To build a video game, people from different educational backgrounds come together to work and coordinate till they get the product out.
Engineers, designers, artists, writers, and people from other disciplines too are needed to build relatively large video games.
While all of these people are “game developers” in the technical sense since they are all participating in the game development process, the term “developer” is generally used for the people who write the code of the game. I.e., the engineers.
With that said, this article is going to be focusing on what degree you will need to become a game “programmer” or “engineer”.
On a side note, if you would like to learn more about how to become a game designer without a degree, then you can check this article over here.
What degree do you need to become a game developer?
A degree in either computer science, software engineering, or game development and design can get you started in the game development world. However, the best option is to either go with a computer science degree, or no degree at all.
With that said, you don’t actually “need” a degree. A degree definitely has its benefits, but not having a degree doesn’t make it impossible for you to get into the game development industry.
If you insist on getting a degree and joining college though, and you want to know which one is the best for you when it comes to game development, then my personal suggestion would be computer science.
I can be biased here, since I chose to get a computer science degree myself, however, I will be stating the reasons and you’ll be the judge.
But before we dive into that, I would like to discuss the “no degree” path a little bit since that is becoming a better option as more and more knowledge is getting available for free over the Internet.
Can you become a game developer without a degree?
Not getting a degree at all is completely an option, and it might be a good one for many people. These days, you can learn a lot online, and most of the time, you can do that for free.
When it comes to landing a job as a game developer at a company, or getting to work on a game project as a freelancer, most of the time what matters is your portfolio and what you have worked on before, not what type of degree you have.
I do have a computer science degree myself, but I have literally never been asked about my degree throughout my whole game development journey (been a game developer for more than 4 years).
The questions that I get asked when I apply to new freelancing opportunities are: Send us your portfolio, show us the games that you have worked on before, and other questions that are all about the “work” that I have done before.
It’s all about “showing” what you have done as a game developer, instead of “telling” them what you “might” be able to do.
With that said, if you are looking to become a game developer without getting a degree, then I suggest that you go start learning how to use a game engine right now.
Follow tutorials, make a few games, try new things, keep improving, and eventually the games that you make will be impressive enough to get you your first job as a game developer, from there onwards, your portfolio will only keep getting bigger and better (hopefully).
Is a purely “game development” degree a good choice?
You may ask, if there are “game development” degrees that are specifically designed for game developers, shouldn’t these be the “best choice” if someone wants to become a game developer?
In my personal opinion, not necessarily. Game development degrees are relatively new, and they aren’t available everywhere.
Not a lot of Universities teach game development as its own degree, and there isn’t a lot of history behind these degrees compared to other degrees like computer science or software engineering.
But that’s not the main reason why I think game development degrees might not be a great option.
I would say that most of the set of skills that you need as a game engineer is covered in computer science/software engineering, so why not go for one of these 2 options instead of limiting yourself exclusively to the game development world?
While computer science or software engineering might not teach you “exactly how to build a game”, they do teach you the general tools that are needed to develop all kinds of software including video games.
With that said, a little bit of reading and learning on your own as a computer scientist or a software engineer can immediately get you started with game development (This is exactly what I did).
However, if you get a game development degree, and you end up not wanting to pursue game development anymore at some point, your degree might become useless.
A computer science degree or a software engineering degree on the other hand can get you to other places in case you decide to leave game development for good.
You might think that you will never want to stop being a game developer. I would think twice before I say anything like this because the future is generally very difficult to predict, especially when you are in the phase of trying things out and evaluating your best options.
That said, which of the 2 other majors is better fit for game development?
Computer science or software engineering for game development?
To be able to answer this question, you first need to understand the difference between the 2 majors.
There are a lot of similarities when it comes to these majors, and in many cases, both of these degrees can help you get a job in the same fields.
However, the main difference between the 2 degrees is this: computer science focuses more on solving individual problems using efficient code and different tools, while software engineers focus more on making these individual solutions work together in a large, scalable and maintainable system.
What this means is that software engineers focus on the “architecture” of software and systems. They decide how systems are divided, how different components interact with each other and so on.
Computer scientists on the other hand focus more on ways that you can solve specific problems using code. Computer scientists use algorithms, AI, machine learning and so on to find solutions.
Keep in mind that both majors teach programming, and they both have a lot of similarities, it is just about where the focus is directed.
With that said, I would root for computer science when it comes to game development.
It is true that software architecture is extremely important when building video games, and getting it wrong can generally lead to a completely broken project.
However, when you are just getting started as a junior game developer, you probably won’t have to design the game systems yourself. Lead game developers will be doing that. Instead, you will mostly be asked to solve specific problems, and your wide knowledge in algorithms that you learn from computer science will be extremely helpful here.
Later on as you progress in your game development journey, you’ll grow your software architecture skills by learning from others, by taking online courses, and so on.
With all that said, if you are planning to become a game developer, then I would suggest that you either don’t get a degree at all and go learn it by yourself, or that you get a computer science degree.
If you would like to further learn more about the application of computer science in gaming, then you can check this article.
Other articles you might be interested in: