Pros and Cons of a Career in Computer Game Design
Computer game designers are the dreamers who envision and invent what a game might look like, what its objectives are, and what kind of experience the player will have. Consider the pros and cons of the job to decide if being a computer game designer is a good fit for you.
|Pros of a Computer Game Designer Career|
|Seldom boring; job typically includes a variety of tasks*|
|Opportunities for the artistically inclined, as well as for those who lean more towards computer programming***|
|Higher than average salaries**|
|Working on a product you enjoy**|
|Working with other people who share your passion for gaming**|
|Cons of a Computer Game Designer Career|
|Slow job growth - less than 10% employment growth from 2012-2022*|
|A lot of desk/screen time, which can take a toll on the body (eyes, back and wrists especially)**|
|Many gaming companies located on the coasts, which may mean relocating**|
|Likelihood of long hours and high stress as deadlines approach**|
|Heavy pressure to create a successful product**|
Sources: * O*Net Online, **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, ***University of California at Santa Cruz
Game designers are responsible for dreaming up and mapping out the specifics of a computer game or mobile gaming application. From its objective to its storyline, designers use their imaginations and creativity to determine all of the game's aspects that will later be passed along to artists, animators, musicians, actors and programmers who will bring the game to life.
Designers spend a lot of time brainstorming with the other members of their creative team, as well as working with various production teams to make sure all facets of the game have been covered. They also work closely with the programmers and artists who are in charge of rendering their ideas in code and graphics. Designers typically use scripting languages to render their ideas and concepts into a prototype that allows them to test various parts of the game before sending the game to the programmers.
Career Outlook and Salary Info
Because of the sluggish economy, many gaming companies are focusing their money and effort on producing fewer games, which means there are fewer job openings and more competition for them. Many companies outsource various elements of game design overseas in an effort to cut production costs. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted the field would only grow between six and seven percent in the 2012-2022 decade; however, growth of software developers in the field would be 22% in the same decade.
If you can land a job in this field, your salary is likely to be above the national median. According to a national salary survey conducted by Game Developer Magazine in 2013, game designers with less than three years on the job averaged slightly over $54,000 a year, while those with over six years of experience averaged over $82,000 a year. The majority of designers surveyed, 79%, also enjoyed company benefits, such as bonuses, retirement packages and healthcare.
Career Paths and Specializations
If you choose to go into computer game design, you'll have some options to consider. For example, you could help create large-scale games like those that are rendered in 3D for desktop computers or gaming systems. These projects can take over two years to complete, so if you'd prefer to work on projects for a shorter amount of time, you might choose instead to design game applications for tablets, mobile devices or social media platforms. These projects are usually completed in just a few months. You'll also have to choose what type of game design you'll focus on. Game designers may fall into one of a handful of job categories:
- Lead designers: responsible for overseeing the design aspect of the entire project, bringing all the ideas together into a single cohesive unit and overseeing the various teams' documentation and schedules.
- Content designers: responsible for creating the game's plot and characters and for ensuring continuity throughout the project in terms of its setting and time period.
- Game mechanic designers: focus on the facets of the game that are vital to its theme or plot, such as combat or world building.
- Level designers: design the environment and ensure it matches the tone of the game, as well as create the various opponents or objects with which players will interact on each level.
- Writers: create the dialogue scripts and text for role-playing games.
Skills and Training Employers Look For
There are few game design degree programs out there, since so much of a designer's job relies on his or her imagination and creativity, and there are no standards that require game designers to hold a degree in the field. However, a combination of experience and formal education is becoming highly valued by gaming and software companies.
Creativity is the essential trait of a game designer, but a vivid imagination won't be enough to carry you through the job. Because game designers work with multiple people and teams, you'll also need good interpersonal and collaboration skills, as well as sharp communication and listening skills. It's also helpful to be able to take constructive criticism well, and since there are so many aspects of the game to juggle, being detail-oriented will also be a big plus. Creating a game can become stressful when deadlines are looming, so the ability to work well under pressure is also a must.
Job Postings for Real Positions
Current job postings show that many employers are looking for workers with training in Java and Microsoft Office products, who have a passion for gaming, who possess an ability to think analytically and have strong communication skills. A number of game designer positions were open in March of 2012; below are examples found on a nation-wide job website:
- A legalized gaming company in Nevada was looking for a designer to create slot machines and lead a team of other workers in the process. Their ideal candidate would have a bachelor's degree in mathematics since the employee would also be required to check the accuracy of the math behind the games.
- A staffing company was looking to fill a position in New York for a designer who could create Facebook games that encourage social play, are likely to go viral and are easy to monetize. The position would also require the ability to create and implement strategies to increase monetization and player retention.
- A social-mobile gaming company in Washington was looking for a designer to help create addictive mobile game apps for women. Their ideal candidate would be familiar with Unity, as well as with the top mobile and Facebook apps aimed at women, and would have both math and artistic skills.
How to Get an Edge in the Field
Education and Training
You can increase your marketability in this field by completing a degree program that builds on your natural skills. A degree in game development, game production or game marketing can give you an edge over the competition. While designers typically don't work on the programming side of game development, having programming knowledge can also be a big plus in the eyes of many employers. Specialized training in specific software, such as programs used to render 3D models, or specific programming languages, like Perl or Java, can also make your resume more attractive.
Many employers value experience just as much as, if not more than, formal training. An internship with a game development company is one way to get experience. It can also be to your advantage to put together a portfolio of your past projects and ideas to showcase the skills you can bring to the table.
Attending gaming conventions, training programs and classes in order to stay on top of current and emerging technologies can also help increase your knowledge and can show potential employers that you're aware of the most recent changes in game technology. Actively engaging with online gaming resources, such as blogs or gaming forums, is one way to make connections in the field and get yourself noticed.
Alternative Career Paths
If you're starting to think that game design isn't a good fit for you, but you'd like to stay in the gaming industry, there are plenty of other options for you to consider. These careers have a better overall employment outlook than what is found in game design, and the salaries are comparable.
Graphic Artist/Digital Animator
A career as a multimedia artist or digital animator can still allow you to work in computer game creation, but you won't be responsible for the overall design. You can also work in a variety of other areas. As a digital animator within the computer game industry, you'll work with a design team to create artistic digital renderings of imaginary game worlds, characters or objects. You'll need specific artistic and graphic design skills, and there are many associate and bachelor's degree programs in graphic design which provide you with skills in art, design and computers.
The career outlook for graphic artists working in computer systems design is projected to increase by 61% from 2010 to 2020, while animators working in the same field would experience a 41% employment increase. In 2010, graphic designers averaged $48,690, while animators earned $68,060.
If you're more interested in the technological side of game production, consider pursuing a career in software engineering. This career will allow you to turn a design team's ideas into a gamer's reality through coding and programming. While a formal education in programming is typically required by employers, the overall employment of software engineers was expected to increase by 30% between 2010 and 2020. Software engineers earned an average salary of $87,900 in 2010.