I used to wonder why so many people had totally wrong impressions of what a “game designer” was. I mean, I just assumed it was because there wasn’t enough out there written about game design to help people and that they, in turn, weren’t really seeking it out.
I was so, so wrong about that!
Below are a list of quotes from advice articles on game design. These were found by simply googling key terms like, “How to become a game designer”, “How to make video games”, “Getting a job making video games” and “What is a game designer”. This is what I expect people to search for when they get the first inkling that maybe – just maybe! – they want to work in game development.
Unfortunately, there’s a lot of content mills out there full of advertisements for for-profit schools offering degrees in “game design”, and Google hasn’t figured out how to deal with these yet. It took until about page 4 or 5 of the results to get any good articles from actual developers.
These companies want to hire someone who knows what makes a game good, and what makes a game bad. They want someone who knows good level design vs poor level design. The only way to do this is by playing, and playing AND playing video games over and over again.
Playing lots of games is not going to make you a good designer. Just because you can play games doesn’t mean you can make them. I love to eat but that doesn’t make me qualified as a chef.
Game designers have duties like designing characters, levels, puzzles, art and animation. They may also write code, using various computer programming languages. Depending on their career duties, they may also be responsible for project management tasks and testing early versions of video games.
This is a classic example of the “all people who make games are game designers!” myth.
- Designers = levels and puzzles.
- Artists = characters and art.
- Animators = animation.
- Programmers = code and computer programming languages.
- Project Managers and/or Producers = project management.
- Quality Assurance Testers = testing early versions of the game
- Game Developer = all of the above
A video game designer must have a strong set of skills, including programming, video graphics and hardware essentials.
These are three different roles seemingly chosen at random.
Programming skills are for programmers. “Video graphics” skills are for graphics programmers, unless the author meant “art” in which case it falls firmly in the art department. “Hardware essentials” is bizarre but may refer to a console programmer or hardware engineer at, say, Sony or Microsoft developing the actual hardware. It may also refer to engine programmers, who help make the game run on a specific console or platform.
It can be helpful for you to have a degree in something such as graphic design or web page design. You don’t need anything specifically to start, just a lot of imagination and persistence as video game creation can be a long and at some times tedious job.
Web page design might have been a degree… in 1997. Graphic design isn’t really a term we use in games – it refers more to developing 2D logos or websites or possibly UI artists (but they are usually called “UI artists”).
There’s a lot you specifically need to start a job as a game designer. Graphic design and web design aren’t really among them.
They got “tedious” right though.
Exhibit 5: eHow’s “How to Become a Video Game Designer”
Learn the terms and skills associated with video game related careers. Video game designers are also referred to as graphic designers. Prospective video gamer designers must be familiar with photography, special effects, graphic design, and 3D animation.
The first sentence is so close! It’s perfect! It’s… followed up by a completely nonsensical statement. Video game designers are never referred to as graphic designers.
Game designers do not need to know anything about photography (no one does this), special effects (the role of the FX artists), graphic design (not really a thing), or 2D animation (the role of an animator, not a designer).
You might also be surprised to learn that a fair number of video game designers have at least some graphic design or art experience, if not a full-fledged bachelor’s degree. Think about it: you’ll be creating outrageous sets, character costumes, and battle scenes.
Designers do not need graphic design or art experience, though it’s not a bad skill to have.
Sets? Maybe they mean “levels”? If so that’s true, but it’s so vague and using the wrong terminology. “Character costumes” makes me thing this person knows about films and nothing about games – the correct term is “character art” or maybe “vanity” (to refer to clothing pieces), and both are the domain of a character artist, not a designer.
Finally, remember that real-world business experience will also help you excel in a video game designer job. You’re overseeing budgets, timelines, and team members’ work weeks.
Designers are never overseeing budgets, timelines, or work weeks. That’s a producer or project manager’s job. I have never, ever had any experience with financial figures in the game industry. I may know what a publisher is spending, total, on our game, but not clue how that breaks down. I have no control over the timeline – milestones are agreed upon by producers, studio upper management, and the publisher.
The idea of an entry-level game designer is a bit of a misnomer. There are entry-level graphic artists, programmers and even game musicians, but designers work as each one of these during their career.
