So, you want to know how to become a game developer? Then you are in the right place. Before I co-founded Gladio Games, my indie game studio, I was a game developer myself and I've learned a lot on my journey.
There isn't a single path to becoming a developer, but having been in the industry for almost 10 years taught me a lot of what it takes to become a game developer and the right path to take to become successful in the industry.
So, in the following article, I want to share with you my journey to becoming a game developer and some advice that will help you get into the industry.
Level 1️⃣: Acquiring knowledge 🙇🏻
The first step to becoming a Jedi ⚡️ (game developer) is to acquire the basic knowledge.
👩🎓 How to become a game developer without a degree
Many people ask me: "Do I need a degree to become a game developer?".
The short answer is no, but avoiding the path to a degree may not be a good idea, and let me explain why.
If you want to work in the industry you'll need some knowledge.
Actually, you'll need a lot of knowledge and I found out that the best way to kickstart your career as a video game developer is to get a degree.
When you go through a university program, you'll have to study some things you would normally avoid if you were not forced to. Here's a little list just to mention a few:
- Data structure.
- Advanced object-oriented programming.
- Computer networks.
- Signal and image processing.
- Analysis and statistics.
My experience is that if you start to study how to become a game developer without following an academic path, you are probably going straight to some Unity tutorial where they'll make you code right away.
Thus it's not wrong in theory, but if you want to become a very good developer, sooner or later you'll have to study those boring topics. You'll need to learn physics and mathematics because they will help you a lot when you are going to develop your game or looking for a job in the industry.
In the last few years, I've also had the chance to interview some developers who wanted to join our studio, and I found that the people without a degree didn't have the basic knowledge to become a good game developer.
We asked some questions like: "What is the best data structure to solve this particular problem?" Most of the candidates without a degree didn't even know what a data structure is.
Now, I'm not saying that you need a degree, you can find all the information that you need out on the internet, but what I'm saying is that you are going to need to study all the "boring" stuff if you want to become a good game developer.
Another common question is: can't I just follow a course on the web? Well, usually the courses available does not deal with the complicated stuff you are going to need like physics, mathematics, etc. So, it's still better than nothing, but for sure it's not enough.
📚 Best books to become a game developer
Independent from the fact that you're taking the university or self-taught path, there are a few books that you must have in your library.
My suggestion is not to simply read those books, but you need to study and use them as a manual.
There are a ton of other books that you should read if you pursue a career in game development, but those are the ones you should start with.
Level 2️⃣: Acquiring experience 🧑🎓
Ok now it's time to get some experience, but what's the best way to do it? Should you start by coding a game by yourself, create an indie studio, or get an internship?
🎮 Make a game and become a game developer
What I did to get into the game development industry was simply making a game by myself. But it's not that simple, what game should you make, what engine should you use, and which language?
My suggestion is to ask yourself the following question: "what role do you see yourself in 5 years from now?"
Are you going to be a gameplay programmer, a shader programmer, or maybe you just love to create tools and editors that will be used by the game designer?
In my case, for example, I loved mobile games and the mobile industry so the first project I made was a mobile game. Now, it goes without saying that if you are a programmer, for example, your game won't be that beautiful.
But that is not a problem, you can make a very visually simple game and focus 80% of your resources on the coding side.
Your first game will suck, and that it's ok (here is mine)
Here you can see a gif of one of my first games (Square Maze):
As you can see, the game is not aesthetically beautiful, but trust me, with this simple game I learned a lot of things:
- How to use some basic design patterns, like the single responsibility or the SOLID principles.
- How to create custom editor tools: I made an editor tool to randomly generate the mazes that will be used within the game.
- Monetization strategy.
- In-app purchases.
- The difficulty of getting the app published through the Apple store 😭.
- What it takes to make a game from start to finish.
- A lot of other things.
By the way, if you have 5 minutes, have a look at Square Maze on the App Store or Google Play so you can see the complexity of one of my first projects. And since you are there, leave a 5 star review 😁.
If you are making a game it is important that it is complete and possibly published, this will help a lot with getting a job in the game industry.
