If all you think about – day-in and day-out – is playing video games, a career as a game designer might be a good fit for you. So how can you become a game designer? For starters you need to have a passion for technology and computers. You'll likely spend your days working on a computer so you need to be comfortable using one for long periods of time. You'll also need the proper education and training, which you can gain from one of the many game design programs that have cropped up around the nation.
What is a Game Designer?
A game designer does many things from creating the actual concept of the game to developing the levels and from creating the characters to balancing some of the game-play properties. Game designers may also test the games to make sure they play as planned – so while this isn't really a typical game design day, you could actually be paid to play games from time to time!
Video game sales are skyrocketing.
It'll be well worth your while to learn computer programming if you plan to become a video game designer.
The Life of a Game Designer
As a video game designer, you'll work for a major game developer like Square-Enix, Blizzard Entertainment or Eidos Interactive, or for one of the many smaller independent firms. These are the companies that do the actual programming of games. They’re different from the publishers – the companies who actually manufacture the video game CDs, market them, and create the CD case inserts. In rare cases, game design firms may have their own publishing department.
How Do I Become a Video Game Designer?
While you might think that you'll need a computer science degree to begin your video game designer career, that’s actually not true. Instead, the degree you'll need really depends on what aspect of video game design you want to go into. If you want to do the nitty-gritty programming of games, then yes, you'll need a degree in software engineering or programming. However, if you’d rather work to create the concept of the game and its characters, a degree in creative writing is more helpful. An art degree – especially one focused on computer generated graphics – is more useful if you want to draw out the characters and the world they inhabit.
In addition to these degrees, video game development companies seek experts in several other fields. While these jobs may not exactly fit with the traditional idea of a video game designer, they’re still great jobs in the video game industry. They include translators – especially ones who are proficient in Japanese – music writers, marketing experts, and many more. There's no simple video game designer degree – the background you'll need depends on what you want to actually do.
The environment you’ll be working in as a video game designer is highly focused on teamwork – no single person designs the entire game. Instead, you’ll be part of a group that – depending on the size of the company and the project – may be working on the whole game or a small part of it. You’ll not only have to work with your fellow teammates but you’ll also have to coordinate with other groups, including the programmers, writers, artists, and more.
Starting out, you’ll probably be part of a team that works on basic parts of the game like creating the game levels or specific items. As you gain experience, you may find yourself on the lead design team or, if your games do well enough, named lead designer, head writer, or lead artist. You may also want to use your growing experience to start your own video game design firm.
The Advantages and Disadvantages of a Game Designer
The good news about the video game design industry is that it’s growing at a solid, fast pace. The only downside we see is that you do need to gain the proper training and credentials, which means you probably can't just jump into this field. But, if you have the education necessary to work as a video game design, you can easily earn anywhere from $50,000 to upwards of $75,000 or more. How much you make is dependent on what type of design you do – writing, programming or art – and how successful the games you work on are. For example, if you play a significant part in creating the next Tomb Raider game, your skills will be well rewarded.
Jobs in the Video Game Industry
Addicted to Halo? Can't get enough of Grand Theft Auto? If you love video games, you've probably already considered a career in the video game industry. Jobs in this field are diverse and varied, so whatever your talents are, there's probably an opportunity out there waiting for you.
The producer of a video game is responsible for the overall creation of the game. Depending on the company, a producer may be responsible for coordinating the efforts of outside agencies specializing in computer graphics design, sound production and more, or – if the company is large enough – hiring individual staff members responsible for these areas. In addition, the producer is responsible for ensuring that the game production stays on schedule and that any specific timeline objectives are met. If there are any conflicts between different elements of the production staff, the producer may ultimately be responsible for resolving them.
Video games wouldn't be nearly as dramatic or exciting without the perfect soundtrack to accompany the story. Sound designers are a critical part of the video game creation process, although their backgrounds may be as varied as the video games they work on. Some video games feature popular music, so the sound designer must be able to search out new artists and carefully select songs to accompany the game. Other games feature orchestral background music, so a sound designer with a degree in music production may be required to write original songs or translate instrumental music to a digital format.
