Become a Gaming Programmer: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Mar 04, 2020

Learn how to become a gaming programmer. Research the education requirements, training, and experience needed to start a career as a gaming programmer.

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Should I Be a Gaming Programmer?

Gaming programmers help write and code the software for video games. In your job, you'll typically be part of a collaborative creative team that includes game designers and artists. Your work will primarily be in the area of coding, which tells the computer or system what to do for the game to be played.

As a gaming programmer, you might design core game features, oversee game testing and conduct design reviews. You could also work in production, artistic concept, and game play. This career allows for great creativity, but the competition for jobs is intense.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree (minimum)
Degree Fields Computer science or computer engineering
Key Skills Critical thinking, problem solving, quality control analysis, judgement, decision-making, operations analysis, systems evaluation, advanced computer skills with programming languages, especially C, C++, Perl, Assembly, and Lua
Median Annual Salary (May 2018)* $84,280 (for computer programmers, which includes gaming programmers.)

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,,

Steps to Be a Gaming Programmer

Step 1: Develop High Level Math Skills

Because coding is by definition the creation of a mathematical equation that directs the computer to perform in certain ways, game programmers need high level math skills in order to be successful. Northeastern University recommends that incoming freshman seeking a degree in video game programming have had high school coursework in trigonometry, physics, and calculus. It is also important for game programmers to understand linear algebra and basic algorithms. If you are lacking in some of these courses, be prepared to take them early in your college years.

Step 2: Get a Bachelor's Degree

Gaming programmers may have a general background in computer science or they may have completed a formal education program to become a video game designer. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes computer programmers most often have bachelor's degrees. These degrees are often in computer science or computer engineering. A bachelor's program in video game programming will typically include classes in C++, calculus, object-oriented design, game algorithms, computer graphics, and network fundamentals. Degrees in computer game programming can be earned on campus or online.

Step 3: Build a Portfolio

The most effective way to get noticed by gaming studios is to create games and put them in a portfolio. According to senior technical staff from Blitz Games Studios, a successful portfolio should include several small games that can be played to completion. The portfolio should offer the viewer links to all the installation software needed for each game to work. As a backup, there should be screenshots of crucial game scenes so the games can be evaluated even if the support software products required are not readily available at the time of the portfolio review. The portfolio should have source code for all the games. The notes should give credit to any collaborators who might have helped with elements of the game's design, programming or presentation.

Step 4: Find an Entry Level Position as a Game Programmer

Entry level programmers often have difficulty breaking into the video game industry because most major studios require experience. Some new programmers find their first professional positions at smaller studios, making short, simple games for mobile devices and social media sites. One way to gain an advantage in the competitive job market is by networking on the blogs, forums, and websites most often visited by game developers. Sometimes the professional contacts gained through these sites will ask for portfolios or advertise available positions not found on traditional job boards.

Success Tip:

To increase the chances of finding an entry level position, get an internship first. One of the most effective ways for new programmers to gain the experience needed for an entry level position is to get an internship. Some of the companies that offer positions for interns include Volition Inc, EA Games, Insomniac Games, and LucasArts. Companies seeking interns typically require that their recruits have skills in C++, 3D graphics, artificial intelligence, and physics as well as strong problem-solving skills.

Step 5: Advance to Become a Software Developer

With enough experience, programmers may become software developers. While some duties between these two positions overlap, developers typically spend more time designing and conceptualizing games, rather than coding them.

Gaming programmers face stiff competition in the job market, so they must prepare themselves with high-level math courses, programming courses, bachelor's degrees, portfolios, and internships hoping to land entry-level positions that will lead them to higher positions in the programming world.

Expert Contributor: Edward LaBarge Edward is a Certified Information Systems Security Professional & digital forensic examiner. He's taught cyber crime courses & worked in the US Army.

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