# game programming as a viable career?

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Hi,
I am currently a junior in college, going to Louisiana State University going for a Computer Science/Math degree. As I like programming, and have also programmed some simple games (and even have a more complex game in the works), I have considered game development as a career option. This was actually spurred by the fact that I believe my university is going to offer a digital media masters soon (which they say contains some game development aspects). I have a few questions though:
1. Is game development a viable career? I have heard from articles (most rather old) that game development careers are pretty terrible working conditions in some big companies -- is this true for most? I understand that there will be crunch times in certain parts of the development cycle, but is 70-80 hours weeks typical at many studios? etc. I have also heard from a friend who has done some internships and other jobs in game development that it is reasonable.
2. (sort of going on the last question) is it a longterm career? Can I expect to be fired just because -- one of my professors seems to think that could be a possibility, due to the high number of people who want to get into this field. Then again, as with the last question, I've read articles that say it's very hard to find an experienced game developer (assuming I had been with the company for some while) that will know the things I did, have the skills I did, etc. So what is y'all's take on this matter?
3. I understand that the starting salary is below average for a programming job, but I have read somewhere that the salaries for more experienced/senior developers is on par with comparable developers in other programming industries. Is this true?
4. Would you recommend I get a masters to try to get a better chance at getting accepted (understanding that it's not a purely game development masters, but a digital media which includes some game development in it -- which could be good or bad depending on how you look at it), or would that be overkill?
-Michael.

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I am not a professional game developer (I'm in the web/ecommerce arena) but you will find horrible working environments all over the map, it's not just limited to games. I've worked jobs where 60+ hours are expected, even when it is not "crunch time".

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1) That's illegal in my country. You can't legally ask someone to work more than 40 hours regularly, and over the course of a month their hours have to average out to <=40 hour weeks (i.e. overtime has to be repaid with time off).
2) That's illegal in my country. You can't fire someone without cause -- you'll have to be warned about specific shortcomings before being given the axe.
3) Juniors are quite low paid, but seniors are well paid. 100 juniors can't do the work that 1 senior does, so they're priceless.
4) Masters doesn't mean anything to me. If in an interview you still don't sound like you're capable of doing the job, then having extra paperwork isn't going to save you.

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1a. Is game development a viable career?
1b.I have heard from articles (most rather old) that game development careers are pretty terrible working conditions in some big companies -- is this true for most?
1c.I understand that there will be crunch times in certain parts of the development cycle, but is 70-80 hours weeks typical at many studios? etc.
1d.I have also heard from a friend who has done some internships and other jobs in game development that it is reasonable?
2. (sort of going on the last question) is it a longterm career? Can I expect to be fired just because -- one of my professors seems to think that could be a possibility, due to the high number of people who want to get into this field. Then again, as with the last question, I've read articles that say it's very hard to find an experienced game developer (assuming I had been with the company for some while) that will know the things I did, have the skills I did, etc. So what is y'all's take on this matter?
3. I understand that the starting salary is below average for a programming job, but I have read somewhere that the salaries for more experienced/senior developers is on par with comparable developers in other programming industries. Is this true?
4. Would you recommend I get a masters to try to get a better chance at getting accepted (understanding that it's not a purely game development masters, but a digital media which includes some game development in it -- which could be good or bad depending on how you look at it), or would that be overkill?

1a. Certainly. Many people work in the industry as a career.

1b. There are quality of life (QoL) issues in all jobs and all careers, not just games. I have a brother who worked excessive hours as an auto mechanic; QoL has nothing to do with games. Personally I have had better work experiences inside the games industry than outside it. Relative to other fields the industry is generally open about discussing QoL.

1c. There may be crunch times. It is almost always (but not quite always) due to poor management. If a studio asked me to pull a 70 hour week, that same week I would be searching for a different job. Sadly, many game companies suffer badly from the "peter principle", promoting people outside their competency zones. It is a bad sign when a company attempts to promote good programmers into people-managers; the skill sets are orthogonal. Startups often see it as a right of being an early-comer, and will promote rather than hiring skilled managers, resulting in bad management and overtime. Most good companies avoid that kind of mismanagement.

1d. Some companies offer internships, which are generally part-time jobs working with college students. They don't pay as much as a full time salary.

