How To Get Into The Video Game Business

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Sonic, Pac man & Mario ….regardless of your age, race, religion or even sex these names evoke a level of nostalgia parallel to none. Growing up playing various games one time or another I’m sure we all criticized certain design aspects of a game like…”this game is to hard” “that boss was to easy” “why doesn’t this game include -this mode or that mode-“. All of that is step 1 of becoming a game developer.

The video game business has grown and evolved so much that its like Hollywood in many cases (GTA $100 million budget). Often times even crossing over. In 2008 and 2009 the video game industry generated a revenue of 21 billion & 19 billion* respectively. Record sales for the last 3 years placed the game industry in a position to rival and/or shatter numbers put up by DVD, CDs and even box office. Every year the industry seems to break some kind of record showing the amazing growth of an absorbent industry despite the difficult economic times. With the growth of the gaming industry akin to Hollywood in the 60s, landing jobs is actually easier than you may think. Unlike our hoop dreams, game development dreams are very attainable (not taking shots at the NBA, I love them)

Before entering the business its best to know which field is best for you. Do you love to sit home and sketch characters all day? Sounds like a 3d modeler in the making. What if you have all these cool ideas for the last board in Mario? Sounds like a level designer. But don’t forget the industry has grown, so there is a whole other side of the industry that has nothing to do with the actual development. You have marketing, sales, business affairs, customer support, HR & QA (which is held by a 3rd party most of the time). Besides QA most of those positions are filled with people who did NOT go to college for video games, they are NOT hardcore gamers and they look at working for a video game company in the same light as working for any big corporation. Having a passion for games will help you excel in those fields so I strongly recommend it for the person reading this with limited to mild video game interest and plans on going to a normal college. The chance of you landing a job in the “none development” field is very likely don’t worry.

Game development

Game development has 5 branches

  • 1.DESIGN
  • 4.ART
  • 5.AUDIO.

Just to give you a break down of avg. salary** it goes like this 1st Programming $83k 2nd Production $78k 3rd Audio $73k 4th Art $66k 5th Design $63k

I strongly advise choosing your field carefully, yes programming will guarantee you $80k pretty much anywhere you go but it’s a pain in the ass because the language is very anal (yes I know dev c++ helps with errors)
Here’s some behavior AI code (this is what you will do all day)

Int iBehavior = abs(rand() % 100);
If (ibehavior < 50)
else if (ibehavior < 60)
// evade
else if (ibehavior < 90)
// fly in a pattern
// fly randomly

…looks fun huh. Guess what happens if you forget a “greater than” sign? GLITCHES! Then your ass will be looking through code all night trying to patch it before writes a story about how your game sucks. Again programming is very anal. It’s like learning another language because it is (mixed with math).
To prevent from making this article exceptionally long I will skip the other 4 branches because they are pretty much as they read (art includes animation). Instead I want to give you some of the top schools in the US for game development.


Art institute of Design(various) -I like this school a lot because they focus on a wide range of the game development field. I personally learned 4 out of the 5 branches of gaming there.90 % job placement rate.

The Academy of Art(SF, California) – The rival school of the Art institute (like Duke vs. N.Carolina). Great school none the less!

DigiPen (Redmond, WA) – One of the best schools for low level game programming in the nation. Nintendo frequents there and I’m sure Microsoft will soon as well. Amazing school!

Full Sail (Florida) – This school is more like a “hands on” school. Making a short FMV will be your Homework. I was going to go there but I didn’t want to move to Florida.

Vancouver Film school – Another great one but its in Canada.

No College

As we all know college isn’t cheap and also it isn’t for everyone but guess what, you can still get into the business you love! Through out the multiple gaming events I attend one constant remains… the two most popular ways to enter the business. 1st is through game testing, God of War creator and Eat, sleep and play founder David Jaffe is probably the most famous person to come from testing. Testing is an easy way in the game industry; you get to meet A LOT of important people on BOTH sides of the game development field. All it takes is a lucky day then BAM! your on the development team. Since these jobs don’t require ANY college (I think even a GED will do) it doesn’t pay as much. You’re looking at around $12 an hour in California. This kind of job is highly recommended for young people without kids and/or rent.

The 2nd easy way in is through journalism. You talk with these publishers and developers so much you know the product as well as anyone else and they recognize that. 2009 IGN Editor in Chief Jeremy Dunham joined MANY others in making the jump from journalism to development. In 2010 you don’t need a college degree to write about games. There are so many good gaming websites looking for passionate people to write original articles. Sites like allow you to create your own blog and write away. Don’t be discouraged if you have a low amount of hits and 0 comments. Just remember two things 1. In due time if you promote properly your numbers will grow 2. All your work is part of your portfolio which in Video Game development is better than a degree. Let’s say you land an interview with IGN or Game Informer, once they sit down and see your amazing work on your blog they wont judge you by your hits but by your content.

The last way without a college degree (besides getting a hook up) is to just do everything yourself. Whether that’s teaching yourself (one of the 5 branches) or to assemble your own team. This step is by far the hardest in my opinion because it involves a lot of risk and discipline. Making independent games like James Silva did with the Dishwasher can help. Also look for development tools that involve little to no programming….oh yeah mods are also great!

Here’s some recommended reading material
* Game Plan by Alan Gershenfeld with Bobby Kotick
* Game Programming in 24hrs by Michael Morrison
* Game Design Workshop by Tracy Fullerton
* EVERY Game Developer magazine SUBSCRIBE!

I can go on forever about this but this article is long enough, you can contact me or visit my site(still a work in progress) at or
I will also be at GDC next week if you want to meet up.

-Keenan aka Bess
Side B Gaming

*NPD numbers
**Game Developer magazine developer surveys

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