We take a closer look at the video game industry, exploring the current state of play, the types of jobs available, and the skills you’ll need to get started in it.
Video games have been around since the early 1970s. Despite being a relatively niche market for many years, the video game industry is now a global powerhouse, growing from strength to strength. We take a detailed look at how the industry is faring, and some of the unique roles within it.
As well as exploring the scale and progress of the games industry, we’ll also explore some of the skills you’ll need to get started, and why people choose a career in this field.
The global game industry
Let’s begin by looking at how things stand currently in the global games industry. As you can imagine, given the progress we’ve seen in technology over the last few decades, the business of video games has changed significantly in that time.
What is it?
It’s worthwhile outlining the definition of what the game industry covers. From humble beginnings, video games now cover personal computers, consoles, arcade games, mobiles, virtual reality, handhelds, and more. The industry covers those who design and program games, and those who develop, test and publish them.
As we’ll see, there are many different roles in the game industry, across a host of disciplines. There are some huge companies in the industry, and video games and consoles are sold around the world. However, with technology such as digital distribution networks and crowdfunding, it’s easier than ever before for indie developers to get their name and their games out there.
How big is the industry?
Video games are big business. Reports suggest that the global market size was valued at around $151 billion in 2019. It is forecast to have an annual growth rate of around 12.9% over the coming years, and, by 2026, it’s expected to reach a value of nearly 296 billion.
These staggering numbers mean that video game industry revenue is larger than the music and movie industry combined. Much of this growth is down to advances in hardware and software, as well as wider availability of internet access.
In terms of revenue, data from 2019 shows that mobile gaming takes the largest share of the spoils. They accounted for around $64.4 billion of revenue, compared to the second most, free-to-play PC games, which accounted for 21.1 billion.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the game industry?
COVID-19 has affected just about every industry in some form or another. When it comes to video games, the impacts have been mixed.
On the one hand, lockdowns have meant that people are playing more video games than before. With theatres and cinemas closed, gaming seems to be one of the main forms of entertainment people are turning to. In the first lockdown, for example, game sales increased by 44%.
Specific companies saw particularly impressive gains. Demand for the Nintendo Switch during the first phase of the coronavirus pandemic saw Nintendo’s profits rise by over 400%. Much of this was driven by sales of the Animal Crossing video game, which launched on March 20th 2020.
However, the impact of COVID-19 on the games industry and those who work in it hasn’t all been positive. There have been delays across the industry in terms of games releases and hardware supplies.
The sudden shift towards remote working meant that games companies and developers were trying to work on collaborative projects with their teams working from home. This saw employees on high-profile games like Cyberpunk 2077 working in ‘crunch’ conditions for months to get the game finished. Even then, a disastrous launch in November 2020 saw disgruntled fans and a raft of refunds.
Similarly, consoles such as the new PS5 and in-demand Nintendo Switch have been hard to find, thanks to struggles for components in supply lines.
What kinds of jobs are there in the industry?
As you can probably tell from the various topics covered so far, there are many different job roles in the game industry. Even within the various niches, you’ll find a range of games industry jobs.
With this level of choice and different game career paths, it can be hard to know which one might be right for you. To help give an overview of some of the jobs available, we’ve picked out some examples from a range of specialisation:
These types of games industry jobs focus on things like the visual elements of games. For those with some creative flair and a love for video games, this could be the area for you. Examples include:
- Game artist. This role focuses on imagining and visualising how a game will look. You will create 2D or 3D art for things like characters, textures, and environments. Whether you’re at the conceptual stage or designing for production, it’s an essential job in the game industry.
- Animator. While artists create assets, animators bring them to life within the game. It’s as much a technical role as it is a creative one, as you’ll need to bring personality and emotion through programming and game engines.
- Writer. A video game writer can work on many areas of a game’s production. You’ll help to develop the plot and create dialogue, and then proofread and playtest your work before it’s published.
Video game design jobs are also fairly varied. Some focus on the overall concepts of games, while others are more technical or hands-on. If you’re interested in design, you might want to think about a career as a:
- Games designer. Game designers focus on creating interesting concepts and mechanics for video games. You’ll touch on many other areas of the creative and technical process, such as story and character development, map and level design, and user interface creation.
- Video game system designer. While many of the other roles centre on the games themselves, this one focuses on the machines that run them. You’ll be involved with the engineering and electrical side of things in this job.
- Level designer. Level designers are mainly concerned with the flow and objectives of video games. You’ll work to tune gameplay elements to ensure that levels are fun, engaging, and just the right amount of challenging.
Jobs in video game development often focus on bringing together ideas and work from other areas into a playable game. Examples include:
- Game developer. With this role, you’ll focus on taking the concepts, story, and art from creative teams and building them into a playable game. Game developers (or game programmers) write and refine the code that runs the games.
- Producer. Game producers are much like the project managers/overseers of the game production cycle. As a producer, you’ll work with publishers, control budgets, and maybe even be responsible for the day-to-day running of a game project.
