I recognize that many people struggle with the idea of people being in the video game development industry. Since the term “video games” is fairly taboo in many households, being in the industry seems to be in direct relation. Let’s address this first: there is a major difference between playing video games and making them.
Video game development has an extremely bright future. It is a part of the computer science industry. Game Development is expected to grow each year between now and 2027 at a rate that far exceeds most other industries.
I want to preface that I do teach game development. I believe is a viable option for the future for anyone who pursues it. With that said, I think there are some major hurdles for many people to overcome. I believe that it is not an easy industry to get into, but there are some huge upsides to it as well. I will not try to sell you on being in the industry. Rather, it is up to you to determine if it is a good fit for your life.
To begin, I think you have to look at the current state of the industry.
The Status of Game Design Right Now
The game development industry has potentially never been better. The industry is currently worth $145.7 billion. This sounds like a huge number, but when you take into account that it is bigger than movies and music combined, it just shows really how big it truly is. Right now is a great time to come up with an idea and pitch it to a publisher.
When we think of the “money makers” in our country. We almost always look towards Hollywood or Wall Street. In reality, there are a lot of individuals who sit behind a computer creating really awesome work that do quite well too.
In fact, as we see our world changing, technology is the place to be. I tell all of my students that the issue we have right now is not that we do not have the capability to create awesome solutions. Instead, we do not have the people to create them. We need more creators in technology, and this includes video games.
Speaking to mom’s here that are a little bit concerned: According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, software developers can be expected to grow at 22% between now and 2029. This is much faster than average occupations. If you are concerned about whether game development is viable, know that your experience with game development can and does correlate to many other types of software development as well.
What platform is best to develop on?
Quite honestly, the industry is not changing too much over the last five years. Right now, the data is showing that the Smartphone market is still the largest percentage of video games. There is no indication that it is currently slowing.
If I was making a game tomorrow that left everything out in terms of personal preference and interests, I would probably develop a game for mobile. This, of course, is not taking into account the average price per game on mobile. The business model is considerably different than the second largest market, the Home video game console.
Still, when you take into account the quality expected on home video game consoles, the indie market really has a better chance in the smartphone industry I believe. If you are a solo developer, you have to think about what you can truly produce. You do not want to be working on the same project ten years from now.
In terms of the worst markets, the AppleTV, Chromecast, or FireTV are the devices that are least used for video games. Admittedly, I didn’t even know that was a thing.
One area that did seem a bit surprising is that the tablet industry (including iPad) is a pretty low percentage (44%). It seems that it is quickly becoming a device for business, less for gaming. I think tablets are becoming a bit more dated. It is probably another area I would steer clear of based on the data we are seeing.
Is Virtual Reality Still a Viable Option for Game Development?
Virtual reality is still extremely viable. There are some major players continuing to join the game, for lack of a better phrase.
Some details about the industry indicated that large contractors are interested in pursuing augmented and virtual reality. What does this mean for the video game industry? More work!
When things begin to slow down or you need to pay the bills, often times contract work is some of the highest paying work you will be able to find. I believe that contract work using skills directly associated with video game development will be in major demand.
As we continue to look for innovative ways to train and educate people, looking at my own industry that I am associated with, I believe augmented and virtual reality is a part of that future. I believe we will be using the technology well in to the future. Other industries are clearly seeing that there may be ways to use it as well.
From a military perspective, how great would it be to be able to see an airplane as if it was sitting in front of you? You could tell people in the field how to repair it, if needed.
From a teachers perspective, field trips are among the most educational opportunities but they are expensive and difficult to do. On a regular basis, how cool would it be to be able to bring science to life in the classroom instead of having to visit the zoo?
How do current game developers feel about the future?
I set out to speak with some game developers about how they felt. I wanted their honest feedback. I spoke to thirteen different game developers, all from different companies, different backgrounds, working on different projects.
What I first learned is that eight of the thirteen I spoke to are already working full time in the industry. These are independent game developers, employed by either very small companies or working completely alone. This is a good indication that people have figured out a viable business model. People can survive making video games they are passionate about.
One area that several did acknowledge is the volatility of the gaming industry. Many had spoke of how they had been previously laid off at larger companies. This led them to create their own small studio. Working for a larger company that had more funding did not necessarily relate to job security. In fact, they felt quite the opposite.
Lastly, of the thirteen independent game developers I spoke to, four were working jobs in an effort to support their current venture. This indicates to me that the video game industry, although can be lucrative, it is also painstakingly difficult to receive funding for. There are a lot of ideas out there. You will have to come up with a compelling game idea for others to listen. There is a good chance that you will be working to self-fund your project.
