You don’t want to work in the video game industry

E3 Los Ageles

There are now many hundreds of millions of people playing video games. It is inevitable that many millions of these are great gaming enthusiasts and that many of these want to work in the video game industry. My advice, based on 30 years in and around it, is don’t. And here’s why:

  • Playing video games is fun, it is entertainment. So you might think that making video games is fun. It isn’t. Not more or less than other jobs. Because that is what it is, just another job.
  • People who are industry wannabes always say that they want to be game designers. This is because they don’t know how a game is made. In fact there are very few game designers involved. On any development team the main sort of people are artists (of different sorts) and programmers (of different sorts).
  • Being keen about video games is no qualification whatsoever for working in the industry. Being a good computer programmer or artist is a much better basis. Even better is to be very good at maths. Game companies want people with the skills to make games and being an enthusiast isn’t a skill.
  • The competition to get into the game industry is fierce because there are so many wannabes. So the industry can be very, very choosy. When I was at Codemasters the minimum degree to get in was a 2.1 and you had to score over 130 in an IQ test.
  • Because so many people want in the wages are terrible. Similarly qualified graduates going into other industries will typically earn a lot more.
  • If the wages are bad then the working conditions are worse. Crunch is a widespread practice in the industry. Huge numbers of hours of unpaid overtime.
  • Career advancement is typically very, very slow. This is because most of the jobs are at a similar level, programming and creating art.
  • The work itself is often tedious, repetitive and boring. It is a hard slog to create all the dots that you see on the screen. There really are lots of better and more interesting jobs in the world.
  • Job security is awful. Companies routinely get rid of people as the work flow fluctuates. No matter how good you are it is ridiculously easy to find yourself out of a job.
  • The training industry has jumped onto exploiting the wannabe. Lots of colleges and universities have jumped on the bandwagon. There are now hundreds of supposed game industry courses in the UK. Yet amazingly only 6 of these are accredited by Skillset! There are now more people in training for the video game industry than there are in the industry. The vast majority of these people are wasting their time and money.
  • Game companies are mainly not very well run. This is because it is an immature industry and the management skills and practices are just not there. It is much, much nicer working in an organisation that is run properly. Which you are far more likely to find outside gaming.
  • The industry is firing, not hiring. Lots of game studios have closed, many have shed jobs. Electronic Arts alone is shedding 1,500 people. There are lots of very good, very experienced game developers who can’t get a job. Against that newbies don’t stand a chance.

The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. And over the years I have seen lots and lots of people leave the video game industry. They move to other industries where the work is better, they earn more money, they get promotions and they have job security.

If after all this you are still determined then I have some advice. Don’t train for the video game industry. Instead train to get a very good qualification that the game industry needs but which you could use in other industries. Maths and physics are the prime examples. There is a huge shortage of graduates in these subjects, so you would be far more attractive to a game company. Good artists and C++ programmers are more common, so less valued. But they are still both qualifications that can be used in many industries.


  1. 130+ IQ? There are members of MENSA who have high IQs but are homeless. What about work ethic, attitude, focus, determination, experience?

  2. @ S.E. Gordon
    I know!
    But the Darlings discovered that there was a good correlation between IQ score and job performance. It certainly meant that you didn’t have to make any allowances for idiots and fostered a certain espirit de corps.
    The other criteria you list, whilst worthwhile, are not measurable by a simple test.

  3. Indeed, lots of people have a very bad idea of what working in the video games industry really is. But even if all your points make sense, I think you emphasize the bad sides a bit too much.

    Since I was a kid I always wanted to work in the video games industry, I have now been doing just that for over six years now, and I have no plans of quitting.

    Also, I think that good programmers ARE in great need. We have a hell of a time trying to find skilled programmers to hire, and on top of that programming is a skill that applies to a lot of jobs outside the games industry as well. So I would recommend getting a good degree in programming, if you are passionate about it, it’s a safer bet than it looks.

  4. Well, you can also do what I did – work in tangent to the industry!
    I work as an artworker/graphic designer for a creative agency that deals with developers.
    My brother is a journalist for a video games magazine.
    Our enthusiasm for games certainly helped both of us to land our jobs!

  5. Rather that than having star-struck X-factor kids signing up for RADA I suppose . . . . . .

  6. Basically you are saying if you want to make games, go get a non-game job to pay the bills and be an indie game maker. That’s decent advice in my book.

  7. Since I intend to comment each of the point you raised, I’ll try to be as straightforward as possible. I work in the industry as a programmer, so my answers might relate more easily to the programming side of “working in video games”.

    -Playing video games is fun, it is entertainment. So you might think that making video games is fun. It isn’t.
    ====> If you’re saying that people are incorrectly inferring that working on fun products is fun, you are wrong. At worst, the only thing that can be said is that it is only as fun as how much what motivates you coincides with what you actually end up working on. If you are a rendering programmer, you could certainly end up having a blast developping some next gen techniques.

