anyway, but some reps have told me to start learning C from books and do you recommend any particular books.. thanks

    Reply to comment

  14. Posted by Tony | September 20, 2007, 11:36 am

    Hey Carlos,
    There are definitely a plethora of books that you can pick up and follow, it’s probably one of the best advices you can get. Though I can’t recommend anything in particular – I was taught C in school, and I mostly just followed the online documentation. You should probably browse around at a local book store, and see what appeals most to you. Some just have sample code, while others go into a lot of theory and leave the implementation up to you. It’s best to find a balanced book that you can follow well.

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  15. Posted by ricky | September 23, 2007, 11:43 pm

    hi, i graduate this year and i was thinking about going into this field…i was wandering…will a computer science degree get you a job at a company like EA or Blizzard or Bungie. I would also like to know do i need to be good in anything like math? I was told it takes alot of math. Im in Pre-Cal right now, should that be enough or take more calculus in college. as for my classes…i will let my advisor take care of that.


    Reply to comment

  16. Posted by Tony | September 24, 2007, 12:01 am

    A Computer Science degree alone will not land you a job. There’s some more information, specifically on Blizzard Entertainment. Though a degree in CS or Software Engineering or something else related is among the best ways to prove your abilities.

    And yes, there’s Math involved ;)

    Reply to comment

  17. Posted by Reginald | November 1, 2007, 7:52 am

    Hello, was surfing the net and came up to here, but anyways, I’m also interested in the computer area dealing w/ programming and game designing. I’m trying to learn the C or just C language now, but in a way, its abit difficult understanding functions from one another or knowing when to use it. (In my brains case, what its used for). I Know it wasn’t going to be easy, and at the same time, I didn’t think it would be this hard, so how should I start off? I’m taking pc classes already( i typed all of this in the same class), also, I’m 15, and being in this field is not reallly……influenced. So anyone out there can help me out :?

    Reply to comment

  18. Posted by Tony | November 6, 2007, 3:39 pm

    @Reginald – C and especially C plus plus could be a bit overwhelming to start out with, so it should be expected to be difficult. Your question seems really ambiguous, I suggest you introduce yourself on the forums and ask some questions there.

    Reply to comment

  19. Posted by crisp | December 2, 2007, 2:37 pm

    hi tony, my name is crisp,16 and i am from canada..i m really desperate and crazy for hardcore massive games,and i m really thinking of getting into this game developing industry. I have been trying to find out what exactly I need 2 do, but i think u will be a person who can give a real good advice to me. I have learned Borland’s C in grade 10 when I was in India..i am in Canada since half a year, and over here too I am taking comp.sci classes in grade 11. I wanted 2 know that to get into this career…do u go for it directly after grade 12 or do I need to get some other degree b going for this. I searched on the net and I found International Academy of art and design in toronto..I thought it 2 b pretty good..but I am still confused where to start from…I hope u will be able 2 give some proper advice 2 me…thanks in advance for your valuable reply..

    Reply to comment

  20. Posted by Tony | December 3, 2007, 3:47 am

    hi Crisp,

    proper education is essential — without the right degree you’d have a hard time finding a job in any IT field, let alone something as competitive as video game development.

    It’s a tough decision, but you still have some time. Keep in mind that video games are a very small subset of what you can do with a general Computer Science degree. Still though, if you’re absolutely set of the field, have been making your own games already, and know what it takes to specialize in this direction, there shouldn’t be a reason to hold back.

    Besides International Academy, you could also pursue video game development through some Universities. Such as Carleton. It might be a good idea to visit the campus, and talk with some students who are currently in the program.

    Reply to comment

  21. Posted by Alex | May 12, 2008, 4:43 pm

    Hi. I’m Alex, 14, and i’m a guy that plays both backetball and video games and i love to play games more but i would love o make some. I’m good in math and science but not in other classes. I would like to know what classes i should take to get ready for collage and make great games. I play every game that i have and can play and ones that i get my hands on i play for 2 hours as soon as i can. So I play hard, easy, tricky, and a mix of every game. But some games i can’t play because I get in trouble a lot so games like Grand Theift Atuo I i can’t play. So and ideas on what i can do to get a head start on being a video game designer?

    Reply to comment

  22. Posted by Tony | May 12, 2008, 10:34 pm

    you should probably be aware that playing video games makes you as qualified for the game designer position, as playing basketball will allow you to engineer the court and equipment or to design basketball shoes.

