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

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

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 contribute to several game development elements, including visuals, artificial intelligence (AI), user interface (UI), 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 likelier to have a more specialized role working on a specific game element. At an independent (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

  • Monitor, document, and maintain software systems 

Types of game developers

In this industry, you’ll typically work in one of four roles: first-party, second-party, third-party, or indie developer. The path you choose will depend on where you are in your career, what game development elements interest you, and how much creative control you want over the final product.

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


In addition to deciding what type of developer you might want to be, you can 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). 

Learn about the role games play in the metaverse and gaming opportunities for augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and extended reality (XR) in Meta's What Is the Metaverse? course.

Is game development a good career?

Many game developers get into the industry out of a love of gaming. As of 2022, 53 per cent of all Canadians play video games and average 7.9 hours of gaming each week [1]. Many areas like Montreal are even referred to as the “Hollywood of gaming” due to the large number of gaming companies based in the province. 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 2021 International Game Developers Association (IGDA) Developer Satisfaction Survey, 63 per cent of fully employed developers reported earning more than US$50,000 per year [2] which is approximately CAD$68,000. Talent.com reports a median annual salary of $120,031 for video game developers in Canada [3].

Job outlook

According to IGDA [2], the video game industry has historically been fast-growing and will likely continue along that trajectory. 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.

Canada Job Bank predicts a “Good” to “Very Good” job outlook for video game developers through 2025 in many provinces and territories [4]. 

How to become a game developer

Video game development is a highly coveted career, especially for those with an established love of video games. Let’s look at some educational recommendations and skills you can build to 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 a related field. However, you may only need a college certificate from a reputable computer science or gaming program. 

With a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from the University of London, you can specialize in cutting-edge topics like VR, games development, or 3D graphics and animation. 

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

Game developer skills

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

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

  • Unreal Engine was initially intended for first-person shooters, but it has grown into a 3D creation platform for games across various platforms. It 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 games, operating systems, and applications.   

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 behaviours.

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

Build a portfolio. 

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

  • With the C++ Programming for Unreal Game Development Specialization from the University of Colorado, you can learn C++ and Unreal while developing larger console applications.

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 to meet other developers and game development studios. One excellent 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 dialogues and 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, storylines, 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 towards 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 can get you started with the tools and techniques to begin developing your own 2D and 3D games. You can also explore the future of video games and game engines powering the metaverse in Meta's What Is the Metaverse? course.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Article sources


Entertainment Software Association of Canada. “Bringing Canadians Together Through Gaming: Essential Facts 2022, https://essentialfacts.ca/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/EF2022_EN.pdf.” Accessed June 4, 2024.  

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