Game development is one of the highest paying programming jobs you can get. But, if you’re anything like some of my friends, you might not have a degree to help you land that dream job. Well, I’m here to tell you that you don’t need a degree to become a developer. In fact, it might even hinder you.
How do I become a game developer without a degree? Practice programming, then build an irresistible portfolio of work. To do this, you need to read books, watch Youtube videos, do online courses. Then make lots of games to fill your portfolio with fantastic and varied work. Once you’ve got a portfolio, start applying for jobs.
You don’t need a university degree at all to succeed as a game programmer. Don’t let the big uni’s fob you off with lies. You can succeed without them. In fact, 66% of programmers in the USA alone admit to being self-taught! So read on to find out how to become a game developer without a degree.
First thing’s first: Why you don’t need that degree.
2,500 years ago, in the cradle of Greek civilization, students would gather for lectures on science and philosophy given by the greatest minds from lands far and wide. These places of learning became known as Universities.
Fast forward two and a half millennia and there’s not much difference in colleges today.
Or is there?
In the past, University was different in two key ways:
- If students didn’t think the lecture was good, they could kick the lecturer out
- The university was free to students
Now, universities are funded by huge student fees and are designed to simply make money and fill the pockets of overpaid lecturers.
They take advantage of teenagers’ confusion and their fear of what adulthood will bring. They talk of positive futures, amazing night lives, and networking events. Yet students fall out of uni with tens of thousands of pounds of debt and into jobs they hate.
Shockingly, only 50% of graduates in the UK are in graduate-level jobs 10 years after leaving uni. And, even more damning, only 5% of students ever get a job in their degree discipline.
Universities, colleges, whatever you want to call them, don’t tell you this harsh reality when you sign up. No. All they want is your money, and with it, your future.
Now, I’m not saying that uni is bad for everybody. For sciences, and traditional subjects like medicine and law, you need to go to university. Society simply won’t accept an alternative education. You never hear of a self-taught medical doctor.
But for more creative, more craft like skills like programming, game design, art, and writing, a degree is not needed.
If anything, a degree actively hinders your progress because colleges and universities teach outdated information.
The problem of an outdated curriculum is exacerbated because colleges are such huge institutions. They take a long time to change their direction. Sometimes you’ll be taught things that are 5 or more years out of date. In fact, a friend of mine, who did a degree a game development, was told on attending an interview that what he was taught at uni was 10 years out of date when he did his degree.
In that time, while you were absorbing dated information, you could have been throwing your time into the one thing that matters most:
The portfolio is king when it comes to craft-based skills. It’s proof of experience and mastery. A portfolio is evidence that you can action your knowledge.
And what good knowledge if you don’t action it?
Now, let’s take a look at how you can learn game development without a degree and build your own portfolio.
Game Development without a degree Step 1: Find your motivation, and pick a project
Like most things in life that are worth doing, learning game development is not easy.
You’re going to have to commit a lot of time:
- 3 years
- 10-20 hours a week
It’s a huge commitment. And if you don’t enjoy the process, if you don’t enjoy programming, you’ll give up easily.
But I’ve got a little secret for you.
You have the ability to learn any skill, even the hardest skills you can think of. The only reason we don’t, the only reason we give up, is because we think we can’t do “it”.
So the first thing you must do is believe. You must believe that you are capable of learning how to program.
But there are a few other issues that muddy the waters. We tend to succeed at things we are good at. We want to do more of the things we are good at.
That’s why we love watching TV and lazing around. We all do it well!
But the opposite is also true. If you think you’re not good at something, you won’t enjoy it, and if you don’t enjoy it, you’ll give it up. Simple as that.
So we have a problem. Programming is hard, and you’ll likely give up because it’s so hard.
So you need to find a way of taking small easy steps forward. Steps that you can succeed at.
You need a constant barrage of small wins. Again, think modern games, they bombard you with fireworks and loot boxes to trick your brain into thinking you are good at the game, a constant reward to spike your brain’s dopamine levels. That way, your dopamine (happy brain drug) fires off constantly, and you keep on playing.
