How to Become a Game Designer
A game designer is a creative individual whose work, falling under the broader scope of video game development, implements various design principles and artistic skills necessary to produce a digital interactive experience for either educational or entertainment purposes.
This profession offers one of the most rewarding, exciting, and multi-faceted experiences with countless job prospects. However, it is critical to note that as video games represent the largest and most successful industry in the history of entertainment, they, as software products, are the most complex, challenging, and time-consuming projects any group of people can undertake.
Should I become a game designer?
As a designer, you may work on a creative project that you have either conceived yourself or from a pre-approved concept that a company’s upper management has signed off on.
Whatever the case may be, a designer is responsible for using their ingenuity to design experiences for often a wide range of platforms and devices that capture and engage the user’s imagination.
Despite the fact many titles are exclusively released for consoles like the PlayStation 4 that have only 1–2 hardware configurations, the overwhelming majority of games are distributed to all major platforms. Furthermore, if they are released on personal computers (PC), that typically results in testing for nearly infinite customer builds.
Although flexible working hours are seldom available, most designers will find themselves working well beyond the 40-hour standard week to achieve tight deadlines for their product; often resulting in the dreadful industry trend known as crunch-time which can take place over the course of months or even years.
With salaries typically falling below the standard of the IT industry, passion for this artistic medium and tireless dedication to your craft is essential for success.
How to become a game designer?
Even though many studios accept and employ computer science majors that attended a traditional four-year institution, it is highly recommended that aspiring designers go further with their education and practice.
That means staying on top of all trends, playing as many games as possible from every genre that exists, and developing one’s own small projects.
Game Design Diplomas are offered by many specialized educational programs and taught by industry veterans that have directly contributed to AAA titles at popular, well-known studios like Ubisoft and EA.
They include curriculums that are career-focused and help aspiring graduates prepare for successful careers. Online tutorials provide instructions for designers of any experience level to begin tinkering with pre-built engines like Unreal 4, Unity, and even simple drag-and-drop interfaces that don’t require programming like RPG Maker.
Although most who wish to become game designers are already seasoned programmers by nature, the craft offers plenty of room for those who possess and specialize in other skill sets. Because the technical functionality represents only one component of a game, writers are needed to produce story and dialogue, voice actors are needed to bring characters to life, visual artists are needed to develop concept work, etc.
Having a wide variety of creative and artistic skills allows a game designer to work in nearly any level of a studio, whether it belongs to them or not.
Perhaps most importantly, it helps an aspiring designer to know the process of development inside and out. When a title is designed with a particular process, it allows the product to have a far greater chance of success than one that is randomly thrown together without a definitive vision in mind.
By fully understanding the tools and the big picture of what the game is intended to be, a designer will be much more attractive as a potential hire in the industry.
For example, many developers, especially those at a smaller level, enjoy implementing agile-based techniques which focus more on building than documentation and process. Conversely, larger corporations like Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo are extremely process-driven and demand heavy usage of documentation.
Of course, the first step to becoming a designer is to truly understand the medium to which you wish to contribute to. Major studios, like Blizzard Entertainment, mandate that all employees, from the CEO down to the receptionist, play on a regular basis.
An effective method for nurturing the necessary skills a designer needs to be successful is to take note of what one finds pleasurable and distasteful when playing games.
It has been universally claimed by recruiting officers of every studio, both big and small, that the best way for a designer to showcase their passion, experience, and skill set is through their own portfolio of personal projects. That means sitting down and getting their hands dirty in all aspects of development; from writing stories to modeling characters to designing combat mechanics and environmental settings.
Although many games are truly coded from scratch, the best way to experiment with ideas and generate working prototypes as fast as possible is through working with engines. These are pre-built frameworks that come bundled as a complete program with a user interface for designers to build their ideas.
One of the most popular and distributed in existence is Unreal Engine 4, commonly used by both independent (indie) developers and AAA studios alike. It allows for the highest quality graphics and settings to power large-scale 3D worlds and is entirely free out of the box. Conversely, though it can’t deliver the same fidelity, Unity is much easier to work with, learn, and better facilitates the development of 2D games.
Other alternatives, like RPG Maker and GameMaker Studio 2, exist for those whose projects are simpler and offer the lowest barrier to entry with respect to the difficulty and time needed to get visible results.
Consumer development software has consistently faced this growing dilemma. In the event that the tools are too simplistic, the designer will not acquire the advanced skills needed to further their potential career. Yet, if the tools are too complex, aspiring designers will find themselves often too frustrated to see a project through to total completion.