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How to Get Started on Programming Video Games for Money

by Johnny Kilhefner

If you're an avid video game player, you've already started the groundwork necessary to become a game programmer. Programmers work with developers and writers to make the vision of the game function on a technical level. Several different kinds of programmers exist. Some build game engines, while others build the controls. Whatever kind of programmer you want to be, you'll need education, connections and expertise.

Know the Types of Programmers

Several kinds of programmers work on a video game at any given time. Lead programmers assign the work and schedules for programming teams, spending more time in supervising roles than actually writing code. Artificial intelligence programmers create the reactions and strategies of computer-controlled opponents. Graphics programmers work with artists, employing advanced math skills to produce 2-D and 3-D graphics. Physics programmers write code that implements physics rules for the game world, creating gravity laws that characters and the environment abide by.

Education

Aspiring programmers should go to college to earn a bachelor's degree in computer science or computer engineering. Many colleges and universities offer specialized degree programs focusing on game programming. Programmers should have excellent math skills and skills relevant to the area of programming they want to go into. Network programmers, for instance, should be skilled in server security, while graphics programmers should have art expertise. Game programmers should make it a point to learn at least one new programming language a year, but the major programming language to know is C++, the language commonly used for video games.

Take an Internship

While in college, taking an internship, even an unpaid one, will help you learn about the world of games programming. Interns can network with other aspiring programmers and benefit from mentorships from top programmers. While the Fair Labor Standards Act prohibits companies from promising interns a full-time paid position after the internship, good performance and skills can lead to paid work. You can apply for internships at game company websites.

Build a Portfolio

Start programming games right away. The more experience you have, the better your chances become for landing a paid job in the industry. Approach designers in need of your specialty area of programming and inquire about working with them. It doesn't matter if the project is funded or not; it's important to have experience working on a long-term project in conjunction with another person. With the right education, industry contacts and experience programming long-term projects, you can start making money working with a big-time developer.

About the Author

Johnny Kilhefner is a writer with a focus on technology, design and marketing. Writing for more than five years, he has contributed to Writer's Weekly, PopMatters, Bridged Design and APMP, among many other outlets.

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