Pros and Cons of Becoming a Video Game Designer
Video game designers are often a part of a gaming company's product development team and take on the exciting challenge of conceptualizing and creating new video games. This career can have its ups and downs, however, which is why it's good to explore the pros and cons of being a video game designer below to decide if it's the right career for you.
|PROS of a Career in Video Game Design|
|Often entertaining (designers and others in this field are typically video game fans)*|
|Creativity and problem-solving skills are highly valued*|
|High salary (the gaming industry nets annual revenues in the billions of dollars, a lot of which trickles down to workers)**|
|Expanding market (Video game sales are predicted to reach $112 billion worldwide by 2015, partly due to the rise of new niche markets, such as smart phones, incorporating gaming elements)***|
|CONS of a Career in Video Game Design|
|High cost of living (game designers typically work in expensive areas)**|
|Long working hours (designers may be expected to work overtime)**|
|Early burnout (the intense pressure and stress of design work may prematurely age some designers)**|
|Physical ardor (game designers typically sit for long periods of time and may even experience eye strain, among other challenges)**|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Iowa College Aid Commission, ***American Psychology Association.
Essential Career Info
As a game designer, you have a hand in the conception and creation of video games. You may be challenged constantly to produce quality products in an efficient manner. You may even need to be called on to work overtime hours, although you may receive bonuses for high-quality designs.
The payoff of the hard work is that, as a game designer, you are a part of a highly specialized and passionate coterie of creative workers. Many of these workers are also enthusiastic fans of video games first and foremost, which may mitigate the downsides of the job.
Job Description and Duties
Video game designers are typically members of a gaming company's product development team, which may consist of artists, storyboard writers and lead designers. Game designers are most heavily involved in the enhancing the aesthetics of video games or how they look and feel to the consumer.
The responsibilities of designers may vary. They may troubleshoot for bugs and other problems within the design of gaming systems, develop intricate features (such as game-play control, multiplayer and user interface), conduct collisions tests to improve graphic content and carry out rigorous quality assessments.
The Gamasutra Salary Survey 2014 conducted by Game Developer Magazine and Gamasutra put the annual salary of a game designer at about $83,000 in 2013. Despite a decrease in salary from 2012, 45% of survey respondents agreed that a career in game development is positive, while 19% strongly agreed. Additionally, 40% of respondents were satisfied with their career paths, while 18% were extremely satisfied.
Career Paths and Specializations
Although video game designers may work for major game studios, such as Activision, Maxis or Sony, their opportunities may not be limited to the video game industry. The number of industries planning to implement gaming concepts and technologies into their products is growing rather quickly. This means more employment opportunities for game designers in areas such as social networking, telecommunications, e-commerce, government, banking and even the military. Video game designers may be employed by these industries to assist in developing games for a range of purposes, such as personnel training and logistics.
Designers may specialize within a specific area of game development within a design team. These teams are often under the guidance of a lead designer who coordinates the teams and keeps the game's main concepts in mind. Specialized designers can include:
- Content designers who work on the game's plots and characters
- Mechanics designers who develop game play, such as fight sequencing
- Level designers who develop the environment and characters found in specific levels of the game
Career Skills and Requirements
Although an associate's degree in a field such as computer engineering, computer science or game design may be sufficient for an entry-level position as a video game designer, employers may prefer individuals who hold bachelor's degrees in these fields. Some employers may even look for candidates who have a master's degree in computer science and knowledge of several different programming languages. An aspiring game designer with original ideas and lots of creative potential, however, may be able to stand out regardless of his or her educational credentials.
Outside of a passion for gaming and creative potential, there are certain technical skills that all designers must master, such as interactive programming and basic video game production. They also need to know how to program and write code for game engines, apply graphic design concepts to the development of games in different genres and create their own video game demos. A March 2012 job search found a variety of professional skills that employers may expect from game designers, including:
- The ability to work in a team
- Strong math aptitude
- Strong 3-D animation capabilities
- Adept at character development
- Experience with developing first and/or third-person action games
Job Postings from Actual Employers
Employers may advertise under different titles that include video game design skills as essential requirements. The more flexible you are with your design skills, the more options there may be available to you. The following are several summaries of job postings advertised by actual employers in March of 2012:
- A major entertainment company based in California advertised for a senior game designer who would use software to develop level layouts for social gaming environments.
- A large media company, also based in California, looked for a designer to contribute to brainstorming sessions, write summaries of ideas and translate these ideas into more comprehensive gaming concepts. A bachelor's degree in game design or a related field was required for this position.
- A Texas company advertised for a lead animator to turn storyboard and animatics concepts into motions for virtual characters. The posting requested candidates who are skilled in level design.
How to Stand Out
Since video game design is a highly competitive field, you may want to consider several ways to get a leg up on the competition. One method is to pursue a specialization. For instance, game designers who have particular in-depth knowledge in the application of gaming concepts to smart phones may be in a prime position to exploit the growth of mobile gaming in the coming years. Another way to gain a competitive advantage may be to broaden your skills, gaining expertise in a diverse array of technologies and techniques.
Regardless of whether you choose to focus your skills inward toward a specialized niche or outward toward a broad array of skills, one way to stay competitive within the field is to adapt to advancing technologies. Game designers are constantly updating and expanding their knowledge bases and skill sets. This learning stage may need to recur every few years as old game and technologies are phased out and new ones are phased in.
Other Careers to Consider
The gaming industry as a whole provides video game designers with a lot of mobility, since many of the fields within the industry are interrelated. Game designers looking to transition to a somewhat less stressful career may consider becoming video game testers. Testers play the role of consumers, critiquing the overall quality of the game while playing the role of casual gamer.
Game designers looking for a change of career may also consider becoming game programmers. Programmers basically develop video games from the ground up by writing the language on which the game is based. Programmers may work on a gaming system's hardware, or engine, or they may be tasked with fine-tuning a specific game's software performance. Programmers need to possess expertise in operating systems and computer code, in addition to digital imaging software.
Game designers with an artistic bent may consider switching to a career as gaming artists. Gaming artists may bring several skills, such as drawing, sculpting and character development, to the game designing process. They may also be responsible for translating the concepts and ideas of coworkers into storyboards and other presentable material.