So you need to progress little by little. You need to feel like you are good at what you are doing, even if it’s the most simple programming you could do.
Taking small steps toward a goal is how you win at life.
For step one, you should start small. Find the simplest game that you think is fun, and build that.
Find an easy project. One you can complete in a day, or in an hour or two. The shorter the better.
It’s vitally important that you start small.
At first, keep your game simple, keep the time it takes to program short. Build tiny games for tiny wins. Because tiny wins, in the long run, add together to make big wins.
But, there’s always a but, if you have an idea for a game already, and the passion is flowing within you to make it. Just do it. Break it down into tiny bite-sized junks and take one bite at a time.
Game development without a degree step 2: Time to educate yourself.
So, you’ve made the smart choice:
You’d decided to ditch the degree and self teach yourself game development.
You’ve made the right choice.
But you’ll still need to educate yourself if you want to fulfill your destiny as a master game developer.
But where to start?
First, pick a course, book, or video, that helps you build the game that you’d like to make. Don’t just buy a random book, or course and make any old game.
Pick a game you want to make, and then search for books, videos, or courses that will help you make that particular game.
I’ve listed a few courses and books to help you get started to get you started.
First up we have a number of Udemy courses. Udemy is an online education portal that specializes in delivering extremely high-quality education at extremely low prices. You’ll often find courses on their site selling for as little as £9.99 so with the following courses you can get an education that’s way beyond what university will deliver, plus a portfolio, for less than £30.
Not bad when you consider some poor sods in the US are paying 30 grand for their computer science degrees.
Let’s take a look at each of them.
Unreal Engine C++ Developer
First up, we have the Unreal engine developer course from Ben Tristem. This course will teach you everything you need to know about developing games in the Unreal Engine. Plus, it’ll drive you all the way from C++ beginner to advanced hardcore coder.
The course is over 63.5 hours long. And offers you the chance to build a portfolio of 4 games including an FPS.
If you wait around long enough, the course can be had for the low price of £9.99. Go check it out here.
Unity Game Development
Next up we have a course from Mammoth Interactive’s John Bura. In this in-depth course, you’ll learn how to create your own virtual reality games. And you’ll be doing so while mastering programming in C#.
And this course lives up to its Mammoth name weighing in at 70 hours.
You will learn everything from coding, Photoshop, texture making, and 3d animation. And by the end of the course, you’ll have a plethora of games to add to your portfolio. Including a fully working multiplayer battle royal FPS game.
Again, this course can be had for the paltry sum of £9.99. With courses this good, available for these sorts of prices, how do universities get away with charging so much?
Answers on a postcard people! Or just comment in the comment section. Whichever you prefer.
Anyway, go check the course out here. You won’t be disappointed.
Complete C# Unity Developer
This final course is more for the aspiring 2D game developer. Dedicated entirely to 2D Games, Ben’s Monster 70 hours plus course will not only help you master coding in C#, but also help you develop a portfolio of 7 full games. Included among these are a block breaker and laser defender clone.
And like the other two courses, Complete C# Unity developer can be had for as little as £9.99.
So if 2D game development is the path you wish to travel, click here to get started.
Coding for Kids: Python: Learn to Code with 50 Awesome Games and Activities
Don’t let the title fool you. Coding for kids python is a fantastic book to learn programming for people of any age.
In fact, books designed to teach children are incredibly clear and concise, stripping out any and all waffle to make it easier for children to follow.
The book comes with tutorials for 50 basic games to get you started with programming. A great book for building confidence in programming basics quickly.
I can’t recommend it enough and so can 350 5-star reviews on Amazon.
Unity from Zero to Proficiency (Beginner): A Step-by-step guide to coding your first game
Unity from Zero to proficiency was my go-to book to learn the basics of the Unity game engine and the C# programming language.
The reason why is simple: it din’t promises the earth.
Most books and courses, promise grandiose mastery. But master, like perfection, is an illusion and unattainable.
Instead, by completing different game project in this book, you’ll become proficient at using Unity. This builds the perfect foundation for you to move forward to more advance game development.
Game development without a degree step 3: Build your portfolio
By now I should have drilled it into your head that the portfolio is king.
