February 20, 2024

5 min

Gaming Jobs

Juan Jimenez

Marketing Manager

How to get a job in video game design

You may have heard the famous quote: "Everything is designed". Attributed to the American graphic designer Paul Rand and repeated ad nauseam by teachers, academics, and creators, this statement is always valid in every field of human development. As the quintessential creative skill, there is no activity in which a certain degree of design is not involved.

The creation and development of video games are not strangers to this.

Few positions, if any, are as crucial to the success of a video game as a designer. Awkwardly enough, this is likely one of the most misunderstood and complex roles in the game development pipeline. What exactly does a game designer do? Why are they so highly regarded? Why can the success or failure of a gameplay concept depend on their decisions?

More importantly, how does one become a game designer?

Given we are serious about finding answers to the questions that keep you awake at night here at Haptic, get ready: we are not leaving a single stone unturned in today's blog.

Merriam & Webster says:

Most people usually think that "game designer" and "game developer" are more or less interchangeable terms. Logically, creating a video game involves conceptualization, experimentation, and constant optimization, and all of these skills should be present in the toolbox of anyone at any stage of the process.

However, a designer strictly creates the game's concept, mechanics, and overall narrative. On the other hand, the term "game developer" is a general term that can apply to anyone in the pipeline — from an animator to a programmer or engineer.

Without a solid concept, fun, addictive, easy-to-implement mechanics, and an internal narrative that compels the player to keep facing challenges and passing levels, a game may not hold the audience's attention or be enjoyable enough. A poorly designed game can make development time drag on needlessly and can make a real headache out of the lives of artists and programmers as they find a way to implement the concept.

Thus, save for the game director and producers, designers are the most crucial employees in game development and are the ones who must work with all the other teams and disciplines to make the primary loop of their creations a success. Designers need other developers to implement their vision, and developers need a designer's clear, determined vision of a designer to guide them through the process.

Naturally, this means a game designer must have, on the one hand, superb creativity and, on the other, precise analytical skills to be able to justify their decisions and why the game's internal mechanics and rules are necessary for its success. After all, the most vital part of designing is not always implementation; but arguing and defending its validity and relevance.

That being said: how does one learn to be a designer?

It’s not the school but what you learn along the way

It's time to point out the giant pink elephant in the room:

Unlike other professions within the video game development pipeline, video game designers can come from virtually any career or academy — as long as they come from a place where acquiring a designer mindset is part of the syllabus.

Predictably, graphic, multimedia or even app designers can be game designers if they want to. What about programmers, computer scientists, and engineers? Absolutely.

It doesn't matter where you come from... as long as you know how to code.

In our experience, the ability to write and optimize code is fundamental to getting hired as a game designer in any company or studio. Fortunately, there are more and more institutions and spaces where you can learn to code: boot camps, online courses, and digital repositories are just part of all the tools at your disposal. Some of them cover video game development; even better, others are free.

Most employers usually ask for C# or C++ experience for a simple reason: the two most widely used game engines on the market, Unity and Unreal Engine, are written in these languages. Both should be part of your CV. If you apply for a bachelor’s degree, you should choose between Computer Science, Animation, or a Design career.

Having gathered at least a bachelor's degree - according to Zippia figures, at least 74% of junior game designers have one, with 12% having an associate's degree - and considerable programming experience, the next step would be to secure an internship at a game creation studio or collective.

Either paid or unpaid, an internship will allow you to understand how the game development process works from the inside and give you those coveted experience lines on your CV. Lines that will let your profile rise and shine for a crucial reason:

Competition to get hired for these positions is often intense.

The Wild, Wild Design

Whether in a large company or a small studio, your first role as a game designer will usually feel like a baptism of fire. Hence, the more tools you have, the better you'll do in your first interviews.

Game design courses are an excellent complementary step to your previous internship. Typically, these courses focus on the following notions:

- Internal logic and structure of a videogame

- Mechanics design

- Storyboarding and sketching of player actions

- Creation of the required support documentation for each development team

A vital step you can often take is creating a small portfolio of previous involvement in development projects. Whether by designing your games, sharing your experience during your internship, or explaining that prototype you made in your course, the more experience you can demonstrate in your first interview, the more likely you are to get the job.

Another ostensibly odd but excellent stage towards strengthening your design skills is to take a job in quality assurance (QA). A great exercise in developing critical and analytical skills is taking a game you don't like or may not be working the way you'd like it to and carefully picking apart why it isn't. What mechanics are failing? What bugs might be present throughout the execution? What actions looked fun on paper but ended up feeling clunky and complex in the real thing?

While you can ask all these questions for free with different games on the market, it's even better when you get paid. Moreover, a sufficiently committed and observant QA tester can apply as a junior designer if their input is critical to the growth and development of a videogame.

All these steps also train a crucial talent: the written and verbal communication of your ideas. Making yourself understood by your superiors, peers, and subordinates is a delicate balance that requires a collaborative approach and a willingness to solve problems to make others' lives easier.

Finally, keeping yourself active and updated as a player is paramount. Learning new tricks and talents often involves a good deal of observation and analysis of what your peers are doing in the business. Playing with a critical focus can be challenging, but it will bring so much untapped knowledge you’ll be thankful for it!

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