Working in the Games Industry

Having worked as a games programmer I have some experience of how the industry works. I am also fortunate in being able to, as part of my job, visit game developers and talk to them about the current state of the industry. I have assembled some of this information below which should be helpful in looking for a career in games.

Also see Getting a job in Games.

What's it like working as a games programmer?

Its great fun but can be hard work with long hours. It is brilliant to be able to get paid to do what you love - write computer games. You also get to work with a lot of very talented people. Some of the artists and programmers I have worked with are the most talented people I have ever met. The environment is always very relaxed, often with flexible hours, bonus schemes etc. Near the end of a game when you enter the 'crunch phase' you work flat out for weeks, sometimes months on end (this does depend on the company). You are often working 9 am until 10 at night so you can forget any life outside work during this phase. In contrast the beginning few months of a new game is a very relaxed time indeed :)

Traditionally it is the hours that eventually take there toll and a lot of programmers, like myself, leave and go into other employment but I think as the industry matures the working conditions will improve.

As an update to the above, some of the games companies I have visited more recently seem to have much better working conditions. These seem to be the companies that are surviving the recent upset in the industry and as well as better conditions tend to encourage more analysis and design and generally promote correct software engineering practices.

What's the pay like in the games industry

Update: The UK Develop magazine recently (January 2010) analysed the pay in the UK games industry with the following findings:

Overall average salary: 31,964
Lead Programmer: 40,000 (can rise to 51,000)
Programmer: 31,455
Junior Programmer: 21,000
Lead Artist: 41,126
Artist: 30,441
Lead Designer: 37,500
Designer: 28,281
Junior Designer: 22,500

Generally the pay is not quite as good as equivalent jobs outside of games. Artists, testers and designers get paid the least while programmers get paid the most. A programmer can earn quite a good salary and there are often bonus schemes and incentives. At my old company we got free consoles, Walkman's, phones etc. once a year. In the past a few games programmers made a lot of money from royalties, however nowadays royalties are rarely that good and certainly cannot be depended on. When going for a job in games try to get a decent starting salary or at least a promise of an early salary review. A company pension scheme is a big bonus but check you can move it around if you should leave and move on. Often you will start on a low salary but after just a year or so it will go up greatly.

Also see Getting a job in Games.

Where can I get more information about the UK games industry?

I recommend anyone interested in the games industry take a look at the UK DTI report. It was published a few years ago but still gives a good idea of the state of the UK games industry. You can view it in .pdf format here: DTI Report

© 2004-2009 Keith Ditchburn  (A lecturer on the Games Programming Course at the University of Teesside)