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My Child Wants to Design Video Games Part One: Are there jobs out there?

Pittsburgh gaming companies are gaining momentum

Tim Ferris’s recent blog “How to Build an App Empire: Can You Create The Next Instagram?” describes Chad Muerta’s story. Recovering from a car accident,Chad left his real estate job and started an app business from his iPhone.

 “In just over two years, I’ve created and sold three app companies that have generated millions in revenue. Two months after launching my first company, one of my apps averaged $30,000 a month in profit. In December of 2010, the company’s monthly income had reached $120,000. In all, I’ve developed more than 40 apps and have had more than 35 million app downloads across the globe. Over 90 percent of my apps were successful and made money.”

I recognize for every Chad Muerta story there are thousands (hundreds of thousands?) working long hours for no where close to that type of profit margin. His story, though, reminded me of the parents and grandparent’s who hear stories like those and ask if they should encourage their children in their desire to learn video game design.  I sent the question out to local video game design studio owners (did you know we have seven in the Pittsburgh area?), educators, and leading technology policy makers.  I was pleasantly overwhelmed with very detailed responses and will share their answers over the next three weeks.


Part One:  Are there jobs out there?

Part Two: What type of training or classes should they take?

Part Three: What are the best opportunities to practice?

Grateful to my co-author’s, let’s begin…

Are there jobs out there?


HM: Yes, there are jobs. Video games were one of two industries that grew during the recession (the other was telecommunications), and video game revenues recently passed up movie box office and music revenues. Games are huge and getting bigger and more global. There are some opportunities inPittsburgh, many opportunities in cities likeAustin,TXand in the San Francisco Bay Area, and in a few Canadian cities (Edmonton, Alberta and Toronto). As gaming gets more and more global, American game developers are being hired in other countries in Asia andEastern Europe.


KL: The video game industry is extremely popular, if I went out on the street and asked people “would you like to design video games for a living?” I suspect I’d get about a 90% yes! (and 10% grandparents). The take away here is that it is an extremely competitive industry that is still growing.  Playing video games and making them are not the same thing. To make video games you should be excited about them, but interests in writing, mathematics, science and/or art is equally important as well. There are certainly jobs out there to be had, I would encourage exploring the various disciplines of game development to see which sparks the most interest. (2d art, 3d art, programming, design and writing). Great designers tend to have expertise in one or more of the other areas so that they are not “designing in a bubble” so to speak.


P.L.: The games industry is extremely diverse and very healthy overall, supporting a wide range of companies from small indie studios like ours to massive corporations. It’s here to stay and there’s plenty of work for anyone who’s flexible and skilled.


J.S. : I’m weary of sending people off to game specific schools for programming. While these schools are excellent in preparing people for a career in game development, there is a harsh reality at play here. Game developers have an average career lifespan of about 5 years, then they move on to other careers. Game development is fun, but also exhausting and quite difficult, the technology changes constantly and rapidly requiring that most developers spend time on their own constantly educating themselves. This is on top of the fact that most people work a fair amount of overtime (typically unpaid) in their game jobs. It’s a great career if you really love it.


N.N. Video games are only a small part of a much larger “Entertainment Technology” industry. This industry includes companies making products as diverse as iPad apps, interactive museum kiosks, and simulations for training military personnel (just to name a few). Jobs include Game Designers, Software Developers, Animators, 2D/3D artists, Testers, Writers, Audio Engineers, and Translators, among many others.



Quick Facts: Software Developers

2010 Median Pay $90,530 per year
$43.52 per hour
Entry-Level Education Bachelor’s degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2010 913,100
Job Outlook, 2010-20 30% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2010-20 270,900


Please note that median pay does not equal starting pay!

Next week we’ll look at the advice on education and training and Part Three will look at opportunities to develop a portfolio. In the meantime, I thought a glimpse at the training of some of the contributors to this blog is in itself insightful…

Heidi McDonald is a Game Designer at Schell Games LLC. She is graduating in May with a Bachelor of Arts in Film and Digital Technology and Professional Writing fromChathamUniversity.

Keith Leonard is a 15 year veteran of professional video game developer. He is a graphics programmer with a Bachelor of Science in computer science from theUniversityofPittsburgh.

Justin Sabo is a Game Designer at Schell Games and a Masters of Entertainment Technology 2012 Candidate from CMU Entertainment and Technology Program.

Phil Light is the co-founder of Electric Owl Studios and comes from a programming background.

Nikki Navta, the CEO of Zulama, is a graduate of CMU’s Education andTechnologyCenter.

My heartfelt thanks to all of them for taking the time to respond.  Next week: What type of training or classes should they take?


Go to:

Part Two: What type of training or classes should they take?

Part Three: What are the best opportunities to practice?


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