    What I mean is that it’s two different worlds. Video games are about providing entertainment — via a story, a competition, a challenge, and/or pretty looking graphics.

    As a gamer, you might have a better understanding of what you are looking for, out of a successful project. Now you need to figure out how a new game could communicate that to the players.

    Reply to comment

  23. Posted by Harish | May 22, 2008, 1:11 pm

    Hey Tony,
    I’m Harish from India, 20 yrs old, doing BCA & thinking for MCA.
    I like Playing PC games & I also enjoy Programming. I Want to break into the game programming industry. Is it difficult for me to get a job in this industry.
    When I play games I also notify their other features like artificial intelligence, sounds, graphics, animations, etc. I take out some time for playing games everyday whether I’m busy or not.

    I’ve started making simple games like tetris in C . I had completed the design of the game (like moving blocks, turning them) but I had difficulty in making the logic of the game but if get some time, I know I can make it. Can I fit into this industry.

    Uptill now I’ve learnt C/C ,Data structures in C, VB.net & also have the basic knowledge of flash & its actionscript. I’m also thinking to learn asp.net, Java, C#, VC . Are these programming help me to get a job into game industry. If There’s other programming language I need to learn, please tell me.

    I also have made my college projects in these languages (like Student information system(in C), simple text editor(in C), Standard Calculator Graphically(in C ), & Electronic Billing system(in VB.net)). Can these help me to get into game industry.

    Please tell me is it will be difficult for me to compete in this industry & can I get a Job of a game Programmer.

    Reply to comment

  24. Posted by Tony | May 25, 2008, 4:13 pm


    You are certainly showing some potential towards the field — interest and independent learning are obviously advantageous. Any relevant experience will help, but I don’t want to tell you that it’s going to be easy, and then have you expect it to be so.

    Video Game industry is a very competitive place, because many students, like yourself, want to be working on entertaining game projects. It’s same as any other industry, really. There will always be competition, but if you are better than others and want to do what you do more than others do — there’s a higher chance that you will succeed.

    Reply to comment

  25. Posted by Harish | May 28, 2008, 9:34 am

    Thanks for your reply

    Reply to comment

  26. Posted by gibran | June 21, 2008, 1:15 am

    Heya Tony,

    Appreciate your info and yeah what you said is really true.

    Leaving the experience and education at it’s respective places, the passion for creativity in such a wide spreading entertainment field comes out with having loads of determination a good amount of enjoying what you do and living a creative life style (something new to look forward to each day, or rather something you’ll stay up all night completing that last bit of coding you feel will make stuff way better in you game or even that last little change in your 3D model that you think looks way pleasing to the eye or even the lightest use of colors…), but at the end of the day the sense of completion is just so tempting and the thought that so many people would see your work, play it, hold it ad love it gives so much more than a full purse.

    Anyways I’m doing my Diploma in Multimedia and advanced cinematic and almost over with it. It covered up most Multimedia Softwares and mostly my end project is based on a mix of it all including 3Ds Max.

    Next step hopefully would be a degree in Animation game design and computer generated arts, I’m just 20 so I’m trying to make my pathway into game designing / development.

    Played loads of games console (over 300) computer and online MMORPG’s I’ve just begun.

    But yeah since i was 13 always had so many ideas about game play, story lines, special effects, level designs etc and planning on making documents for those and future reference whenever i have some time.

    Haven’t really created any games as much till now but i guess it’ll come in my way soon.

    But basically I love playing games and so many things run in my mind about what would be better, what makes that particular game better and what could be better and about the so many ways it could be played and enjoyed, and moreover the sense of teamwork and completion is really soothing. And when you group up with a bunch of people who share the same idea like you, or even better but all in different perspectives the outcomes is way richer than how it initially began in your own mind.

    Can imagine 600 people working with Jade Raymond for Assassin’s creed including historians. :D And she’s one girl I’ll always admire when it comes to the gaming industry.

    And I’m training myself with self studies and designs all round, from photoshop to web designs to 3D designs to video editing so hopefully all this would lead my way into being a good game designer / developer / animator. Doesn’t matter as well as i really want to be good in all 3 of those in time to come and as long as i can be with my company /team and get my ideas into them! :)

    After all if you never “express” no one might ever know.

    Just felt like sharing My experience so far and i read all that the rest of you guys posted and was real interesting to read down and your article too tony.