2. Yes, it can be a long term career. Just like any technical career you need to constantly keep training yourself.

For example, my dad was accountant, he told stories about how when he graduated the use of "automatic calculators" was discouraged because accountants were expected to do everything by hand. That was the 50's, he ended up re-inventing himself several times over his career, going through the ages of microfishe and mainframes to life with MS Excel, eventually retiring.

Just like the basic skills of an accounting are unchanged over all those decades, similarly do the basics of computer science that applied in the 1960's still apply on today's machines. All that has really changed are the tools to do the jobs.

3. Yes. There is a low demand for entry-level workers due to the perceived glamor of game programming. Low demand = lower salary. However, experienced developers who are good at their job can earn quite a lot; this is especially true of those who specialize. This is no different from other jobs; a general CPA who prepares tax forms all their life will never see the same salary as a corporate tax expert. Compred to other fields, even the lower-paid programming jobs are better paying than work as a certified auto mechanic or humanities majors.

4. Get the masters degree becuase you want the education. Do not get it as an attempt to look better to employers.

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1. Is game development a viable career? I have heard from articles (most rather old) that game development careers are pretty terrible working conditions in some big companies -- is this true for most? I understand that there will be crunch times in certain parts of the development cycle, but is 70-80 hours weeks typical at many studios? etc. I have also heard from a friend who has done some internships and other jobs in game development that it is reasonable.

I'm not sure if it's typical, but I've been there before (working roughly 10-12 hours per day, 7 days a week). It's not on paper that you are going to be working 80 hours a week (that's illegal), but I think the company expects you to be available whenever required.

2. (sort of going on the last question) is it a longterm career?
[/quote]

Depends on you. Your life will change over the course of your life. You will form different opinions. It may seem to be an attractive choice for your career now, but your opinion might change down the road. Some people stay, some others left (like me).

3. I understand that the starting salary is below average for a programming job, but I have read somewhere that the salaries for more experienced/senior developers is on par with comparable developers in other programming industries. Is this true?
[/quote]

You can research about salaries at various companies at glassdoor.com.

For example: Senior Software Engineer at EA is averaged at $122K while at Google, Senior Software Engineer is averaged at$140K

4. Would you recommend I get a masters to try to get a better chance at getting accepted (understanding that it's not a purely game development masters, but a digital media which includes some game development in it -- which could be good or bad depending on how you look at it), or would that be overkill?
[/quote]

I don't know what the general opinion is now, but higher education tend to be looked down upon in the game industry. That's because higher degree means less real-life experience, and more out-of-touch you are with the difficulties and tenacity required to make games. Games aren't made with just ideas and theories, and certainly aren't made by people who can only boast and talk about their degrees. In any projects I have been involved in so far, games by far are the most difficult to carry. Having the experience of completed a game under your belt carries a lot more weight than a master in your title, even though that title says "digital media".

I'm not saying you shouldn't get a master. Like frob was saying, if you want to get a master degree, get it because you want to, not because you want to impress companies, and I'd suggest to get a more traditional title like master in computer science or software engineering, rather than digital media.

As long as you've got solid programming skills and experience, you will get hired no matter what your degree is. Edited by alnite

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1. Yes it can be a career. High working hours are everywhere not just in game industry. One friend does 80+ hours as a starting consultant. Another is close to that. But in their case their companies hinted it beforehand. I do 100+ a week but its a family business.

2. Generally there are steps a company has to take before they can fire a person. In the UK I think it was verbal notice. Next step would be a second warning with sernior person. Then its a letter. After that they can fire you. They cant fire just because.

3. The salaries depend on the company. A start up may not be able to pay the same amout as an established large company. Generally the pay hopefully increases proportionate on your contribution in a company. As your skills, knowledge and experiance increases so would your pay.

4. Do masters because you want to do it like alnite and frob say, not for some other reason. If you are not enjoying it, you wouldnt do your best and gain the most from the experiance. Generally a prospective employer would be interested in the projects that you have done. What do you do in your spare time and what can you bring to the company.

Showing a project that you have been working on during your spare time will show to an employeer that you really enjoy programming/making games, that you are motivated and can go the extra mile. In most cased that would be more impressive than a degree.

Also bear in mind that an employer would be able to see if you really enjoy/want the job. When people talk about things that they enjoy want to do, the body language changes as well.