- QA tester. Game quality assurance (QA) testers check games that are in development for errors. In this role, you’ll usually work closely with the technical team to spot any bugs or glitches, reporting them in a structured manner.
How do salaries compare?
If a career in the game industry sounds appealing, you’ll likely want to know what sort of pay scale you can expect. Of course, given how different the many roles are, there is a lot of variety in the salaries they offer. It often depends on the company, position, and location you’re hoping to work in.
To give some context to game industry salaries, we’ve picked out a range of jobs and their average annual pay across several countries. Data comes from PayScale.
Job role UK US Canada Australia
Video Game Programmer £27,241 $64,562 $59,003 $59,373
Video Game Designer £28,587 $65,886 $54,417 $75,987
Video Game Artist £22,004 $58,202 $45,000 $58,958
Video Game Producer £29,297 $79,365 $76,753 $115,000
Video Game Tester £18,084 $29,140 $29,520 $55,000
Video Animator Writer £25,273 $55,611 $52,986 $54,608
What skills do I need to enter the industry?
Getting a job in the game industry can sometimes seem like a daunting task. As you might expect, games jobs are highly sought-after and competitive. To stand out to potential employers, you’ll need to develop and be able to demonstrate a wide variety of hard and soft skills.
Of course, the exact skills you’ll need to get a job in the games industry will depend on the types of roles you’re applying for. Generally, you’ll need a specific set of hard skills related to the particular field. You’ll also need to show a variety of interpersonal and transferable skills.
To give you an idea of the skills you’ll need to work in the video game sector, we’ve highlighted some of the most common hard and soft abilities to focus on:
This is the job-specific knowledge you’ll need to carry out your role. The exact hard skills will vary considerably; however, it’s always useful to have:
- Game development. Whether you’re hoping to become a game developer or not, knowing how the process works is essential. Whatever your role, you’ll need to understand where it fits in the overall process.
- Programming knowledge. Again, the extent to which you need this skill will vary depending on your job. However, understanding the principles of programming, as well as languages like C++ and Java, will be useful.
- Design skills. If you’re hoping to enter into the more creative side of video games, working on your 2D and 3D design skills will help.
These are the interpersonal and transferable skills that make you a good employee, regardless of the specifics of your job. They’re often just as important as role-specific knowledge.
- Teamwork. As you’ve probably gathered by now, the games industry relies on work from a whole host of professionals. Whatever role you’re hoping to go into, being able to work with a diverse range of professionals is essential.
- Creativity. Ultimately, video games are the creative expression of ideas. Being able to think creatively to develop new concepts and solve problems is a highly sought-after skill.
- Communication. Whether it’s communicating your ideas or collaborating with other teams, you’ll need to be able to confidently express yourself. Communication skills are highly prized in the games industry.
Why choose a career in video games?
There are many reasons you might want to choose a career in the game industry. If you have a passion for gaming and creativity, there are plenty of opportunities available, particularly if you have the right skills. Here are some of the reasons why a job in the video game sector might be worth considering:
- You can work in something you love. If you’re a keen gamer, creating your own games seems like the dream. Working in a field that you have a genuine interest in can be immensely rewarding.
- It’s a thriving industry. As we’ve seen, video games industry growth is expected to continue over the coming years. There will be many jobs and plenty of opportunities out there for talented individuals.
- You can create something that helps people. If the various lockdowns have shown us anything, it’s that video games can help people escape. Games can also be educational, emotionally involved, and ultimately, a lot of fun. Creating art in such a medium can be satisfying.
- You can develop a wide range of skills. You’ll work with many different professionals in a games industry career. As such, you’ll have the opportunity to work on many disciplines, learning from a diverse range of experts.
How to get into the games industry
If you’ve read this far, you’re probably eager to get started with your career in the game industry. But how to get a job in the video game industry? Well, that really depends on the type of role you’re going for, and what your current level of skills and experience are.
As with many such industries, working in games requires a mix of education, experience, and know-how. Here are some areas you might want to start with:
- Education. Industry-recognised qualifications can be a good way of moving into the games industry. Of course, these will depend on the jobs you want to apply for. For example, a computer science qualification could be a useful place to start for more technical roles.
- Training. Routes such as gaming apprenticeships can be an effective way of gaining on-the-job training and experience. You’ll find that many major game publishers will offer such apprenticeships, although they can be competitive to get into.
- Experience. If you want to work in video game development, you’ll want to start honing your skills as soon as possible. Whether in a structured environment or as a side project, making mini-games, games, mods, and other game assets can help you create a portfolio of work.
- Networking. The games industry is often a close-knit one. Getting your name out there and connecting with the right people can be a good way of raising your profile. Whether it’s through forums, conventions, or expos, you should try and network with as many people as possible.
If you’re looking to find out more about working in the industry, our free How To Start Your Career In Games Development course is the ideal place to start.
That concludes our exploration of the video game industry and all it has to offer. Clearly, it’s a vast and varied sector with a wide range of job opportunities. If games are your passion, you could find that working in the games industry is an interesting and rewarding opportunity. With the right knowledge, skills, and experience, you can start building towards your dream role.