- Personality type:
- Designing and writing the computer code that runs and controls a game
Is this role right for me?
To do this role, you will need to:
- be able to programme in C++, C and other programming languages
- be systematic and highly organised
- be able to work on your own initiative and as part of a team
- have good communication skills
- have specific platform experience, e.g. Wii, PlayStation, Xbox
- have a good understanding of game play
- be able to take instruction and work to deadlines
- be creative and possess problem-solving skills
- have knowledge of the requirements of the relevant health and safety legislation and procedures
What does a Game Programmer do?
Game Programmers work at the heart of the game development process. They design and write the computer code that runs and controls the game, incorporating and adapting any ready-made code libraries and writing custom code as required. They test the code and fix bugs, and also develop customised tools for use by other members of the development team.
Different platforms (games consoles, PCs, handhelds, mobiles, etc.) have particular programming requirements and there are also various specialisms within programming, such as physics programming, AI (artificial intelligence), 3D engine development, interface and control systems.
Games development is an increasingly complex process and large teams of Programmers might be involved in creating a game, some in leadership roles, some working on just one aspect.
Programmers are employed by development studios – publisher-owned and independent. They also work for middleware producers, an increasingly important sector providing cross-platform graphics rendering, game physics, sound management, AI, and other specialist tools. Programmers might also work for localisation companies which translate and re-version games for different territories.
There are many different programming roles. Job titles include: Games programmer; Tools programmer; AI programmer; Middleware programmer.
The Lead Programmer translates the design into a technical specification for the game and then delegates tasks to the programming team:
- General programmers work on a whole range of tasks, often working with code that other Programmers have written.
- Programmers with specific tasks, might work on physics (e.g. programming movable objects so that they appear to obey the laws of gravity, etc.)
- Specialist tools programmers identify and design any custom tools which may be needed, perhaps by the Artists or Level Editors, then build them to an agreed specification.
The Programmers create different 'builds' of a game, liaising with the QA Testers to fix any bugs identified at each stage. They might also work with a Localisation Manager to create versions of the game for different platforms and territories.
What might I earn?
The financial rewards for good Programmers are potentially high and their skills are in demand not just in the UK, but also in Europe and the US.
Will I need a qualification?
You will generally need to have a degree to be a Game Programmer. This could be in physics, maths or computer science. Many new entrants also have a postgraduate qualification as well.
If you are considering taking a games course in higher education, the following courses have been rigorously assessed by the games industry and awarded the Creative Skillset Tick for the high standard of education they provide and the degree to which they prepare you for a games career:
Games courses awarded the Creative Skillset Tick
You will need to be able to programme in C++ and potential employers will usually ask for some kind of demo or ask you to work through a test. You would also do well to have sound knowledge of contemporary game hardware platforms and the latest software development techniques.
The games industry is constantly evolving, both creatively and technically, and you will need to keep up to date with the latest developments. Most training is self-driven and much happens on the job.
What’s the best route in?
The most likely route in is to start off by programming as a hobby. If you do a degree, particularly one that has been awarded the Creative Skillset Tick, you should benefit from links between your course and game development studios, including in the form of work placements.
In applying for work, you will need to be able to demonstrate knowledge of games and what makes a game work. This can include submitting samples of game programming you have developed yourself.
You could apply to be a Games Trainee through Trainee Finder, which gives you hands-on experience in the industry and helps you build those all-important contacts that are essential when competing for a job:
Where might the role take me?
It is likely you will start off in a junior position, performing general programming tasks, before specialising or moving into a leadership role.
Interested? Find out more...
- 3DWorld - the magazine for SFX, TV production and game development artists
- BECTU - the UK's media and entertainment trade union, covering broadcasting, film, independent production, theatre and the arts, leisure and digital media
- Develop - the monthly magazine for European developers
- e-Skills UK - the Sector Skills Council for IT, Telecoms and Contact Centres
- Edge - the UK's self-styled bible for UK gamers
- Eurogamer - European-focused consumer website
- Gamasutra - website founded in 1997 that focuses on all aspects of video game development
- GameDev.net - online community for game developers of all levels
- GamesIndustry.biz - covering breaking news from the game's business
- IGDA - the International Game Developers Association, a global network of collaborative projects and communities comprising individuals from all fields of game development
- IGN - internet media and services provider focused on the video game, entertainment men’s lifestyle markets
- MCV - the weekly trade magazine of the UK games industry,
- TIGA - the Independent Games Developers Trade Association - non-profit trade association representing the UK's games industry
- Ukie - the Association for UK Interactive Entertainment - champions the interests, needs and positive image of the video games and interactive entertainment industry whose companies make up its membership