How to Become a Video Game Developer
Feb 15, 2021
video game console

Video game developers are the tech magicians who take art and storytelling and convert them into the complex environments and characters you interact with on-screen. It’s a fun and dynamic career. It’s also a highly competitive one that requires dedication.

If you dream about creating the next Legend of Zelda or Skyrim and want to take your love for gaming to the next level, becoming a game developer may be the perfect career path for you. 

What is a video game developer? 

One of the most important things you should know before you embark on the journey to becoming a game developer is what it isn’t, and what it isn’t is game design. 

Video game designers are the creatives and writers who conceptualize a game’s plot, characters, and gameplay, working closely with developers and artists to bring them to life. Video game developers—also known as video game programmers—on the other hand, specialize in the technical side of a game, like software programming and engineering. Game programmers use code to make a workable version of a video game from the ground up, keeping the game functional, implementing gameplay features, and fixing bugs. They’re a lot like translators, because they take what designers give them and convert it into moving visual parts that get you as the player from your first steps in a game to battling the big boss.

There are several kinds of video game programmers who work together to bring a game to life. Here are just a few specialties that you’ll find in the field:

  • Graphics engineer programmers: use math and complex algorithms to give game designs their 2D and 3D configuration so they can come alive on screen. 
  • Network programmers: create code that allows players to interact with other players across the world. 
  • Physics programmers: set up the laws that a game should follow—gravity, weather, etc.—and act a bit like pyrotechnics for a game, giving it its explosions, collisions, and other reactions. 
  • Tools programmers: use code to automate tasks and simplify the development and implementation process. 
  • AI programmers: create lifelike human behavior and characteristics for game characters to make them as realistic as possible. 
  • Sound programmers: develop and implement a game’s sound. 
  • Lead programmers: lead several programming projects and make the technical choices for their teams; this is a supervisory role. 

How to become a game developer

Becoming a game developer or programmer requires (unsurprisingly) a passion for games, attention to detail, and problem solving. If you’ve got all of those things, you’re in the right business. That said, game development can be a tricky career to break into. Because it is so competitive, you have to work hard to stand out. There is no right way to become a game programmer, but there are some things you should plan on doing to get there. 


First, consider what kind of programming you want to specialize in.

Are you interested in creating 3D graphics? Are you more fascinated with the use of AI in games and making characters feel more realistic? Or do you find yourself more attracted to lead roles? You don’t necessarily have to know what speciality you want to have as you start venturing into the field, but knowing what you want to focus on can help you seek out the right tools to practice on your own.

Brush up on those math skills.

Remember in your high school algebra class when you asked your math teacher “when am I going to use this in real life?" Game development is one answer to that question. Strip a game to its bones and you’ll find it’s a collection of equations that direct everything on the screen to perform different functions. What this means is that in order to be a good developer, you’re going to need some high level math skills, like trigonometry, physics, and calculus. You’ll also want to have a base understanding of linear algebra, algorithms, and scientific fundamentals.

When it comes to game development, the more mathematical fundamentals you understand, the better. These skills can help you make even more powerful graphics and tech, and that will help you stand out to employers when you start your career hunt.

Take a course. 

Many game developers will opt for the four-year college route in their journey to become a full-time programmer. That said, the four-year route can be expensive, it’s not an option for everyone, and many companies no longer require a 4-year degree to qualify for jobs. Many budding programmers are making two-year degrees, technical colleges, and bootcamps work for them instead, and there are other ways that you can learn on your own.

If you’ve got the brass to learn on your own, there are plenty of online game development courses and tutorials available. You can find tutorials devoted to C++, algorithms, specific game types, like RPG and FPS multiplayer games, and a plethora of other topics.

Learning on your own can be rewarding, but it can also be pretty difficult if you’re a beginner, and you may not have access to all the tools you need. An alternative to the four-year university route and the do-it-yourself route is Lambda School.

At Lambda, we offer both an immersive data science course and an immersive full-stack web development course that give you a deep dive on the coding languages and skills you’ll need to know to become a video game programmer. Our courses are shorter than you’ll find elsewhere—we offer a full-time 6-month track and two part-time 12-month tracks, giving you lots of flexibility to pick the best fit for you—and they’re designed to make you a pro-coder at a fraction of the cost of other schools—and with more hands-on experience building real-world projects.

At Lambda, we operate on an Income Share Agreement. That means that you don’t have to pay for your tuition until you’ve accepted a job in a qualifying position. It’s an ideal option for anyone looking for a career in coding who isn’t quite financially ready to pay for their education, and it’s a good stepping stone for beginning developers. If you’d like to and you have the means, you can also pay tuition upfront.

Build games. 

Taking an immersive course is one of the best ways to solidify your knowledge on fundamentals, but no classroom can teach you the practical skills you’ll learn by building on your own. The best way to get good at game development is to practice, practice, and practice. This will help you hone your skills and build a portfolio that dazzles.

To start, pick a platform you love most and start building a game on it. GameMaker is a great place for beginners wanting to create their own game. You can build your own graphics from scratch on C++, practice writing shaders—these are codes that render different scenes and environments—on a site like GLSL Sandbox or Shadertoy, or start with a high level engine like Unity. A great place to look for resources is on GameDev.net. They’ll arm you with tutorials, a supportive community of game developers to get tips from, and they have a list of platforms and places you can practice your skills.

Connect with other developers.

Getting to know other developers is a great way to understand the field and get advice that can be helpful in your own journey. You can connect with developers through online developer forums or work alongside them and learn from them at Lambda.

Ready to start learning how to code and prepare yourself for an exciting career as a developer? Apply at Lambda today. 

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