So you want to be a game designer?
We don’t blame you. For many, it’s their dream job. Spending the day creating the very games they love to play so much.
It’s not impossible by any means, but it will take some hard work on your part. It’s a competitive industry, full of incredible opportunities for those who’ll work for it. We’re here to guide you through every step of the way.
What Does a Game Designer Do?
Starting with the very basics. You need to know what a game designer actually does before you commit to the career. Many people have idealistic notions of what the role actually involves.
We’ll start this by clarifying the difference between a game designer and a game developer. Many people often make the mistake of using the two terms interchangeably. But they’re two distinct careers in themselves.
Game designer refers to the creation of games. This can include things like storylines, mechanics, and concepts to name a few. It’s a big idea sort of thing.
Meanwhile, game development refers more to the actual making of those concepts and storylines. This would include things like engine programming, animation, and more.
The two roles are very much interlinked and depend on each other to make functional games. Game designers give input and direction to developers, while developers feedback with tweaks and improvements.
All this is to say, if you’re a big picture sort of person then a game designer may be a great choice for you. Whereas if you love getting into the nitty-gritty of how things work, a games development role might be more up your street.
How to Become a Video Game Designer
There’s no single path to becoming a game designer, though there are more traditional routes. But many incredible games have been created through non-traditional routes by talented game designers.
Take Stardew Valley, for example, the entire game was created and published by game designer and developer, Eric Barone. It’s sold over 10 million copies as of 2020. It goes to show you don’t have to take the traditional route.
But for the sake of time and ease, that’s the one we’ll be discussing. We’re breaking this down into 6 easy steps. They’re as follows:
- Get to know games
- Apply for jobs
We’ll go through each in-depth.
Get to Know Games
We’d assume if you’re interested in being a game designer that you’ve at least got some interest in video games. However, by ‘get to know games’ we don’t mean sit around playing COD in your underwear.
What we mean is understand them, critique them, discuss them online. Play a wide range of different genres and get to know the industry outside what you would usually play.
Most of all, think critically about game design. You may already do this if you’re a gamer anyway, but it needs to go beyond a simple opinion. This will come up in your interviews and when networking a lot, so it’s best to get prepared now.
Think about a game you loved. Ask yourself why you loved it. Was it the characters, the storyline, or the gameplay itself?
Then think about how that game could have been improved. Games companies love feedback from their customers, it’s how they patch games and come up with new ideas. So being able to articulately critique games with helpful and insightful ideas is a key skill you’ll need to develop.
The same goes for games you don’t like. You can’t just write them off and say you don’t like that genre. If you disliked it because of a character, ask yourself why you disliked that character.
Keep asking these questions. It will bring you to the root of the problems, which is with the game’s design.
Then figure out how they could have been fixed. It’s going to be your job after all!
It’s true, as we mentioned above, that some game designers get into the industry through unusual means. However, for the vast majority of people, education is the best place to start.
Don’t worry if it’s something you never thought you’d do or you’ve already been to college. There are loads of incredible places to study game design to fit every schedule.
Only you’ll know which course is right to fit in with your lifestyle. In general, you should be looking for a relevant bachelor’s degree in game design.
You’ll also need the right gear to do the job and sadly a PS5 or Xbox Series X won’t cut it. You’ll need a well-specced gaming PC. We’d suggest one of the great, affordable options from Lenovo.
A game design degree will include subjects like computer programming, computer science, game designing, mathematics, and programming. You can also often choose to major in a different field, such as art. So if you know you want to focus on the animation side of game design, this is always an option.
It might seem unusual to have a degree where so few of the subjects are directly related to the subject. But this is due to the varied nature of the job.
Computer science is essential for game designers. To successfully develop games, you need to understand the hardware of the platform they run on, as well as how those platforms work. It means you won’t expect the impossible when coming up with ideas for games.
Programming is necessary because of the overlap between game developers and designers. You need to have a good understanding of coding so you can figure out problems more smoothly.
Mathematics is closely linked to programming. Being able to use formal logic is something you’ll need to help you translate ideas into mechanical designs.
Of course, the course wouldn’t be complete without some aspect of game design. You’ll learn all about game logic, storyboarding, the structure of design, and more. You’ll basically be getting to grips with how to actually do your job.
Which is great news because you’ll need it to get experience.
Internships are still big in the games industry. They’re valuable for both employers and newcomers to the industry.
Use your university connections to try and find internships. Trawl games companies websites. Keep active on social media in the right circles.
It’s a slog, but it’s invaluable experience that will set you apart from other candidates upon graduation. Working alongside experienced designers not only helps you learn your new trade from the best, but you’ll also make valuable connections that will pay off when you graduate.
Remember to persevere. It’s a competitive industry, even setting out. So you’re bound to get plenty of rejection letters, it’s all part of the process.
There’s a mix of paid and unpaid internships, as well as internships that only cover expenses. You should try and negotiate even a meager salary if possible. Especially for large companies, there’s no excuse to not be paying interns who have living expenses just like everyone else.
Build a Portfolio
Your portfolio should be a showcase of the work you’re most proud of. A great portfolio would include a wide array of work. This can be projects you completed during your degree or work you did on your internship.
If you’re short on either, you can also include work you did independently. Many new game designers do this. Take a game you enjoy and improve it, or storyboard an entirely new game from scratch.
Your professional portfolio is vital for your applications, so make sure it’s up to scratch before you start applying anywhere.
Apply for Jobs
Much like the internship application process, the job market is competitive. Expect to receive a lot of no’s before you receive that all-important yes.
The career opportunities are growing though. The game designer job market is expected to grow by 9.3% by 2026.
Much of the job advice here is common sense. Check for new job listings on games company’s websites, crawl job boards, and use your networks from your college and internships. Make sure you write a killer cover letter and resume to match your portfolio.
The interview process for game designers will vary wildly from company to company. There may be specific logic or skills-based tests, or even specific program tests. This is all on top of the normal anxiety-inducing interview process!
Salary wise again will vary depending on company and location. The average salary for a videogame designer in the U.S. is approximately $90,000 a year, or $43.40 an hour. For those new to the industry, entry-level wages are usually closer to $47,000 a year.
At your interview, you’ll want to showcase your best personal skills. Highlight your communication skills, problem-solving skills, and your creativity to make the best impression.
The steps to being a game designer seem quite simple, and they are, but it’s still a lot of hard work. If you put in the hours though, it’s an incredibly rewarding and creative industry to work in.
You can keep up with all things design-related on our blog.