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How to become a game designer

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Sources:

  • Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed January 31, 2019: Software Developers, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/Computer-and-Information-Technology/Software-developers.htm; Multimedia Artists and Animators, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/arts-and-design/multimedia-artists-and-animators.htm; Graphic Designers, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/Arts-and-Design/Graphic-designers.htm;
  • Video Game Designers, Occupational Information Network, accessed January 31, 2019, https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/15-1199.11
  • The Top 50 Game Makers, IGN, accessed January 31, 2019, https://www.ign.com/lists/video-game-makers
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Interested in becoming 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.

Here's information about how to become a video game designer, including valuable skills in the industry, the education available in game design degree programs and the average salaries of working designers, as well as insight into the game design profession and the gaming industry in general. When you're done exploring, be sure to check out some of the top game design degree programs available to today's students.

What does a video game designer do?

In a nutshell, the job of a video game designer is to create 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 playtests to refine the gaming experience
  • Working with game programmers and graphic designers to create animation and visual effects

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:

CareerTotal EmploymentAnnual Mean WageProjected Job Growth Rate
Art Directors40,210$104,5907.4%
Multimedia Artists and Animators28,560$78,23010.4%
Software Developers, Applications903,160$108,08030.5%
Web Developers127,300$75,58013.1%
2018 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2016-26 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

How to become a video game designer

If you've already been looking into how to become a video game designer, chances are that you're aware of at least some of the educational options at the college level. Here's a quick list of steps that aspiring game designers might take on their way to employment in the industry:

  1. Earn a high school diploma, GED or other equivalency degree
  2. Enroll in one of the game design degree programs at a community college or university
  3. Build a portfolio of your work to show to employers
  4. Participate in an internship or other entry-level work

Some schools have dedicated degree programs in game design, but if you can't find one that suits you, remember that it isn't the only educational option. Other subjects of study that relate to game design in various ways include computer science, animation, user experience design, software development and the graphic arts.

Regardless of the subject you pursue in school, the portfolio of games you've designed and visual or interactive assets you've built is often the most important piece of your pitch to hiring managers. Make sure to focus on building your portfolio, both during your education and afterward.

What skills do game designers need?

According to the Occupational Information Network (O*NET), there are certain personal qualities that can be a big help to professional game designers. Here are just a few examples from their lists of valuable skills and abilities:

  • Originality
  • Systems analysis
  • Critical thinking
  • Fluency of ideas
  • Visualization
  • 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.

Professional organizations for video game designers

Joining a professional association can bring several benefits to game designers at just about any point in their careers. Depending on the group you join, you may get 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 in the games industry:

If you've been a gamer for as long as you remember or have always been enthralled by the world of gaming, you might be just a few college classes and some dedicated creative work away from carving out a career in the game design industry. 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. For additionbal insight, check out our game designer career profile. 

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