8 ways to get a job in the game industry


Work, Typing, Computer, Notebook, Programming, Business

Have you ever wondered how to get a job in the game industry? Have you ever thought what jobs are available in the games industry and what you’d have to do to get them? Well, a long time ago, in a Welsh town far, far away, I wondered the same thing.

I was desperate to get into the game industry. I was young, and blissfully naive of the business end of game making. But I wanted in. I wanted to be part of the game making action. But I didn’t really have a clue what I was doing. And unfortunately, in my confusion, I got pulled into the worst possible option: Going to university.

So I went to uni and worked hard but blindly and got a degree in game design and development. But it was only after I’d finished, only after I’d past out, that I realised how little the degree had taught me. So, I set out on my own. I stepped forward determined to find the best types of jobs in the game industry. And the best way to get them.

So if you want to get into the games industry, read on to find out how you can take the correct first steps to give you the best chance of getting the job of your dreams.

How can I get a job in the game industry? There are many ways to get jobs in the game industry including becoming a:

  • Game programer
  • 3D Animator
  • Sound designer
  • Game designer
  • Level Designer
  • Concept Artist
  • 2D Artist
  • Character Design

So these are the main jobs that fill the game industry… Great. But, you’re probably wondering, what you’d actually be doing in each job? Also, how do you get into each position in the first place?

Well, as luck would have it, I’m going to explain all that to you.

First a little word from me

“What has this person done to warrant telling me what to do with my game career?” That’s probably a question that’s popped into your head. And if it hasn’t it probably should have. After all, there’s a lot of people out there who, quite frankly, don’t have a clue. So here’s a little bit about me. Just to build a little trust…

My experience with games includes:

  • Played games for over 30 years…
  • Modded numerous PC games including Skyrim, Command and Conquer, Supreme Commander, Freelancer, Starlander, and many more
  • Uni degree in game dev and design
  • Set up my own games company
  • Written for numerous game companies and websites

I know a thing or two about games. And though I’ve got a massive amount still to learn, I’d like to share what I do know with you.

The Art of Learning

Book, Read, Hands, Literature, Education, Knowledge

How do you go about teaching yourself?

Well, there are a number of ways to self educate yourself. But first, let me start at the beginning. Let’s discuss the importance of projects when learning new skills.

When learning, most of us make the mistake of thinking of something to learn that might be cool or useful, then trying to learn it. Then in the future, we fit new projects to our past learning.

This is called just in case learning. The problem with this type of learning philosophy is the real world doesn’t work this way.

In the real world, we find a problem, then we research the problem and potential solutions, learn how to action the solution, then take action to solve the problem.

Traditional learning does this the other way around. We learn a general understanding of the world. English, math, science. Then with this basic and incomplete solution in hand, we then try and find problems to force ourselves into. Our education system is making us all square pegs. And we spend the rest of our lives confused and worried about why we are not fitting into round holes.

How do we solve this? It’s simple, you come up with a project that means something to you first.

Find something that excites you something that really gets your heart pumping and hairs prickling on the back of your neck.

In this case, imagine you have a huge desire to build your own space-based Battle royal game. Well, the answer is to start from there and learn how to program what you need as and when you need it.

By thinking up the problem you wish to solve first and starting from there, you’ll naturally educate yourself in many different ways to solve each problem as it arises.

Just in time learning is the same reason children, that have a desire from a very young age to become a, for example, vet, often succeed.

Instead of just learning and hoping to eventually find something to do with their learning, they are focused on their project: to become a vet.

And so every educational decision taken pushes them toward that project goal.

By picking your project or goal first you’ll have a compass for your life that’ll help orientate yourself when you feel lost or confused.

With this idea of just in time learning – you learn just in time to solve a problem – you realise you can learn anything in life, whenever you need to learn it.

Another example of just in time learning is buying an old car to do up. Yes, you might have the idea to do a car up. But most people will think, ‘Oh no. I can’t do a car up as I’d have to go to night school for 3 years to learn how to be a car mechanic!’

This is wrong!

Instead, you should buy the car. Then slowly, over time, learn how to fix one problem at a time, and learn as your progress.

Ok. Now that I’ve drilled the importance of first choosing a project you are passionate about before you try to learn, let’s move on to the game industry jobs.

1: Game Programmer

What is game programming?

Programming is hard. Like learning a new language, programming has words and sentence structures like the most elaborate and confusing language you can think of.

And if learning the most complex language ever wasn’t hard enough, there are also multiple programming languages to pick from. Some are easier than others, but all of them are extremely hard to learn and even harder to master.

Yet programming is vital to games. Programming, or coding, is literally the language the tells a computer what to do. Coding tells the CPU how in-game enemies should fire their guns. It tells the GPU what to render and how to render it. Programming is the language that tells the game what to do when the trigger is squeezed on your controller.

In short, programming controls every aspect of a game. Without it, you wouldn’t have a game. Instead, you’d have a collection of art assets, textures, models, and static ideas. Programming brings life from lifelessness: The vital essence that makes things move, fire, shoot, and talk.

What type of program languages are there?

There have been hundreds, maybe even thousands of programming languages that have sprung forth since the dawn of computers. Fortunately for you, there are only a handful of languages that are currently used and sort after within the game industry.

