A games programmer uses programming and scripting languages to write code that controls how a game looks and works. This could be puzzle, adventure, role-play, combat, shooters or sports. They produce games for different platforms: PCs, laptops, consoles, the internet, interactive TV and mobile phones.
They can also be called gameplay, engine, physics or animation programmers.
You could be:
liaising with other team members, for example the games designer, graphic designer, artists and technical architects
producing technical specifications (documents that instruct how the game should be programmed) for different components of the game
writing code in programming languages, such as C++ or Java, to develop front end (what the player sees) and back end (how the game actually works) elements
developing 2D and 3D graphics, such as scenery or characters, and sound
specialising in physics programming – creating moveable objects to behave as realistically as possible, for example running water or waves
programming the artificial intelligence (AI) aspects of the game – how characters not controlled by the player behave, for example footballers passing the ball
working with testers to fix any faults, known as bugs, and rewriting code
researching new technology, platforms and ideas.
The figures below are only a guide. Actual pay rates may vary, depending on:
where you work
the size of company or organisation you work for
the demand for the job.
For many vacancies salaries depend on skills and experience. Starting salaries are usually around £22,000 to £25,000 a year. With experience this can rise to around £35,000 to £50,000 a year or more. Senior programmers may earn £60,000 or more a year.
You might earn extra through profit sharing, bonus payments and performance-related pay.
You will spend most of your time working at a computer in an office or studio.
You work with other professionals, such as designers, computer animators, programmers and testers.
Although you work basic office hours, you might have to work overtime to meet deadlines and the environment can be pressurised.
The majority of entrants to the computer games industry are graduates. Some have degrees in maths, physics or computer science, but there are also degrees in computer games subjects, at Abertay, Edinburgh Napier, Glasgow Caledonian, Heriot-Watt and the West of Scotland universities.
Entry requirements for most of these courses are 4-5 Highers usually including Maths and preferably Physics or a computing or technological subject, plus English and Maths at National 5.
If you have a degree in a relevant subject you could do a postgraduate games development or computer games technology course at Abertay University.
The Creative Skillset website lists accredited degree courses for the computer games industry.
You may need a portfolio of work demonstrating the work you have done in games development.
Studying for a relevant Foundation Apprenticeship while in fifth and sixth year at school could count towards entry to a course. Entry requirements vary between colleges, but you usually need relevant subjects at National 5 such as Maths, Physics or Computing Science.
Due to the competitive nature of this sector, it helps if you demonstrate a real passion for gaming.
Job vacancies are often advertised on the internet, for example, the Talent Scotland website. There is a lot of competition for jobs.
good communication skills for liaising with other professionals.
You need to be able to:
keep up to date with new technology and game trends
pay attention to detail
work alone and as part of a team
work under pressure, accept criticism and meet deadlines.
Training is often on the job.
You could take short training courses in other programming and scripting languages and artificial intelligence techniques.
Skilled developers are in demand and with experience you can specialise or move on to become a team or project leader.
You may be able to work overseas in Europe, USA, Canada, Australia and Japan.
Computer games are increasingly used as educational tools to get across ideas about, for example, maths, science or social studies.
You'll find a list of electronic technologies companies, including computer games specialists such as Denki, Rockstar North, Ruffian Games and Serious Parody on the Talent Scotland website.
The University of Abertay has the UK's first university Centre of Excellence for Computer Games Education.
If you are considering a career in IT, take a look at the Tech Future Careers website. You will find the video case studies of workers and general information on the industry useful.
BAFTA Young Game Designers is a competition with different categories for 10-14 and 15-18 year olds. You can write and illustrate your idea to enter the ‘Game Concept Award’ or make your own game to enter the ‘Game Making Award’. See the BAFTA Young Game Developer website for more details.