For example when we had candidates who show up for an interview with a published project we gave them a lot of cachet because they proved that they can handle a project from start to finish.
This is important because most of the people who applied only wanted to work on the "cool" stuff like the gameplay mechanics, but a game is made up of a lot of other boring stuff like pop-ups, boring alerts, tutorials, etc.
👩💻 Create a Github project
Github is an online platform where you can share the code you wrote with the rest of the world. You can share everything, from a complex project to a single-page script.
It does not have to be a super complex project.
➡️ For example I created a simple finite-state machine.
It is a simple two-class C# project, but it is always better than nothing and it's a good way to show your coding style when you apply for a job.
Level 3️⃣: getting a job in the game industry💰
Ok now that you have learned the basics in becoming a game developer and invested time in the creation of your portfolio, it's time to get into the industry and here are some useful tips that will increase the chances of getting your dream job and finally becoming a game developer.
🦄 Find the right company
Before you start sending 1000s of CVs to every gaming company in the world, I suggest taking a look at the companies you would love to work with.
Every company has different values and makes different games, so you better start with the company you think will be aligned most with your values. And you know: never say never, you may end up with a job at Blizzard!
🙈 Customize your cover letter
Please don't send the same cover letter to each company because you are very likely to be rejected.
If we, at Gladio Games, receive a cover letter and we have the feeling that the candidate didn't even spend 5 minutes explaining why they would be the right choice for us, we immediately reject the application, even if the candidate has the most compelling CV.
Please try to make the company dream and think: "Omg! This guy could be one of the most valuable assets on our team".
Show that you know the company ⬅️
A good way to start on the right foot is to tell the company why you like them.
Let them know that you have played their games, that you know their culture. The more you show that you know every aspect of the company and what they produce, the higher your chances to be hired.
Ask your growth 📈 path within the company
It's always good to ask what your future inside the company will be like, will you have the chance to grow? What tasks will you do? What games will you work on? etc.
The goal here is to make sure that the you and the company are aligned with your expectations because you don't want to get stuck with a boring job without any options to grow or improve yourself and your skills.
Be prepared to be tested 🤥
You may have the most amazing CV and have developed a ton of games but most companies (us included) will ask you to take a test to evaluate your skills, so please, when you make the application, do not lie because sooner or later the company will find out.
The test can be different from company to company, but you just have to be relaxed and try to complete the task within the best of your ability.
🎩 Tips that can help getting a job in the game industry
Your soft skills matters
You may be the best developer, game designer, artist, or whatever, but it does not matter if you don't have the right soft skills. If you are a good developer and you cannot communicate or work within a team, it'll be very difficult to get the job of your dreams.
So you should learn and cultivate your soft skills because they do matter. Here are 3 soft skills shared by JC Lau, at one GDD talk.
So when you are going to write your resume, don't forget to add all the experiences that helped you grow your soft skills. For example in my personal case:
- I did a lot of volunteering which lead me to better understand other people's needs, I also learned how to help other people.
- Air-soft team leader: I've been playing airsoft for more than 8 years and I've had a lot of chances to lead my squad into the "battlefield", which taught me a lot of what it means to be a leader.
- Trail running: running a 0 to 21km trail with more than 1300m of difference in height had taught me a lot about self-sacrifice, stepping out of my comfort zone, discipline, and sacrifice to reach my goal.
Those are just some examples, but don't be shy and share your quality work.
Let me tell you a story 𝌏.
One year before my university graduation, I took a trip to London from Italy to attend an event about app development.
For me, it was just an excuse to travel and do some networking.
Well, guess what? During that event, I meet a guy who, after I got graduated, offered me a job in the company he was working with.
So long story short, try to network as much as you can, don't be a lone wolf 🐺, make friends, make connections, cultivate them, and have fun.
There is a high chance that those connections may lead you to a job in the future!
How I get started: my path to become a game developer
I will probably write a dedicated article about this, but I just want to show you a quick view at what my path from a "dreamer game developer wannabe" to a co-founder of a game studio was.