Here’s a short list of some of the main languages that are currently used. Remember, this list is not extensive:

  • C# (Sharp) – Used by computer games engines such as Unity
  • C++ (Plus plus) The main programming language used in the game industry
  • Lua – Scripting language used by some Game engines.
  • Java – the main programming language used by Android.
  • Swift – programing language for all things apple.
  • Python – used by some games, but not many
  • Javascript – Not to be confused with Java. Javascript can be used to make games in internet browsers
  • HTML5 – Next generation Internet language that can be used to program games.

How much do programmers earn?

As of 2018, the average programmer in the United States earns $84,000 after just 5 years of experience. That over $20,000 more than other game industry jobs with similar experience.

Simply put, if you’re in the games industry to make money, programming is the road to take.

How to learn to become a programmer

You can become a programmer through a traditional university rout

However, that would be a mistake.

Over 66% of all programmers currently employed in the US coding industry state that they are self-taught without any official qualifications.

Programming is one of those beautiful job types where your portfolio of work speaks far louder than any official document.

You can learn to program in your bedroom, put a great portfolio together, and get a well-paying programming job in less than 6 months.

No other industry will let you do that so easily.

What tools do I need to start programming?

The tools you’ll need as a programmer are surprisingly easy to get your hands on and are often completely free. Unlike designers who have to pay Adobe silly money each every month, programers can usually download IDEs or integrated development programs for free.

The most notable IDEs includes Microsoft visual studio. This free program is literally the doorway to unlimited possibilities. This IDE will help you create the simplest “Hello World” printout to fully featured complete game engines. Once you downloaded Visual Studio, you are literally the only limiting factor on your potential success as a programmer.

So download it and start learning.

How can I start to learn game programming.

There are 3 main ways to learn:

  • Online courses such as those provided by udemy
  • You can Google problems as and when they arise.
  • Youtube videos

Now you may notice that I’ve not listed websites such as Codecademy. Why? I haven’t included them simply because codecademy treats you like your in school. They try to give you a general Education in programming instead of trying to help you complete your own projects.

The problem again, with this method, is it’s boring. You’re left trying to spell out “hello world” and your motivation is going to evaporate faster than spilled milk on hot tarmac.   

So the answer is to pick the game you want to make and start making it. Pick tutorials that will teach you how to make the game you want to make.

Want to make an FPS? Get a course that’ll teach you how to build a rudimentary FPS.

Want to learn how to program a twin-stick control method in Unity for your space game? Find a tutorial or course that’ll help you do just that.

Now from my experience, Udemy is easily the best platform to learn how to develop games. There is a course on every type of game you can think of. There’s one for FPS games, RTS games, racing games, and even multiplayer games. And they are all very high-quality courses with tutor support.

Videos on youtube can be very helpful, but generally, the quality of tutorials on youtube is quite low.

Likewise with Google searches. You can find solutions to small individual problems and this will be important. But you won’t find fully fleshed out game development tutorials. The kind of tutorial you’ll need when first starting out.

A great course to help you get started is called “Unreal Engine C++ Developer: Learn C++ and Make Video Games”. This complete computer game programming course is over 63 tutorial filled hours long. And it will take you from beginner to advanced by the time you complete it. Here, you’ll learn to develop games using Epic’s Unreal engine and C++. And if that wasn’t enough you’ll also get to build a portfolio of 4 full video games.

And as another epic (pun intended) bonus, this course can usually be picked up for as little as £11.99! Take a look at the pic’ below:

To help you further your aspirations of becoming a games industry programer, I’ll be putting together a complete Programming curriculum that will encompass every programming language that matters and every direction you can take them. So stayed tuned!

2: Animation

What is animation?

Animation is a key ingredient of games. If you’ve ever played a game chances are extremely high that you’ve seen thousands if not hundreds of thousands of animations.

An animation is any movement that an in-game model – a person, tree, monster – does that is related to the object itself changing shape.

For example, you can move a person around a room without them changing shape at all. This is called a translation. A real-world example of this would be picking up and moving a vase. The vase is moving position but the shape is not changing.

So animation is the changing of shape. It’s the person’s arms swimming, their legs flicking out as they walk and it’s their eyes darting toward a threat.

And this changing shape is needed for both 3d and 2d games. Think back to the golden days of gaming: the SNES and Sega Genesis era. Games were made up of little sprites – 2d images – that would be animated just like a flipbook animation gives the illusion of movement on a page.

The artist would draw one picture of Super Mario, then they would draw another with his legs and arms in slightly different positions. Then they’d draw another and another until, when played together in sequence, the combined images gave the illusion of a walk or run.

3d animations are a little different. An in-game 3rd Model will have a rudimentary skeleton built into it. This skeleton is then manipulated to create the needed animations.

There’s also the more advanced motion capture and motion blending. This type of animation, instead of being created by hand, is created by digitally capturing an actor’s real moments that the animator wants to use in game.

Then, through programming and animation magic, the different animations are blended together to give a realistic fluid effect.

How much are game animators paid?

As of January 2019, Game industry animators get paid a massive $68,000 on average after 5-10 years of experience.