The good news to that is that the profits in the end will be yours. The bad news is that you may be taking other types of work in order to make ends meet. It’s currently a sad reality of being self-employed.
What does that say for the rest of us that don’t fit any of these categories. One person spoke to me a long time about how they loved their current approach to game development. They consider themselves to be an independent game developer and by all definitions they are. That being said, they pursue this completely as a hobby. They work a day job, in the evenings, they pursue their hobby.
The biggest benefit to them? They have no one telling them what they have to make, when it has to be done, and aren’t restricted to a business model. They truly just get to be creative and that is the most important part to them.
Pros of Game Development as a Career
Growing industry, no slowing in sight
According to researchandmarkets.com, we can expect the global game industry to grow at a rate of 9.17% between 2020 and 2025. This means companies will likely continue to expand. Jobs will continue to grow and this means more availability to enter this market as a viable career option.
With the value estimations of the video game industry (see above) of 145.7 billion dollars, and could potentially grow to 256.97 billion by 2025, it is safe to assume that people are making lots of money. Those in the top 5% of game development are likely making millions.
Those individuals may or may not have high levels of education. I believe it is safe to assume that a good foundation in knowledge, creativity and work ethic can take you very far in this industry.
No Degree Required
Being in education, I am not one to devalue education at all. That being said, I think there are a lot of industries, including video game development, that allows people to be successful without a college degree.
As part of my job, I am required to have connection directly to the industry. I have spoken with several game developers over the years. Anytime I bring up certifications or college degrees, a small smirk comes on their face. They always tell me the same thing. Your portfolio is really what matters.
If you truly want to be in this industry, the place to start is not a college necessarily. In some circumstances, a degree for game design may be beneficial, but certainly not always. Instead, it’s about building up your skills. Learn new software, show that you know how to use it, develop an art style that you favor, but show versatility. This is how you become successful.
If you truly want to be a freelancer, I agree with others when they talk about developing your own style. You want to be the best at what you do. Mimicking others will get you so far, but eventually you have to take so far, but eventually if you can develop your own style, you’ll be far more marketable. This is what turns artists into art directors.
Cons of Game Development as a Career
According to my own research above, it is clear that there are a lot of game developers out there that are very concerned about the volatility of this industry. You might have a job one day, and nothing the next.
As video games grow and diminish in popularity, so do the jobs that are associated with them. We have seen huge hires and layoffs at companies like Blizzard for games such as World of Warcraft. At it’s height it had millions of players. It needed a huge company to be able to support its servers, add new content, and to manage the requests of players. During it’s low time (although it has had a recent surge again), servers were far more empty. It didn’t need the same amount of staff supporting it and likely couldn’t remain profitable if they did keep everyone.
This makes the independent game scene, I believe, that much more appealing. Of course, working with publishers can often lead to demands on deadlines and expectations. That being said, you have much more capability to be in control of your own future this way.
No Payout Guarantee
This is one of the scariest parts of game development. There was an interesting statistic from one of the sessions at Game Developers Conference. It stated that only 7% of games ever released make enough money to encourage developers to continue for a second game. This means that 93% of games ever created by developers fail. There simply isn’t enough money there to continue.
It’s a scary reality. It means that marketing of video games is becoming increasingly popular. If you want to be in this industry, for every hour your spend creating the game, I’d recommend at least 15 minutes of time invested into marketing.
When you do receive income, it often is in large lump sums. Of the 7% that are successful in marketing their games and releasing something that would encourage them to continue, the bulk of their income will come likely two years apart from one another, the average length of time to create smaller independent games.
This can be extremely hard on a family. I know, I receive the bulk of my pay for three months during the early part of the summer. It seems great initially, but you have to be a good money manager to make it last. I would imagine being in game development is even more scary. At least I can rest assure that another paycheck is coming. Given the current status of game development, there are no guarantees of hitting success twice. Although if you hit it once, you likely have a winning formula and a following to be able to do it again.
There are many ups and downs of video game development. I believe those that are in the industry are proud to be a part of it. Of course, no one that is currently in the industry says it is an easy job. Quite the opposite actually. There is some long hours, difficult calls when you’re in management, and a good portion of developers get the raw end of the deal fairly often in terms of employment.
That being said, most developers wouldn’t change much. They love being creative, working on projects they are passionate about, and having opportunities that exceed what they might be able to have in a normal nine to five job.
The future is bright for game development. Now is as good of time as any in the past to get into it. We haven’t seem to have hit the peak yet. Those of us that are 80’s kids remain gamers today. I believe as we continue to get older, future generations will only have it as a part of their lives too growing up. In a few decades, I believe almost all Americans will be gamers. We are still quite a ways from reaching the pinnacle of what this industry has to offer.