    And one more thing I’m glad is that this is a competitive subject, like “mkmage” said, started with 25 ended with 5, the work in this really decides who can make it to the next step and who doesn’t and its all about loving what you do and doing what you love doing best. Rather than a whole class of 40 students walking away with certificates / diplomas, etc. And atleast 80% of them have no idea what they learn a few months later. But when it comes to our field, who isn’t into it whole heartedly, i don’t think he will find it easy to last long.

    Oh n I’m Sri Lankan so this field that I’m trying to go into is alien around here but sometimes good things are far away than where you stand. :)

    Thanks, cheers and good luck to you guys and to us all! :D

    “There are 3 kinds of people in this world…those you want things to happen to, those that make things happen,

    and those who just wonder what the hell happened!

    Loved by some, hated by many, envied by most, yet wanted by plenty!”

    - gibran -

    Reply to comment

  27. Posted by Tony | June 23, 2008, 1:49 am

    Hey gibran,

    thx a lot for sharing! It’s always good to hear about the experience of others, and views from a different perspective. Especially as detailed as yours!

    Reply to comment

  28. Posted by gibran | June 23, 2008, 12:00 pm

    All the pleasure my friend.

    After all we are a special bunch of people because of what we do.

    But really your topic really gave me a good overview of what we have to look into and on for…

    So hopefully our paths will get us going and together someday in the same industry! :)

    Sorry my post had to be so long but, guess i just had so much to say. :)

    Tc mate and cheers.

    “Time is just a killing system. Numbers, with meanings attached to it.”


    Reply to comment

  29. Posted by Ishan | July 12, 2008, 1:03 pm

    hi Tony, ishan here..i have got around a month to join college to pursue a bachelor degree in computer science ….like many i am also intrested in creating games and want to join the industry ..can u tell me what i should study or focus on during my days at college which might be helpful in getting into the industry….please tell me all that things/stuff i would have to do to get a career in creating games

    Reply to comment

  30. Posted by Tony | July 13, 2008, 4:19 pm

    @Ishan — a general purpose advice would be to start building games in your free time, and then the process should point out the areas where you can improve (or are interested in) the most; so find classes that would fit that well. A classic Computer Science degree should be a good foundation, but keep in mind that in a large game project things like physics, graphics, artificial intelligence, etc., could often have dedicated teams working just on those parts. This article might give a better suggestion about approaching elective courses.

    Once again, you would want to graduate with something to show off for yourself, so start with something really simple; something you know you can finish early. And then take the courses in a way to really polish the game.

    Reply to comment

  31. Posted by Andrew | July 20, 2008, 12:47 am

    Hi Tony,
    I’m 17 yrs. old and coming up to my Senior year here in hgh school and I’ve been doing a lot of research on what it might take to get involved in the industry. I came across your articles and they are all very informative, thank you. I do have a couple questions for you though, if you are able to offer some advice to me.
    First off, I’ve definitely been an avid fan of video games all my life. I’ve played everything from Sports games like Madden 08 to MMO’s like Everquest II and I, like most others that play them, notice what works/what doesn’t, for the most part. Unfortunately, I don’t have anyone game development experience under my belt but I have just started learning C in my spare time and will be taking classes on that in my community college when I can. I feel I am strong when it comes to writing and public speaking (I mention those as I saw they were important to breaking into the industry) and I am very good when it comes to Mathematical and Science fields, however not as strong as English and History related subjects.
    So, through all of this, I suppose my real question would be: Is it possible to break into the industry as maybe a Script writer or is that usually a profession that is gained after working with that company for some time? Or, on top of that, is it possible to enter the field as someone who delves into multiple aspects of the development (i.e. having a title of say programmer/script writer/designer) ?

    Thanks in advance!

    P.S. If there is any other advice you can offer me relating to my situation, it would be greatly appreciated :)

    Reply to comment

  32. Posted by haris | July 31, 2008, 6:23 am

    am haris doing MSc in Phyics. i like to enter AI programing field. can anybody say what i shoud do?

    Reply to comment

  33. Posted by lalit | August 11, 2008, 9:55 pm

    hi tony,
    i am much confused about breaking into the game industry, there are two degrees in this field bachelor in game design and development and bachelor in game graphic design, i don’t know which degree i should go for. I have studied C programming language in my high school and i have some knowledge of java scripting, but i am not good at them. i have a creative mind lots of new ideas come to my mind, i like drawing so i am good at drawing new characters and machines, i also have some idea of 3ds max and maya i had worked on these software for two months you can say the introduction to them. so i am very much confused about selecting the degree, because if the programming is required in the game industry then i will have to start from the beginning, but i know i can get control over programming in next 2 years because i can do anything for getting into this industry. so i want to know what is the basic role of the game programmer in the gaming industry and tell me which degree i should go for. right now i am doing diploma in computing in this i am studying C# programming and multimedia courses, so after completing this i can get direct admission into second year to the above both degrees. so tell me what should i go for, whatever is required i will just do it for into game industry. i want to start my career as soon as possible, so need your guidance.

