All play and no work? Jobs in the games industry

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Game jobs on tablet screen

Making games is a bit like making movies – it takes a whole range of talent and skills to come up with a block buster!

From storywriters to artists, sound designers to producers, every piece of the puzzle has to come together seamlessly to make a great video game.

So if you can’t stay off Mario Kart, went mad for Pokemon Go, or can’t get enough of Final Fantasy – but thought games industry jobs were just for technical whizzes – you’ve come to the right place. We'll take a look at game design jobs, work experience, gaming apprenticeships - and lots more. 

First, check out this video to find out what goes into making a video game:

What game jobs can I do?

So there’s a job for every part of the process, and according to Creative Skillset, the average salary for games industry jobs is around £31,000 (don’t forget this includes a range of jobs, and that people’s earnings usually go up over time).

'Video game design involves, artists, animators and storywriters as well as programmers'

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Let’s take a look at the main game jobs, as well as the qualifications and experience you need to get there.

Game designer

Comes up with the ingredients of the game, from the bones of a story, to the setting, its characters, and the rules governing game-play. The game designer works with the other members of the team to make this idea a reality.

Game design jobs are open to graduates and those without a degree. They also don’t need any specific degree.

At school or college: Any GCSEs and A-levels/highers

Game artist

Video game animatiorCreates the visuals, from what characters look like, to scenery and any other objects in the game, such as weapons, tools, clothes and vehicles.

Artists will usually have a degree or other higher-level qualification in an art-related subject.

At school or college: Art, design and technology

Animator

Animators breathe life into the characters’ movements and behaviour, making sure they perform in a lifelike and believable way, in keeping with their personalities and what’s happened to them in the story.

Because they deal mostly with the characters, they’ll often have qualifications in a subject like life-drawing. They’ll probably also have experience using computer animation software.

At school or college: Art, design and technology

Narrative designer

They develop the story thought up by the game designer so that it fits the particular decisions taken as the game is designed. They also come up with every bit of speech, text and instructions in the game, and any writing that features in the game.

Narrative designers don’t have to have particular qualifications, but they’ll often have a degree in a subject like English language, and experience of working with games designers to shape stories.

At school or college: English language

Game programmer

Programmers write, test and fix the code that runs the game.

They’ll usually have a degree in a subject like maths, physics or computer science, and some experience of coding in C+ or C++ or another programming language.

At school or college: Maths, physics, computer science

Audio engineer

The audio engineer comes up with all of the sounds in the movie, from music to voices to sound effects to spoken instructions. They sometimes have to recruit and record voiceover artists, and compose and record music.

Most audio engineers have a degree in sound engineering.

At school or college: Music, maths, physics

Game tester

Game testing unitThe game tester, or “quality assurance (QA) tester” is responsible for making sure the game is free from any errors and glitches – whether in the story or design, or on the technical side. A lot of their time is spent playing the game on the look-out for problems.

They don’t have to have specific qualifications, but must be disciplined, have a good eye for detail, and be good at problem solving. They also have to be an avid gamer!

At school or college: Any

We’ve included the main game jobs – but this is far from a complete list. Producers, directors and project managers are all needed too, but often at a higher level. And we’re guessing that if you’ve come to this page, you want to know how you can be involved in the creative process.

What qualifications do I need?

As you’ll see from the list of game jobs above, the idea that you have to be a technical genius to work in the industry is a bit of a myth. Programmers are a vital part of the team, but without artists and writers, no video game idea would ever get off the ground.

Take a look back over the list above to see what qualifications you need for each job.

University degrees

Some universities in the UK offer degrees in art, design or coding specifically for gaming. These include:

Gaming apprenticeships

Gaming apprenticeships are an option if you do what's called a "creative and digital media apprenticeship". Keep an eye out for programmes in visual effects, animation and games.

These apprenticeships are available at advanced level after your GCSEs, or higher level, after your A-levels, highers or equivalent.

The skills and experience you build will depend on the employer you do your apprenticeship with, and there aren’t currently any available within the video games industry.

However, some of your experience might be transferable to game jobs.

What skills do I need?

As well as gaining the right qualifications, you should build up skills that video games companies look for in applicants. Companies say that candidates are more likely to get a job offer if they have gained skills through work experience, or by learning how to code or use relevant software.

Team game design
The ability to communicate well and work well in a team is
crucial to all game jobs
  • Communication and team work: You need to be able to get your thoughts across to colleagues who work in different areas and in different ways to you.
  • Discipline: Projects are often big and on tight deadlines, so you need to be able to work well quickly, without getting distracted (especially if you’re a games tester!)
  • Problem solving: You’ll need to be able to think through the consequences of your decisions, and be able to overcome any problems you predict.

You should also build on technical skills like coding or design, and you can make a start using free software and online tutorials. Remember, these aren’t instead of qualifications – these are ways to add to your qualifications with directly relevant experience.

Coding

Any aspiring programmer should make sure they have some game coding experience to back up their degree.

A bit of coding will stand you in good stead whatever game job you’re applying for. It will help you better understand the code your technical colleagues have created, and may even allow you to mock up your ideas.

Game companies recommend you get some experience in C+ or C++ for starters, as these are the programming languages you’re most likely to encounter.

You can use free websites like Codeacademy to learn how to code.

Design

If you’re interested in animation or art design, you should build on your academic qualifications by learning how to use the software you’re likely to use in a game job.

Some of the apps you could try to build up this experience including PhotoShop, Adobe Illustrator, Gimp, Blender and SketchUp. YouTube tutorials are a great way to learn the basics quickly.

Many of the skills are specific to the role you’re interested in, so take another look at the list above for more information.

How can I gain work experience?

Work experience is a great way to develop these skills, and companies love candidates who can show that they’ve worked on a particular game.

Look out for work experience opportunities with the “big three” games companies, as well as internships for university students:

  • Microsoft: Make the Xbox
  • Sony: Make the PlayStation
  • Nintendo: Make the Wii, Game Boy, Nintendo 64 (which we’re old enough to remember here in the Success at School office…)

There are dozens of video games companies scattered up and down the UK, and wherever you are, you’re probably not far away from a big name. And while the brands might not ring any bells, their creations certainly will:

  • Lionhead: Make Black and White, based in Guildford, Surrey
  • Rockstar North: Make GTA, based in Edinburgh
  • Rave: Worked on GoldenEye, based in Leicestershire
  • Codemasters: Make racing games like Colin Mcrae Rally, Formula 1, based in Guildford

Many of these smaller companies won’t run “official” work experience programmes, but that doesn’t mean you can’t visit their websites, find the contact details, and ask if they’d be willing to take you on. Maybe take a look at our article on speculative applications before you hit send.

Oh, and don’t forget to check out Success at School for work experience opportunities.

Where next?

So now you know about the vast array of game jobs out there, where could it lead you? Well, we think a career designing video games sounds pretty awesome.

But did you know about “serious gaming”? Serious games are designed to educate, and include flight simulators, games to help trainee medics learn how to carry out medical procedures, or military training games.

Want some first-hand advice on game jobs? Then hear from Andrew, who studied game design at Abertay University.

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