What is a game designer?
A game designer creates games by developing plots, storylines, and backstories, and conceptualizing scenes and environments. They create characters, including heroes, villains, and secondary characters, and visualize how the game will be played from start to finish. They communicate their ideas to developers, artists, modelers, animators, and others and manage the process of bringing the game to life, from an idea to a finished product.
A game designer may specialize in a particular game element, such as environmental design, art design, or mechanical design. They might work for a major game design company or a small independent group. Some develop games on their own, handling the process from conceiving the idea to publishing the title.
Game designers consider many factors when creating a new game. For example, they might create a game for entertainment or educational purposes. It may include maps and treasures and different scenarios. Game designers figure out how you win or lose the game. They come up with the rules, the roles, and the challenges. They need to know the target audience, whether it’s children, teens, or adults, to come up with a story that appeals to that specific audience. They design each level with that in mind. They need to create compelling characters and make sure the game difficulty is not too high or too low for the audience. They strive to engage the audience, immerse them in the story, and make the game fun for the player.
Another factor game designers consider is the type of game they want to create. They might build action games, sports games, puzzle games, simulations, role-playing games, or other types of games. They determine how many levels the game will have and how the characters will interact with each other on each level.
Game designers work under deadlines and budget constraints. They spend some of their time testing aspects of the game and may tweak the code to fix issues many times.
Qualifications and eligibility
Game designers must be flexible and able to solve problems quickly. They must be technical as they encounter many bugs and other code issues in designing a game and need to work with programmers to fix them. They need to be innovative and come up with new technologies and advancements to improve gameplay and game appearance, making games more realistic and visually appealing.
Game designers should be able to work well within a team and communicate well with others. They need to be creative to come up with unique storylines and concepts and new ways to play games.
A game designer should understand game levels, layouts, how to create game maps, architecture, and other design features that go into creating a game. They should be familiar with scripting languages, syntax, and other basic programming concepts. They need to understand the market and what their target audience wants. Drawing skills are important to visually communicate ideas to other designers and team members.
Time management skills are a must, as are organizational skills and listening skills.
Many game designers have a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering, computer programming, graphic design, or a similar field, although it isn’t a requirement. Some may have completed a master’s degree in game design. Certification isn’t required either, but game designers typically earn certificates in relevant programming languages or software applications. Some common certifications for game designers include:
- Calarts Introduction to Game Design
- University of Pennsylvania’s Gamification Certification
- Full Sail University’s Game Design Certification
Game designers typically have several years of experience in quality assurance, testing, or programming before advancing into the role of a game designer.
Game designers typically work in an office setting or a studio. They spend much of their time at a desk in front of a computer and work closely with other designers and programmers. The work can be stressful, especially when deadlines are nearing.
Typical work hours
Most game designers work a 40-hour week during regular business hours. They may have to work overtime, including nights and weekends, when releasing a new game or meeting a deadline.
Types of game designers
A game designer can be a person who designs, creates, programs, and produces a game. But because creating a game can be daunting, with millions of lines of code, most game designers only handle one or two aspects of the game design process. Some common types of game designers include:
The lead designer oversees the projects to ensure the games are meeting objectives such as gameplay and the overall vision of the game. They make sure the team stays on task to meet deadlines.
A game writer, or content designer, writes the script for a game based on the concept.
A system designer typically creates one specific system of the game. That might be one character or one scene.
A level designer focuses on game levels, making sure each one has surprises and exciting characters or fights, or magic. They come up with obstacles at the level that the main character must overcome.
A lead animator works closely with artists and programmers to create characters in a game. They may be very realistic people or funny-shaped characters. They create animals and fantasy creatures, whatever the game needs. They design the characters to move in certain ways and perform certain things. They bring drawings or 3D models of characters to life.
A technical designer makes sure the game is technically sound and runs smoothly.
Sound designers create atmosphere and mood much the way a sound designer on a film does. They incorporate music, sound effects, and voices that all work together to make the game compelling and exciting.
User interface designer
A user interface designer ensures that the player connects seamlessly with the game. They make sure the game is easy to control and play.
A creative director is responsible for all the creative inputs into the game.
The earning potential for a game designer can vary greatly depending on geographic location, education, and experience.
- The average game designer’s salary is $57,218 as of September 2022. The average salary in some major US cities is as follows:
- San Francisco – $71,523
- New York – $68,834
- Boston – $64,468
- Washington DC – $63,695
- Chicago – $60,702
- The top 5 best-paying states for game designers are:
- Hawaii – $119,141
- Massachusetts – $117,784
- Nevada – $116,972
- Rhode Island – $115,563
- Oregon – $113,847
- The bottom 3 states are:
- Florida – $81,069
- Georgia – $75,586
- Louisiana – $74,831
- The top-paying cities for game designers were:
- New York, NY – $69,629
- Washington, DC – $69,514
- Chicago, IL – $65,193
- San Diego, CA – $64,457
- Atlanta, GA – $63,164
Per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall employment of software developers, quality assurance analysts, and testers is projected to grow 25% from 2021 to 2031, much faster than the average for all occupations. Although the BLS has no specific employment statistics for game designers, the trend for software developers and game designers may be very similar.
