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How Can I Become a Video Game Programmer?

Ever wondered what it takes to become a video game programmer? Discover the job duties, education requirements, median wages and job outlook to see if this career works for you.

Career Information at a Glance

Video game programmers write lines of code that computers interpret to present an interactive visual world for the player to explore. They work under strict deadlines, writing code, testing theories and eliminating bugs to keep the program running smoothly. Employers prefer programmers with extensive knowledge of programming languages, like Java, C+, C++, and at least a bachelor's degree in a field like computer science. The table below offers more details on the video game programming career.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree often preferred
Education Field of Study Computer science, game design
Key Skills Knowledge of programming languages
Job Growth (2018-2028) -7% (for all computer programmers)*
Median Salary (2019) $65,423**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), **PayScale.com.

What's the Job Description of a Video Game Programmer?

For players, video games are lush worlds with lightning-fast combat, memorable characters and effective storytelling. For a video game programmer, video games are intricate lines of code that bring a designer's vision to life. Programmers understand how to take visual artwork (usually in the form of storyboards or sketches) and translate it in a way that computers can understand. This is easier said than done -- programmers must use incredibly complex algorithms and solve problems using high-level analytics and reasoning.

What Kind of Education Do You Need to Be a Video Game Programmer?

The video game world is a bit different than other professional careers in that employers aren't as interested in a piece of paper from a university as much as they want to see you can actually program. However, while it's certainly feasible to learn programming languages, advanced mathematics and coding specializations by yourself, programmers often choose to at least get a bachelor's degree in a related field such as computer science. In other words, it's shorthand to your potential employer that you've got the basics down.

How Much Do Video Game Programmers Get Paid?

The salary for video game programmers can vary wildly from employer to employer and from field to field. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the median salary for all computer programmers at $84,280 per year in 2018 and $105,590 for all software developers. However, according to PayScale.com, salaries in the video game industry are somewhat lower. They report a median salary of $65,423 for video game programmers in 2019.

How Do You Break Into the Video Game Industry?

The video game industry is competitive. Jobs are few and applicants are many. So how can you stand out? Programming competitions are one way to show off your skills and get noticed. Another way is to make a small game independently and show it off as an example of your expertise. And, as with any highly competitive industry, networking and making connections can be the way to get your foot in the door.

What's the Job Outlook for Game Programmers?

There aren't specific data for the job outlook of video game programmers, but there are data from related careers that can shed light on the question. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job growth for computer programmers is expected to decline by 7% between 2016 and 2026. Conversely, the field of software development is predicted to rise by 24% during that same period.