    -People who are industry wannabes always say that they want to be game designers. This is because they don’t know how a game is made.
    ====> True. Making video games is hard work and require more than good ideas.

    -Being keen about video games is no qualification whatsoever for working in the industry.
    ====> True. However, it is certainly an asset to be able to analyze what make good games. Being keen about video games is a prerequisite to play games in a motivated way, which is in turn a prerequisite to develop deep knowledge about making good games.

    -The competition to get into the game industry is fierce because there are so many wannabes. So the industry can be very, very choosy.
    ====> Not a good reason to let go of your dreams. Persevere. Develop your contact network, like in any other competitive industry.

    -Because so many people want in the wages are terrible.
    ====> Not true. If you look at the 2008 Game Developer salary survey, the average was $US 79,000 per year ($85K for programmer), which is by no mean terrible. The situation might be different elsewhere in the world, but I can’t comment on data I don’t have.

    – Career advancement is typically very, very slow.
    ====> Depends on the role. There are small / big projects, boxed / downloadable games, etc. In each situation there are different roles to fill, and experience opens possibilities for more management-oriented roles vs development vs r&d positions.

    – The work itself is often tedious, repetitive and boring.
    ====> Depends on the role. I know for a fact that the work I do, or the work that gameplay, AI and rendering programmers is very varied in nature and target customer, be it for internal tool or game features.

    – Job security is awful. Companies routinely get rid of people as the work flow fluctuates.
    ====> From experience, that is not really true for knowledge-based position that cost a lot to find. On the other hand overly-paid engineers, or QA-staff are indeed easy targets for cost-control.

    – The training industry has jumped onto exploiting the wannabe.
    ====> Huh, how is that a reason to avoid the game industry? Anyway, I’d answer to that exactly like in any other discipline, it is not the diploma that makes the individual. Simply put : don’t take a game course thinking that it is a shortcut.

    – Game companies are mainly not very well run.
    ====> Truer for big companies that can’t quite reconcile the art and business sides of video games. Don’t avoid the industry for such a reason. Things are getting better.

    – The industry is firing, not hiring.
    ====> As many other industries. Not a video-games industry specific fact.

  8. The one big plus is getting to work with other people that are also passionate about games. Although all your other points are totally valid. Inept management more than willing to grind you into a paste and then cut you loose when the game ships. Fun times. 🙂

  9. Aw man, why couldn’t you have told me this *before* I graduated.

    But seriously, it seems much easier for people to get into money through games by being freelance, either making iPhone crap, XNA (well, sort of) or using Flash. If someone wants to get cash through making games right now, all you have to do is make impressive things in flash and sell them around.

    I think Games courses teach a wide range of stuff and could be used to allow students to follow their own path. Unless you find companies that take on games graduates, I think it would require more time spent outside of education developing C++/modelling portfolios and skills that can really backup your PASSION and ENTHUSIASM keywords on your CV.

    They didn’t guarantee us a job at Uni at all. The 3 years were to give us all a chance at an interview, not a job. For anyone who wants to do a masters, I think that year and money would be better spent on maintaining your life while you offer to work for a company for free for x months. It has been suggested to me multiple times, but not by games industry people. I think if i’m willing to “pay” for a 3 year uni course, why not pay for an extra year to gain real world experience.

    Of course, if that doesn’t work, I hear McDonalds is hiring still.

  10. You could change the references in this article to the videogames industry to just about any other job and it would be just as relevant. Go on, try it with “medical profession” or “refuse collection”.

    And as for the education aspect of this article you seem to forget that there are myriad other degree courses available that have pretty much zero (and therefore less than a games design qualification) relevance to real-world career prospects – degree in philosophy, anyone?

  11. Sean is right…every industry has its woes, its good and bad and the article is almost like a template. Many years ago I was a chef, with what we call here my Interprovincial Journeyperson certification. I.T. and technology were a part-time job and a hobby. If I had to compare cooking and I.T. in a general sense (never having worked as a games programmer), I can say from experience that I am better paid and better treated for the most part in I.T. Not to say I didn’t have some very good jobs as a cook…but in general I am more satisfied with my career now. There are many comparisions – I wasn’t on call 24/7 as a cook, but I am paid better and have a company vehicle in my present job. My potential earnings were less as a cook, but there were other perks and probably more jobs available. Hmmm…didn’t manage to get away from the customers/users who come into my kitchen/rackroom telling me how much more they know about my chosen career…they seem to follow a person around…
    As has been noted already, I think one of the best things you can have is both education and solid real world experience in your chosen field. Again, that was the same for me whether cooking or maintaining networks. Theoretical knowledge is great, but the reality of a tightly budgeted operation with a bunch of legacy equipment or a mishmash of systems is something one usually has to deal with no matter what you do.