As the popularity of games continues, the opportunities for game designers should continue to grow. Gaming companies will need game designers for all aspects of game design.
There are many options available for aspiring game designers. You can advance into supervisory positions in game design or branch out into other areas involved in game design. Some common career paths for game designers include:
Artists create imagery for games, including the world, the characters, and the overall artistic theme, including colors and shades. An animator takes drawings and 3D models and brings them to life. Artists and animators may work for video game studios or in the television and film industry.
Video game tester
Video game testers are extremely talented gamers that test every aspect of games to make sure they run smoothly, have no technical or visual issues, and fit the difficulty level of the target audience.
Customer support agent
Customer support agents help gamers with gameplay issues, technical issues, or other problems they encounter when playing a game. They must have in-depth knowledge of the games they support.
A composer creates the music for video games and sets the mood for each scene or level. A composer can also transition into television or film.
A developer comes up with how the game will look as far as levels, characters, mechanics, and more.
Audio programmers take the sound designer’s vision and the composer’s music and write the code that integrates the music seamlessly into the story.
Video game writers are tasked with writing the narrative and dialogue for a game based on the designer’s idea.
Programmers write countless lines of code that turn scenes and characters into gameplay.
Producers make sure each project stays on task and within budget.
Professional gamers play video games for a living. They must be extremely good at the games they play. It’s not always as fun as it sounds, though. It’s very competitive and can be very stressful.
Steps to becoming a game designer
1. Get your high school diploma
Video game designers need to have at least a high school diploma or GED. Helpful classes to take in high school include computer coding and graphic design.
2. Get your bachelor’s degree
Most video game designers have a bachelor’s degree in graphic design, multimedia design, or a related field. Some colleges and universities offer a degree in video game design. Important classes you’ll need to become a game designer are software engineering, 2D and 3D animation, programming languages, and computer design. Some of the top schools in the US for game design include:
- Carnegie-Mellon University
- Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
- University of Utah
- Savannah College of Art and Design
- DigiPen Institute of Technology
- University of California-Santa Cruz
3. Complete an internship
While working toward your undergraduate degree, consider completing an internship where you can gain hands-on experience in the industry and pick up some valuable skills. Doing several internships can help give you a more well-rounded experience and skillset. Internships allow you to network with professionals in the field, which can be very beneficial when seeking jobs after you graduate.
4. Gain experience
You might have to find entry-level work in a similar industry to game designing to gain experience because video gaming is a competitive field. You may be able to work as an artist, animator, graphic designer, or software developer which will help you land a job in game design later on.
5. Find an entry-level position
Gaining real-world experience is important. Get your foot in the door with an entry-level job. Even if you want to work in broadcast journalism, take a job as an assistant writer for a newspaper if you have the opportunity. That experience will help you to transition into the type of journalism you want to work in.
Another way to gain experience is to do volunteer work that allows you to practice your design and programming skills.
7. Build your portfolio
Your portfolio is an important tool to show potential employers what you can do. Add experience and achievements in the industry to showcase your artistic and design qualities.
8. Join professional organizations
A professional organization is a great place to find job opportunities and online resources. You’ll also find networking opportunities and be able to build relationships with others in the industry. Some of the top organizations for game designers are:
Tips for becoming a game designer
If you are planning to become a game designer, there are a few things that can give you the jump-start you need. Here are some tips:
- Take computer and design classes in high school to help develop skills you’ll need later on.
- Have a deep interest in gaming and storytelling. These are two key elements to being successful as a game designer.
- Don’t just play games. Understand how they flow and why they take the player in a certain direction. Research how games are designed.
- Develop your creativity. Learn how to come up with good ideas and how to develop them into captivating stories.
- Consider a bachelor’s degree in design, graphic arts, or a similar field to give you a leg up on your peers.
- Find opportunities to complete internships or do volunteer work to gain valuable experience and network with those in the industry.
- Stay current on industry trends in game design and gameplay.
- Develop your communication skills as you’ll be working with many different people on game design projects. You’ll want to be able to communicate your ideas to the team.
- Think about what type of role within a game design appeals to you the most. Would you like to do character design? Animation? Write compelling scenes?
- Consider what types of games you want to design, whether that’s action, sports, puzzles, role-playing games, or others.
- Network with people in the industry as much as you can. Get their advice. Build relationships that will help you later on when looking for work in game design.
- Keep a portfolio of games you’ve worked on to show to prospective employers and let them see your qualifications.
Game designer interview questions to expect
- What does a typical game design workflow look like?
- What is the difference between level and environment design?
- Why are texture maps important for games?
- How experienced are you in scripting?
- Which platform would you recommend developing a new game on?
- What is the process to test a game to see if it’s fun and playable by the target audience?
- What are some important keys to developing a new game?