This job is sometimes referred to by alternative titles
Game developers write, design, program, animate, and test games and applications for computers, gaming consoles, and cellphones.
New game developers usually earn
$49K-$60K per year
Game developers with experience usually earn
$60K-$80K per year
Source: AbsoluteIT, 'Remuneration Report', July 2015.
Pay for game developers varies. According to an AbsoluteIT salary survey, multimedia developers (which includes game developers) in the:
- highest-paid group earned an average of $80,000 a year
- middle pay range earned an average of $60,000
- lowest-paid group earned an average of $49,000.
Game developers working as contractors earn an average of $30 to $85 an hour.
Source: AbsoluteIT, 'Remuneration Report', July 2015.
- AbsoluteIT website - 2015 remuneration report (PDF - 348KB)
- MoreBusiness.com website - use this calculator to convert pay and salary information
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)
What you will do
Game developers may do some or all of the following:
- create games based on their own or others' ideas
- produce preliminary storyboards, character biographies, storylines, and features of the new game
- write detailed design documentation, showing how the game will function, sample menus, functionality, and style
- write computer code to create the game
- source and add additional graphics, sound effects, and digital images
- create test versions of the game, and identify and correct any errors
- oversee gameplay testing to ensure it works as intended.
Skills and knowledge
Game developers need to have knowledge of some or all of the following:
- gaming and game platforms such as Xbox or PlayStation
- computer systems, processes and languages (such as C++, or C#)
- video graphic design
- 3D art and animation computer software.
- work regular business hours, but sometimes have to work evenings and weekends to complete a project on time
- usually work in offices or studios in conditions that may be stressful because they must meet deadlines
- may travel around New Zealand or overseas to meet with clients.
What's the job really like?
Luba Miteva gets paid for what others do in their leisure time – playing video games.
Luba is one of nine game software testers working for Wellington developers Sidhe. "I feel pretty lucky; some days I have to pinch myself."
Spotting the bugs and making sure the game works
But testing a game involves more than just playing it. Luba ensures all the games' features and graphics are doing exactly what they're designed to do.
"You need an eye for detail. Some bugs are big and easily spotted, but others are harder to see.
"We are usually working off a test plan and checking one particular thing at a time. There’s internal tracking software that we use and every time you find something wrong, or not where it’s supposed to be, you have to log the faults consistently and clearly."
It’s a great job but there are deadlines to meet
Luba, who has a Diploma in Software Development, loves her job, though it often involves working late. "Everything we do is on a really tight schedule so some weeks there are crazy amounts of overtime. But I don’t mind because it’s an awesome job."
- Developing and testing new games.
- Working in a team of creative-minded people.
- Working overtime to meet deadlines.
- Starting out on a less creative aspect of the job such as game testing.
Maru Nihoniho talks about working as a game developer - 3.03 mins. (Video courtesy of Te Puni Kōkiri)
I make games across all genres from action adventure to puzzle games for PlayStation to mobile phone games. I’ve always had an interest in computer games right from when I was young and I’ve always enjoyed being creative so I’ve been a bit arty, I enjoyed technical drawing at school and so it wasn’t until later on in life when I realised I could combine the two and start my own games company. I thought I would just do it and then learn as I go along and so yeah it’s been a big learning curve for me.
I put myself through a multimedia course and that was so I could get the basic knowledge of how to design websites, how to edit video and audio and also some 3D modelling and animation. A lot of people think that games are for teenage boys but statistics show that actually half the game players are female and they’re a bit older than teenagers so it’s quite a balanced market. The other misconception is that I have a lot of fun while I’m working and that I play games all day, which I actually play games for research, you know if we’re developing a certain game then I’ll research it. However my game-playing days have become limited now that I started making them, I guess I transferred the fun of playing games into making them.
One of the big challenges I have is finding the staff I need to make the games. There is a shortage of programmers and art people to come on board and join the team. The skills you need to come into the industry depend on what you’re going to do within the team. If you’re wanting to come and be a game artist then the best thing to do would be through school take on art subjects such as art, technical drawing will help a lot and then follow that through into tertiary education. My programmers have come to me because they’ve had a strong interest in maths and science and they’ve followed that through high school on through to tertiary education. Some of them have come through doing a specialised game development course and others have come out of university after doing a Bachelor in Computer Science.
The opportunity and the potential is huge, I think that being in New Zealand we are in a unique position and we’ve got our own stories to tell. We don’t have to follow formats from overseas. We can actually come up with our own unique ideas whether they’re cultural, or whether they’re just New Zealand-themed. With Māori I think we have that extra layer of uniqueness.
Come and work in the games industry because it’s creative, it’s exciting, it’s changing, the technology changes, it offers new challenges all the time, it doesn’t get boring, what we do evolves constantly and because of that it makes it fun.
Entry requirements for game developers differ depending on what area you want to work in – game programming, game art or game design.
You usually need a Bachelor's degree in one of the following:
- computer science
- software development/engineering.