😴From dreamer to student
I've always wanted to make games, so I decided to study computer science for these reasons:
- The demand for software eagerness is skyrocketing.
- I could code games by myself (or at least I thought so).
My first game 🤟
During my university years, with other 4 colleagues, we decided to make our first Unity game and it was so much fun. We learned a lot during the process and the game was a discrete success for the time.
But this experience made me realize one thing: "I want to work in the game industry".
My first job 💶
After I got graduated from the university, I got a job in a cool startup in London, but there were 2 problems:
- I wasn't working in the game industry, actually, I was an app developer.
- I didn't like working in the office.
So I decided to dream big: "my plan was to quit the job, and become a digital nomad while working as a freelance game developer".
From student to freelancer 👩💻
After my first working experience I was convinced that I was going to be a freelancer but I didn't know yet the effort that it would take to reach my goals.
I knew that finding a job as a freelance game developer wasn't that hard since I already had made a mobile game and had some working experience in the mobile industry, but the problem was finding a fully remote job.
My first job as a freelancer 💶
Since at the time I was using Unity, I decided that even if at the beginning I wasn't able to find a job in the game industry, I was going to find a job where I could use C#, the language used in Unity, so at least I was getting some experience that would help me find a job later on.
So I found my first fully remote job as a freelance Xamarin developer, it wasn't what I dreamed of but at least it was something.
Also, I was making games in my own spare time, so after a year or so I had enough experience to try to find a job in the game industry and I was hired by a UK startup company to help them make their first mobile game (they failed unfortunately ☹️) .
But from that time on, I was able to continue working as a freelance game developer, and most importantly, I also had enough free time to continue working on my side games.
I know, there is really a lot to say here, but as I've stated before, we will discuss the details in a separate post.
From freelancer to Gladio Games 👨🏼💼
After a lot of years as a freelance game developer, I decided that I had enough experience to manage a team and make the big leap into the game industry.
It wasn't an easy choice, but in the end, I decided along with my colleague Romeo to found Gladio Games.
We are going to make the games that we love and also help clients make their vision come true.
At the moment we are 8 people and we couldn't be happier.
I must say that managing a game studio is much, much harder than I thought it would be, but it's so fun and rewarding.
What is worth mentioning is that during these years I had to go through a lot of failures and I'm sure there are a lot more to come, but I wouldn't trade this life for anything else because it's incredibly fun and rewarding.
I hope my path will motivate you to not give up on your dreams, and if you love making games and working in the industry, then don't give up.
🥴 Are you sure you want to work in the game industry?
Now what I can tell you is that making game is incredibly fun. The other thing that I can tell you is that is incredibly hard!
So be prepared to work with studios that will fail and close, be prepared to crunch and work long hours, be prepared to suffer because making a game is fun but it's also painful.
Making games is like running a marathon for the first time, you are in such pain but the reward at the end is what will drive you.
If you want to know more about the difficulties behind the game industry, and what to expect, then have a look at this book:
Schreier trains his investigative eye on the volatility of the video game industry and the resilience of the people who work in it.
The business of videogames is both a prestige industry and an opaque one. Based on dozens of first-hand interviews that cover the development of landmark games—Bioshock Infinite, Epic Mickey, Dead Space, and more—on to the shocking closures of the studios that made them, Press Reset tells the stories of how real people are affected by game studio shutdowns, and how they recover, move on, or escape the industry entirely.
I'm not an engineer, I don't have a degree and I don't have experience in the game industry🙈. How do I become a game developer?
Well, not all is lost, please have a look at the following talk from GDC 2021 and you'll find a lot of good tips on how to get a job in the game industry coming from other fields.
Now we have concluded our journey from a dreamer game developer wannabe to an actual game developer.
I hope you've enjoyed the advice and if your dream is to work in the game industry, don't give up.
Marco Mignano 👋 ➡️ Passionate Unity Game Developer Marco - coding aficionado, video game enthusiast, and self-proclaimed piazza addict. Constantly conquering new challenges, one line of code at a time. Got an exciting project? Let's make your game next game together!