Fairly frequently we get high school students writing in to Cipher Prime with interview questions for career projects. The questions and the answers are always the same. Here they are, for posterity and future interviewers:
So you want to be an Indie Game Developer?
1. What are the job duties?
There are all kinds of job duties. Coding, doing graphic design, making music, doing sound design, doing visual effects, doing game design, doing quality assurance for the products, doing customer support, doing social media. Everyone is a generalist to some degree, although people usually have something they're especially good at and tend to do more of the time.
2. What are the entry level duties (are they different from No. 1)?
There's no particular set of entry level duties, it's really about how qualified the person is to do something or how much they've learned so far.
3. What is the entry level salary?
Very much depends on the company. If it's a company with a little bit of seed money or a company that's already established then you might get a salary. Anywhere from $25k to $70k, it really, really depends on the studio. If you're starting your own company you often make zero until you sell games.
4. How do most people get into the job? (school, on the job training)
Just by making games. There's no particular path into it. Generally people will learn how to code though. Be smart and creative. I was actually pre-med, then bummed around China, then finished law school, then learned how to code and make games. Everyone at our studio has a different story (graphic designer, mechanical engineer, comp sci master's, did lots of drugs (caveat: don't do that many drugs)).
5. What level of education is necessary?
Varies. Most developers have a college degree in something though. But what's more important than anything is your portfolio of work.
6. What are the working hours, conditions, and need to travel?
Working hours are whatever you make them. We have official working hours of 10-4, but that's more of an ideal. And we don't need to travel, but do several times a year to attend industry events. Everything is super-relaxed at the studio and we play a lot of Counter-Strike. The downside is that money comes and goes and it can be difficult to make ends meet for five people.
7. What is the job market and opportunity for employment?
Very easy to participate in the community and make games on your own. Very difficult to make a living off of it. 20% talent, 30% hard work, 50% luck. I just made the percentages up but the order of importance is correct.