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Expert Tips on Becoming a Game and Simulation Programmer

So, you’re not sure which degree is the best fit for you, but you do know that when it’s complete, you want to be a mover and a shaker in the industry you choose.

Maybe you’re trying to find that one field or career that allows you to use the analytical side of your brain and speaks to your passion for gaming. Maybe you’re even searching for jobs that will pay the bills and help you shine among your group of friends.

If this sounds like you, look no further than the field of technology – specifically, a degree in game simulation and programming. It’s a field that speaks to your strengths and is projected to grow by 12 percent – that’s 43,700 new jobs – through 2020.

Let’s start at the beginning.

Game designers vs. game and simulation programmers

The easiest way to think about the difference between game designers and programmers is this: Game designers create and develop a story, while game and simulation programmers bring the story to life.

When students think about earning a degree in “game and simulation programming,” oftentimes their first assumption is that they will design the next Call of Duty or Minecraft. Actually, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Put simply, a game or simulation programmer writes code for video games and software. Programmers are the ones writing and analyzing programming code. They work heavily with principles of mathematics, engineering and physics to write software programs that allow games to function as intended.

They are also the ones tasked with fixing any bugs that pop-up prior to or after release of the game.

Game designers, on the other hand, are typically more involved in the storytelling portion of the game. But that doesn’t mean they’re just closet gamers.

“Don't go into the field just because you like playing games – there's a huge difference between playing and creating. You have to enjoy creating entertainment for others,” says Roy Leban, CEO and founder of Puzzaz.

The biggest concern of any successful game designer is how the customer will perceive the game once it is plugged in and played. Game designers keep themselves up-to-date on the wants and needs of their customer base and work with game development teams to produce cutting-edge storylines.

What type of degree do you need to become a programmer?

A degree in game and simulation programming can open up several opportunities for different careers – anything from writing code for popular games to working on back- or front-end programming for the U.S. Department of Defense. But before any of these careers can become a reality, there are courses to take and degrees to earn.

There shouldn’t be any surprises with the courses you can expect in a programming degree. Given the highly technical nature of the job, expect plenty of engineering, mathematics and physics. Here is an example three course descriptions from a real game and simulation degree program:

Application of Physics for Game and Simulation Production

An important aspect in a game or simulation is to be able to render what is happening in the game in realistic terms based on standard real physics principles. This course is designed to allow the game or simulation programmer to be able to translate the ideas and sequences of a game into realistic actions. Key components in this class will be the opportunity for students to develop tools, demos, and working games that utilize and follow real physics.

Math for Game and Simulation Production

This course has been designed to teach concepts in linear algebra. The course covers linear equations and matrices, and how these can be applied in various situations. In addition, topics will include determinants, vectors in the plane, and how to calculate cross determinants. This course also has a second part that builds on what is learned here by introducing advanced methods of math for game and simulation production.

Programming 1

This course is designed to teach the student C++ programming utilizing objects oriented terminology. C++ expressions, decisions, and loops within the C++ realm are explored and practiced. This first course in a two course sequence ends with an analysis of functions and classes and how these elements are used in different programming projects. This course also has a second part that builds on what is learned here by introducing advanced methods of programming.

Game and simulation programming skills employers are seeking

If you’re still reading, it’s safe to assume you have some interest in learning more about what it takes to become a game and simulation programmer. The next step, think about the skills you’ll need to succeed.

“You have to be committed, you have to have a strong attention to detail and you have to, above all else, love this job,” said Joshua Weiss, CEO of TeliApp Corporation.

Here is a list of the top 10 in-demand skills employers are looking for in a game and simulation programmer, based on an analysis of 765,343 job postings over the past year.*


*Source: (Analysis of 765,343 job postings; 4/9/12-4/8/13)

A great way to learn these skills, build your resume and get your foot in the door at a top company is by getting an internship prior to graduation. “Most software companies are looking to train new hires,” Weiss says. “But they expect those new hires to hit the ground running with an understanding that can be only gained through real programming experience, not what goes on in the classroom.”

The bottom line

There are many factors that go into becoming a successful game and simulation programmer. The basic ones include knowing the difference between a game designer and programmer, understanding the type of degree that can support and help you find a great career and the skills employers are seeking.

But apart from those, there are other factors that anyone looking to get into this field needs to remember.

“Work on being happy!” says Scott Crabtree, chief happiness officer (CHO) at Happy Brain Science. “Science suggests a boost in happiness raises productivity by 10 to 25 percent. Programming is a creative endeavor, and happiness boosts creativity. Happiness also boosts resilience, which is essential in the often-tough video game industry.”

Thanks to step-by-step guidance from some of today’s leading game and simulation industry professionals, now you know what it takes to earn the coolest job out of all of your friends.

If you’re looking for more information and want to become the hottest new programmer in the industry, then think about pursuing a degree in game and simulation programming.

Kendall Bird

Kendall is a Social Media Strategist at Collegis Education who is focused on bringing awareness and engagement to Rasmussen College's social media properties. She is passionate about helping others, the power of education and building strategies that put the needs of students first. 


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