The best way to make a lot of money in video games is probably to be either a professional esports player or become an instantly recognizable Twitch streamer. If neither of those things is on your horizon, you can still work in video games. Your job just might feel more like work.
There's a lot that goes into the hours of fun gaming makes for us, and hundreds of people make up the staff who create them. This means with the right education, experience and some solid networking, you could be one of them -- and get paid well for it too.
Video-game storytelling has come a long way since "all your base are belong to us." Many games today are more akin to Hollywood movies than their 8- or 16-bit forebears. This means they need screenwriters to create their storylines.
Like many creative jobs, there's not always a direct route to becoming a writer. To get this job, you can start with an education in creative writing, then you'll need to do a lot of writing. Writers often have great portfolios of their best work to showcase for potential employers. It's worth it, however. On top of the creative fulfillment, writers make an average of more than $50,000 per year.
Designing video games is a specialty these days, and many game designers study game design specifically while in college. Computer science, computer engineering and software engineering majors also find success in this field.
Video-game designers build the entire user experience, from the appearance of characters to the way those characters interact with the rest of the game. Designers in the U.S. make a median of more than $74,000 per year, but can earn more in high-demand locations.
While the plot and the gameplay are important, someone has to make the whole thing work. That's where the video-game programmer comes in, creating the software that runs the video game itself. They also help identify and fix bugs.
Video-game programmers will usually be required to have a bachelor's degree in game programming and development, computer science or a software-related field. Computer programmers in the video-game industry can expect a median salary of around $70,800.
If creating artwork is your jam, there's nothing like watching your work come to life. Artists and animators in the video-game industry study computer graphics and multimedia -- and must learn 2D and 3D animation and associated software -- but the effort is worth it. They will draw the backgrounds, landscapes and characters, then animate them for in-game interactions.
Soft skills like working as a member of a team, communication skills and group collaboration are critical for success, but can earn an animator a median salary of around $58,000 per year.
5. Audio Engineer
The old saying goes: "Sound without video is a creative choice; video without sound is a mistake." To avoid this, video games need audio engineers to compose music, record character dialogue and add sound effects -- then mix them all together. This is probably one of the most fun jobs any creative person could have.
You can get the skills required for an audio engineer with a degree in audio engineering, recording arts or music-related fields. This could also require a comprehensive portfolio showing off your engineering skills. Salaries range from $57,579 to $100,572, depending on where in the country you are.
6. Localization Specialist
One of the reasons there are no more "all your base are belong to us" moments in video games anymore is because of localization specialists. These specialists are responsible for translating the game to different languages and ensuring the gameplay isn't lost in that translation.
To get this job, you'll need to know at least two languages and awareness of foreign cultures for the languages you speak. It's also helpful to have a bachelor's degree in linguistics and some experience in the world's biggest foreign video-game markets. Interpreters in the U.S. make a median salary of around $46,000 per year.
7. Quality Assurance Tester
Video games these days aren't just made and then shipped to markets. The complex blend of story, design and programming isn't going to be perfect on its first run. And while the job looks like you're just playing video games, it's also a lot of work.
For a median salary of around $92,000, QA testers will work with a development team to play the game to its absolute limits, exploit weaknesses and pursue bugs. While there isn't necessarily an education requirement to be a tester, you have to be good at gaming and like to play games long after the fun has ended.
8. Market Research Analyst
Gaming is an industry, and businesses in that industry are looking to maximize profits in producing these games. Before the game ever gets the green light, market research analysts are collecting data on gamers: their buying habits, needs, preferences and demographics.
Market research analysts need a bachelor's degree in market research, marketing or communications and can expect a median annual salary of around $67,814.
9. Marketing Manager
When a game gets the green light, another kind of marketer starts working on how best to sell the game. A marketing manager handles the higher functions of a marketing team, including budgeting, training and reporting the outcomes of marketing campaigns.
For a median annual salary of $95,963 per year, marketing managers need at least a bachelor's degree (sometimes higher) in marketing, communications or business. To make a management level, experience in marketing in the video-game industry will likely be preferred.
10. Technical Support Specialist
Once the game is in the hands of the end user, things can go wrong. That's what a technical support specialist is for. They help gamers solve issues with the software, hardware or related technology during gameplay.
Along with technical support skills, they will need customer support skills, good communication abilities and patience. To be a technical support specialist, you will typically need on-the-job training with the tech you'll be handling. These specialists can make a median hourly wage of $21.91 but can earn more, depending on their location.
-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on LinkedIn.
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