Top end animators with 15 years plus experience can command salaries that nearly double this figure at $121,000.

So if you’re hunting for a job in the industry that’s creative, not programming orientated, and that pays well, look no further. Game animation is the job for you.

What software will I need for 3d animation?

Becoming a 3d animator is surprisingly easy. Let me run you through a quick outline of how to go about it.

First, forget about degrees. Pixar, EA and every other animation house that cares to fill the alphabet doesn’t give two hoots about a piece of paper that says you have a degree in animation.

They care about one thing:

Your portfolio.

So forget about anything else, and start learning how to use an industry tool such as Maya OR 3DS MAX.

However, both of these admittedly class pieces of software come with a hefty price tag.

So what should you do if you can’t afford them, or that you don’t want to pay the extortionate fees? Well, there’s an answer:

Blender.

Check out Blender here. This feature full 3d animation suite offers a staggering 95% the features and usability of 3DS MAX and Maya without the massive price tag.

And, amazingly, Blender is totally free!

This is the software that’ll start your Animation journey.

What’s the best 3D Animation course to get me started.

So you know what software you need but what about learning 3d animation? Well, there are thousands of tutorials online on how to learn Blender on Youtube alone.

But I suggest taking a different route. I’d suggest buying a course of Udemy.

On Udemy there is a course called Complete Blender Creator: Learn 3D Modelling for Beginners. This massive and comprehensive course is over 65 hours long and grows every year as Blender adds features.

If you stick with it, this mammoth course will take you from 3d animation noob to seasoned pro.

Usually, the course is a not so insignificant £194.99. Yes US fans, I’m from the UK.

I know, that sounds like a lot. But you need not pay that much. Wait for one of Udemy’s sales to slide around and you can pick this life-changing course up for as little as £11.99!

See! What a bargain!

If you’d like to find out more about how to become a 3D animator, I’ll be creating a complete course curriculum based on Udemy courses, that you’ll be able to follow. It’ll also feature specialisations in different areas of animation. So stay tuned.

3: Sound design

What is a sound designer?

Since the beginning of the game industry over 40 years ago, games have offered both visual and audio to delight and captivate their audience.

We’ve come a long way since the earliest days of 8-bit synthesizers popping out unidentifiable boops and beeps.

Now Dolby Atmos smashes us over the head with thunderous pumps as helicopters churn overhead, bullets zing past, and explosions punch the air out of our lungs. Sound design has come a long way.

But what does a sound designer do?

Sound designers come in many forms but usually fall into 3 categories.

They are:

  • Music designers
  • Synthetic sound designers
  • Real Effects designers

Let look at each in turn in a little more depth.

Music Designers

Music designers are exactly what the name suggests: They design music. Think of John Williams from Star Wars or Ramin Djawadi of Game of Thrones fame.

It’s their job to use real instruments and sounds to come up with new music that fits within the mood and theme of a film. The games industry also uses music designers for the same job.

Synthetic Sound designers

Synth designers generally make game sound effects, but they can also be found making game music.

Electronic synth sounds are usually associated with retro games and modern Indie games. Games such as R-Type offer some of the greatest synthetic soundtracks of all time. Some of which you can check out on this youtube Vid:

But synthetics don’t stop there. Synthetic sound designers have created a galaxy full of Booping explosions, pewing lasers, pumping engines, and everything else in between.

Check a few of them out on this Youtube Vid: https://youtu.be/nzjtkaLCn60

Real Effects Sound Designers

Real effects sound designers are different as they tend to exclusively stick to making realistic sounding effects for film and game.

They tend to use digital synthesizers only to mix real sounds or to change a sound’s characteristics such as changing pitch or frequency.

Regardless of the software real sound designers use, all of the sounds they use come from real-world sources. A great example of real sounds effect design in action is the T-Rex Roar from the original Jurassic Park.

Have a quick listen:

The T-Rex roar is actually made up recorded sounds from an Alligator, a Tiger, and of all things, a baby elephant.

How much do sound designers get paid?

Sound design jobs in the USA are, on average fairly well-paid jobs. You can expect to be paid on average $52,000 a year.

This is compared to the USA average wage of $47,000 per year.

What software will I need to be a sound designer?

For in-game sound effects, there is no better sound software than FMOD. This Super sound engine is to the sound effects world what Photoshop is to digital painting. Its feature set is unmatched and the roster game of studios that uses it is like looking at a game company hall of fame.

Activision, Capcom, Rockstar, and Sony are just some of the industry’s big hitters that call FMOD there go to sound effects software.

However, FMOD is not for everybody.

For starters it’s expensive. Expensive to the point that no price is listed on FMOD’s website. Instead, you have to “enquire” about the price. And you know what they say about price: If you have to ask, you probably can’t afford it.

So whats, the alternative to the super powerful but super expensive FMOD?

The answer: Audacity

Audacity is a premier free to use, forever(!), sound editing software. Though falling short of industry-leading software, Audacity offers a wealth of features that should be enough for any budding sound designer.

You can download it here for any operating system you care to shout out. Once your installed and up-and-running, take a look at the comprehensive manual to help get you started.  

What’s the best course for me to start my journey?

