Become a Video Game Designer: Everything You Need to Know Part 1 «

Become a Video Game Designer: Everything You Need to Know Part 1

I have been asked the question of “how do you become a video game designer” countless times. Instead of answering each and every time (like I had been doing), I decided to write this article. I hope this is helpful to you.

What is a game designer?
More so than any other discipline in the video game industry, the game designer is the most outwardly glamorous position. You are the linchpin that holds animation, art, and programming together. There are a great number of rewards for being a game designer, you get to see your ideas and creations take shape and come to life on the screen, your work gets seen by a lot of people, there is no dress code and work hours are usually very flexible. Since I love games and presumably you do too, you get to work in an industry that creates things that you love and is your favorite hobby.

Being a successful game designer is not without sacrifices. Despite the EA spouse letter, the industry as a whole is still terrible at work-life balance. You can expect to put in a staggering number of hours. Also, since most full-time workers are on salary, you will not be paid for overtime. I am not complaining about this, only that this is information that you should have before you commit to a career in game design. As a game designer I usually put in 50-hour weeks and this ramps up dramatically before monthly milestone deadlines and the inevitable crunch period that occurs before a game ships. The crunch period starts up to six months out from a game shipping. During this time you can expect to be putting in 12+ hour days 6 or 7 days a week up until the game ships. I have been in some really bad crunches where I was averaging over a hundred hours every week for months at a time without a break.

If the above warnings have not deterred you and you have decided you still want to be a game designer, your next question is probably “how do you become a game designer”.

Work ethic
You will need drive and determination. Game design positions are extremely competitive. Getting in requires an unquenchable desire, dedication and the ability to keep going despite setbacks. Only those of you willing to claw, kick and scream will make it. In order to get the drive necessary to succeed you should first answer for yourself the question of “why you want to become a game designer”. Your answer to this question should be something so strong that you can cling on to it in your bleakest hours and it will keep you hungry to succeed. Once you have the answer to this question, you will have the reason for all the hard work you are about to put in to be able to overcome any obstacles in your way.

Now that you have the proper mindset and work ethic required, we can start talking about how to best direct your work with the goal of obtaining a job as a video game designer.

Find a company to apply to
The next question you should ask yourself is what genre of game would you like to make? Select a genre or genres of games that you are drawn to, are knowledgeable about and enjoy playing and then find out and list all the companies that make these types of games.

The gaming industry as a whole is heavily situated in a few areas in the United States. If you are not currently residing in one of these areas, you must be willing to relocate to get the jobs. Some of the places in the United States with the most densely populated game studios are Southern California, Seattle Washington, Austin Texas and San Francisco California. Again, you will want to focus on the companies that specialize in the genre of game that you want to work in. Do not apply to a studio that makes first-person shooters hoping to work on a real-time-strategy game.

Once you have a list of studios, learn about their previous titles, the history of their company, the names of the founders, how their stock is doing, etc…

Although you do not technically need a degree, I have found a rounded education to be very valuable. To be a successful game designer you will need a broad education. In fact, I became a game designer because it is one of the few professions that allowed me to apply my diverse interests in writing, history, movies and games in one job. If you are self-motivated to constantly learn about a broad range of topics and expose yourself to new things, you will be able to get by without a degree.

Needless to say you will need to play games. A lot of games. As a video game designer you should have an encyclopedic knowledge of games from all genres. Do not only play games that recently came out that received high marks, but go back and play older and lower reviewed games. As you play these games, write about why they are fun, what they did to promote replayability, what was not fun, what would you do differently to make a better game, what mechanics influenced the level design, how did the enemy and weapon placement affect the way you played the game, study the weapon balance, controls, interface, pacing, audio, etc.

Learn how to communicate effectively both written and orally. A major part of a game designer’s job is to communicate the design vision to their team. To do this effectively you will need to have good social and communication skills. These are skills that you will want to place an emphasis on to practice and develop if you do not already possess them.

Read books
Read everything that you can get your hands on about storytelling, game design and the process of game development. In subsequent articles I will be covering specific books in my book review section, but here is a list to get you started.

Read part 2 of Become a Video Game Designer: Everything You Need to Know

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 29th, 2008 at 3:31 am and is filed under Books, Video Games. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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