A Guide to the Video Game Industry for High School Students


Image taken from PCMag

The video game industry is expanding at a rapid pace—the market is expected to pass $159.3 billion by the end of 2020. This means that there are plenty of opportunities—as a side hustle, through freelancing, creating and licensing original games, by working as an employee, etc.—for high school students to find a career in the gaming industry.

As a matter of fact, there are so many career options to choose from that, so long as students have an interest in video games, they can most likely find a career path that pertains to their own talents and skills. Due to the rising popularity of video games, many colleges and universities throughout the United States have begun to offer many different majors, minors, and master’s degrees related to video game development and design. According to Mr. Blaire, the assistant principal of Walt Whitman High School, and Mr. Chapman, a guidance counselor at Walt Whitman High School, some of the best schools to go to in the United States for a career in the gaming industry are:

  1. The University of Southern California
  2. The Rochester Institute of Technology
  3. The University of Technology
  4. New York University
  5. Carnegie Mellon University
  6. The DigiPen Institute of Technology
  7. The Savannah College of Art and Design
  8. Irvine Valley College
  9. Northeastern University
  10. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
  11. Worcester Polytechnic Institute
  12. Indiana University Bloomington
  13. Becker College
  14. The University of Texas at Dallas

Additionally, also on the authority of Mr. Blaire and Mr. Chapman, some of the best courses to take in Walt Whitman High School for a prospective career in the gaming industry are:

  1. Business Computer Applications
  2. Entrepreneurship
  3. Cybersecurity
  4. Computer Science in JavaScript
  5. AP Computer Science Principles
  6. AP Computer Science A
  7. Studio in Animation and Video
  8. Studio in Computer Graphics
  9. Advanced Computer Graphics
  10. Studio in Art
  11. Cartooning

This wide assortment of courses stems from the fact that the “industry combines both business and computer science” and that in order to compete in it, students must be equipped with “good art, English and communication skills,” according to Mr. Chapman. 

However, no matter how many courses students take, nothing beats having hands-on experience. The way students could start right now is by trying to contact professionals in the field, whether they have been successful or not, because as Mr. Blare puts it, “It is important to hear the positives and negatives about the industry.” This may even lead to a job or internship down the road, so students should ensure that they cultivate a good network early. 

The following are four possible career paths in the video game industry that, more often than not, require some form of a college education. There are many more possibilities, such as being a video game streamer, gaming YouTuber, or game journalist, so there are a plethora of options available to students.

  1. Video Game Developer

It is the dream of many students to spend their entire lives creating video games. However, becoming an independent video game developer requires a wide array of skills and can be quite costly. Thus it is usually more advisable from an income standpoint to be a freelance video game designer or an employee of a game company. Game developers’ most prominent task is to turn a game concept into an actual playable game via coding and programming. However, many game developers are also involved with the writers and designers in developing the concepts and story for the game as well. According to Zip Recruiter, freelance game developers earn an average of $92,894, while employees’ earnings are a little higher at $101,644 per year.

  1. Video Game Animator

Game animators use their skills in art and technology to create everything from the environments where games take place, to designing models making those models come alive as characters with their own movements and behavior. They need to be able to communicate properly with a team of other animators and artists in order to develop visual effects as well. Freelance video animators charge by the hour, the project, or the number of finished minutes of the animation. Zip Recruiter reports that freelance animators average $64,598, but there are some who make considerably more. As a paid employee, the average salary is $51,259

  1. Video Game Writer

Video game writers do everything from developing the stories of games and writing the dialogue between characters, to constructing the world that the game occurs in. This often involves a lot of research, as writers need to properly understand the concepts behind the game and the time period in which it takes place in order to write a compelling story. The entire team can contribute their own ideas as well to make the task seem a little less daunting; however, it is up to the writer to put all of those ideas together to create a gripping story with believable characters and a well-thought-out world. When the game’s production is coming to an end, it is also the writer’s job to play the game in order to ensure that their work and ideas were well represented by the rest of the team. Naturally, the primary skill that game writers need to have under their belt is creative writing. However, it is still incredibly useful for video game writers to have experience in game design. This is due to the fact that only big AAA games, which are heavily story-driven with a fairly large budget, actually need full-time writers. This means that there isn’t many video game writing jobs out there as of yet so having some experience in game design could help students land a job on a smaller video game team. As a freelancer, video game writers typically don’t make much money. Most projects advertised on Upwork are looking for writers to work for flat rates as low as $100 or less per project. But that is a way to gain experience. Video game writers who become full-time employees earn an average of $69,486 per year according to Salary.com. 

  1. Video Game Tester

Testers get to play video games while they’re still being developed; however, the task that they’re faced with is much more complex than that. Their job is to do every conceivable action in every single level of the game to ensure that it works properly and that there are no bugs or glitches. It is extremely repetitive as testers must be able to repeat the actions that led to a glitch if they encounter one in order to pinpoint to the development team what exactly needs to be fixed. Believe it or not, video game testers also must have well-developed writing and communication skills in order to concisely indicate the glitches discovered and accurately describe them. According to Glassdoor, on average video game testers make about $53,030 per year. Becoming a videogame tester is a phenomenal way to get into the video game industry even if it’s not a student’s end goal, as becoming a tester allows students to make contacts and get experience in the industry, even if they’re still trying to get a degree while in college.

Chinese philosopher Confucius once said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” This still holds true to the gaming industry today. However, Mr. Blaire advises that “Most professional video game designers agree that you have to be really passionate about video games in order to survive the demanding industry.” Although students get paid to partake in your favorite pastime, they still have to make grueling deadlines and attend meetings. “The work may not be easy but many agree that it is rewarding,” as Mr. Blaire puts it. For a student to determine if the video game industry is right for them, they will have to do their own further research.