Designing video games is an interesting way to use both technical and creative skills in the entertainment industry. A career as a video game designer also allows you to use your passion for video games to earn a living. If you are interested in becoming a video game designer, you will need to know what to expect from this career path. In this article, we discuss what a video game designer does, outline the steps to become one and answer some frequently asked questions about this career.
What does a video game designer do?
Video game designers work with a development team to create and produce video games. They are typically responsible for creating characters, writing the storyline and designing the game's mechanics. Video game designers may use their technical knowledge of computer programming to write and execute feasible game code.
They also use their creative skills to storyboard plot lines and design mechanics that will appeal to customers. Video game designers work closely with video game developers and other artists to create games that are challenging, rewarding and profitable.
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Some specific duties of a video game designer include:
- Designing and developing concepts for new games
- Writing plots, creating characters and deciding on themes for games
- Using specialized tools to storyboard, draw and write their ideas
- Pitching their ideas for new concepts to their supervisors or management
- Collaborating with game developers to design mechanics that complement the story
- Ensuring that their games meet their employer's standards for quality and content
- Enforcing deadlines for other designers and managing a game's production schedule
- Testing their creations and supervising beta testing sessions
- Checking their games for any errors or issues related to game-play, interface, animation, audio or art style
- Consulting with the marketing team to help create effective advertising campaigns for new games
Video game designer salaries will vary depending on their employer, experience level and location. A video game designer's salary will typically increase as they gain more industry experience and improve their skills. Consultants and professionals who own their own studios can earn higher paychecks.
The average salary in the U.S.: $10.77 per hour
Some salaries range from $7.25 to $27.95 per hour.
How to become a video game designer
Here is a step-by-step guide for how to become a video game designer:
- Familiarize yourself with video games.
- Get an education.
- Acquire experience.
- Build your portfolio.
- Apply for jobs.
- Prepare for interviews.
1. Familiarize yourself with video games
The first step in becoming a video game designer is to understand video games. Most video game designers grew up playing video games but it is never too late to find a passion for this form of entertainment. To become a video game designer, you will need to spend some time playing games, critiquing them and talking about them with others.
An effective option for nurturing your skills as a designer is to take note of what you do and do not like about games as you play them. Think critically about why the game designers made certain decisions and if you would have made a different choice. Be sure to play a wide range of games and to talk to your friends to get different perspectives on popular titles.
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2. Get an education
Many video game industry employers expect their designers to have a relevant bachelor's degree. There are many options for pursuing a game design degree in the U.S. Coursework usually includes subjects like computer programming, computer science, game designing, mathematics and logic.
While these degrees are specifically created for aspiring game designers, you can also choose to major in a different but still relevant field, like art, communications or business. If you do not have a degree in game design specifically, you will need to prioritize finding other opportunities to improve your technical skills and gain industry experience.
3. Acquire experience
The most common source of practical experience for video game designers is internships. While you are still in college, you might reach out to your professors or classmates to ask about possible summertime or part-time positions at a video game studio.
A game design internship will allow you to work in a studio alongside experienced designers. You will learn by watching, assisting and following the instructions of a mentor or a team leader. If you have already graduated from school, you can also look for an internship opportunity online or by contacting video game studios directly.
4. Build your portfolio
In addition to gaining experience through a formal internship environment, you can also improve your skills through individual practice. Many video game designers start by redesigning games they are familiar with. As a thought experiment, you might take a game that you enjoy and write a different ending or edit the game mechanics.
After you have had some theoretical practice, you may move on to writing and storyboarding games from scratch at home. You can also use your programming skills to experiment with mechanics or design a working model using industry software.
After you are satisfied with the results of your work, you can collect your creations into a professional portfolio. You will want to take these examples of your work along with you to internship or job interviews to show your capabilities and level of experience.
5. Apply for jobs
Before you apply for an entry-level game design position, you will need to carefully consider the job description and requirements. Some job openings require applicants to be skilled in both game design and game development. Others prefer the candidates to have a four-year degree in game design.
After reading the description, you will need to decide if the job would be a good fit for you and if you believe you meet the requirements.
If the answer to both of these questions is "yes," you will need to tailor your resume to suit the specific job opening. This will include highlighting relevant work history, promoting certain skills and writing a cover letter that addresses what you can bring to this specific position.
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6. Prepare for interviews
To ace your video game design interview, you will need to prepare thoroughly in advance. You will need to practice answering common interview questions, review and update your portfolio and prepare a list of questions for the interviewer.
Video game design interviews will often include both technical and creative questions. You will need to show your proficiency with certain software, your understanding of what the position requires and your passion for the industry and product.
Questions for the interviewer often relate to specific aspects of the job description, the work environment or opportunities for advancement.
Frequently asked questions about video game design
Here are some answers to common questions about being a video game designer:
What is the difference between a video game designer and a video game developer?
Video game designers and video game developers are often thought to be the same thing. However, depending on their employer, there can be several distinct differences. Designers and developers are both crucial to the creation of a successful video game, but they play different roles in the process.
Designers innovate ideas for a game's concept, plot and characters. Developers then take those ideas and make them into reality. Game designers are primarily concerned with the vision for the game, while developers are more focused on its practical execution. Designers use graphic design software, storyboards and other creative tools to design games. Developers use specialized software and computer programs to create the code necessary for the game to function.
What are some skills I need to be a successful video game designer?
Several key skills could be beneficial to any video game designer, including:
Video game designers must be able to communicate effectively with the entire game development team. They will need to explain their ideas, discuss different methods and give and take constructive criticism. Video game designers will regularly communicate with the studio's management team, game testers and other designers and developers.
In the process of creating a game, video game designers will often discover issues or roadblocks that must be addressed. They must be able to identify the source of a problem and suggest options for how to solve it. Problem solving happens at every stage of game development, from plot creation to writing the final pieces of code.
Creativity is one of a video game designer's most useful tools. Designers use their creativity to design innovative and unique storylines and game mechanics. The video game market is saturated with new releases, so creating games that stand out from the competition is a vital part of a designer's job.