If you’re eager to get your sound design career started, there’s no better place to learn that George Karagioules’ Introduction to Game Design Audio. Make SFX and Music for your game.

This in-depth course is your doorway to a career as a sound engineer in the game industry.

If you’d like to find out more about how to become a sound designer, I’ll be creating a complete course curriculum based on Udemy courses, that you’ll be able to follow. So stay tuned.

4: Game design

What is a Game designer?

A game designer is probably what you, and every single person who is reading this article, secretly aspires to be.

The game designer is held up at laughty heights, almost looked at as a god-like position in the game industry.

Yes, people want to be programmers, they want to be artists. But, to become a game designer, well, you know you’ve made it if you’re a game designer.

But why does everybody love the idea of game design? What is it that draws out the romantic dreams of young and old alike about this role?

The answer is simple: Control.

Everybody who has ever lived in hope of making their own game has dreamed of being in control of a legion of artists, programmers and every other skill you care to think off. All of them serving toward a single purpose: To make the designer’s ephemeral ideas a reality.

The designer is the creative lead. The idea factory that spits out unique ideas that have people clapping and bowing down in equal amounts of reverence and amazement.

All hail the god-like powers of the game designer!

The designer is multi-talented; balancing level design ideas and gameplay loops like a seasoned plate spinner. They command creative meetings like a prime of his life Steve Jobs. And no idea, big or small, is beyond the scope of their powers of creation.

Yet sadly, game design, though immensely fun, is not the same as the romanticized view that most of us hold in our hearts and heads.

Games are huge complex projects that are beyond the scope of any one person. That’s why there are often teams of designers with each designer dealing with a specific aspect of the game.

This method of team design dilutes original ideas, democratising the creative process, and homogenising artistic flair. None of which is good.  

And that’s not the only issue. With games becoming ever more confined by financial expectation, games are now less designed and more produced to fit market demands and shareholder profit projections.

The lead designer of yesterday has disintegrated into a background role. In the creative’s place, the game director or game producer has sprung forth, just as the dust settles, to claim the leading role. But it’s a leading role born of business, not of art. The director ensures the line is toed by designers so the “product” the market demands is produced. The not the game the designer dreams of.  

But it’s not all gloom and doom. Game design can still be a dream job.

How?

By staying indie.

Instead of pandering to the suites at places like “EA towers”, you can make the game that you jumped and dived through in your mind’s eye as a child by staying independent.

As an independent game designer, the purest form of game art can flourish. A game that was nursed into existence by love, not money. Birthed from artistic flair, not by pandering to markets.

How much do Game designers get paid?

Currently, the average game designer can expect to command a salary of $53,000 per year. That’s an average after 5 years of game design experience.

This is quite a bit lower than the average for other positions in the game industry. However, you’ll be the “leading man” at a games company. Or at least one of them anyway.

What this figure does not take into account is that most Indie game designers are actually business owners too. That is to say, usually the person who started designing and making a game also owns the business that encapsulates the game. So statistics won’t show the true value of what a game designer can truly earn.

A good example of this it Notch, the man behind Minecraft. The man is a multi-millionaire. But he probably wasn’t included in game designer salary statistics because he owned the company behind Minecraft.

What software will I need to be a game designer?

Software? Where you’re going you won’t need software.

The only things you need is your mind, a pencil, and a notebook.

Ok, that’s not entirely accurate. If you also want to start making your games, you may want to download the Unreal engine or Unity. Both of which are free!

But to start, all you need is that pen an paper. So unleash your imagination. Let your creativity shine like a summers sun. Let the ideas flow as ink out onto paper.

What’s the best course for me to start my game design journey?

When it comes to game design, most people make this mistake very early on:

They start learning game design by playing video games.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Surely, if you want to learn games design you should learn from playing video games. From great gameplay, great level design, great features.

But this isn’t the best way.

Games are essentially a collection of overlapping systems and processes that fit together to create the effect that we call gameplay.

Because that’s what games are: systems. Strip these processes out and you have essentially nothing. A game wouldn’t even load, never mind offer gameplay, if it wasn’t for systems and processes.

And the problem is these systems are often extremely complex, and there are many of them.

This web of systems makes it hard to pull apart a video game. Additionally, just to make matters worse, games are programmed, so all their systems are hidden in the background. They tick over silently and invisibly making them very hard to access for the non-programmer.

So what’s the answer?

You study board game design first. No, this isn’t a joke. Seriously, this is where you should start.

Board Games are similar to computer games, except they have one crucial difference:

You have to enact the systems manually.

By this I mean the systems are not programmed and automatic. You have to learn the rules, the systems of the game, for the gameplay to progress.

This offers you a unique chance that video games could never offer. You can examine first hand how the systems work and interact. You can swap variables out at leisure to test why a system works the way it does. You can even swap out entire systems and replace them with others to see how the board game changes.

This way you’ll start to build up an intuitive sense for how systems work together to create fun and emergent gameplay.

A great example of this is the unmatched Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Each system is very simple. Take for example these three: grass catches fire, fire lights arrows, fire harms enemies. Combine these 3 simple rules and you have an abundance of possibility.

The best place I’ve found to start learning board game design is a great course on Udemy called Board game Developer: Become a game design Ninja. This fantastic course, which stretches for 11 hours, will teach you everything you need to know about game play design.

