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The extended version of the question is: what is the typical career paths that a developer without specific experience in game development should take if he/she wishes to work in the game development industry? In other words, what are the positions such a programmer might aspire to get hired for, in the game industry?

I am asking because it seems to me that - even without direct experience with 3D modelling, physics engines, shaders, etc... - for as much complex as these topics might be - they are still "just" top layers one can learn "on the job" if he/she has already good programming skills and experience in software design (for example during peer-programming sessions).

I have no knowledge whatsoever of the game industry, so maybe I am being naïve here, but for all the other programming jobs I previously took, I learned most of the specificics while working on concrete projects... so I wonder if there is a chance to do the same with game development.

Thanks for your time and advice! :)

PS: I don't know if this is important or not for answering the question, but scripting languages are the languages I am more proficient in.

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A lot of artists would be upset with you if you think programming is all that game development is about :) –  Tim Holt Jun 27 '11 at 15:54
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@Tim Holt And game designers. And sound FX guys. And level designers. And QA. :) –  The Communist Duck Jun 27 '11 at 17:18
    
@The Communist Duck @Tim Holt and a looooot of other people :D –  FxIII Jun 27 '11 at 17:57
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-1 Is there any problem to solve here? The only way to become a good game programmer is acually programming games. Asking questions about it is useless. –  Maik Semder Jun 27 '11 at 21:41
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@Maik - Have you commented to the wrong question? My question is not about becoming a good game programmer but about job opportunities and career patterns. –  mac Jun 29 '11 at 0:42

6 Answers 6

up vote 4 down vote accepted

The extended version of the question is: what is the typical career paths that a developer without specific experience in game development should take if he/she wishes to work in the game development industry? In other words, what are the positions such a programmer might aspire to get hired for, in the game industry?

There isn't a typical career path, per se; that would imply a lot more structure to the industry than actually exists. However, as a programmer, without specific experience in programming in areas for games (graphics, physics, et cetera) one can be expected to get hired as an entry level programmer -- perhaps as a general "gameplay" programmer.

If you are interested in those other areas, you will likely need to dedicate time to learning them on your own -- at least a little bit.

N.B. that 3D modelling is not typically a task performed by programmers at all, and while programmers may employ some scripting in their day-to-day jobs, it's not their primary function (designers tend to do a lot more with scripting languages, if the game uses them).

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Thank's for this answer. Gameplay programming is not bad at all as a job! :) From WikiPedia it seems that AI programming also resorts to scripting languages. Since you seem to have direct knowledge of the industry, may I ask if this is true according to your experience? –  mac Jun 27 '11 at 16:41
    
I've been a professional game developer for several years now. AI will sometimes use scripts (it really depends on the game). Often there is a distinction between "AI" as a programmer has implemented it (standard behaviors, for example) and "AI" as scripted behavior that a designer has implemented. It's rarely so cut and dry. –  Josh Petrie Jun 27 '11 at 16:55

If you want to work in the games industry as a programmer, make a game demo.. I can not stress enough how much one of these will increase your chances if you do not want to go to a school for game development.

If however you are more interested in level and environment development, this is what designers do. You may want to get an existing engine (Unreal?) and make up a level if that is the sort of work you are after as opposed to a programming job. (I mention this because of your mentioning of scripting vs programming)

Hope this helps.

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Thank you for your answer. The areas I am fascinated by in game development are more on the programmer side of things (AI, NP-completed problems with local optimisation heuristics, and in general smart-ass code...). Your answer seem to indicate that this is done in C/C++ rather than in scripting languages. Is this correct? I am asking because I was thinking to develop a demo with Pyglets or PyGame libraries which - as the name implies - are python libs... –  mac Jun 27 '11 at 16:37
    
@mac It depends which side of the fence you want to be on. If you want to develop from scratch AI capabilities then you want to be a programmer and yes, 99% of professional games are C/C++. If you want to put together AI components to create behaviors, then this could be done as a designer and in scripting languages based on exposed C/C++ objects. –  James Jun 27 '11 at 16:52

There are two positions that a programmer without specific game industry experience might qualify for in a major game studio.

First, depending upon level of experience as a programmer in a non-games industry (and the specific studio's stance on this), he may qualify either as a junior or as a mid-level programmer. At a major studio, it would be essential to be able to show proficiency with C++ in order to get either of these roles. At web-game-making studios, Flash will be necessary, etc.

On the other hand, if the programmer had much leadership background, he might qualify for an "assistant producer" role. That is a largely non-technical role, though; more of what most other industries would call a "project manager".

