Game development roles
To complete a successful game development project, you will need to have access to a variety of different skills. You might choose to develop these yourself, or partner with others who can provide specific help. In this article, we’ll break down some different gamedev disciplines and a selection of the roles within them…
Game development requires a variety of different skills and a huge range of creative and technical input. In small teams, it’s normal for individuals to wear multiple hats, whereas in larger organisations, individuals tend to specialise.
Let’s look at some different gamedev disciplines and a selection of the roles within them…
Game Designers are responsible for devising the structure of a game: its mechanics, systems and gameplay. In larger studios, the overall direction of the project (ie its genre, setting and backstory) are often determined by a Creative Director or other creative lead role, who will then collaborate closely with a Lead Designer to flesh out their initial vision.
Junior Designers and Level Designers handle the situational implementation of the overall game design. A Level Designer will arrange levels so that they provide the right challenges to the player, and opportunities to showcase the game’s mechanics, whereas Junior Designers might be handed specific gameplay systems to work on.
Game Design is now taught as an academic subject at several levels, however many game designers are still self-taught. In any context, the key to learning game design is to complete a variety of design-related projects and exercises - employers and other potential collaborators will look for concrete evidence of finished, high-quality work.
Programmers build the game to the specification of the designers: they write the code which powers every feature and system. They also create pipelines that allow other developers, such as Artists and Animators, to integrate the content they have created.
Games are usually built on a pre-existing game engine, such as Unity or Unreal. Engines provide fundamental building blocks, tools and editors which teams can use as the basis for their project. Some indie developers do still choose to write their own engines, but this is largely the preserve of highly skilled programmers.
Popular programming languages for game development are C# and C++, with many teams employing higher-level scripting languages such as Python for certain tasks.
Just as with Designers, Coders can be highly specialised (focussing on an area such as rendering or audio, for example) or wide-ranging in their skillset: there are many solo indie developers who handle all of the programming on their own projects.
Coding is an essential game development skill: to make a game, you will either need to develop your own knowledge of programming or collaborate with a coder.
A degree in Computer Science, with specific emphasis placed on game coding projects in an applicable language, is a traditional route into game programming which is still valid today. However, it is absolutely possible to teach yourself game programming by working in a specific engine and learning its intricacies over time.
Video game art comes in a wide selection of different flavours: game visuals are largely primarily 2D or 3D, and art requirements will vary accordingly.
3D Artists are largely concerned with making models in specialist software such as Maya or 3DSMax. These models then usually have secondary content (often in the form of a “material”, which can contain a 2D image known as a “texture”) applied to their surfaces in order to make them appear more detailed.
2D and UI (user interface) artists often produce content in software like Photoshop which appears directly in-game.
Many higher education institutions offer computer art and animation qualifications: these are often required by games industry employers in these fields. However, qualifications mean relatively little in comparison to a strong portfolio of practical, relevant work. Also, there are many successful indie games with minimal art, so focussing your efforts in a very specific area can pay dividends if you are planning on tackling art yourself from scratch.
Animators take the models produced by 3D artists and add a structure to them, known as a rig, to make them move in-game. They then create a variety of animation content for each model.
Traditional animation qualifications are highly relevant in the field of game animation, however many institutions now offer specific game-related courses. As with other forms of art, your work speaks for itself, so developing your skills is largely a function of time investment.
Writing / Narrative design
Writers write text that players read, as well as writing scripts for the actors who will provide voice overs. In recent years, the role of the Narrative Designer has emerged: this involves using game tools to allow the player to experience narrative elements as they progress through the game.
Many games industry writing jobs require an English degree and some evidence of previous publication, so traditional study combined with your own independent creative work is key.
Sound design / Music composition
Sound Designers create and then implement audio elements that the player hears in-game: they often audio “middleware” (software which provides additional services to those offered by the game engine) such as WWise and FMOD to script how sound will behave.
Composers write music, and can also often be involved with the direct implementation of their work.
An audio engineering qualification which also allows you hands-on time with industry relevant tools is a great place to start down the path of game sound. You will also need to develop a showreel - many sound designers and composers do this by taking an existing game and providing their own original content for it.
Producers are typically used by larger teams to help define project scope and keep things running according to the budget and schedule. They work to facilitate the efforts of other developers, preventing hold-ups and anticipating potential problems.
The objective of QA (or “quality assurance”) testing is to identify and catalogue bugs and problems with a game in such a way that enables Programmers to fix them. A QA team will also verify that fixes have been implemented successfully without causing additional problems.
Product management / Release management
Console platforms or PC distributors such as Steam have various requirements which games must meet before they can be released: among these are localisation, ratings, metadata and store art. Product Managers make sure all of this is in order and monitor release processes to ensure everything goes smoothly.
Marketing / PR / Community
Similarly, many indies now do their own marketing or have marketing staff in-house. PR involves dealing with press, while Community Managers focus on areas such as social media and community channels like Discord.