A video game designer must have the most exciting job on the planet. They get to work in a laid-back work environment with fellow creatives. They spend their workday creating a fun hobby for gamers and the starting salary is enough to get anyone interested in this career.
An entry-level video game designer earns up to $20 per hour which increases as they gain more expertise. Mid-level and experienced video game designers can expect to make $40 per hour.
Even though it pays well, game design is a demanding job. Video game designers work for at least 40 hours each week, often under pressure. To ensure that the project comes out as intended, they have to play the same video game several times which can be tedious even to the most enthusiastic of gamers.
So what makes a game designer’s job so exacting? Think about your favourite game. If it’s playable, fun and has amazing aesthetics, then you know a video game designer laboured over it.
Video game designers are the ones who plan and define all the aspects of a game - from character biographies to props, storylines, rules, environments and mechanics.
Although a game designer may specialize in writing, level design or programming, they rarely work alone. Depending on the size of the project, they may choose to focus on one of the following aspects:
- The story: This involves writing the game script from beginning to the end, defining main characters, non-playable characters, side quests, and objects.
- Systems: A video game designer may choose to focus on creating specific game functions such as the experience points and scoring rules and making sure that they’re balanced
- Game economy: The designer sets up the currencies, time loops and levels that will form the game’s reward structure.
- Level design: The designer defines the different missions, environments and obstacles that a character will encounter at each stage.
- Metagame design: The designer sets up both goals and rewards for the player to stay engaged with the core gameplay.
Designing a game is a complicated process, involving art, animation, coding and audio production.
To this end, a video game designer works with a development team of programmers, graphic designers, product managers, producers, sound designers, localization experts, and playtesters
If you were part of the game design team, what role would you play based on this flowchart?
Throughout the project, the video game designer will work closely with team members to ensure they have a shared vision of the project and test all features and systems to ensure that they work as intended.
To kick off a project, the video game designer provides the game premise, which he outlines in a game design document (GDD). He then presents it to the development team. The GDD also contains:
- The game’s unique selling points
- Budget estimates for the entire project
- The game’s target audience
- Milestones and deadlines
A GDD helps the video game designer to better communicate their vision while at the same time helping the team to understand the essence of the game. Team members can easily spot weaknesses in the game and make suggestions during the pre-production stage.
Once the team agrees to move forward with the project, they get down to business - they transform the idea into a playable form. Prototyping during the game design process allows the team to test the idea early enough and tweak where needed.
Each day after that, the video game designer will guide the team to ensure that the game is developed according to schedule and everyone stays on track.
Throughout the project, a game designer will:
- Lead and guide design meetings
- Solicit feedback from the playtesters and other technical staff regarding game features
- Give feedback to the team regarding game features and schedules
Where Does a Video Game Designer Work?
Video game designers usually work in a studio on a full-time basis. However, once they build a good reputation and portfolio, they can have the freedom to work on a freelance basis.
They use a game engine and tools required for animation, modelling and video editing. In addition, they may use a computer, game console and sound equipment to get the job done.
What Skills Are Needed for a Video Game Designer?
Game designers must come up with original ideas and have great storytelling ability. They need to create compelling game concepts, engaging characters and environments.
Planning how the elements of a game work together requires planning, strategy, logical thinking and problem-solving. Individuals who have an analytical mind thrive in this field because they can identify patterns and loopholes then devise better ways to improve the game.
Game design is an innovative industry so a video game designer must be able to think on their feet. They must work well under pressure and keep up with trends in the game design industry.
Game designers must be able to communicate their ideas and create a collaborative environment so that each team member feels heard and understood. Game designers must be open to criticism and feedback not only from the quality assurance testers but their target market too.
Game Engine Familiarity
How Do I Become a Video Game Designer?
Apart from soft skills, what makes a video game designer to truly stand out is their technical knowledge.
If game design is your dream job, you must ensure that you understand how software, consoles, mobile devices, PCs and other hardware work. Basic drawing skills and artistic ability will start off your career on the right foot.
Secondly, get the right training, preferably from a lecturer who has practised game design for a long period of time. At ADMI’s CreaTech Animation and Game Lab, you’ll get trained by expert educators, certified to train both online and in the classroom.
You also get the rare opportunity of learning from lecturers from Europe’s best animation and game design school, Rubika. By the time you graduate, you’ll have an impressive portfolio, drawn from some of the real-life client projects you would have worked on during your training.
Finally, join a community of game designers such as the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) or Africa Game Developers. Networking with other game design students and faculty will open up your eyes to the possibilities in this amazing industry.
Are you ready to become a video game designer? Sign up for the next intake here.