Take a look at the course, watch a few of the test videos to get a feel for it, then buy the course when it’s on sale for £11.99!

If you’d like to find out more about how to become a game designer, I’ll be creating a complete course curriculum based on Udemy courses, that you’ll be able to follow. So stay tuned.

5: Level/World design

What is a Level/World designer?

A level designer, or world designer, is somebody that creates the environments that you traverse in game.

It’s the level designers job to design levels that make the best use of all the developed gameplay systems.

It’s the job of the level design has to draw out the use of these gameplay systems by the player. A good example of this is the game Deus Ex. The game offers multiple systems for level traversal such as moving heavy objects, jumping, stealth, hacking, lock picking and so on. So the level design offers multiple paths for players to make use of the gameplay systems.

Level designers also, in part, create the beauty of the world. However, the level designer has to constantly fight restrictions on creativity such as time and hardware ability. They have to design levels in ways that mitigate deficiencies in the gameplay systems and the platform’s hardware shortcomings.

For example, you may have an idea for a level where the player steps out of a cave overlooking a sprawling city overgrown with vegetation and humming with wildlife. Yet the hardware, such as a console, might not be able to handle such aspirations. So it’s the level designers job to use ‘smoke and mirrors’ to fake the scene as much as possible so the host hardware platform can deliver the intended artistic vision.

A good example of a game that offers wonderful vistas but delivers them in a ‘faked’ method is Uncharted on the PS3. Naughty Dog’s epic was a stunning looking game and still hold up today.

However, in a number of scenes that show expanding vistas in the distance, the level uses low quality assets along with faked fog effects and lighting to hide the fact that this distant eden is actually a collection of flat polygons. Not unlike the ones you’d find in early PS2 games. Though you’d never have guessed it when Uncharted is in motion.

See what I mean

How much do Level designers get paid?

Level design is one of the best paid artistic jobs in the game industry. The average pay after 5-10 years in this game industry niche will usually deliver a wallet-fattening average salary of $62,510 per year. Not bad.

But it gets even better. Stick with your chosen discipline for a decade or more and you could be looking at doubling that to over $120,000 per year. A staggering amount that rivals the best programming jobs the industry offers.

What software will I need to be a Level designer?

To start level designing, you don’t actually need software. You can, like gameplay design, start with just a pen and paper.

However, using a game engine such as Unity or Unreal engine will let you actually build levels.

But you shouldn’t start here.

Just choose the game you’d like to design a level for and start planning out a level on paper. The top-down perspective is always a good perspective to use.  

Run through the ideas you have on paper first. Where would you place enemies? How about power-ups or hidden secrets?

Another great bit of software that can really help you learn level design is Mario Maker on the Nintendo 3Ds or Nintendo WiiU. Also, Mario maker 2 is available on Nintendo Switch.

These games let you design and develop your own 2D Mario levels. Making them a great entry point to level design.  

What’s the best course for me to start my journey?

Even though I’m a massive advocate of learning by doing – after all you can’t learn to ride a bike by reading about it – level design is one of those disciplines that can only be improved by understanding the theory behind it.

That’s why I recommend a great course that I’ve taken on Udemy called Level Design Master Class: All in one complete course. The level design master class is only 4 hours long but it offers a brief but very in-depth look at what works and what doesn’t in level design.

Also, if you wait around a little, this course, like all courses on Udemy, can be had for as little as £11.99. A bargain!

If you’d like to find out more about how to become a Level designer, I’ll be creating a complete course curriculum based off Udemy courses, that’ll be able to follow. So stay tuned.

6: Concept artist

What is a Concept artist?

A concept artist is an artist that is usually involved in the early creative process of a game. The concept artist’s job is to bring to life the Game designer/director’s vision for the game.

This usually involves digitally painting character ideas, level ideas, objects, weapons, ships, cars, and everything else that will likely appear in the game.

Concept art usually starts out as a basic sketch.

Then slowly, using a process of iteration, a concept is grown, fleshed out, and expanded until it’s a fully featured concept.

This Process can take a day, or it can take weeks. But eventually, you’ll have a finished concept that communicates the game world, or item in a clear but artistic way.

These concepts are then used to create the 3D or 2D assets that are eventually used in a game.

How much do Concept artists get paid?

As far as concept artists go, the average wage after 5 years in the industry stands at an impressive $53,600 per year.

This is lower than some other game industry jobs. However, there are few games that offer the scope and freedom as the concept artist as you literally spend your day sketching and drawing out your best ideas.  

What hardware or software will I need to be a concept artist?

Hardware

Most concept art is first sketched out on paper. Then the rough drawing is transferred over to a PC, Mac, or even an Ipad.

On PC and Mac, graphics tablets are often used. These graphics tablets come with a pen-shaped device called a stylus that replicates the feeling of using a paint brush, pen, or pencil in the hand. The stylus offers far superior accuracy than a regular mouse. However, there is no screen on a graphics tablet so you have to draw with your hand while looking up at a monitor.

