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  • Game Careers: The Basics

    - Ed Magnin

  •  Bottom Line

    In game programming, the money is good but the work is hard. The latest salary survey, available in the Career section of this site, shows that a starting game programmer can make between $50,000 and $60,000 per year, and after a few years and a couple of completed project can earn almost double.

    Often, though, students see dollar signs but don't realize that if the job were as easy as playing a game, the industry would have a lot more great games on the market, and no one would need to pay us that much. I cannot emphasize enough that programming games is not a job for everyone.

    The game industry is very specialized. Try to get a software programming job after having the word "game" on your resume. I tried it myself many years ago. "Games? What we do here is serious!" To which I answered, "When we press the fire button, we expect to see the bullet leave the gun immediately, not two or three seconds later, as is the case in many non-game Windows applications." The company's response was, "You're just looking for a job until you find another game!" I have yet to find a convincing response to that.

    Be sure programming is what you want to do, before you head down this path. If you change your mind halfway through, you will have wasted a lot of time and money. Because of the wide availability of student loans, you can start school almost entirely on loans. And if you see it all the way through, you'll have a better chance than most of being able to pay back your loans in a timely fashion. If you stop your education halfway, you'll just have a lot of loans and an eerie sense that you'd better hurry up and figure out a way to pay them back.

    Of course, if you're like me, when you're done with school and working in the industry, you wouldn't trade careers with anyone. My real payday is going to stores and seeing my games on the self and talking to people who remember playing them. It's also a career you can be proud to talk about at a high school career day.

    Better than some paydays.

    Breaking In

    Some fields are very difficult to get into, like the movie business for example. My daughter went to a specialized school, fought the odds, and is now working in the costume department of a popular TV show.

    In any competitive industry, you have to ask yourself, "Is this what I really want to do," possibly to the exclusion of all other possible careers. If the answer is yes, you've already made your decision and you just need to make sure you do what it takes to make it happen.

    I'm not so convinced that the game industry is that hard to break into for the right people. Games are becoming more and more complex. Development teams are larger than ever. A generation of consumers raised on video games has pushed the industry ahead of both the movie and recorded music industries, some even say ahead of both combined! If eight million people pay $15 per month for a subscription to a popular online game, the company takes in $120 million, some of which will go back into creating new content and additional levels to keep players interested.

    The game industry is also sorely in need of more professional females, so the market is less competitive for women. So far we have been doing a good job making the kind of games for an audience of 18 to 34 year old male players. Perhaps with a fresh female perspective we can make games that appeal to a new or much wider audience.


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