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Steve Lin, General Manager at Gree Canada, which develops such mobile video games as Call to Arms, Legends at War and Beyond the Dead, works at the Gree studios in Vancouver, B.C. (Rafal Gerszak For The Globe and Mail)
Steve Lin, General Manager at Gree Canada, which develops such mobile video games as Call to Arms, Legends at War and Beyond the Dead, works at the Gree studios in Vancouver, B.C. (Rafal Gerszak For The Globe and Mail)


I want to be a video game developer. What will my salary be? Add to ...

Job: Video Game Developer

Role: Within the video game industry, the title of “developer” is used loosely to describe anyone from project managers to artists to producers, but when people talk about developers they often refer to those who write code to develop video games. Developers work closely with project managers who assign the day’s tasks, and spend a large portion of their day working on coding.

Education: According to Andy Smith, president of Toronto-based independent mobile game development company XMG Studios, there are no educational requirements for video game developers. Instead, aspiring developers need to show prospective employers samples of their work, which means that many are self-taught, while those who enter computer science and engineering programs are likely to drop out before completing their degrees.

“When you go to bigger studios – like Electronic Arts and Ubisoft – having a degree is useful, but they’re never necessary,” he said. “Someone showing up with the credentials that they can be a producer, and then not having actually produced anything, it’s not useful. In video games it’s very easy to self start, and if you can show up and say, ‘I made this game with a few people in my spare time,’ that ends up being much more useful than formal education.”

Salary: The salary range for a video game developer starts low but has the potential to grow quickly. Starting salaries often fall somewhere around $35,000, but after successfully working on three or four projects – which Mr. Smith says takes about two years – it can reach as high as $60,000. After five or six projects, the salary can reach $85,000, and after enough projects are completed developers often become executive producers, which comes with a six-figure salary, or take their chances on opening their own studio.

“You don’t see a whole lot of people over 40, because they age out of video games unless they make it to the other side of the door that now has their name on it,” said Mr. Smith. “Because it’s really not a nine-to-five industry, people tend to age out of it or move to something bigger.”

Job prospects: With a rapidly growing video game industry in Canada, Mr. Smith believes that anyone who can prove their ability to develop a video game should have no trouble finding employment. “A good producer doesn’t seem to have a problem finding a job,” he said. “If you don’t find a job in one of the existing places, there are new companies coming out constantly.”

Challenges: While working long hours in order to deliver projects on time is a challenge, Mr. Smith says that the biggest challenge for video game developers is keeping up to date with the industry. Since the mobile gaming industry is so heavily controlled by hardware providers like Apple and Samsung, there’s always a threat of a wrench getting thrown into the machine at a moment’s notice.

“Everyday you come in you could get an e-mail that says, ‘this thing is no longer allowed,’ or ‘no more free games,’ or ‘no more advertising,’ or ‘no more videos,’ and then you have to pivot in line with what everyone else is doing,” said Mr. Smith.

Why they do it: Most video game developers enter the industry purely out of a love for the craft. Advancements in both hardware and software technologies over the last few years have completely revolutionized the gaming industry on all platforms, allowing developers to explore their creativity in a highly interactive medium.

“This is our music, this is painting, this is what we do,” said Mr. Smith. “What we end up producing we can be proud of, we can show our friends and our family.”

By the numbers: Canada is home to the third largest video game industry in the world, and first on a per-capita basis. A 2013 report by Nordicity, a London-based technology consulting firm with offices in Toronto and Ottawa, stated the video game industry employed 16,500 Canadians in 2012, with an average salary of $72,500.

Misconceptions: There are two major misconceptions about video game developers that Mr. Smith would like to clear up. The first is that they spend all day playing games, which he says couldn’t be further from the truth. “You don’t get the time to play a lot of games when you’re making games,” he said. “It’s too busy, it’s hard work.”

The other is that people too often believe that games are easy to build, or at least conceive, and so Mr. Smith’s inbox is constantly overflowing with ideas from strangers who believe they have an idea for the next big hit.

“It’s like music,” he said. “Making music isn’t hard, making good music that you can feel great about and that people will love is incredibly hard.”

Give us the scoop: Are you a video game developer? Write a note in the comments area of this story or e-mail your comment to careerquestion@globeandmail.com and let us know what you would tell others who are interested in the profession.

Want to read more stories from our Salaries Series? Find more here.

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