I'm self-taught with no formal qualifications and work as a software developer now (UK) but I have to say two things were on my side:
* I live in a part of the country where there is little competition
* I landed a gig with a very small company that had no other applicants in this area
If either of those had not been the case, I doubt I would have made it to interview stage
Repeating myself and repeating the advice from the forum FAQ:
You do not live in a vacuum.
In most cities in the West, you will be competing against other programmers who have a degree, AND who have a portfolio. Later in your career they will have a degree AND a portfolio AND similar work experience.
If you chose not to get a CS degree and intend to live in such a location, you will ALWAYS be at a disadvantage over your entire career. The regular, normal, everyday programmer has a degree. Every time you apply for a promotion, every time you get laid off or switch to another employer, every single time you will be at a disadvantage relative to those who have the degree. You will be at a disadvantage when they sort through the applications. You will be at a disadvantage when they ask about education during the interview. You will be at a disadvantage when salary is negotiated.
You might not realize the disadvantage, but the employer absolutely will recognize it and absolutely will use it to their advantage. .
Now if you intend to live in a small city in Australia, (Yes I like to pick on my Aussie friends, where tertiary education is considered more of a luxury and less required in this field) or in parts of Eastern Europe like Romania or Hungary or Estonia, or any of the countries where formal tertiary education is much less prevalent, then in that case you don't need the education to compare well against your peers.
I note using my super-powerful moderator powers (okay, just seeing the IP address of posters) that the ones asking the questions are from well-educated cities, the ones saying it is unnecessary are mostly located in the places mentioned in the last paragraph. Both are right, depending on the location. If you are living in a place where college degrees are fairly rare, you probably don't need it. If you are living where college degrees are commonplace (like the US) then they are necessary.
In the US, college education doesn't need to be expensive. If you shop around, according to government statistics there are about 2400 four-year colleges and universities that cost less than $9000 per year. If you are willing to move and attend a community college for your first two years you can get a four year degree for under $5000/year. In addition to inexpensive schools, many students qualify for financial aid. Students who are willing to study will almost always qualify for scholarships. Students who are willing to work can usually hold a job while in school. Students also can hunt around for work-study programs where they can do their job and earn credits while being paid by an employer who offers flexible hours. (Personally I had scholarships and a 30 hour/week job while in school.) There are many rather expensive 'popular' schools, you can get a degree from a fully accredited (and much less expensive) school if you want. When I see stories of people describing their $150,000 in student loan debt I see it as a sign of idiocy. Stats say 71% percent of college grads have a loan, and the average graduate's student loans were approximately $26,000, yet the median student loan at graduation is about $13,000. So over a quarter of the graduates have no debt. Half of those with a debt have a fairly small debt that can be repaid with $150/month for five to ten years. That leaves only about 35% of all total graduates have more than $13,000 in debt, and those students are more likely to have $50K or $100K in debt. Hopefully those 35% of graduates have a plan, but too many just went to school because it was a popular thing to do and didn't care about things like the ability to repay loans; there are many well-educated idiots out there.
Most American families can afford a lower-cost school by living without some luxuries. Switch from a smart phone with an all-you-can-use $130+/month data plan to a voice-only plan costing $30/month to get $100/month. Cancel the TV satellite/cable system to get another $100/month. That is half the cost right there. Cancelling your WoW subscription gives you back not just 4% of the cost of education, but also frees up hours for study and work. The average family spends $300/month dining out, which can be reduced by about $200/month by eating in. So assuming a 20-year-old being supported by an average family, simply having the family cut back on the luxuries of phone, TV, and dining out can cover the majority of your college costs. It is a small sacrifice for the family for a valuable item for the student. Even if you are on your own, working through school is quite common and readily accomplished. You'll be eating ramen many nights, but at least you will be eating 3 meals daily, which is more than many people in the world can say.
In the US, if you want a tertiary education money is not a realistic barrier. There are many other barriers, such as health concerns or providing and caring for family members, which unfortunately can limit the availability of education. But money alone is not such a barrier.
I live in a fairly average US city, I have access to five major university campuses within a one-hour commute, and eleven smaller colleges that all teach either computer science or 'programming' trade degrees. Around here if you don't have a degree you won't get a game programming job. When you are talking about cities with game studios in Florida or California or New Jersey or any other location, game studios are almost always in university-heavy locations. As such, you need the degree.