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Video Game Developer

What They Do

Insider Info

Behind a video game is a fun and exciting creative process. Before the game sees the light of day, many people work on it, including a video game programmer (also called a video game developer).

Being a video game developer can involve many things, and there are many facets to this career.

"Developer is kind of a general term, and really, testers, writers and animators are also a huge part of the development process," says Emanuel Borsboom. He is a senior software engineer who used to be a video game developer.

"But usually when people are referring to a video game developer -- and referring to an individual person, rather than a company -- they really mean video game programmer."

As a video game programmer, you'll be behind the scenes, writing the code that actually makes the game work.

"A video game programmer writes the computer code that controls the logic of the game and that renders the graphics and audio," Borsboom explains. "Mostly this is done in the C++ programming language and low-level assembly language or machine code."

Video game developers' daily duties depend on where they are in a game's production cycle.

"In the first phase, the developer is doing a lot of concept work," says Robert Riedl. He is the executive producer at a video game company. "Thinking out the who, what, where, when, how and why. They're also meeting with the people who will make the game, soliciting their ideas and understanding limitations.

"In the second phase, they're documenting the specifications for the game so everyone who's building has a clear concept of what to do. In the third phase, the developer is overseeing the game as it is created to make sure it jibes with the original concept."

Video game developers have to be able to effectively communicate with the other developers and solve programming challenges in a creative way. They also need to play and read about other games to understand how they work. That part sounds pretty fun!

Most video game developers get hired by a company and work in an office. Sometimes they may work from home, but generally they need to be in close contact with the team they're developing the game with.

The job hours can vary quite a bit. Depending on where a developer is in the project, it can get pretty crazy!

"For 90 percent of the project it's Monday to Friday, nine to five, but the last ten percent usually sees a dramatic increase in the hours," says Cary Brisebois. Brisebois is a senior programmer at a video game company.

"Typically, it's Monday through Friday. But it's not typically nine to five," says Rick Marazzani. He is the founder and general manager of a video game company. "Flex time has predominated in the video game industry, because engineers like to work on their own hours, when they're most productive."

To some degree, people with disabilities could do this job. It would be difficult without the use of one's hands, however.

For a long time, working on video games was considered a male domain. Is that still the case? Those in the field say there may be more men than women, but that shouldn't hold females back from this career.

Lesley Phord-Toy is a game director. "I have worked with many women in the game industry who are in leadership positions," she says. I have often heard from my male counterparts that they value the organizational skills of the women on the team to help keep the projects on track.

"I honestly feel that if you are skilled at what you do, there is no reason why you would be negatively affected being a woman in the game industry. You do definitely need to be able to work with mostly men, however."

"As a whole, women are severely underrepresented in this industry -- only comprising about ten percent of the workforce," says Riedl. "There are several reasons why this may be so: the perception that it's a boys' industry, the long hours, better-paying jobs elsewhere... We're very lucky that over half of our staff are women, including our CEO, VP of sales, chief technology officer and production manager."

At a Glance

  • Duties vary and will depend on where you are in the production cycle
  • Creativity will help your career
  • You can work long hours when a project is nearing the end