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Careers in video game design are the dream of many computer game fanatics. Exactly what is a video game designer? Video game designers blend the talents of artist and computer programmer. They design core features of video games, specify innovative game and role-play mechanics, story lines and characters. They also create and maintain design documentation.

During this process, video game designers work with a variety of professionals, such as animators, audio workers, producers, additional programmers and other professionals. They also guide and collaborate with production staff to produce games as designed.

Day in the Life of a Video Game Designer

What do video game designers do in a typical day? Their activities and responsibilities may include:

  • Creating core game features including storylines, role-play mechanics, and character biographies for a new video game or game series
  • Devising missions, challenges or puzzles to be encountered during game play
  • Collaborating with others to determine design specifications or details
  • Using a variety of computer software, such as graphical user interface software, development environment software, graphics and photo imaging software, video creation and editing software
  • Giving and receiving feedback to other designers and colleagues regarding game design features
  • Guiding design discussions between development teams
  • Balancing and adjusting gameplay experiences to support the critical and commercial success of the product
  • Documenting design and development procedures
  • Managing documentation to ensure organization and accuracy

Video game designer jobs are usually set in casual office environments. Gaming company dress codes are usually very relaxed, and employers often provide snacks, beverages, ping pong tables and other recreational perks. Work hours may be flexible. The laid-back atmosphere can, however, be deceiving. The pressure to produce and meet deadlines can be intense, sometimes requiring long work hours, including evenings and weekends.

Important Characteristics for Video Game Designers

Being a video game designer requires more than using certain skills. It also calls for characteristics such as artistic talent and creativity to develop original ideas, characters, and story lines and make them come to life; communication skills to work as part of a team and respond well to criticism and feedback; time-management skills to keep pace with tight schedules and deadlines; and perseverance to perform methodical work on a single element for days or weeks.

Typical Steps for Becoming a Video Game Designer

If you want to know how to become a video game designer, these steps explain the usual path:

  1. Play video games. Being immersed in video games will help you understand what makes a game successful and what the game experience should be like.

  2. Start preparing in high school. High school students who aspire to this career can get a jump-start by taking analytic geometry, linear algebra, trigonometry, calculus and computer programming.

  3. Earn a bachelor's degree. This provides a competitive edge. A degree in computer programming, computer science, art and design, or visual communications with an emphasis in video game design are what most employers look for. Project management and team collaboration are also important skills to learn. Video game design programs typically blend computer and game design theory with contemporary programming languages. A degree in computer programming is often the most lucrative, especially if one learns C and C++ and at least one assembly language.

  4. Build a demo reel or design portfolio. This will help prospective employers evaluate your work. If you're just starting out, try designing small personal games, or modify existing games, using tools readily available on the market. Demo reels should include scenes, levels or complete games you've designed or created with a team.

  5. Do an internship. This will let you demonstrate your skills, while you learn what part of the business you enjoy the most.

  6. Start small. Competition for jobs with big studios is stiff, so many new game designers gain experience working for smaller companies, designing less-complicated games for social media or mobile devices.

  7. Network online. Spend time on blogs, forums and websites created by game designers. Here you can learn, share ideas, increase your exposure and be alerted to job postings.

Sources:

  • Multimedia Artists & Animators, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/arts-and-design/multimedia-artists-and-animators.htm
  • Work for Play: Careers in Video Game Development, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2011/fall/art01.pdf
  • Summary Report for Video Game Designers, O*NET OnLine, https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/15-1199.11

Video Game Designer Skills

Below are the skills needed to be video game designer according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 7 being highest).

   
Skill NameImportanceCompetence
Programming44
Active Listening3.754
Reading Comprehension3.624
Complex Problem Solving3.623.62
Critical Thinking3.623.88

Video Game Designer Abilities

Below are the abilities needed to be video game designer according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 7 being highest).

   
Ability NameImportanceCompetence
Originality44.12
Fluency of Ideas3.884.12
Near Vision3.883.88
Oral Comprehension3.753.88
Oral Expression3.753.75

Video Game Designer Knowledge

Below are the knowledge areas needed to be video game designer according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 7 being highest).

   
Knowledge AreaImportanceCompetence
Computers and Electronics4.575.48
Design4.385.57
English Language3.954.3
Communications and Media3.574.67
Psychology3.143.52

Video Game Designer Work activities

Below are the work activities involved in being video game designer according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest).

   
Work ActivityImportanceCompetence
Interacting With Computers4.954.95
Thinking Creatively4.956.48
Making Decisions and Solving Problems4.525.24
Communicating with Supervisors, Peers, or Subordinates4.355.3
Getting Information4.194.62

Video Game Designer Work styles

Below are the work styles involved in being video game designer according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest).

   
Work StyleImportance
Innovation4.67
Initiative4.62
Attention to Detail4.62
Cooperation4.48
Analytical Thinking4.48
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