Designers do not necessarily work as graphic artists (proper term: artist), programmers, or game musicians (proper term: composers or sound designers). Some, like me, entered directly into design. Others have previous experience in QA testing and were promoted up through there.
There is such a thing as an entry level design position, but it requires prior experience even if that experience is developed in your own free time. The same is true of an art or programming position – entry level jobs exist, but you need to be a good artist or programmer before you can get the job.
Games designers work around 35 hours a week
Caveat: they do mention possible overtime, and it is a UK-focused article so their labor laws may be a bit better than here in the US, but this still made me laugh.
Different companies have different policies about crunch, and that deserves a whole other article to do justice. The main takeaway is that game development is a work-hard, work-late, work-often career for the most part, though there are a handful of places that have avoided this.
Exhibit 9: Sokanu’s “Video Game Designer” career page
Most designers will spend at least some of their time as testers, where they can experiment with coding and watch others’ mistakes firsthand.
Most designers do not spend time as testers. Some start off as testers and get promoted up through the ranks, but not all of them.
Testers do not get to experiment with coding. I’m not even sure what this would be referring to.
Lastly, an environmental designer is responsible for creating the different scenarios and environments of the game.
There is no such thing as an “environment designer”. There are “level designers” which create the scenarios (better referred to as levels, missions, and gameplay). There are “environment artists” which create the environment art (duh) and work on the aesthetics and visuals of those levels.
Computer programming language understanding is a must. There are several levels of video game design that want good idealists. Game production, game mechanics, level design, game asset reviewers, development analysis and more are all places where a good student can start depending on his skill level. Opportunities are open in specific areas of each game design project as well. Fresh out of school graduates could begin in combat systems design, game play design, economics director or even multi player game design.
Game asset reviewers? Economics director? Those are made up terms. I have no clue what “development analysis” means. The other terms are pretty inaccurate, too. This whole paragraph is a mess of terminology.
We don’t want idealists. (Similarly, a lot of articles use the term “perfectionists” – that’s also a lie). Game development is a lot of grunt work that is challenging and rewarding in its own way, but the process is far from perfect. It’s nice to have some optimism, but idealists are going to have their hearts broken really quickly.
There’s a really troubling trend of advice on these sites that contributes to an awful part of the game industry: predatory for-profit schools. Most of the advice articles are aimed at high school students or aspiring game designers and tell them, over and over again, that they NEED a degree in things like “Game Art & Design” or else they cannot get a job, but imply that if they get the degree there’s so many ‘limitless’ jobs out there.
In order to be a successful game designer you can’t only bank on your passion for video games. You need a solid education from a respected school to solidify your candidacy.
You actually do not need an education in game development from a school. I often recommend students to still get a 4-year bachelor’s degree from a traditional school because that is essentially a requirement for any white collar job in the US, and since the vast majority of them will not get into the game industry a degree will help in the long run.
A game-focused degree program does not give you extra points on your resume, let alone treated as a necessity. A lot of these programs are really bad and do NOT provide students with the skills they need to actually enter the workforce professionally. Many of them have developed such a bad reputation among game developers that seeing them on your resume is a red flag.
Your portfolio is the key thing that will get you a job, and you do not need a school for it. Some schools can help you develop that portfolio. Most of them can’t.
Exhibit 12: How To Become A Game Designer dot com
In order to become a game designer, you will need to attend either a two year or four year program at one of the many colleges and online universities across that nation that offer programs in either Game Design or Interactive Entertainment.
This is wrong. Wrong! This is an example of a website pretending to educate people about games but really acting as a marketing site for predatory ‘universities’.
For game developers, if you ever wonder why there are so many students in bad programs teaching them wrong ideas about game development and game design, you have your answer. They spend so much money on marketing and recruiting, almost every top-ranked information article about getting into games is basically a paid advertisement.
For students, take a look at these sites and check out what schools are ‘advertised’ on them. If you are attending one of these schools, or contemplating attending one, you should think really hard about that. An advertisement on a crappy content-mill website is a huge red flag that the school isn’t interested in quality education but in how many dollars students can bring to them in the form of tuition fees and student loans.
That’s the end of this for now. I’ll do a follow-up with misleading (and sometimes unintentionally hilarious) game development advertisements eventually but I think this article sums up the scale of bad information out there.