What Is a Game Developer (and How Do I Become One)?

Written by Coursera • Updated on Oct 11, 2021

Learn how to launch a career in video game development.

Two game developers working at a computer station

Video game developers help transform games from a concept to a playable reality. They do this by coding visual elements, programming features, and testing iterations until a game is ready for market. If you love video games and enjoy working with computers, a career in video game development can be immensely rewarding.

What is a video game developer?

Game developers typically play a role in several elements of game development, including visuals, artificial intelligence, user interface, and game logic. 

Tasks and responsibilities

The type of work you do as a game developer will vary depending on the size of the company you work for and your specialization. At bigger game companies, you’re more likely to have a more specialized role working on a specific element of the game. At an indie publisher, you may have a hand in multiple processes in a game’s lifecycle. These are some of the day-to-day tasks you may perform in this role:

  • Develop new ideas for game design

  • Translate visual ideas into code

  • Prototype, iterate, and polish gameplay

  • Collaborate with designers, producers, artists, and quality analysts

  • Monitor game stability across platforms

  • Review existing code and recommend improvements

  • Port games or elements from one system to another

Types of game developers

In this industry, you’ll typically work in one of four types of roles: first, second, or third-party developers, or independent (indie) developers. What path you choose to pursue will depend on where you are in your career, what elements of game development you’re interested in, and how much creative control you want over the final product.

TypeRoleExamples
Game DeveloperDevelops games internally for a single platform or consoleNaughty Dog (Sony), Retro Studios (Nintendo), Obsidian Entertainment (Xbox Game Studios)
Second-party developerDevelops games exclusively for a console (but is not fully owned by the platform or console)Game Freak (develops Pokémon for Nintendo but is not fully owned by Nintendo)
Third-party developerDevelops and publishes their own games or develops games for other game publishersUbisoft, Electronic Arts, Activision Blizzard
Indie developerDevelops mostly self-funded indie games as an individual or small groupEric Barone, Thelka

Specializations

In addition to deciding what type of developer you might want to be, you might also choose to specialize. You can develop niche skills based on the type of system (console, computer, or mobile), game type (simulation, adventure, role-playing, strategy, etc.), or a specific game element (in-game systems, level design, user interface, environment, etc). 

Is game development a good career?

Many game developers get into the industry out of a love of gaming. Nearly 227 million people in the United States play video games, according to the Entertainment Software Association, making it a leading form of entertainment [1]. While working in video game development can be challenging, it can also be rewarding to take part in creating something you’re passionate about (and that your potential customers are passionate about as well). 

Game developer salary

According to the 2019 Developer Satisfaction Survey, conducted by the International Game Developers Association, most fully-employed developers reported earning more than $50,000 per year [2]. Job site Glassdoor reports an even higher figure—$71,295 average base pay—for game developers in the US (as of October 2021).

Job outlook

The video game industry has historically been fast growing and will likely continue along that trajectory, according to the 2020 Economic Impact Report from the Entertainment Software Association [3]. As gaming continues to drive innovation, job opportunities could expand in areas like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) gaming, artificial intelligence (AI), and esports.

How to become a game developer

Video game development is typically seen as a highly-coveted career, especially for those with an established love of video games. Let’s take a look at some of the educational recommendations and skills you can build that could make you more competitive in your job search.

Educational requirements

Many game development and publishing companies look for candidates with a bachelor’s degree in computer science or related field. Some universities have started offering degrees or minors in game design and interactive entertainment that are more specifically targeted toward the video game industry. 

While a degree isn’t always necessary, it can help you build the foundational technical skills necessary for success as a software developer. 

Earn a bachelor’s degree with a focus on game development 

With the Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from the University of London, you can specialize in cutting-edge topics like virtual reality, games development, or 3D graphics and animation. Click here and select “Request info” to learn more.

Placeholder

Game developer skills

Having the right technical skills on your resume can open up opportunities for work as a game developer. Two common skills you’ll find on job listings are experience with game development engines and the ability to code (often in C# or C++).

  • Unity is a cross-platform game engine that allows you to develop 2D and 3D games. Unity is particularly popular for indie and mobile games. It’s free for students and for personal use, so you can start creating games (and gaining experience) before you get hired.

  • Unreal Engine, while initially developed for first-person shooters, has grown into a 3D creation platform used for games across a range of platforms. Unreal uses C++ as its programming language.

  • C# (pronounced C-sharp) is a programming language frequently used for game development and mobile applications, particularly with the Unity engine.

  • C++ Is a general-purpose programming language often used to develop not only games, but operating systems and applications as well.   

Tips for getting a job

If you have a passion for games and enjoy blending technology and creativity, there are some steps you can take to help you get established in the gaming industry.

Start with simple games or small game behaviors.

Start developing your skills right away by building games. Start with something small and basic, like creating a simple behavior or keyboard movement mechanic in C# or, and work your way toward more complex projects.

Built a portfolio.

As you develop your own games, add them to your portfolio. This shows potential employers what you’re capable of doing and can help you stand out from other candidates. Here are some options to get you started:

Start out as a QA tester.

Quality assurance (QA) testers systematically test games for any flaws or bugs. This entry-level role can be a good way to gain experience (and get established) in the gaming industry.

Attend game industry events.

As with many industries, effective networking can help you find opportunities you might not otherwise know about. Attend game industry events where you can meet other developers and game development studios. One particularly good option that welcomes career seekers is the Game Development Conference (GDC).

Other video game careers

Many different elements (and people) go into making a video game. If you’re interested in creating games, consider these roles as well. Note that some may fall under the umbrella of game development.

  • Game artists create the 2D and 3D images used to render graphics within a game.

  • Animators use specialized software to make characters, settings, props, and other objects come to life.

  • Writers create in-game scripts and dialogs, as well as write marketing materials and technical documentation for a game.

  • Audio engineers edit and mix soundtracks for games that might include background music, voice-over recordings, and sound effects.

  • Producers serve as project managers, overseeing the production process from conception to completion.

  • Video game designers conceptualize game characters, settings, storyline, and gameplay, then work with developers and game programmers to translate these ideas into code.

  • Game testers identify bugs in a game and report these findings to developers.

Start your career in video games

If you’re ready to take the next step toward a career as a game developer, consider taking Michigan State University’s Game Design and Development with Unity 2020 Specialization (updated for 2021). This series of five courses  will get you started with the tools and techniques to begin developing your own 2D and 3D games.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Related articles

Article sources

1. Entertainment Software Association. "2021 Essential Facts About the Video Game Industry, https://www.theesa.com/resource/2021-essential-facts-about-the-video-game-industry/." Accessed October 8, 2021.

2. IGDA. "Developer Satisfaction Survey Summary Report 2019, https://igda.org/resources-archive/developer-satisfaction-survey-summary-report-2019/." Accessed October 11, 2021.

3. Entertainment Software Association. "Report: Video games contribute $90 billion+ to U.S. Economy, https://www.theesa.com/news/report-video-games-contribute-90-billion-to-u-s-economy/." Accessed October 11, 2021.

Written by Coursera • Updated on Oct 11, 2021

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

Learn without limits