If you want something and you work hard for it, eventually you would get it. hehe

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1.a. Is game development a viable career?
1.b. I have heard from articles (most rather old) that game development careers are pretty terrible working conditions in some big companies -- is this true for most?
1.c. I understand that there will be crunch times... but is 70-80 hours weeks typical
1.d. I have also heard from a friend ... that it is reasonable.
2.a. is it a longterm career?
2.b. Can I expect to be fired just because -- one of my professors seems to think that could be a possibility, due to the high number of people who want to get into this field.
2.c. I've read articles that say it's very hard to find an experienced game developer... that ... have the skills I did, etc. So what is y'all's take on this matter?
3. I understand that the starting salary... Is this true?
4.a. Would you recommend I get a masters
4.b. or would that be overkill?

1.a. If it wasn't a viable career, then where are all these games coming from? Clearly, people make them -- people who have careers making games.
1.b. Bad QoL is fairly widespread in the industry. The age of the articles is not an issue.
1.c. No.
1.d. You obviously haven't done much reading on this yet. If you're considering working in games, you should do serious reading. Search Gamasutra for QoL or "quality of life" articles. And read the IGDA QoL articles at http://www.igda.org/quality-life

2.a. It can be. But a lot of people do drop out and go into other fields. I've seen a lot of turnover.
2.b. That's ridiculous.

3. You should read the 2011 game industry salary survey (just Google it).

4.a. Read http://www.igda.org/games-game-june-2011 - "A Matter of Degree, I Mean, a Master's Degree"
4.b. It's not really overkill, but it's not really necessary.

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Frob's response is the closest to what I'd say, but I'll add a few things to his points (in red).

1d. Some companies offer internships, which are generally part-time jobs working with college students. They don't pay as much as a full time salary. [color=#ff0000]Internships at game companies seem to be very competitive, and I'm not sure they're always the best internship environment. You'll make good contacts, but the few I looked into seemed like just cheap labor without very much learning opportunity. More than likely you'll be cheap labor anywhere, but if you're going to be underpaid make sure you're working somewhere where you'll learn something.

2. Yes, it can be a long term career. Just like any technical career you need to constantly keep training yourself.
[color="#ff0000"]I think the OP meant long term jobs rather than long term career. It's very possible to work for a single company for a very long time. You shouldn't ever get fired 'just because'; however, because of the nature of it being an entertainment medium it is not always predictable, and layoffs are a reality. I'm assuming your professor is talking about layoffs rather than being fired. Be aware that this is something that can happen at any company, but because it is an entertainment medium that generally profits off very small windows of opportunity with huge investments, it can be very sudden and very unpredictable. Other industries layoff people too.

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1. Is game development a viable career? I have heard from articles (most rather old) that game development careers are pretty terrible working conditions in some big companies -- is this true for most? I understand that there will be crunch times in certain parts of the development cycle, but is 70-80 hours weeks typical at many studios? etc. I have also heard from a friend who has done some internships and other jobs in game development that it is reasonable.

I've seen both ends of the spectrum (one studio where 70-80 was actually pretty normal). I'd say it really depends on the area you're in. What studio are you targetting? Maybe track record their habits?

2. (sort of going on the last question) is it a longterm career? Can I expect to be fired just because -- one of my professors seems to think that could be a possibility, due to the high number of people who want to get into this field. Then again, as with the last question, I've read articles that say it's very hard to find an experienced game developer (assuming I had been with the company for some while) that will know the things I did, have the skills I did, etc. So what is y'all's take on this matter?

There's the question of what's legal, and whether you're going to fight about it. I've been in at least 1 studio that simply had no choice: every now and then they had to fire people for financial reasons, and that's just sad. Another, they've actually fired people that weren't good enough, without the actual chain of HR documentation that's generally required to legitimate firing someone (allegedly, people weren't even warned that they may be in danger because of X or Y). That said, as far as I know, there is no correlation between the size of the studio and how HR apply their politics, so, keeping yourself informed about how others at that place remains a decent way to know.

3. I understand that the starting salary is below average for a programming job, but I have read somewhere that the salaries for more experienced/senior developers is on par with comparable developers in other programming industries. Is this true?

Once again, this may be severely area-driven, but the government here takes a large portion of the senior developers as it tends to offer much better salaries.

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Hi,
I am currently a junior in college, going to Louisiana State University going for a Computer Science/Math degree

On a personal note, i must share you this: I hate, despise and loathe LSU.

About the career, if you are persistent and work hard and have talent you might make it.

Again, I detest and intensely dislike LSU and I will till I die.

Good luck

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