Career Guide: Becoming A Game Coder
As we continue our series of articles looking at securing a career in the game industry, this week we’re considering one of the most important, established roles there is. So if you or a family member dream to make games, read on. And check out the other articles in the series.
Code is what makes games work. It assures that games function, keeps them behaving and is the foundation on which gameplay, level design and even game stories are built. So game coding is about as important as it gets to developing games.
In the simplest terms, game coders – previously known more commonly as ‘game programmers’ – write the code that makes games work. However, there are many different types of game coding role. On a very small team, a single coder might write all the code within a given game. At a studio with hundreds of staff, you can find lots of very specific coders; perhaps a character AI coder creating the code that dictates how computer controlled characters behave and make decisions on their own, and a physics programmer, who writes the systems that control how in-game objects, assets and environments move, collide and physically interact. Other coders might devote their time to code that manages how sound behaves in a game, or how online multiplayer elements are run.
Code is certainly a science, but it can be creative too. Game coders can have a huge impact on how a game functions, and even influence gameplay and game world design with the programming solutions they come up with. Some coders practice their specialty in isolation, but most work with many other specialist coders, or closely with game designers, producers, directors and the rest of a team. And an audio coder, for example, might spend a great deal of time collaborating with their team’s sound designer.
And a clarification: it used to be the case that ‘coder’ referred to a less experienced or hobbyist programmer, but that is less the case now.
There are a lot of game coding roles, and now more than ever, there are a great many ways to learn coding. And while there is a vast diversity in the types of coding jobs out there, what coding is is very clear, and can thus be taught and learned in a quantifiable way.
If you like technology, technical challenges, problem solving and making things, coding is very rewarding. Many people take great pleasure in coding, and if you enjoy it, it can mean a job you love for life. Coding is generally collaborative, but you will spend a great deal of time focused on your own work, and going into meticulous detail, which most coders adore.
Coding, like most game development jobs, is relatively well paid. In the 2016 Develop Salary Survey it was reported that the average annual wage in the UK for a junior programmer was £23,868. Meanwhile, in the UK a lead programmer can expect an annual wage of £51,085.
Coding takes a lot of dedication and skill, and involves very hard work, and sometime long hours. Today there are numerous initiatives, opportunities and technologies that make coding more accessible, but to make a career from it means a lot of effort perfecting your craft. Fortunately, you can find out while you are fairly young – or old – if you like coding, by joining a coding club, experimenting with a platform like a Raspberry Pi or Micro:bit, or taking an online course in a starter coding language like Scratch.
Also, while there are a lot of coding roles in game development, there are a lot of talented coders. Dedication and enthusiasm will see you join the best of the competition.
In terms of traditional academic subjects, computer science, maths and physics are very useful. They will also lead you more easily find a place on a coding, computer science or game coding course at a higher education level.
Today, though, coding education starts at a primary school level, so you can follow a path with coding from where you find it at a school or college.
Some knowledge of the other aspects of game development is important, so you might want to consider a generalist game development course at a university level. But many employers in the game industry are more interested in pure coding, computer science or game coding qualifications. And there is a great deal you can learn about other aspects of game development on the job as a junior, by establishing a hobbyist team with fellow aspiring game creators, through your own research, or via internships and placements.