What Does a Video Game Designer Do? (Plus Skills and Salary)
If you're a fan of video games, you may wonder how studios create them and how you can learn to do so yourself. It can take an entire team to complete and export big-budget games, but there are also several individually produced titles made by a single video game designer. Learning about this role and its part in making video games can help you decide if this career path is right for you.
In this article, we explore what video game designers do and how you can become one, along with information on their skills, work environment, educational requirements, average salary and job outlook.
What is a video game designer?
A video game designer is a professional who creates the foundation of the user experience and overall game mechanics of a video game or demo. Their responsibilities can vary depending on how large the studio they work for is. For instance, if they work at a larger studio, they may only handle the layout and experience of a few levels or instances within a larger game. If they work in a smaller studio, a video game designer might fill the roles of concept artist, art director and lead level designer.
Read more: How To Become a Video Game Designer
What does a video game designer do?
Video game designers create the framework and foundation for the game on which they're working. They start with a concept for creating a game, whether that's a specific story or a way of creating the environment for unique play styles, and then create the systems and code to enable that story or environment. Then, they run through as many prototypes as it takes to find the right system build for their game idea and start creating the world around that completed system. Some aspects they may then work on include:
Plots and storylines
Character details and backstories
Scenarios and instances
Related: Types of Video Game Designer Jobs
What skills do video game designers need?
Becoming a video game designer can be a fulfilling career path, but it takes a variety of skills to set yourself up in the industry successfully. This list of skills highlights some of those essential to the industry:
Creativity can help you create the new worlds of your games and ensure they're functional. Video game design is a form of art, such as painting or creating music, and it's a medium in which others can walk through and experience your vision. Being creative can help you come up with a story and determine how to fit it into an interactive space.
2. IT skills
Having technology skills can enable you to work in different coding languages and create stronger code and servers on which your game runs. Even if you find yourself in a position more focused on the atmosphere or concept art of a game, having a familiar knowledge of the code used to build that game allows you to plan how you can implement the ideas from concepts. You may also have to use several editing and design software to realize the idea.
Being adaptable can help you find solutions to potential challenges that arise while creating your game. For instance, a certain idea might put too much pressure on the actual system to run. In a situation like this, you might need to determine how to save computing space and keep the scale of an idea. This means you may need to adapt and fulfill your vision of the game with the assets available to you.
4. Time management
The video game industry runs on deadlines, whether it's for a release or a patch for a live game. This means that being able to manage your time effectively is a key aspect of being a video game designer. Even after releasing a game, players may find hiccups in the code, often called "bugs," that you may have to patch. This may require you to fix and update the game quickly so gamers can resume play as soon as possible.
5. Attention to detail
One of the most important skills when building a world is attention to detail. Video game designers typically want their creations to feel alive, which they can achieve through creating a layered atmosphere and making every character and game component detailed. This also helps on the coding side of the business because when you're digging through a wall of code, it's beneficial to have a trained eye for finding small areas to improve.
What is the workplace of a video game designer like?
Video game designers typically work in team settings, which can be in a makeshift, startup studio or a big AAA studio. These are typically in offices or open-floor plan working environments that assist in collaboration. This means you're likely laboring over the same code as others and must check constantly to ensure no work is overlapping and the code is fluid. You may share these spaces with other designers, programmers, team leads, artists and executives at big studios.
What are the educational requirements for video game designers?
Video game designers typically hold at least a high school degree or GED, and many of them also hold a bachelor's degree. Applying for video game design jobs with a graduate degree may help you stand out in the field. Studying technology or arts can give you the experience and knowledge many hiring managers or team leaders look for in designers. Here are some subjects that can be beneficial to study:
2D and 3D animation
C++ and Java programming
Game theory and design
Artificial intelligence (AI) programming
Video game designer salary and job outlook
Video game designers typically make $75,393 per year. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the job outlook for special effects artists and animators, which includes professionals who design video games, to increase by 16% from 2020 to 2030. This is higher than the growth rate for all occupations.
How to become a video game designer
Here are several steps you can take toward a career in video game design:
1. Focus and specialize
Video game design is a broad field where you can work in a variety of unique positions. To have more control over your potential duties and responsibilities, it's helpful to focus on a particular aspect of the creative process, like coding or character design. This can help you find a niche in big teams and a bigger role in smaller ones. Still, it's helpful to have a general knowledge of all aspects of the job, even if it simply helps you understand a peer's position and duties better.
2. Find a mentorship or internship
Finding a mentor or doing an internship can help you gain a further understanding of all aspects of game design and give you a more well-rounded pool of skills as you enter the industry. Learning under or watching active designers at work can give you an inside look into the daily routine and pace of a studio environment. This information and experience can allow you to give more interactive interviews and show that you understand what the industry expects of video game designers and their work.
3. Familiarize yourself with the right software
Experience is one of the most important things in game design, so take the time to explore new and old software. Even if you're already in the industry, it's beneficial to renew your knowledge of relevant software and coding languages. Developers and designers often have to reinvent how they use certain code or design elements to achieve their vision, which can create new tricks to help you in your endeavors.
Networking is an essential part of creating a space for yourself in tech and artistic fields, and video game design is a part of both. Going to tech events or video game conventions can allow you to make connections who may contact you if a position in their team is open. It's equally important to make connections online through tech communities and career-based social media platforms. Meeting people and gaining industry exposure might help increase your chances of finding a position.
5. Create something of your own
One way to gain attention in game design is to make a game yourself or with a small team of peers. This is how many independent game designers create games because it can help boost their careers and allow big studios to notice them. Working independently also means you can express your own creativity and render your game in whatever form you please.
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