A friend of mine’s little brother asked me how to get into game development, and this is the response I wrote. I think it’s pretty good explanation.
“Sure Spencer, I’d love to offer some help!
The main advice I can give you is that if you want to make games, you should start making games. This is true of anything – ie if you want to learn how to sing, you sing a lot, etc.
That being said, the path to getting paid to make games is a hard one. Making games present a different challenge because a game is composed of many different forms of media. Videogames require programming, illustration, animation, music composition, as well as a strong design sense to find the fun. If you’re interested in making games, it’s really helpful to pick one of these areas and learn it well before you branch out into others. The good news though is that there are tons of resources, both in schools and online to help you learn these.
Programming can be very difficult to learn, but it’s probably the most useful skill you can gain. Since – after all is said and done – digital games are computer programs – anyone who knows even a little scripting will have a leg up in those who don’t. It’s also useful due to the fact that if making games doesn’t work out in the end it’s fairly easy to find work as a programmer, even in a bad economy. All schools – as far as I know – offer some sort of programming classes. There’s also some great resources available free from MIT OpenCourseware. You can find a basic programming class here: http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/electrical-engineering-and-computer-science/6-00-introduction-to-computer-science-and-programming-fall-2008/
I went the programming route, majoring in computer science for my undergraduate degree, and it’s really nice now that I have a family, because I know I can fall back on it if I need to.
You could also study illustration and animation. I know there’s a lot of online resources for this – as well as classes you can take. http://drawspace.com/ seems like a good place to start. It’s somewhat harder to get in as an animator or artist, because there seem to be a lot of people with similar skill sets trying to get in. It’s also more difficult to find work as an artist if games don’t work out. That being said, if you get good at 3d modeling you can do pretty well.
Music is another route, although its hard to get in with music alone. I know a lot of great composers that can’t find a job in the industry – because there are only a few positions needed.
You could also try getting in on design only. In this case, there are fewer resources available, mostly because we’re only now figuring out design as a practice. In this case you should try making simple board games on your own to figure out the basics of what makes a fun experience. (regardless of what you do you should try this!) from here there’s really not a solid path to making games. I do, however, recommend the undergraduate or graduate Interactive Media program at USC – which will give you a good design base and connect you to a lot of people in the industry. A lot of people I know also recommend the ETC program at Carnegie Mellon.
Regardless of what you do, the games industry runs on networking. Knowing people, making friends, etc. is the most important thing you can do to get in. Most people working in games got in through their friends. Meet people, work with people, find people with similar interests online, and you can do it.
After looking at this, I can think of two more methods of getting in:
First, I know people get into the games industry via the administration/business angle – but I know very little about that from a career perspective.
Lastly you can get in as a game tester, but I wouldn’t recommend it to my worst enemy. Game companies need people to test their games, and hire people who play games to do this. If you do this, you will work long hours for very low wages, and nobody – really nobody – will respect you. You will be like a slave, and you will spend all your days walking into some wall on some game level to make sure it doesn’t glitch out. If you manage to put up with 10+ years of this someone will eventually have to move you into another – more creative – position. Although now that there are more schools it isn’t clear that this practice will continue. You might just be fired and have wasted a lot of your life.
And with that negative note, I end this post.