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Video Games: a Hobby and… a Career?

Last updated on January 30, 2020

Most people think of playing video games as a hobby. But there’s a lot that goes into game production. It’s not just about having the skills of one person. You also need level designers, animators, audio producers… and that barely begins to cover it. No one person does it all, and each role is significant.

What Video Game Designers Do

A lot of people aren’t necessarily aware of the number of roles involved, says Chris Curra, program coordinator for Richland’s Interactive Simulation and Game Technology program. “A lot of students think they need to be able to draw or be super artistic, or a lot of students think they need to be able to program. There’s several paths you can take — you can be a level designer, a character artist, a character animator, a visual effects artist, a programmer, a 3-D modeler for environments, you can do sound. Oftentimes they come in and think they’re going to have to learn all of this stuff, and the reality is the industry is much more specialized now, and you really only focus on your one job.”

Curra teaches video game design and development classes as part of the college’s game design and development program. He’s also a managing partner at Perpetual FX Creative in Addison. Over the course of his professional career, Curra has worked on games like Medal of Honor Airborne, 007: Quantum of Solace, Inception: Mind Crime, and Alien Monster Bowling League. Since starting at Richland, he and about 15 other faculty members have helped grow the program from around 50 students in 2012 to nearly 350 in 2016.

Is There Really a Degree Program for Making Video Games?

Yup! The game design program at Richland offers two tracks: art/animation/design and programming. Art/animation/design students work on things like character rigging and animation, visual effects and 3-D modeling. Programming students work on things like object-oriented programming and game and simulation programming.

Classes in video game design are both fun and challenging and, like with anything, practice makes perfect. Originally aiming for a programming specialty, Richland alumnus Mustafa Alobaidi took a class about special effects for games and found himself hooked. “One day they had a class they weren’t sure was going to make, so I took it on a whim,” he said.

He realized he enjoyed the programming aspect of games, but it just wasn’t quite the right fit. “The first time I took [special effects for games] I didn’t really know animation was a career. It was interesting — both the instructor and the stuff he showed us and the things we made. I didn’t get it at first because it was all art. I’m not an artist, I didn’t think I could do anything with art,” said Alobaidi. But the class had piqued his curiosity, so he forged on.

“I had some interest at that point, so I decided to take it a second time. The more I got into it, the more I was getting pulled; there was no escape anymore and it just clicked. I kept retaking the class over and over until I took it seven times, and I kept learning different things each time,” said Alobaidi.

Learn More About the Game Design Program

Are There Careers in Video Games?

Usually students are already hobbyists when they come into the program, but they need guidance on how to turn gaming into a career. As the program coordinator, Curra makes a point to sit down with each student individually to discuss goals and outline a plan as they go through the program. If he can help it, nobody waits two years to ask questions like, “What do I do after graduation?” Internships and hands-on projects are part of the program, so students get real-world experience and tend to quickly become working professionals. Sometimes, like with Mustafa Alobaidi, they even find themselves moving halfway across the country.

To be clear, it didn’t happen at all once for him. He’d applied for a few positions in various cities already; they just hadn’t panned out. “I was going through LinkedIn one day trying to find people to ask how they got started and how they got their first jobs,” he said. “I came across a company called FXVille, and I hadn’t heard of them but I saw that they had an open position on their site. So I applied, and within about 30 minutes I got a response from the CEO,” said Alobaidi. He went through the interview process, completing what’s known as an art test. Within a few weeks of applying and just five months after his spring semester ended, Mustafa moved to Seattle to start his career as a special effects artist.

Is Video Game Design a Good Major/Career Choice?

There are hundreds of game design companies across the U.S., employing thousands of people. There are about 30 game design companies just in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, many of which employ Richland faculty and, yes, Richland game design graduates. “I want to tell people who have a passion for video games that there’s a job for everybody. We can find a place for you, whether you’re an artist or character guy or story person. There’s always a job,” said Curra.

For many students, the support of faculty means a lot. “When I told Chris what I wanted to do, he didn’t tell me no, or ‘you can’t do that,'” said Alobaidi. “He encouraged me and told me that if that’s the path I want to go, he’d support me until I got somewhere with it.”

Video Game Designer Salaries

If that doesn’t convince you, maybe the Bureau of Labor Statistics will. Multimedia artists and animators in Texas make an annual mean wage of about $63,000, and computer programmers in Texas make an annual mean wage of about $86,000.

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