HOW TO BECOME A
Video Game Designer

Video game design is a multi-billion-dollar industry with tons of career options. You can build games for consoles, PC, or mobile. You can be a designer or a programmer. You can work for a small independent studio or a large company. With the right education, technical skills, and the ability to think outside the box, you can have your pick of jobs.

Knowing how to become a video game designer is half the battle. The typical path involves a degree in game design, game development, or programming. In recent years, however, game design boot camps have emerged as a shorter-term and more immersive option. Either way, an internship can help you get hands-on experience and work on your portfolio.

Whichever pathway you choose, a future in video game design is attractive and has many benefits.

  • Game design is a high-paying career. According to Glassdoor, the average game designer earns $73,616 per year. Salaries range between $48,000 on the low end and over $110,000 on the high end.
  • Glassdoor data also suggests that there are plenty of opportunities to earn more. Entry-level game designers make less than $73,000 per year, but those with 10 years of experience make nearly $90,000 per year.
  • If you’re passionate about video games, you can participate in the industry and do a job you care about.
  • The industry is constantly opening new doors for innovators. For example, popular brands like PlayStation and Xbox are integrating virtual, augmented, and mixed reality into their games.
What Is Video Game Design

What Is Video Game Design?

Video game design blends creativity with technical skill to bring the crucial elements of a game to life. Designers create blueprints for things like gameplay, storylines, and levels. They also consider the target audience, timelines, and budgets.

Game design is a hands-on process. The design process moves from prototyping to testing and back again. At each stage, testers offer feedback to polish and refine the prototype. This fine-tuning ensures that the different systems, mechanics, and features of the game cohere for a fun and engaging user experience.

What Do Video Game Designers Do?

Video game designers work together to create the various elements of a video game. Their tasks may relate to storytelling, artistry, gameplay, or the overall user experience. Their specific responsibilities depend on their role in the game development process.

Video Game Designer Job Description

Given the collaborative nature of game design, the main duties carried out by a video game designer could be any of the following.

Builds and Tests Prototypes

Video game designers must be good game programmers as well. They use programming languages like Java, C, C++, and C# for basic scripting. Designers collaborate with programmers and technical staff for both development and testing.

One game designer might create a prototype for a game’s proposed mechanics and user interface, and another will attempt to execute the prototype in code. The development team might use artificial intelligence (AI) for object reactions and other game elements.

Designs the Narrative

Some game designers are responsible for sketching out the world of the game. They work with flowcharts and storyboards. A game writing specialist must have an artistic vision and fresh ideas. They design plots, dialogue, and characters that appeal to gamers.

An animation specialist then uses digital tools to draw environments, models, and graphics, blending all of the narrative features and scenarios into a cohesive and enjoyable experience.

Designs the Gameplay

Some designers work on coming up with gameplay mechanics to enhance the user’s engagement. These should be challenging enough to keep the player interested, but not so hard that the player quits in frustration.

Examples of in-game functions are in-game currency, modular weapons or outfits, and special abilities or spells. Each time a new feature is implemented, the game is subjected to testing and feedback.

Collaborates with Teams

Teamwork is a regular part of the job. During conceptualization, presentation, implementation, fine-tuning, and final release, designers work with each other to produce a cohesive product that fulfills the overall vision of the design team.

Designers from different departments must use screenshot mockups, gameplay flowcharts, storyboards, and similar visual devices to communicate with each other. All of these documents help keep track of workflow and support interdependency.

What Are the Required Skills for
Video Game Design Careers?

To create profitable and popular video games, a game designer must have a strong work ethic and all kinds of technical and creative know-how. The most important game design skills are laid out below.

Creativity and Artistic Skills

Passion, creativity, and imagination are essential to game design. No game is going to sell unless it is fresh and interesting. A designer should have the capacity to think up new story ideas and create imaginative worlds, all while designing stimulating user controls, purposeful player objectives, and adventurous game missions.

To execute their ideas, a game designer should also have a good sense of visual design. This comes in handy when modeling game worlds, maps, characters, and objects. You should know color theory and be able to use 2D and 3D animation software to create mockups. This helps to communicate the game vision to stakeholders and audiences.

Technical Skills

Needless to say, a good designer is computer savvy. They are familiar with game design tools, game engines, and programming languages. You should be able to improve your technical competencies or learn new ones based on the company’s preferences.

Analytical Skills

With sharp analytical skills, you can become a better game designer. Each element must be well designed and integrated into the whole. Strategic thinking and active participation during brainstorming sessions are also important. You should be able to review current market trends, study your competition, scrutinize details, and propose smart solutions.

Work Ethic

Having a strong work ethic is important. In this regard, effective time management, project management, and conflict resolution are useful skills. You must complete your work on time because other departments are depending on you. Be prepared to work long hours when needed.

Finally, organizational skills will help you document the progress of specific projects. You will want to keep a written record of feedback, guidelines, and issue logs.