    Reply to comment

  34. Posted by Tony | August 18, 2008, 7:38 pm

    @lalit — I shouldn’t tell you to simply follow a certain decision, and you shouldn’t blindly take one. The choice of a degree is an important one, that you should make for yourself.

    Though it might be helpful for you to keep in mind that there are many specialties in the field — a programmer doesn’t need to draw and an artist doesn’t need to be able to code (although it might be helpful to have an idea of how it all comes together, just to work better with the team).

    If you are leaning towards the visual art, it might be a better option to pursue, as the technical requirements for development are quite demanding.

    There are multiple routes to enter the field of game development; so check out the actual courses in each program, and try to match them up with what you can do and what you want to do.

    Reply to comment

  35. Posted by nedir | August 25, 2008, 8:25 am

    hi tony. i know visual basic 6.0
    can i programming any game? what’s your point of view?

    Reply to comment

    Tony replied on: August 25th, 2008 at 6:16 pm

    I doubt that you know VB6.0, though that’s besides the point.

    Can this obsolete technology still be used to create some game? Absolutely. Though in my point of view it’s not at all suitable for such a purpose.

    Reply to comment

  36. Posted by Matt | August 29, 2008, 8:23 pm

    Well I am currently 16 and have been working with Adobe Flash for around 3-4 years and am good with it’s programming languages of AS1 and AS2. Although I haven’t gotten into AS3.
    I am also fairly good with Adobe PhotoShop and Swift 3D. I have yet to get into C++ as I will be taking a class in Computer Programming which I hope will teach it.
    I visited HB Studios who makes games for EA studios 2 years ago and they said that they mainly code in C++ but have a back end section for Flash. Which actually kind of surprised me because I thought it was mainly for Web Based Games. Last year I got a 98% in Communications Technology a class I took which I practically taught the class because I knew more than the teacher.
    This blob post has been very informative and I thank the poster of it.

    Reply to comment

  37. Posted by Tyler | January 7, 2009, 1:09 pm

    Hellos tony, i two am looking to get into the gaming industry, not directly as a programmer,(though i would like to) but as one of the idea guys and i am hoping to eventually lead my own company as a branch of a larger developer. The thing is though, i dont know where i should start, nor what i should do to present my ideas to anyone. Would it be wise to send in some of my ideas to a larger company? Hold on to them? or try and sneak my way into the industry by using a school like Full-Sail, and then just kind of go from there?

    Reply to comment

    Tony replied on: January 27th, 2009 at 8:01 pm

    The short answer is that many companies have policies not to look at ideas send in — it mostly has to do with legal issues of copyright. Besides, you might want to express your ideas in some more tangible form. Writing, sketches, etc are a great start; but certain ideas are best expressed in a working demo.

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  38. Posted by Fiendishv11 | February 18, 2009, 8:48 pm

    Hi, I am nearing the end of 10th grade and attempting to get a grasp on the fundamentals of C++. Though it is very difficult to learn by myself with absolutley no previous programming skills I am gradually begining to understand the basics. Anyways I have a question that you may or may not be able to answer. If I manage to become a decent C++ programmer by the time I start taking a game programming BS in college, will all my time spent not really having a life outside of School/Programming pay off? Or will I have just spent my time learning programming skills only to relearn them in college.

    Now I will eagerly await your response and pray to the lord that this post, like so many others before it does not get lost in the depths of cyberspace never to love or be loved again.

    Reply to comment

    Tony replied on: February 22nd, 2009 at 1:44 am

    There is more to video games than just programming; and there’s more to programming than just C++. Besides, I’ve already mentioned that it’s not a suitable tool to start with.

    You would want to have some life, diverse education is generally beneficial.

    Besides, you don’t know what kind of tools the video game industry would be using in 6 years from now.

    Reply to comment

  39. Posted by Computer Science jobs for University Students | CompSci.ca/blog | September 30, 2009, 12:05 am

    [...] More so in light of the recent economic downturn. An interesting point to reflect against is a benchmark from 2007 when “950 Computer Science related jobs” were advertised to the University of Waterloo [...]

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