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    Computer Game Developer

    If you are wondering how to become a computer game developer within the field of IT, below are tips and advice on training for and beginning careers in this area of the information technology industry, as well as job prospects in the UK.

    The Job Description
    Computer games developers produce games for PCs, games consoles, the internet and mobile phones. The work may involve developing new games or updating existing titles.

    A game can take several months or even years to produce. There are many stages leading up to its release, from creating ideas and characters to programming and testing.

    Typical responsibilities:

    designers decide what a game looks like and how it plays, they may come up with an original idea themselves or work from an existing concept
    artists and animators create the game’s visual characters, objects and scenery and bring them to life – some produce concept art and storyboards at the planning stage, while others use 2-D and 3-D computer modelling and animation software during the production stage
    audio/sound engineers create sound effects, character voice-overs and music for games
    programmers create the code that makes the game work – they may specialise in developing graphics, artificial intelligence (AI), or gameplay software
    quality assurance (QA) testers check playability and reliability, and report any problems or bugs to the development team
    producers or project managers oversee the whole process, and make sure that the finished game is delivered to the publisher or distributor on time.

    Person Specification
    The key personal attributes of good computer game developers include:

    excellent computer skills
    a wide knowledge and understanding of computer games
    creativity and imagination
    a logical approach to problem-solving
    good teamworking and communication skills
    flexibility and adaptability
    the ability to work under pressure and meet deadlines
    patience and attention to detail
    willingness to keep up with industry developments and learn new skills.

    How to become a computer games developer
    You will usually need a relevant HND or degree to work as a games designer, artist or programmer, Several colleges and universities offer foundation degrees, HNDs, degrees and postgraduate courses in computer games design or development.

    You could also get into the industry with other relevant degree subjects like:

    computer science or software engineering
    animation, graphic design, fine art or illustration
    interactive media
    maths or physics
    multimedia design.
    The most useful courses include practical skills and work placements – many people find their first job in the games industry through work placements they do as part of their degree. See Skillset’s website for a list of industry-endorsed courses. Check with colleges and universities about course content and entry requirements.

    A popular way to get into the games industry is as a quality assurance (QA) tester. You do not need a degree to start at this level, but you must have a lot of experience of game playing and in-depth knowledge of game platforms and styles. It is also useful to have some knowledge of programming.

    Employers will want to see proof of your talent and creativity, so you will need a portfolio of work to show. This could include completed game projects, ideas for games or computer programmes, artwork or an animation showreel.

    You could also show commitment to joining the industry by attending games festivals and events, and keeping yourself up to date with computer game magazines and websites.

    Contact Skillset Careers for more advice about breaking into the computer games industry.

    Training and Development
    You will normally train on the job, learning from more experienced staff. You will start at a junior level and work under the direction of a lead designer, artist or programmer.

    You should keep up to date with industry developments throughout your career. It will be useful to learn more software packages that are relevant to your job, for example:

    3ds Max, Maya or Direct X, for artists and animators
    C, C++, Assembler and various AI tools, for programmers
    Logic Audio or Cool Edit Pro, for audio engineers.
    Many other packages are available, and some companies also create software to meet their own needs. See Skillset’s website for a database of media courses, including a wide range of short courses for the computer games industry.

    If you are a QA Tester, you could take Information Systems Exam Board (ISEB) Foundation and Practitioner Certificates in Software Testing, which can increase your skills and employability.

    Skillset has developed a QA testing apprenticeship, which leads to NVQ Level 2 in Computer Games Testing.

    The Pay (a rough guide)
    Games testers can expect to earn between £10,000 and £15,000 a year
    Starting salaries for artists and programmers are usually around £20,000 a year
    Experienced and skilled designers, lead programmers and producers usually earn around £35,000 to £45,000
    Many companies also offer bonuses and share schemes for successfully completing projects.

    Job Prospects
    The computer games industry is a growing and fast-moving one, with many opportunities for people with the right skills – animation, camera, lighting, mobile technology and scriptwriting skills are particularly in demand. You will often work freelance on fixed-term contracts, although contracts can often be long because games can take years to develop. As with all employment related to computers, there is strong competition for jobs.

    Around half of the UK games industry is based in London and the south-east of England. Other significant areas are Birmingham, Bristol, the north-west, Sheffield, Leeds, Dundee and Edinburgh.

    Jobs may be advertised in games industry magazines and websites. However, many jobs are not advertised, so you should also approach companies ‘cold’, and network to make contacts in the industry.

    As a designer, artist or programmer, you could progress to lead your team. As a QA tester you could move into a production role, but it is more usual to progress to lead tester then QA manager, or into project management.

    Useful IT resources:
    e-skills UK
    1 Castle Lane
    London
    SW1E 6DR
    http://www.e-skills.com

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