Is a video game designer the same as a video game programmer? No. There’s a distinct difference. The former is responsible for the overall vision of the game and it’s design, meaning the art aspect of the game. The programmer is responsible for the technological know-how to implement the designer’s ideas and bring them to life using computer code. This is the scientific aspect of the video game creation process.
The programmer involves taking the design specifications of the game, integrating the art and sound, and translating it all into a playable experience. To do this, the programmer relies on computer skills, particularly through the utilization of mathematics, logic and programming languages like C/C++. He/she must work hand-in-hand with the game artists, musicians, and designers as they combine their talents to bring the game to fruition.
In the years long before applying for college, the prospective game programmer has undoubtedly shown an interest and aptitude for this complex field. Thus, the student should research for those colleges or universities offering programs in game design and programming. Determine if the school offers training in computer science basics with a variety of courses in game programming or development. Does the school have a specialty area in 3D graphics since that is the way more games are evolving? Are there courses in computer languages, such as C++, Java and scripting?
There are Bachelor of Science degrees available in Game Development. This particular degree program is designed to teach the students about game and simulation development, physics engine development, artificial intelligence for games, practical game design, and math programming for games.
Many schools also have a Masters in Science (M.S.) in Game Design and Development within their respective Information Technology department. These master’s level degree programs delve further into artificial intelligence, object-oriented systems design and analysis, principles of database design, and computer simulation and modeling.
To make oneself more marketable, there are internships available. One company, Sony Play Station, offers an internship program which are typically twelve weeks in length throughout the year. These opportunities are available in San Mateo, Santa Monica, and San Diego, California. The caveat is that the applicant must apply within one year of earning their undergraduate or graduate degree. Play Station even offers relocation and housing assistance, plus competitive pay. These internship opportunities range from game art and programming to marketing and public relations.
The greatest concentration (75%) of career opportunities are available in five states: California, Texas, Washington, New York, and Massachusetts. California accounts for more than 50% of the jobs with 52,996 employed in the video gaming industry as of 2013.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for programmers was $74,280 as of 2014. This compares to video game designers at $58,950 and the highest paid are business marketers at $119,480 median salary.
This is an expanding industry with the proliferation of tablets and smart phones- each with gaming apps. The Entertainment Software Association states that 44 percent of gamers play on their smart phone and fifty-one percent own at least one dedicated game console, such as Wii U, Xbox One or PS4.