However, you can level your experience up a notch. There is a number of graphics monitors available that offer stylus compatibility directly on the screen such as the Huion Kamvas 191-GT. These monitors let you use a stylus pen directly on the image you are drawing so it simulates the feel of drawing on paper even more closely. And they do this with a large screen format and for a fraction of the cost of a Tablet PC or Ipad Pro.  

Another option is to use a tablet PC such as a Surface Pro from Microsoft or the Ipad Pro from Apple. Both offer superior usability compared to a graphics tablet and graphics monitors such as the Huion Kamvas. However, tablet PCs and Ipad pros are far more expensive. They both usually start at £1000 and work up to over £2000 for the highest end models.

Software

As for software, the digital painter of choice is usually Photoshop from Adobe. However, since Adobe adopted the Software as a service business model, Photoshop has become out of reach for many due to the £120 yearly cost.

So what’s the alternative?

Well the GIMP or GNU Image Manipulation Program is an open source and free digital painting software. The GIMP offer 90% of what Photoshop offers and you can download it on to any Mac, Windows, and Linux computer and use immediately.

The website can explain it all far better than I can, so check it out here.

Alternatively, if you’re sporting an Ipad pro, you can download a copy of Procreate. For as little as £7.99, this purpose built for iOS painting program takes advantage of all the Ipads best features to offer an unparalleled digital painting experience on the go.  

Check Procreate out here.

What’s the best course for me to start my journey?

If you know how to Draw already, then I’d recommend getting hold of a course over on Udemy called The Digital Painting MEGA Course: Beginner to Advanced. This massive twelve and a half hour course will teach you everything you need to know to start digitally painting on your computer.  

Yes, you could head over to Youtube and type in concept art tutorials. But you won’t have an organized structure to your learning. And a structure is what you need when first starting out.

For as little as £11.99, you can buy the course on Udemy and it’ll set you on your way to learning the skills to become a concept artist.

However, if you can’t draw, then I recommend starting with a drawing/sketching course. And Udemy steps in again with the super in-depth, beginner to advance, course from Jaysen and Quinton Batchelor called The Ultimate Drawing Course – Beginner to Advanced. Seriously, if you can’t draw but want to learn, check this course out here. You will not regret it.

If you’d like to find out more about how to become a Concept artist, I’ll be creating a complete course curriculum based on Udemy courses, that’ll be able to follow. So stay tuned.

7: 2D Artist

What is a 2D artist?

A 2D artist, when it comes to games anyway, is an artist that is dedicated to creating 2D texture or sprite assets.

But hang on a minute… What’s a texture? Or even a sprite for that matter? Ahh, well I’m glad you asked.

First, let take a look at a texture. In games, a texture is the color and detail that covers every single in game surface. That stubble on the main character? A texture. The grass with brown autumn leaves intermingled? A texture. How about the muzzle flash that pops on screen every time I pull the trigger? Yes, it too is also a texture.  

Without textures, all games would look like flat colored polygon worlds.

But with textures, the world comes alive with colour and detail.

A 2D artist creates every one of these textures.

Additional 2D artists create Pixel art. Pixel art is a modern take on the old school method of rendering graphics that emerged in the NES, SNES, and Sega Genesis days. The rise of indie games has seen a massive uptake of the retro Pixel art style.

How much do 2D artists get paid?

Amazingly, after 5-10 years of hammering out textures and sprites, a 2D artist can earn a not too shabby $54,000 a year.

This can, after a decade of pixel pushing, double to over $100,000 a year.

Not bad if you have a love for the retro inspired pixel art.

What software will I need to be a 2D Artist?

When it comes to 2D art and texture creation, there is only one King:

Photoshop.

Adobe’s premier photo manipulation software is the go-to software for tens of thousands of texture and pixel artists around the world.

However, there is one problem:

You have to pay for Photoshop monthly.

A quick background update on Adobe. Once upon a time, Adobe sold photoshop as part of its CS or creative suite group of products. These could be bought digitally or in a Box and they were yours to keep and use forever. But one day an evil man, likely in a suit, who cared little for creatives, decided to start charging users a monthly subscription fee to use any Adobe software

How lovely of him.

So to use Photoshop you have to pay. Every month. Forever. And if you stop, your copy of photoshop is useless.

But there is an alternative:

The GIMP.

The GIMP, or GNU image manipulation software, is a photo editor that offers 90% of photoshops usability.  

But the GIMP holds one a feature that places it miles ahead of Adobe’s best effort. The GIMP is completely free.

That’s right, the GIMP is a free open source program. There are no fees, no wallet emptying monthly payments, you just download it and use it.

And because it’s free, some very intelligent and kind people have written loads of powerful add-ons for it that fills in that 10% gap between The GIMP and Photoshop.

And if that wasn’t enough, tribes of creatives, that support the open software movement, have banded together to create a plethora of brushes, fonts, and other artistic assets to broaden the GIMPS tools set.

Also, the GIMP is available to use on Linux, Windows, and OSX.

You can check out the GIMP on it’s homepage here.

What’s the best course for me to start my journey?

If you want to learn how to make textures and pixel art, the best place to start learning is with this great course from Ben Tristem and Michael Bridges. These two veteran pixel pushers have put together the most comprehensive selection of tutorials I’ve ever used on how to go from a zero to hero pixel artist.  

