Game On!


Video games aren't just for kids anymore. The game industry offers some great opportunities for grown-up careers.

By Greg Kennerson

Yes, it's true.

You can get a job making video games.

It's hard to believe, I know.

You can even go to school and study video games. That's right. You can get a degree in video games.

If you love games, have grown up playing games, live, eat, and breathe games...why not work in the industry?

If you're interested in the visual arts, technology, or animation, the video game industry is an exciting place to be with a lot of opportunities. The industry racked up over $21 billion in sales in 2008 (including consoles, software, and accessories), according to the market research firm NPD.

That's a lot of shiny discs. And a lot of jobs.

There are many career paths you can take in the video game industry. Let's take a look at the paths focused on art first.

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Video Game Jobs in Art

There are two primary types of art required in games: two-dimensional (2-D) and three-dimensional (3-D). And because we're talking about video games, the art can be either static (not moving), or animated (moving). If you remember these simple differences, you'll be able to understand the different types of art involved in the making of games.

While most games are developed in 3-D these days, there is still work for those with 2-D art skills in the industry. In the early stages of a game's development, a 2-D artist might help conceptualize a game and provide graphics showing what screens of the game might look like. As the process of the game's development moves along, a 2-D artist might also do work as a texture artist, giving life to the surfaces of objects in the game (brick walls, skin and faces, plants, animals, ogres, monsters, etc.).

In today's video game industry, 3-D art dominates the look and game-play of most games. 3-D art usually requires knowledge of advanced software, so it is something that someone with fundamental art skills might advance into later. Most 3-D artists have some training in 2-D art as well.

A 3-D artist at a game company might be a model builder, someone who designs the objects in a game, like cars or weapons; a character builder, the designer of the game's inhabitants (both human and otherwise); or a 3-D animator, the person that gives characters and objects movement and life.

These jobs overlap and interact. The designer of a character will probably be involved in decisions about what the character looks like when it moves. A texture artist would work with a 3-D animator to determine what objects look like in motion and during game play. The process of making a game is full of collaboration, and any artist working in this industry should be prepared to work in a team environment.

The most senior artist on a video game team is the art director. This is a management level position responsible for supervising other artists and providing an overall direction for the game's "look." This job requires experience and knowledge about all phases of game art. Usually only artists with many years of experience advance to this position.

Finally, in the art of making a video game, don't forget about the audio. The design of the audio in video games has become quite sophisticated with well-known recording artists providing music and the sound effects rivaling those of Hollywood films. Specialists in audio handle and manage these tasks and are experienced with the various types of audio software used in the process.

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Other Jobs in the Game Industry

There are other jobs in the video game industry related to the process of making games: producer, programmer, game designer, and marketing executive.

Producer is a vague description of a job that could include everything from helping design the game to making coffee for the team. The core of a producer's job is to be responsible for the budget of a game (which is determined in advance) and the schedule, which is extremely important in the video game industry where certain sales periods (notably the winter holiday period) account for a large portion of a company's total sales. If a game is late or does not make it to store shelves in time, it can be a huge blow to the company. The job title project manager is very similar to that of producer, and the two are often used interchangeably.

Obviously, video games, at their core, are computer programs. Programming is the all-important underlying task that gives a game life. Different types of programming occur depending on the type of game and the part of the game that the programmer is working on. There are programmers for audio, the game's engine, the 3-D aspects of a game, the multi-player or network aspects of a game, and so on.

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The game designer (not to be confused with the job title graphic designer - referring to a graphic artist) is the person who conceives of the game at an abstract level and invents the challenges, tasks, or events that constitute the actions of the game. This, again, is an ambiguous title, as some game designers go on to help develop and build the game, while others simply participate in the initial design phase.

Finally, if none of these jobs is right for you, you can always work for a video game company in other capacities. Video game companies (like any other company) have sales, marketing, and support staff as well as business and strategy personnel. If you work in one of these jobs, you might not be directly involved in the process of making a game, but it's a great way to get be involved with the video game industry.

Getting Started

So how do you get your foot in the door in the video game industry?

Many schools today offer specialized programs designed specifically for students planning to enter the video game industry. The programs usually award bachelor's or associate's degrees and have names like "Game Design and Development" and "Simulation and Game Programming."

These programs usually focus on studies in computer programming, game design, artificial intelligence, art, animation, Web development, and related fields. Many of them also emphasize project management and team-related skills required when working with a group of people to develop a video game.

One enormously helpful aspect of these academic video game programs is that graduates come out of them with a game industry-specific portfolio, consisting of game design documents, game-related art, and maybe even some game ideas of their own.

Of course, many students don't specifically study video games but enter the industry with degrees in art, graphic design, animation, computer programming, or other fields. People who go to work for a video game company in a business capacity might have a degree in business, marketing, or a related field.

The Future

The future of the video game industry is difficult to predict. New technology platforms and the odd link between hardware and software keep the industry in constant change and flux. (Remember the Beta/VHS format battle? The video game industry has a similar battle every three to five years when new consoles come out!)

It is interesting to note that the average age of video game players has risen to 35, according to a recent study. It's not just teenagers playing video games anymore. Already video games are used for education, training, and other purposes. Games aren't just for kids anymore!

For those hoping to break into the video game industry, there is no clear cut path. Clearly, knowledge of the technological tools needed for game development, including 3-D software and computer programming languages, and knowledge of the industry will be an asset for anyone hoping to break into this competitive field. Like any field, the more applicable your education, training, and experience, the better chance you'll have.

Oh yeah, there's one other thing which is kind of cool...

It helps if you've played a lot of games!

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