From creating first-person shooters to word puzzle apps, game designers are the brains behind your favorite way to pass the time.

Game Designer

When you think of STEM careers, you may be tempted to think of people in white coats working in a laboratory. Or an engineer bent over a drafting table, working out math formulas. However, there is another STEM occupation you may not have considered — ones that requires a video game platform and a whole lot of imagination.

Game designers are the driving force behind every video game you play, whether it's a title published for a standalone system or an app you download to your phone. From the initial idea through the final tweaks, designers work alongside other technology professionals like developers, animators and programmers to create a compelling game that will have users playing again and again. Some of a designer's specific duties include the following.

Writing descriptions of plot points, characters and gameplay concepts.

Working with a team to ensure design concepts are followed as a game is developed.

Using scripting languages to create game prototypes.

Making changes as needed to optimize gameplay.

How Much do Game Designers Make?

The government doesn't track game designers as a distinct occupation. Rather, the Bureau of Labor Statistics includes them within the category of multimedia artists and animators. According to the BLS, in 2014, the average mean salary of all workers in this category was $69,410.

Other sources put game designer salary averages a bit higher. A 2014 salary survey by industry website Gamasutra found U.S. game designers had average incomes of $73,864.

The Entertainment Software Association also conducted a 2014 salary survey. While their survey wasn't limited to game designers, the association found the average 2014 salary for direct workers in the video game industry was $94,747. In addition, ESA reported the highest compensation could be found in the following states.

  • California: $103,071
  • Texas: $101,349
  • Washington: $99,964
  • New York: $94,924
  • Massachusetts: $93,174

Occupational Requirements and Job Types

Those pursing game designer careers need to have the right skills to be successful. They must have artistic ability and an understanding of computer software and scripting languages. In addition, game designers must be able to communicate their ideas effectively.

Specialized degree programs may be the best way to prepare for a successful game designer career. ESA notes 400 colleges and universities have video game programs. These include certificates as well as associate, bachelor and master's degree options.

The level of education you pursue may depend upon your game designer career goals. Designers may fall into one of the following job types with each requiring a similar, yet slightly different, skillset.

  • Lead designers: As the name suggests, lead designers are often in charge of a team. They help keep everyone on task and may serve as a liaison between the design team and the developers, programmers or others working on the project. Designers may need a higher level of education or extensive experience to be considered for a lead position.
  • Content designers: A content designer may focus solely on the plot of a game. They are in charge of developing the concept and making sure all components are realistic within the confines of the game.
  • Game mechanic designers: Once the concept is developed, the game mechanic designer ensures specific components work correctly. For example, they may be tasked with designing weapons or special items and making sure they operate within gameplay as expected.
  • Level designers: Another job type for this occupation belongs to level designers. These professionals are charged with creating a particular level of a game. They may be responsible for not only creating a specific atmosphere for the game environment but also determining the placement of items on the level.
  • Writers: Some designers oversee all the writing for a game. That may include everything from player instructions to the dialogue during cut scenes.
What's the Job Outlook Like for Game Designers?

The BLS reports jobs for multimedia artists and animators will see only 6 percent growth from 2012-2022. The government notes growth in the field is due largely to demand for realistic visual effects in video games and other mediums. Despite strong demand from the gaming industry, growth may be limited since some companies are sending their design work overseas.

Still, there are some areas in which game designer careers are projected to see much greater growth in the coming years. The following states and territories should see the biggest percentage increase in jobs for multimedia artists and animators from 2012-2022.

  • Oregon: 34.3 percent
  • Washington: 33.9 percent
  • Guam: 27.3 percent
  • Alaska: 22.3 percent
  • Colorado: 22.1 percent

Between positive game designer salary data and robust growth in some states, there is good reason to learn more about this field. Game designer careers fall under the umbrella of STEM jobs and yet they offer a different experience than other occupations in the science and technology arenas. You can learn more by contacting schools offering degree programs in game design for additional information.

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1. Projections Central, http://projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm
2. Entertainment Software Association: http://www.theesa.com/about-esa/courses-certificates-degree-programs; http://www.theesa.com/article/u-s-video-game-industrys-economic-impact/
3. Game Developer Salary Survey 2014, Gamasutra, http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/221533/Game_Developer_Salary_Survey_2014_The_results_are_in.php
4. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Multimedia Artists and Animators, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/arts-and-design/multimedia-artists-and-animators.htm
5. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, Multimedia Artists and Animators, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes271014.htm
6. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Work for Play: Careers in Video Game Development, http://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2011/fall/art01.pdf