The course, The 2D Game Artist: Design SImple Pixel Art From Scratch, offers over 18 hours of 2D texture and pixel art tutorials.

You’ll learn everything from animating characters to creating tiling textures.

And your taught using the GIMP instead of photoshop. So no expensive subscriptions.

If you’d like to find out more about how to become a 2D artist, I’ll be creating a complete course curriculum based on Udemy courses, that you’ll be able to follow. So stay tuned.

8: Character designer

What is a Character and why do they mater?

One of the most important, but underappreciated aspects of game development and design is character design.

Characters, whether they are in film, book or game, are what creates a story that we care about. Even in stories that don’t have humans in it, something else will take the role as the central character.

Think of any great story and a character, or a number of characters, will be at the center of it. These characters drive the change that brings about a story. In Harry Potter, for example, Harry must eventually face off against the evil Voldemort. But take away either of these characters and you don’t have a story.

Because characters are the story.

Let’s take a look at another example just to reiterate how important characters are compared to the world they inhabit. Let’s take a look at John Snow from Game of Thrones.

John inhabits a fantasy world with dragons, swords, magic. But John has fixed character traits. For example his extreme need for honor and the need to save the world from an impending ‘long night’.

Now imagine a different world, a sci-fi world. Now drop John Snow’s character into it. What would happen? Well, first he’d feel out of place, wondering how he could have been flung into the future from the frozen fields of ‘The North’. Yet John’s character would still work. He’s an entity within a new world that can still react to change and, through action, bring about his own change. And he would do all this within the confines of his character traits.

But what would happen if you took all the characters out of a world? Well, a world without character is nothing. Without a point of view of a character to experience the world, there are no problems, just inconsequential events happening.

As arrogant as it may seem, and to expand on an old saying, if a tree falls over in woods and nobody is around to hear it, it’s not that it doesn’t happen, it’s just that it doesn’t mean anything.

And we need characters in all types of story. Take for example Netflix’s Natural world epic Our Planet. In this natural history tour de force, the producers have expertly made each of the animals and even plants the central character on their particular stage. From hyper-intelligent whales blowing circles of bubbles to help swallow their fill for the day, to near blind Walruses coming to heart-wrenching ends, each animal fills the role of the central character.

But games are different. How do you go about creating a character the player will control? Do you force a set of character traits on the player, shoe-horn the gamer into your story of good versus evil? Well, in most modern games, you don’t. The person playing the game will fill the role of the central character using their own personality.

A game empowers the player to be the change, to solve problems, to cause problems and see the world react. So instead of looking to build a playable character that’ll only serve to constrain the player, the designer leaves the main character a blank canvas to draw out players real-world characteristics using in-game non-playable characters or NPCs. Each NPC acts as a mirror held up to the player. Each of them reflecting the players emotional, logical, and moral choices.

For example, a major antagonist can bring about huge change within the game world. And then, given the right tools, the player can go about solving the problem however they see fit.

A superb example of this is Zelda: Breath of the Wild. In what I consider the best game I’ve ever played, playing as Link is effectively a blank canvas. Link is little more than a tool through which you conjure action through. Nothing more. Other than being told you are a hero from the past, there is little in the way of emotion or dialogue from Link. The reason for this is clear, you are to imprint your own personality on him.

So where does character come into Links story? Well, the main antagonist, Ganon, is the driving force. He’s destroyed most of the living world and infested what is left with monster and minion. That’s the massive change. Your tasked with bringing his rule to an end. And you can do it however you like. The game throws away every last drop of linearity unleashing you on a world. A world that even lets you confront Ganon immediately if you’re skilled enough.

So the major change is player driven and antagonist driven. Remove every other NPC in the game and you’d still have a story. So it’s the main antagonist that character designers in games must treat with great care.

Additionally, NPCs that the player regularly interacts with, for example, Ellie from The Last of Us, can drive massive change. When well designed, the player of the game can actually start to care about these Non-playable characters. Which in itself creates change and new problems.

So game characters are hugely important to a game’s success. Far more so than what most gamers would actually realize.

And that’s not even touching on the aesthetic and artistic side of characters. Game characters need to be designed on the outside as well as the inside. From the clothes they wear to the way they look, every aspect of a character’s outward appearance needs to be explored and designed to reflect the characters inward personality.

Because that’s what we do in real life, usually a person’s outward appearance is, knowingly or unknowingly, a reflection of their inward personality, or at least a desire for their ideal self.  

How much do Character designers get paid?

Considering how important characters are to games, Character designers are actually paid comparatively less than their designer counterparts. At $42,400 per year after 5 years, Character designers earn the lowest salary of all game industry disciplines.

If you want to become a character designer, then do it for love, not for the money. If money is your thing, then programming is probably what you really want to learn.

What software will I need to be a Character designer?

Other than a pencil and paper, you need very little to get you started in the world of character design.

But eventually, when you want to turn paper concepts into finished characters, you may need some software.

Ideally, you should use photoshop for concepting your characters. Using Adobe’s finest, Photoshop, you can paint out characters as if you’ve got infinite stocks of paints and canvas at hand.

However, one issue you’ll face with Photoshop is the fact that you must pay for it each month. For the privilege of using Adobe’s best photo editing effort, you’ll have to hand over £9.99 of your hard earned cash every single month.