Nobody in the game industry cares about a slip of paper that states you have a degree.
Without a portfolio of actual work, a degree is meaningless.
However, a portfolio, without a degree, carries just as much meaning and weight as somebody with a degree. In fact, it’ll mean even more to companies as it shows them that you are a self-learning self-starter.
Anybody who has ever run a business will know that self-learning self-starting staff are worth their weight in diamonds and gold.
So how do you create your portfolio?
Well, first of all, you should have created a simple portfolio by following the courses and books I outlined above. If you haven’t completed them go back and do them. They’ll teach you everything you need to know about game development. And you’ll have a strong foundation to build on.
Those courses should give you a basic portfolio of 5 to 10 games to show off to clients. More than enough to get a job in most game companies.
But what if you want more?
Well, there are two ways to build an even more depth-full game-centric portfolio:
- Build MODs for games
- Build more of your own games
Both of these will help you gain experience and add to your portfolio.
Making mods is a great way to get started because you can build on an already existing game that you love.
This offers a number of positives over building your own game including:
- You can start quickly
- You’ll be motivated as it’s a game you love
- You understand the gameplay loop
- If you choose the right game, modding tools should be easy to use and well documented
A great game to start off making mods for is Bethesda’s Skyrim. The massive open-world RPG lets you dive into the game engine innards and reinvent the game in your own image. You can change everything from weapon types to enemy AI. And there’s a huge number of tutorials to help you get started.
However, eventually, you’ll want to start broadening and deepening your portfolio. That’s where making your own games comes in.
You can be a little more adventurous when making your own games. Not only that but it shows a deeper understanding of development as, let’s face it, making games from scratch is harder than making a mod.
The most important point you can take away is this:
Start building your portfolio immediately.
Game Development without a degree step 4: Apply for jobs.
Applying for jobs is the easy part if you’ve got a good portfolio. Simply apply for every junior developer job, using your chosen programming language, you can find. Seriously. Apply for everything.
But be warned: Only apply for jobs you know you can do. Don’t ever stretch yourself too far. For example, don’t apply for a job as C++ engine development lead, if all you can do is basic C# coding. You may have to do on the day of interview coding tests and if you don’t know what you’re doing you’ll get found out quickly.
And that’ll quickly give you a very bad, and lasting, reputation.
So again, just to be clear, apply for everything. And I mean everything. Think along the lines that for every 30 jobs you apply for you’ll get one call back.
Keep on going to as many interviews as possible. Even if you’re bad at them, you’ll improve as you practice. In fact, go to interviews accepting that you’ll be bad. They’ll help you to experiment with answers and help you relax.
Read books and take courses on how to improve your interview skills.
So there you have it, a quick guide on how to become a game developer, without a degree. The most important things to keep in mind are:
- You don’t need a degree to succeed
- Start educating yourself with books, Youtube videos, and courses on sites like Udemy.
- Start building that portfolio… Now! It is the absolute most important thing.
I want to be a game designer. Can I do that without a degree too? Yes, of course you can. The method outlined in this article can be applied to any job in the game industry. The most important thing you need to get a game design job is a portfolio of work. That means creating game design documents and actually making games. So you’ll need to learn how to develop games to build your portfolio. But you can supplement your game design knowledge simply buy, play games, and taking notes of what works and what doesn’t. Also, you can check out our best game design books article to find the best books on the market about game design.
Some junior developer jobs I look at say I need a degree. Are you sure I don’t need one? Yes, absolutely sure. Look at it this way. 2 people apply for a game developer job. One person has a degree and a basic portfolio of one game. The other has a rich portfolio of games and may even have self-published a few. So they know how to design and implement a game idea, and then publish it. Which of these two people would you hire? I know which one I would. I’d hire the self-starter without the degree who has self-taught themselves how to create their own games and get them published. The only reason a games company lists a degree as a requirement is to frighten off people who are obviously not skilled enough for the job. So if you see a job and you have the skills and the portfolio, but it asks for a degree, apply for it anyway. A great portfolio will win over a degree any day of the week.