Many university degrees have papers specialising in computer graphics or interaction design, and opportunities to make a game as a project.
You usually need a degree or diploma in one of the following:
- 2D and 3D animation
- media design
- game art and development.
Employers also prefer you to have some knowledge of programming.
A tertiary entrance qualification is needed to enter tertiary training.
Useful subjects at school for students intending to be game programmers include maths, physics, and computing.
School subjects recommended for students interested in becoming game artists include art, graphics and design subjects.
Game developers need to be:
- creative and artistic
- methodical and accurate
- patient and adaptable
- able to work well under pressure
- good at managing projects
- good at analysis
- skilled in planning, organising and problem-solving
- good at oral and written communication.
Useful experience for game developers includes:
- writing computer code to create games, software or websites
- art or design work
- experience recording or editing film
- playing computer and video games.
Game developers spend a lot of time using computers and video game equipment, so need to know how to use equipment properly to minimise the risk of occupational overuse syndrome (OOS).
Find out more about training
- (04) 473 2023 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.futureintech.org.nz/
- Institute of IT Professionals
- 0800 252 255 - email@example.com - www.iitp.org.nz
- New Zealand Game Developers Association (NZGDA)
- New Zealand Technology Industry Association (NZTIA)
- 09 4750204 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.nztech.org.nz
What are the chances of getting a job?
Demand for skilled game developers
The New Zealand game development industry is small and still fairly new, but growing.
Sales of games developed for smartphones, which New Zealand specialises in, are strong. For example, six New Zealand-made games featured among the top 10 downloads for iPhones in 2012. Sales grew at 143% annually from 2012 to 2014.
As a result, the number of game developers increased by 25% during this period, according to an annual survey run by the NZ Game Developers Association (NZGDA).
Although a major game studio closed down in early 2016, others have expanded due to the growing demand for games. Demand for skilled game developers is likely to continue.
Specialist gaming qualifications, portfolios and networking improve your chances of getting a job
Chances of recruitment as a fresh graduate are best if you have a specialist game development qualification. For example, specialist courses provided by the Media Design School have a recruitment rate of about 80% for graduates.
NZGDA also recommends you build up a portfolio of paid or voluntary game development work that you have done outside your coursework.
Look on the NZGDA news page and forums and on individual members' websites for notices of vacancies. Events such as the Auckland Game Developers Meetups and AnimfxNZ also provide valuable networking opportunities.
Types of employers varied
New Zealand has about 120 game development companies. These range in size from small companies with fewer than five staff, to those with 50 or more staff.
Some game developers are self-employed.
- Auckland Game Developers Meetups website - information on meeting groups
- AnimFX website - information about conferences for game developers
- Atherton, J, 'Kiwi Gaming Industry Boom Earns Half a Billion Dollars', 12 July 2015, (www.stuff.co.nz).
- Cook, A, 'Game Over: NZ's Largest Gaming Studio to Shut', 29 January 2016, Radio New Zealand, (www.radionz.co.nz).
- Crayton-Brown, B, 'Game on at CIT as Developers Move in', 9 February 2016, Hutt News, (www.fairfaxmedia.newspaperdirect.com).
- Diamond, L, 'Jobs in the New Zealand Game Industry Grow in 2015', accessed March 2016, (www.wecreate.org.nz).
- New Zealand Game Developers Association, 'Digital NZ Report 2016: Games are Popular Mainstream Media', 9 September 2015, (www.nzgda.com).
- New Zealand Game Developers Association, 'Jobs in NZ Games Industry Grow in FY2015', 20 August 2015, (www.nzgda.com).
- Pullar-Strecker, T, 'Closure of Country's Biggest Game Studio "Rings True" Says Industry Body', 28 January 2016, (www.stuff.co.nz).
Progression and specialisations
Game developers usually work in one of three broad areas – game programming, game art or game design.
Within these areas, they may specialise in a particular game platform, such as PlayStation, Xbox or Nintendo, and a particular aspect of game development such as:
- artificial intelligence (AI) programming – making game characters learn logically and behave like humans
- 2D and 3D art and animation – creating the illusion of movement and depth of vision
- game designing – creating the content, rules and look of a game
- digital sound – using computer code to create the sounds and music heard in a game
- physics programming – ensuring elements and characters in a game follow real-life rules of physics
- tools programming – building special sub-programs within a game to help it run better or faster
- game play programming – developing a game's strategy, logic, mechanics, and feel
- video effects – adding special effects like explosions or fires to a game
- art direction – creating the background and mood artwork required for a game
- studio management – overseeing staff and other resources to ensure games are delivered on time and to budget
- production and development – a management role involving negotiating contracts, hiring staff, and controlling finances
- testing – playing the games as they're developed to make sure they work properly, and noting bugs and other issues.
Some game developers may also focus on testing the software used in games.
Game developers can progress to become team leaders, project managers, or company managers. They may also start their own game or computer software businesses.
Last updated 17 November 2017