Unfortunately, if you have a preference for using Adobe Illustrator, you’ll have to pay a little more. Actually, that’s a lie, you’ll have to pay double, as Illustrator costs a staggering £19.99 each and every month.

However, there is light at the end of this wallet draining tunnel. And it comes in the form of open source software.

For the exact sum of zero pounds, you can download a few Adobe alternatives. For photoshop lovers you have The GIMP. The GIMP offers 90% of photoshops usability. And, if you hunt down the right plugins, that can be extended to nearly 100% of what Photoshop offers. Ok, it not as pretty as photos shop. But it’s free!

If you’re looking for an illustrator alternative then you are also in luck. Check out Gravit. This stunning Vector powered illustration software has only come to market in the past few years, but offer a beautiful user experience with powerful features.

And again it’s absolutely free.

What’s the best course for me to start my journey?

Well, the best way to start learning is to jump right in with an excellent Udemy course by Rich Graysonn. Character Design for Beginners will give you all the information you need to start designing characters. Whether it’s designing and concepting clothes and accessories our dreaming up character motivations, Rich has you covered in his course.

This course it more heavily weighted in the direction of drawing the aesthetics of a character. For a course that touches on the traits of character, check out Character Development: Step-by-Step (Creative Writing 6). This short but ever so sweet course will teach you the fundamentals of character trait design. Usually, the course sells for a whopping £199.99 which reflects its quality and value. However, hold off a little for one Udemy’s infamous sales to come around and you can have this course for as little as £11.99. Worth every penny!

If you’d like to find out more about how to become a character designer, I’ll be creating a complete course curriculum based on Udemy courses, that you’ll be able to follow. So stay tuned.

Bonus: Business side of gaming jobs

Making games doesn’t end at the creatives. That’s just the end of the beginning of the game making process.

There’s a huge number of people involved in the business side of gaming. And without these people, most games would never be made.

For example, What about managers? Administrators of systems and processes that get the ‘boring’ stuff done so the creatives can concentrate on what they do best.

Or what about Marketers? They spend every day trying to grow people’s awareness of new games. They make sure games don’t get lost in the sea of other digital entertainment.

And then there’s everybody else…

HR managers, secretaries, salespeople, operations, and even security to name just a tiny fraction of the jobs involved in making most games a reality.

You can start earning money from your passion for games in so many different ways.

Your profession doesn’t have to be directly connected to the making of games. You can do any type of work and still be part of this amazing industry.

Just go to any job website and look for game related jobs. You’d be surprised by what you might find.

What type of jobs can you do on the business side of gaming?

Game industry Jobs are not limited to jobs that are directly connected to making games. There is a large number of Jobs that are crucial to the games industry that are more business oriented.

It’s no exaggeration to say that without the people willing to operate the business side of the games industry we would not have a games industry. As much as it pains me to say, we need the men and women in suits to help balance our creative need with a need for profit.

I’m not going to list every single Job title here as there are loads. And each game company will have different names for similar positions.

  • Retail positions
  • Marketing
  • SEO
  • Content
  • Social Media
  • Operations
  • Sales
  • Buyers
  • Human resource
  • Coaches and Trainers
  • Network engineers
  • Computer engineers
  • Finance managers
  • General managers
  • Secretaries
  • Office managers
  • Security
  • Events managers
  • Project managers
  • Product Owners
  • PR
  • Journalism
  • And I’m sure loads more that I haven’t thought off.

If you work in any of these areas, you could be calling the game industry you home. So take a look at job listing websites. Type in your preferred job followed by Games/Game. And see what shows up. Also, check out industry-specific websites such as GameIndustry.Biz or Games Jobs Direct to keep an eye out for business-related jobs.

How much can you get paid get paid?

The sky’s the limit for the business side of gaming. I’m serious. Work in retail and become a manager of a game shop and you could earn £25,000 a year. Become a director at large gaming company in London or New York and you could be making £200,000 plus a year, not including bonuses.

What’s the best course for me to start my journey?

Due to the sheer number of disciplines involved in the business side of gaming, it’s probably beyond the scope of this article to point out every single course you could take. Even though I’ve already hit around 9,000 words, I’d probably have to add an extra 9,000 words!

So I’ll be exploring these positions in a separate article. So keep an eye out for it in the future.

A big thanks.

Thank you so much for reading this, admittedly, huge article. It’s massively appreciated. The fact that you’ve given me so much of your time is humbling and I can only hope I can go on giving you the massive value you deserve.

But I need your help.

It would be arrogant of me to think that I know everything there is to know about game development and design. Inevitably, I’ve missed out a few key points or job types.

If you think there’s anything I could add to this article please do not hesitate to share your idea in the comments. I’ll be sure to add it to the article as soon as I can.  

Again, thanks so much for reading the article. See you again next time.

Nick Sinclair

Having played games since the golden age of the Commodore 64, Nick finally took the plunge and studied Creative Game Design in university. After 3 years of "Study", Nick co-founded a games company where he soon discovered his true calling: writing about games. 11 years later Nick writes about a tower of topics, but gaming is always stacked neatly at the top.

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