Video game designers serve an important role in game production – they're typically responsible for creating all the graphics that will be included in the game, from characters to items to background scenery. Getting a job as a video game designer requires specific experience in creating 3-D computer graphics, so most people working in this field have degrees in computer science and design. In addition to a degree, having a good quality portfolio that demonstrates your skills is critical to getting a job in this industry.
Video game developers are responsible for generating the code that's the base of the video game. However, as with every other position involved in the production of a video game, developers don't exist in a bubble. Developers must work closely with other members of the production team to create an enjoyable video game experience. To get a job in the field, video game developers need a background in writing code – usually in the form of a bachelor's or master's degree in computer science or video game production. As with game designers, having a strong portfolio of games you've designed goes a long way towards helping you secure a job in the industry.
Perhaps the most coveted of all the video game positions, testers spend every day playing new video games, offering feedback and reporting any bugs that have gone unnoticed throughout the development process. But don't think these jobs are all fun and games – testers may be required to play the same level or game over and over as the game moves through production. Video game testers don't need to have any specific educational background, but competition for these jobs is fierce. Job postings can be found in traditional classified ads or with individual gaming companies, and you may need to demonstrate expertise with specific games or gaming platforms.
Just like any TV show or movies, video games also hire writers to develop the scripts and dialogue of the game. As video games become more complex, the task of creating a complete storyline creates more job opportunities for writing positions in the video game industry. Having a degree in English or creative writing is helpful, as is a background in science fiction or fantasy writing. Job listings for video game writers can be found on general job posting websites or by contacting video game companies directly.
Game Designer Education
With all of the video games released every year, you might think that it would be fairly easy to get a job as a game designer. However, there are many people out there who want to work in the video game industry. It's a fun career field where you get to immerse yourself in the gaming world.
The market is fairly competitive, but with the proper training and education for video game design, you'll be able to jump ahead of the pack and score your dream job. Training in computer programming is the best type of training you can get if you want to work for a video game firm.
Education Requirements for a Video Game Designer
A good education is first and foremost. Here’s where it gets a little tricky, though. You'll need to choose a degree that matches the specific aspect of video game design you want to go into. That means if you’re interested in programming games, you’ll want to look for a computer science/programming degree that focuses on creating interactive programs (generally in C or C++) and interfaces.
Supplementing these programming classes with classes in computer design isn't a bad idea either.
On the other hand, if you want to work creating game concepts or characters, you’ll want to look for a good creative writing program. While most of these programs prepare students for careers as journalists or fiction writers, the classes in character and plot development will be very helpful for future video game designers. If possible, take a few scriptwriting classes as well – scripts for movies and video games are actually fairly similar in their design and setup.
If you’re an artist interested in doing art design for video games, you’ll want to look for a good art program that focuses on computer-generated (CG) graphics. While any degree in fine art is going to help, much of the actual artwork used in video games is not hand-drawn first. Being familiar with the programs used in computer generated artwork will put you ahead of other artists looking to do video game work.
Video game designers often have to be well-rounded since they almost always work in teams. With this in mind, it’s not a bad idea to get a minor in another video game design-related field. Programmers who minor in art or creative writing can bring more skills to the table, for example, than students who have only a programming degree. Since many games are brought over from Japan, writers with minors in Japanese language are very sought after. Having these additional skills will help you land a great job over someone who only has a major in a video game design field.
In addition to the education needed to be a video game designer, many game design companies want to see that you have a passion for video game playing. In fact, some companies actually ask for a video game resume – a listing of the game systems you’ve used, your favorite game titles and your rankings in these games. If you’re applying to work in a specific game genre, it’s import ant to know the leading titles in that genre. For example, if you want to work for Square-Enix, you should be familiar with the Final Fantasy series – the company’s biggest success – and with role playing video games in general.
Remember, the video game design industry is competitive, and you’ll be facing some stiff competition to land a job. Anything and everything you can do to improve your resume – be it adding a minor to your degree program or playing every video game you can get your hands on – will help you jump-start your career in video game design.
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