  12. @Trevelyan :

    ” it seems much easier for people to get into money through games by being freelance”

    – I would respectfully point that you are wrong. It is proven that only the very rare hits provide enough money for a living (

    – I disagree with your view on Master’s degrees. A Master’s degree is a mean to specialize. On the other hand, what you get out of your education rests on your own shoulders, but being in an environment where knowledge is central (with other researchers at the MSc or PhD levels) can help you develop useful, rare, and desirable skills for the industry.

    To paraphrase my previous post, the diploma is not the goal but the end result of an individual’s learning involvement.

  13. I got to say that since I’ve entered the industry, I’ve been hitting myself on nothiong but closed door. I think Bruce you strike a nerve by saying the industry is really immature. The choices made by some executives are sometimes completely stupid and leads to games like Battle For The Pacific or Hour Of Victory (Unfortunately I worked QA on both of these games).

    Some companies, without being different have a recipe to their success. Ubisoft Montreal for example are creating their own talent so they always come up with refreshing ideas. I’d like to listen to your advice Bruce and leave the industry, but sadly, destiny has no other plans for my dysfunctional brain.

  14. Although I think you do have a point on most of the bullets above, I disagree with “The work itself is often tedious, repetitive and boring.”. Specially if you are a programmer in smaller teams, you are always learning something new.

    A boring job? I tell you what is really boring: being a programmer for an IT company and Lego-mounting components every day on management and financial systems. Not fun at all. And after the first 3 months you need several weeks of work to learn one thing new. I know. I’ve been there.

    For a programmer, I firmly believe no other industry will make him learn so much so fast – even if with lower payment.

  15. Bruce Everiss – yeh, i know people like you. old gits who think they’ve seen it all – passing on their ‘wisdom’ as if it’s some generous gift to all those young saplings who think they know what they want, but don’t really cause, well… how possibly could they!? jeez. just cause you got some hang up about the industry you work in doesn’t give you the right to turn other people’s perfectly valid aspirations into worthless dreams.

    you’re criticisms of the games industry are non-productive and highly unoriginal, particularly considering every point you make [could] apply to nearly any profession/industry/work sector. It’s a question of how you look at it and in your case that would be negatively. So for the sake of those who dare to take a chance, who have realistic expectations and are prepared to work for it, be helpful, be instructive and last but not least BE POSITIVE!

  16. PS. on an unrelated note since my last comment began somewhat harshly (old git was meant in the victor meldrew fashion) I do have genuine sympathy for your situation with Evony. good luck

  17. I have been playing videogames for 25 years now. The gaming industry has changed more and more like the film industry. There is just too much of it and everyone want’s to be a millionaire over night.

    I always wanted to create games when I was a kid. But after I graduated to be a 3D-animator and modeller and understood the hard work, I didn’t feel the need anymore. Now I work as a land surveyor, and I still have time to enjoy the games. And time to time even make some modelling ;).

  18. I’ve been working as a game designer for 8 years now, and I have to say I 95% agree with Bruce.

    The missing 5% is that it can be fun some of the time.

  19. My ambition in life is to be a Games Producer, but after doing extensive research online, I have concluded that the best course of action for me to take would be to attain a degree in Games Design.

  20. OMG – is this for real? Is this a spoof?

    I’ve never heard such utter, utter drivel pour out from idiotic lips in all my life. You sound like a kid! It is crystal clear that you have no love of games, nor any real experience or knowledge of this industry at any level.

    Not only do you not understand what you’ve written (passing off general gossip) you cannot articulate to any degree views on the industry or the many skilled careers within. I am absolutely gobsmacked at how you are not attacked on a daily basis! Seriously!

    If I ever need a laugh, I will be checking your page regularly.

    Yours, incredulously

  21. I have a huge passion for computer gaming, but many years ago decided to to exactly what was said here. I’m getting a math heavy physics/engineering degree. I prefer to self-learn computer related stuff by working on my own hobby games. (as this is much more fun to me and keeps my passion for it healthy unlike what some stupid homework assignments would do)

    The math I know from studying helps me immensely, I can EASILY learn/do complicated 3D/GFX related programming, not to mention physics simulations.

    Getting a solid software engineering degree would definitely be a good bet as well if thats your thing, the good ones will include all that all important math too. The key issue for me is that you don’t lock yourself into only making video games. It might sound like a good idea when your 16, but what about when your 32+?

  22. Hi all ! This article makes me a bit sad actually, Im a trained illustrator and digital artist, I would love to get into the graphic arts side of the video game industry but keep hitting walls. Is it enough to just have 2d digital art skills (i.e concept rendering and illustration; photoshop corel painter) anyone with any help send me a email!!!

  23. I have to agree, working in the game industry sucks! I worked as a programmer for a well funded mid-sized company around 2005. It was the most boring place I have ever worked. No one talked, no one laughed, you could hear a pin drop. Man, the egos, you missed that in your list of suckyness. Twelve hour days were expected and the pay was a joke. I could have made more than double working a 9-5 gig.

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