I am senior full-stack developer at age of 30 and I mainly work with Java EE/Spring/... in back-end and Angular/React/JQuery/... in the front-end.

I love programming but my dream job was game developer not full-stack developer. I am making good amount of money in my current position and I do not want to start from scratch again. What is a good strategy to switch my career to game-developer without a fresh start?

Update: By game-developer, I mean working on large game development companies not indie games.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Define "game developer". Are we talking facebook games, App Store games, indy games on PC, huge corporation AAA titles, or something else? And are we talking graphics developer, Artist, 3D modeler, tester, project manager, framework developer, network specialist, UI designer, ...? \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Aug 25 '17 at 14:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Peter I updated the question to clear my target career. I like to work on large game development companies (AAA titles or any kind of games they make). And about the job title, it is part of my uncertainty that which title I should I apply for. \$\endgroup\$ – Arashsoft Aug 25 '17 at 14:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ Unfortunately whichever way you slice it, this question is always going to be a toss up between "primarily opinion based", "what to learn next" or "how to get started". I suggest that a forum such as gamedev.net is more appropriate for you. \$\endgroup\$ – Maximus Minimus Aug 25 '17 at 15:10

Health warning: The following comes with a large amount of hindsight and I'm sure it's one of many experiences within game dev - but it's worth considering

I'd like to offer a perspective from someone who left game development to do something different, who is a similar age to you. I was a developer at a first-party studio for five years straight out of university. First, a few questions to check suitability:

  1. Are you (in your own honest estimation) good at what you do?
  2. Are you unmarried (preferably single)?
  3. Are you willing to work long hours?
  4. Can you work public holidays (and maybe weekends too)?
  5. Can you take a pay cut?
  6. Do you have thick skin (can you take a bad review?)

If the answer to any of these questions is no, I would reconsider any career change into game development. To take these questions one by one:

1. Are you good?

You don't need to be a 'rockstar' developer to work in 'AAA' game development but you need to have a very good grasp of performance and CS fundamentals. It will help if you have a degree in this subject. Most of these games are going to be written in C++ (possibly C, in some cases) and will have a lot of low-level concerns. You'll need to know about memory management. For engine reference you'll probably want to know all about Unity and Unreal. Most will have some component of linear algebra. If you are good at what you do then I'd have every confidence you can retrain but it doesn't match the current list of languages or technology you're working with.

2. Are you single?

This might seem a bit personal but this is very much a move you're going to be making for you, not for anyone else - there will be very little upside for anyone except you in this. You will either need to have a very supportive partner and family in this or no attachments - especially if you're going to be working long hours it's going to cause arguments. Which brings us to...

3. Can you work long hours?

Look up crunch. It's a thing. I'm not going to go into detail on this as it's covered widely in game press, but it does appear to be very much part of a development process with a fixed date where it's hard (and expensive) to change the schedule. I used to convince myself crunch was a worthwhile trade because of a) the cameraderie you gain with colleagues in this kind of high-pressure environment and b) that my company looked after me (which they did, in general!) I later realised I was basically selling my soul for a cooked meal in the evening.

4. Can you work weekends?

I include this separately as it's something sometimes overlooked. It's not just late nights but also weekends and public holidays. You get to hear a lot about 'passion' and if you're 'passionate' about what you're making then you'll 'pull out all the stops' to make it happen. Cross out from your list any studios that make games you're not super keen on. On public holidays I got microwave ready meals instead of a cooked meal because they couldn't convince the kitchen staff to come in (but they got the devs!)

5. Can you take a pay cut?

In general game developers are towards the lower end of the pay spectrum and can afford to be because it's an industry in demand - it's quite easy these days to find young graduates who can work long hours an get paid peanuts, so they don't really need to pay you for your experience. Considering also that you'll be retraining significantly you need to expect you'll come in lower on the career ladder, so expect a pay cut there too.

6. Do you have thick skin?

The internet is a polarising place and it's a very significant difference working on a B2B application or something internal in comparison to having your work picked over on the internet. My studio didn't get a lot of press but not much of it was that positive while I was there. It just meant people sharing links on IM about how everything you do is terrible.

It can also be intensely rewarding - seeing something you helped make on a shop (or seeing someone buy it!) is a great feeling. But I suspect out of the population of game developers (and even smaller, the population of AAA developers) the number who get positive praise consistently from press and are loved by everyone is very low. Places at those studios will be limited and very competitive.

One last question that's important too. Are you happy for your play thing to turn into work? For the time I was a game developer, if I played anything all I did was analyse it - how did they do that animation, why does this mechanic work like that? It can suck the joy out of what you love.

In summary - while I enjoyed the time I spent in game dev I don't think I'd recommend it as a career to someone to retrain in to, especially someone at a similar age to me. It was definitely something for my youth and, now I have more responsibilities and a sense of what I'm worth, I don't think I'd want to go back. Obviously my experience is going to be one of many, but I think enough of the themes above come up in other war stories from game developers (I haven't even mentioned things like job security) that it's worth bearing in mind.

Have you considered a better full stack job? One with a more interesting domain? Have you considered working on something in your spare time to see if you like it? If you're going into this with your eyes open, and you know what you're getting in to - best of luck, you can read the above for some notes on what to do and what to expect.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for your answer. I think your questions opened my eyes about the situation. \$\endgroup\$ – Arashsoft Aug 25 '17 at 19:56

I would think that making a few smaller games to release for console/mobile/whatever would be a good start. Then you'd technically have experience. You can then use that to get a higher position. But I still don't think that'd get you to as high as a position as you'd probably hope for.

But when it comes to making the games, you're going to want the code to be very well polished and to have it all function pretty well when showing it to a company.

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