How to Become a Video Game Designer
A career in game design requires a wide range of skills that spans both artistic and scientific disciplines. Whether you're hoping to develop arcade, console, computer, mobile or tablet games, it's important to have extensive knowledge of the design process and its essential elements.
What Does a Video Game Designer Do?
In a nutshell, video game designer careers involve creating interactive worlds for players to inhabit. Professional game designers might be responsible for any of the following tasks on a given day:
- Crafting the look, feel and interactive mechanics of a game
- Designing the rules of play and the environments to which those rules apply
- Conducting research and doing play tests to refine the gaming experience
- Working with game programmers and graphic designers to create animation and visual effects
- Developing and producing games and characters based on original ideas.
- Thinking about how all the different pieces of the experience, from a simple button on a menu to a piece of music to a particular game mechanic or game system, contributes to the sum total experience and becomes part of a cohesive whole.
- Making games better by fixing little issues and fine-tuning everything as much as possible.
Keep in mind that the nature of every project could demand something very different from you.
What's the Difference Between Video Game Development and Video Game Design?
They're two very different worlds. Video game design is very creative, where you might brainstorm all kinds of ideas ways to accomplish the game's goals. Game development is much more structured and logic-based process.
Game Designer Specializations
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, skill set.
- Lead designers: These professional 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: 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.
How to Become a Video Game Designer
While many game developers may be self-taught, specific skills and techniques can be learned in a formal education program. Here's a quick list of steps that aspiring game designers might take on their way to employment in the industry:
- Earn a high school diploma, GED or other equivalency degree.
- Enroll in one of the game design degree programs at a community college or university. Some schools have dedicated game design degree programs, but if you can't find one that suits you, consider other subjects of study that relate to game design, such as:
- Computer science
- User experience design
- Software development
- Graphic arts
What Skills Do Game Designers Need?
Video game design careers not only require mastery of certain skills, but those who work in this field also need to have natural qualities like creativity and alternative thinking.
According to the Occupational Information Network (O*NET), there are certain personal abilities that can be a big help to professional game designers. Here are just a few examples:
- Originality, a strong imagination
- Systems analysis
- Critical thinking
- Fluency of ideas
- Problem sensitivity
- Time management
- Active learning
- Selective attention
A high level of computer literacy is also a major plus to game designers. Not only are you likely to spend a large percentage of your clock time at a computer workstation, but computer systems are also the foundational medium for video games and understanding them can bring an additional dimension to your work.
Where Do Game Designers Work?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that many game designers — about 59 percent — identify as self-employed, and an even larger percentage work on their projects remotely at least some of the time. Entry-level jobs at big gaming companies such as Electronic Arts (EA), Capcom, Nintendo, Konami and others are likely to require you to commute to an office, but remote work may become a possibility once you're a veteran of the industry.
How Much Do Video Game Designers Make?
The salary and career outlook for game designers varies, based on things like location, experience and education level. In general, here's what you can expect for video game design workers in the coming years:
|Career||Total Employment||Annual Mean Wage||Projected Job Growth Rate|
|Software Developers and Software Quality Assurance Analysts and Testers||1,406,870||$111,620||25.6%|
|Special Effects Artists and Animators||29,340||$84,780||4.2%|
|Web Developers and Digital Interface Designers||148,340||$82,370||13%|
Professional Organizations for Video Game Designers
Joining a professional association may provide you with access to continuing education resources, professional development opportunities and discounts on registration fees at regional and national conferences where you can network and learn new tricks. Here's a list of a few such organizations for those seeking game designer careers:
- International Game Developers Association (IGDA)
- AIGA, the Professional Association for Design
- Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction (SIGCHI)
To learn more about how to become a video game designer, including the types of game design degree programs that are available, check out the infographic below.
- Graphic Designers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed June 2020, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/Arts-and-Design/Graphic-designers.htm
- Multimedia Artists and Animators, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed June 2020, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/arts-and-design/multimedia-artists-and-animators.htm
- Software Developers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed June 2020, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/Computer-and-Information-Technology/Software-developers.htm
- The Top 50 Game Makers, IGN, accessed January 31, 2019, https://www.ign.com/lists/video-game-makers
- Video Game Designers, Occupational Information Network, accessed June 2020, https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/15-1199.11