Getting Started with a Career in Mobile Game Development

Naveed Khan
May 28, 2019 · 7 min read

I run a small blog at Effective Programmer, which, as the name suggests, is mostly about software engineering. Incidentally the number one question I field is not about software development, instead its about a career in game development, more specifically about mobile game development and how to get started.

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

Caveat Emptor

Source: newzoo.com

However, don’t expect all sunshine and rainbows. There are plenty of failed gaming companies, layoffs are all too common, and news of employee burnout are abound. It could get stressful. Most importantly:

Pro Tip #1: You should only consider working in this industry if you are genuinely passionate about gaming. You do not need to be a gamer, but it helps to be one.

How to Get Started

Engineering

Regardless of how you get your basic programming training, you have two main entry points: client development and server/backend development. You can possibly do both but having a focus area will expedite your launch.

Client Development: If you have more interest in graphics and user interface go for client development. I highly recommend learning Unity 3D. There are other frameworks and tools but to be honest, you can get to them later. Unity will give you the best bang for your buck.

Pro Tip #2: Focusing on platform specific solutions, such as Android SDK or Xcode for iOS, is not a good idea. It considerably limits your options in the market when starting up.

Server Development: If your interest area is more towards databases and backend game server, then I recommend learning any popular open source backend technology to get started, more specifically I’d go with learning PHP, Python or NodeJS based systems with a healthy dose of any modern relational or NoSQL databases like MySQL or MongoDB. Having good hands-on DevOps experience is a huge plus. I would stay away from heavy hitters like Java and .NET in the beginning, I feel the learning curve is way too steep. Unless of course you are already familiar with them, then go for it.

Pro Tip #3: If you are already a software engineer in a non-gaming industry and struggling with the enormous amount of things to learn, I highly recommend making your own game in your free time using Unity and a serverless backend. You can find or hire team members in non-engineering areas to compliment your work. This is by far the most effective advice you can get from me.

Graphics Design and Art

One of them revolves around Creating game assets that you actually see in a game; such as drawing concept art, sketching, painting, animation, and rendering are all available options. On the other hand you have UI Design and User Experience; this involves making UI elements such as: HUDs, menus, icons, buttons and dialogs with a deep understanding of user behavior.

Pick the focus area you enjoy the most and build your skill. It will take time and consistent practice to get good at it.

Pro Tip #4: I recommend mastering Photoshop, even though it has a steep learning curve and will take time to get good, it is a must have for any gaming artist and I highly recommend it.

Content Production

To get started as a content producer, a good understanding of game design and mechanics is a big plus and several institutions now offer courses in it. Even without it, I have seen people from all kinds of backgrounds succeed in this department. If you excel in time management, multitasking, have great interpersonal skills, and have a sense of ownership and detail, this would be a great fit for you.

Having said that, If you don’t have any game industry experience it could be a challenge to get started as a content producer, you can either start at a very junior position and build your way up, or alternatively, take some basic game design courses to improve your chances.

Pro Tip #5: Remember to play the heck out of the game(s) for the company you are applying for. It shows initiative and resourcefulness, both of which are extremely important traits for a content producer.

Game Design

Having said that there is a science to it. If you enjoy doing game design then there are ways to get good at it. It’s not a complete yes and no situation. Its just difficult to use game design as your starting point in the industry.

Pro Tip #6: Even if you received formal education in Game Design you might find it easier to get going in another area and slowly making your way back into Game Design. For example: QA, Customer Support, or Content Production are fantastic starting points for a Game Designer.

Quality Assurance (QA)

The most important thing needed for a game QA person is a keen sense of game mechanics, an eye for detail and a healthy dose of skepticism. It does help to be familiar with some of the popular testing frameworks and related tools like Selenium, Test Rail and JIRA.

Pro Tip #7: Learning the basics of programming, shell scripting, and using command line tools is a big plus for a QA engineer. You can get a lot more done with simple automations.

Pro Tip #8: Often times you are bearer of the bad news, being amicable and having a good sense of humor does go a long way.

Customer Support

Being familiar with some of the common help-desk tools could be useful, for example Help Shift, Live Agent, Fresh Desk, Live Chat or Zendesk.

Pro Tip #9: Customer support is a great way to learn deep game mechanics and user behavior. It could be an excellent starting point for an aspiring game designer.

Pro Tip #10: In some companies customer support agents use social channels like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Forums to help its customers. Each of these is very different and I recommend being active on these platforms to build a sense how people interact on those.

Other Departments

  • Project Management and Game Production
  • Analytics and Data Science
  • Marketing and User Acquisition
  • User Experience Research
  • Finance and Accounting
  • Sound and Music Production
  • IT and DevOps

Final Thoughts

If you need more specific advice feel free to contact me here or on Linked In’s Career Advice portal.

Also, if you are a software engineer, you may find my Effective Programmer blog useful. Cheers :)

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Naveed Khan

Written by

Technology leader, entrepreneur and angel investor. Director of Engineering at Kinoo. I write about software engineering at medium and effective-programmer.com

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +788K followers.

Naveed Khan

Written by

Technology leader, entrepreneur and angel investor. Director of Engineering at Kinoo. I write about software engineering at medium and effective-programmer.com

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +788K followers.

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