Any game industry job will involve some degree of mentoring, to teach new hires about how to use the company's tools and how to follow their best practices. For a junior-level position, the mentoring will be a bit more extensive, intending to bring a hire from "I studied this at university"-level up to a professional level. But you absolutely will not find a game industry job where they pay you (for example) to learn how to program in C++ (or whatever the particular studio's standard language of choice might be); that's a skill they expect you to have already mastered before applying for the job.

Short version: No, there is really no career path to learn game development "on the job". There is enough competition for game industry jobs that no company will pay someone to learn, when they can pay someone else to work right now. If you want to get into the game industry, you either need to get game experience, or else get equivalent experience elsewhere, using similar tools to those that are used in the game industry.

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Regarding my career path, I began 10 years working as a Flash developer in digital agencies. There is a huge demand for Flash games used as marketing incentives by big brands (see www.thefwa.com). After 5-6 yrs of developing "branded" Web games, I was hired by a AAA company for a year - I chose to move back to Web games later.

AS3 is a decent object-oriented language, close to Java, it's quite easy to move from Web games programming to mobile programming, and later to AAA game programming.

Most employers in marketing/digital/Web agencies are now facing a huge demand regarding (Flash, or native) mobile development, so you'll get lots of opportunities to evolve/demonstrate your skills regarding non-scripting languages (and running OpenGL decently on poor hardware, which is basically the basics of consoles game programming).

Some Web games are including quite sophisticated algorithms and game mechanics, see dofus.com or the Zynga games, even my own job is about building RPG-like isometric stuff, with scripting/AI features.

So you'll probably should learn extensively Flash, iPhone and Android, find a day job in that field, and you'll reach your goal quicker than you think.

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Thanks for your answer! I have an issue with Apple's policies, so I would rather not work on iPhone stuff. But Android is one of the things I am considering starting toying with, anyhow, so good to know it could turn in a booster for landing a job in a game development company! :) –  mac Jun 27 '11 at 18:52

In other words, what are the positions such a programmer might aspire to get hired for, in the game industry?

In my experience, there are no routes into game programming that allow you to learn on the job. You must demonstrate your suitability for the role before applying, usually with a combination of an academic qualification and a collection of code samples.

I am asking because it seems to me that - even without direct experience with 3D modelling, physics engines, shaders, etc... - for as much complex as these topics might be - they are still "just" top layers one can learn "on the job" if he/she has already good programming skills and experience in software design (for example during peer-programming sessions).

In theory, yes. In practice, no. Nobody is going to pay you to learn this stuff because for every one person in your position, there are fifty of equivalent experience who are teaching themselves these skills in their spare time with a view to presenting a demo to prospective employers.

but for all the other programming jobs I previously took, I learnt most of the specificities while working on concrete projects... so I wonder if there is a chance to do the same with game development.

Most other programming jobs either have fewer domain-specific requirements (eg. I used to work in geographical information systems, but the amount I needed to know about map projections and the like could be picked up in a day) or are less able to rely on applicants to be self-motivated and thus have to provide the training. Games development is very heavily domain specific and has an army of self-motivated people eager to break into the industry.

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+1. However, there IS a position that allows you to learn on the job: internship. Though you still need to put in your effort to land that role. –  5ound Jun 28 '11 at 6:58
    
I'm based in the UK so my experiences are probably region-specific but for the most part studios don't do internships. Those that do will probably not let you loose on the important code anyway. –  Kylotan Jun 28 '11 at 13:05

On the programming side, I can only speak for Germany, but everyone that I asked in game development, as well as what I generally read online tells me the same thing (And I don't know why it would be any different anywhere else): Study computer science.

And it's not really that hard to imagine why. Programming games (and aspects related to it) requires almost everything you learn in your typical computer science major - on the math side a decent knowledge of linear algebra, calculus, statistics and the stuff related to theoretical computer science (number theory, graph theory, computational geometry, algorithms and data structures... the list goes on and on and on) will help you a ton.

Also, most computer science majors will lead you through a ton of topics that are directly related to game development - besides the usual programming courses, there's also courses for things like artificial intelligence, software engineering, project management, distributed computation etc.

In addition to all of that, many universities now also offer optional side courses like "Computer Graphics", "Game Development", etc.

So if you want to the way of the programmer (instead of becoming a level designer or something), I tell you: Go for computer science.

There are of course a lot of things that a strict classical computer science master doesn't cover when it comes to game development - but that's also the case for almost anything that you'll program out in the real world. The "real" experience is mostly gathered by actually programming games as a hobby at home.

But that is just the programmers side of course - I can't really tell you where all the other artists come from (Graphics artists, sound engineers etc).

Still, I hope my answer helps you.

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thank you for your contribution, however this is definitively something else than "learning on the job"! :) If I were 18 but knew what I know now, I surely would follow your advice, though! :o –  mac Jun 27 '11 at 16:28

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