How Much Do Video Game Designers Make

How Much Do Video
Game Designers Make?

According to Glassdoor, video game designers earn an average base salary of $73,616. Depending on their level of education, they might be paid more or less.

Your salary will also depend on the job market for game designers in your area. The following table runs down the highest-earning cities for video game designers. Averages are based on Glassdoor salary data.

City Average Salary
San Francisco, CA $84,491
Seattle, WA $79,978
Los Angeles, CA $79,278
Phoenix, AZ $73,418
New York, NY $71,415
Dallas, TX $68,586
Chicago, IL $67,391
Portland, OR $65,463
Boston, MA $64,290
Atlanta, GA $57,312
Minneapolis, MN $43,451
Philadelphia, PA $34,073

Game designer salaries can also vary by experience level. The salary figures in the table below are taken from Glassdoor.

Position Average Salary
Entry-Level (0-3 Years) $72,828 – $73,616
Mid-Career (4-9 Years) $72,911 – $79,158
Experienced (10-14 Years) $89,322
Late-Career (15+ Years) $92,872

Video Game Designer Technologies
and Coding Languages

Different software tools and programming languages are used to design 2D or 3D games. Each company has its own preferences. To cover all of your bases, you should learn the following commonly used technologies.

Unity

Unity is a popular game engine that supports 2D and 3D game design as well as virtual reality (VR). It comes with a large library of game assets, tools, and on-demand tutorials. You can even use proprietary game templates, called microgames, to practice.

It should be noted that Unity is not the only game engine available. Unreal Engine is another widely used product that you should consider learning.

Maya

Developed by Autodesk, Maya helps with 3D modeling, animation, effects, rendering, and compositing. Indie game makers often use it to export assets to Unity and Unreal Engine. If you want to get a job in game design, this is another skill you should have.

GameMaker Studio 2

GameMaker is a game-creating tool used more for 2D than 3D games. It has its own scripting language called GameMaker scripting language (GML). This is user-friendly, especially if you know the C language. Various platforms support GMS games, including Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, HTML5, PS5, and Xbox One.

C# and C++

Both C# and C++ are good object-oriented programming languages to know. These are particularly important for desktop and console game design. Unreal Engine uses C++ while Unity works with C#. Both engines provide learning material on their websites for users. Of the two, you should learn C++ because of its higher demand on the job market.

HTML5 and JavaScript

For web-based games, designers prefer HTML5 and JavaScript. They are high-level and multi-paradigm programming languages. You can also use them to create cross-platform mobile games. They are also relevant to many other tech jobs.

How Can You Become a Video
Game Designer?

You can become a game designer with coding bootcamps, college degrees, and online courses. Any of these paths can help you build the necessary skills to start designing great games. Whatever you do, it is highly recommended that you start by studying game design theory.

Video Game Designer Learning Paths

Video Game Designer Bootcamps

Many boot camps offer programs that focus on game development skills. The best game design boot camps feature full-time and part-time programs that teach students how to use C#, C++, Java, and other programming languages commonly used in game development.

College/University

You could get an Associate Degree in Video Game Design that introduces topics like design theory, computer science, software engineering, coding, illustration, and scripting. In an associate degree program, you can learn game design in about two years.

You could pursue a bachelor’s degree if you lack experience in the field and are willing to spend more time in school. You will get more exposure and opportunities to build a strong portfolio before competing for game design jobs.

Self-Study

If you have a full-time job, you may not have time for formal education. Luckily, there are online courses that can teach you most of what you need to know. Coursera, for example, is an online platform that offers many courses on topics related to game design. These courses allow you to study at your own pace while networking with a large online community.

What Companies Are
Hiring Game Designers?

Naughty Dog, EA, Gearbox Software, Blizzard Entertainment, and Obsidian Games are all companies hiring video game designers. Each of these companies has a different emphasis, but they all hire individuals who design what they love.

Many companies are hiring video game designers to turn their ideas into fun games. According to Glassdoor, Riot Games pays game designers an average of $107,667 per year, making it one of the highest-paying employers in the industry.

FAQ

How is a game designer different from a game developer?

Game designers work on the creative side of game development. Game developers create the technical part of the game, turning a design idea into a real playable product.

Can I become a video game designer without a degree?

You can become a video game designer on your own by taking self-paced courses on game development. Just make sure you have soft skills and a portfolio of projects that you can use to impress employers.

How can I be successful in designing video games?

There is no one way to become a successful game designer. The only requirement is that you keep making games. The more you invest in your designs, the more likely it is that you will become a good video game designer.

Is video game design in demand?

Yes, video game design is in demand. The various professions that make up the industry continue to grow. According to BLS, the employment of software developers is projected to increase by 22 percent between 2019 and 2029. Over the same period, the job market for special effects artists and animators is expected to see four percent growth.

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