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Why an Applied Computing Degree is a Good Platform for a Video Game Development Career

UW Extended Campus August 19, 2019
Person sitting in front of a gaming monitor with headphones on

You’ve always been an avid gamer who keeps up with new technology that’s released in the industry. With vast gameplay experience, you have a sharp eye for differentiating a well-designed game from a bad one. Given this passion, you now want to take it to the next level by exploring a career in video game development. But what’s the best way to make that move? Now is the time to consider pursuing a degree that prepares you for a career in the video game field. 

Person writing in journal next to woman pointing at monitor with coding on it.

What is Video Game Development?

Video game development is a career focused on the coding that goes into complex gameplay. For this role, you’re typically expected to be fluent in the object-oriented programming (OOP) languages such as Java, C#, and C++. Daily tasks can range from writing computer code that controls the difficulty of the game, to testing and developing game physics. Of course, a passion for gaming is also needed for this position. If you aspire to work at a large firm, having highly sought-after skills, such as gameplay theory and technology know-how of gaming platforms, are a must. As a bonus, many people find video game development to be more fun to work in because when you’re already enthusiastic about a certain topic, it makes the work more enjoyable. 

For example, in an email interview with UW Applied Computing, Michael Howley, software engineer at SciPlay, a mobile and web digital game company, said, “Not only do I get to exercise my mind by implementing code and logic for a new game feature, but I also have a ton of creative freedom on how I will achieve the end result, and I find this whole process enjoyable.”

Your work will help create the backbone of the game, which means there are many ways you can specialize in your development career.  Here are some of the most interesting jobs within the growing video game development field: 

  1. Software Architect

With deep roots in mathematics, software architecture is a great fit for those with both advanced coding and math skills. The software architecture of a video game is the structure of the program, which is comprised of software elements, the externally visible properties of those elements, and the relationships among them. A software architect plays a central role in game development, as he or she ensures the software behind the game has good performance and is highly modifiable. At the same time, a software architect communicates and collaborates with other team members like designers and product managers to make sure everything flows seamlessly. If you’re deeply interested in math and want to have a pivotal role in the creation of video games, this position is for you. 

  1. Game Analyst

The main responsibilities of a video game analyst are to collect, monitor, and understand player data. Consequently, the ability to figure out the reasons behind the data you receive is essential, because your next step is to find potential avenues for improvement. Gaining insight into player data means that game analysts must work closely with business teams and product designers. Therefore, this role is crucial to the continual improvement of a game over its life cycle. Thus, a game analyst is an excellent fit for those who want to use their data and computing skills to improve games over time. 

  1. Gameplay Programmer 

A gameplay programmer uses coding knowledge to establish a smooth gameplay experience—making gameplay fun, in an easy-to-follow manner. This position collaborates with other teams, such as design and game engine programmers, as he or she has a large stake in how gameplay functions. Every day, a gameplay programmer contributes to the game creation process in meaningful ways, resulting in a rewarding career.

Video game developers can also specialize in a certain platform, such as Xbox or Windows—allowing for a variety of options within the programming profession.

It’s important to note that not all video game development positions are given the same job title. Don’t be dissuaded if “video game” is not explicitly noted.

Many people who work in the video game development field have software developer roles, where they focus their programming skills on gaming projects. The software development career path as a whole is growing much faster than usual, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimating that between 2020 and 2030 there will be a 22 percent growth in jobs. With these prospects, it is a promising career path to pursue. 

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Soft Skills Needed for Video Game Development

Even though the programming skills of a developer are mathematically-focused, it is still essential to have solid communication skills. As a developer, you are one piece of the puzzle and will have to collaborate with coworkers, such as artists and designers. Responsibilities include proposing and discussing game aspects like character development and setting, applying feedback, and improving your product.

“A pretty common thing you’ll see is that game companies are looking for individuals who can communicate effectively,” Howley wrote in his email interview. “On a game team, you’re constantly working with people of all sorts of disciplines in order to make a quality product. Knowing how to communicate effectively can help in avoiding problems down the road and can even speed up the problem-solving process.”

Having a foundation of both soft and hard skills will give you the upper hand in this industry when it comes to job hunting and career success.

Person typing on keyboard of laptop with coding on the screen

Get the Skills and Experience You Need Through an Applied Computing Degree

With many routes into the video game development world, it might be hard to figure out which one to choose. Because video game development requires advanced mathematics and coding, an applied computing degree is a great way to gain a solid background. When working toward your degree, you’ll acquire the most important skills needed for a career in the video game field: technical programming, problem-solving, and communications. 

An excellent program option is the online University of Wisconsin Bachelor of Science in Applied Computing, a degree where students gain hands-on programming experience and are taught by expert UW faculty. With 21 technical-and business-focused courses in the curriculum, you get a well-rounded view of the field. In fact, many of the courses focus on relevant background knowledge for a career in video game development. With courses like APC 300: Programming I, you’ll gain experience with Java and other object-oriented programming. The online program goes beyond mathematical skills with courses like APC 330: Technical and Professional Communication and APC 380: Project Management Techniques. These courses will teach you everything from creating effective memos and reports to stakeholder and quality management.

“Game companies won’t pay much attention to applicants who don’t have a formal computer science education,” Howley wrote, reflecting on his own education. “On a game team, you’re constantly working with people of all sorts of disciplines in order to make a quality product. It helps if you have some experience working with others in this type of setting, and typically these experiences are abundant through a degree.” 

With the online UW Applied Computing program, you’ll have the opportunity to gain real-world work experience with applied computing peers in the final capstone course. Upon graduation, you’ll not only receive a recognized and respected University of Wisconsin degree, but you’ll also possess a work portfolio to show future employers. With a degree in applied computing, you’ll have the knowledge and skill set to dive into the video game industry or to explore other computer science-related careers.

To find out about other applied computing career paths, check out our past blog posts here.

What’s Next?

Interested in learning more about how the University of Wisconsin online Bachelor of Science in Applied Computing program can help you pursue a video game development career? Reach out to an enrollment adviser by emailing learn@uwex.wisconsin.edu or calling 608-262-2011.

Programs: Applied Computing