What to study to become a game developer


Many young tech enthusiasts want to become game developers but are not certain what to study, and what skills to develop, to assist them in entering the field.

MyGaming asked Make Games South Africa founder Nicholas Hall for advice to help aspiring game developers decide what to study.

Hall said that the skills needed for game development depend on what role the person is going to enter into. However, some level of programming or art will be required.

“In a small indie studio team members are expected to multitask, and so it will be necessary to have some level of skill in programming, art and sound,” said Hall.

In larger studios with more specialized roles, it would be expected that the person has the necessary skills for the role they are fulfilling and for the type of game being made.

“Programmers need a decent understanding of the fundamentals of programming,” said Hall. “While many studios use Unity, it is just a tool, and you will be expected to be able to use any other game engine.”

Hall said art is a similar story. “You will need a good grasp of ‘traditional’ art fundamentals, regardless of if you are working on a 3D game or 2D game,” said Hall.

Apart from area-specific skills, game development is a highly collaborative industry which requires good communication and the ability to work well in teams.

What fields to study for game development

Hall said that the selection of a field of study will depend on what you want to do in the game development industry.

“A BSc in computer science will be an excellent foundation for people interested in doing programming for games,” said Hall.

Some universities, like the University of Cape Town, offer Computer Science programs with Game Development as a major.

From an art perspective, a BA in Fine Arts will be an excellent foundation, said Hall.

He added that Wits is the only university which he knows of that has a program focused on “game design”.

“It is an excellent program that looks at the fundamentals of what makes a game function, and covers basics of both art and programming,” said Hall.

While it won’t necessarily give as much focus on either coding or art as a specialized degree, it is probably the best course to study if you want to understand how games work.

It also helps students learn how to approach design and understand how players interact with games.

A degree is not the main requirement

Hall said it is important to note that a degree is not really a requirement to land a job as a game developer.

“A lot of studios will look at a person’s portfolio before looking at their formal qualifications, so the most important thing you can do is start making games, creating a portfolio of artworks, or a library of compositions,” said Hall.

The advantage of a formal qualification, said Hall, is they give a person a good understanding of the fundamentals related to their area of interest.

Formal study will also give students a great opportunity to develop and create a portfolio under the guidance of experienced professionals.

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