Careers in Video Game Programming

Programmers create the bare bones of video games. They write code that determines everything that happens in a game, from what happens when you press the X button to the ways in which nonplayable characters interact with your character and with each other. This can be a very rewarding career for those who both enjoy video games and are comfortable with programming languages.

Education and Preparation

While video game industry employers may be more interested in what programmers can do than their exact level of education, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that most game programmers hold a bachelor’s degree. According to Game Developer magazine, some are also hired with an associate degree, but almost all have at least some college. This is because programmers depend heavily on skills taught at the college level, such as how to code in a variety of computer languages. In addition, a basic background in math and art can help programmers improve their craft.

Types of Programming

All video game programmers write code, but most specialize in coding a certain aspect of video games. For example, user interface programmers design the system of menus and options that allow players to navigate the video game world. Artificial intelligence, or AI, programmers write code that determines how characters act. Network programmers specialize in writing code that allows players to connect with friends via online platforms. Physics programmers write codes that determine the “physical laws” of the video game world, such as how far a character can jump. Graphics programmers work with artists and animators to create code that models the images seen during gameplay, and tool programmers create algorithms that allow other programmers to work faster. With years of experience in the industry, some become lead programmers, who supervise and direct other programmers.

Pay Information

According to Game Developer magazine, programmers working in the video game industry earned an average starting salary of $66,116 in 2011, the highest average salary of any type of worker in the industry. Average pay for programmers with three to six years of experience was $84,124, while those who had six or more years of experience reported a high average salary of $113,694. Across all levels of experience, female programmers reported an average salary of $83,333, while male programmers averaged $93,263.

Job Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for computer programmers are expected to increase by 12 percent between 2010 and 2020 across all industries. This is slightly lower than the 14 percent change for the American economy as a whole. However, Game Developer magazine reports that programmers are in very high demand in the video game industry, and that this goes for both experienced and entry-level programmers. Those who have a bachelor’s degree should have the best chance of finding employment.

2016 Salary Information for Computer Programmers

Computer programmers earned a median annual salary of $79,840 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, computer programmers earned a 25th percentile salary of $61,100, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $103,690, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 294,900 people were employed in the U.S. as computer programmers.

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