How to Become a Video Game Designer


Learn the Basics of Video Game Design

The popularity of video games consoles like PlayStation and Xbox 360, desktop computer gaming, web-based games accessed through the Internet, and the rise of smartphone gaming apps have fueled a growing interest in the Video Game Design field.  Statistics published by Fortune reveal huge gains in sales within the video game industry, with revenue of $23.5 billion in 2015 alone. While that $23.5 billion represents combined hardware and software sales, at least $16.5 billion was from sales of software, which indicates a very robust industry and increased opportunities for individuals wishing to enter the field as a video game designer.   

And the pay isn’t bad either. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics shows much faster than average growth in video game design jobs, with a 17 percent increase between 2014 and 2024.  The median annual pay for a video game designer is $100,690, or about $49.00 per hour.  

Becoming a video game designer requires education and a creative mind. It also requires identifying which facet of the industry is most in line with your career goals – working in a small start-up company, a media firm, a software design company, or a multi-million-dollar video game production company.


Learn Essential Concepts & Build Creative Skills

The Importance of a Formal Education

Over the past several years, many well-known universities, colleges, and private schools across the country have added video game-related degree programs. In the past, game designers might have enrolled in film school or studied computer science to become a video game designer. In fact, some of the industry's most talented designers began their careers with virtually no formal education in video game design. But, that route is virtually impossible today, and a formal education is often required to land that dream job. It's all about choices.

A future video game designer may choose from several learning options – a traditional college or university, a private art school, an accelerated boot camp program, online tutorials, or other self-guided options. Some students will thrive in a traditional college program while others may find the most benefit in an online program that allows them to progress at their own pace. 

Video game design degrees at various schools include game design and game development, as well as traditional computer science degrees with specializations in game design. In addition to the benefit of a degree, study at an accredited school may also offer the student the valuable experience of an internship. 

Theory and Technique​ 

The learning environment a student chooses should offer a curriculum that caters to the student's career goals in video game design. For example, a future video game designer who wishes to create Android smartphone games will concentrate on the programming language Java and Android OS. Development of games for the Apple iOS operating system will require work with Objective-C.  First and foremost, however, video game designers will typically learn the theories of animation, computer science and programming, and intermediate or advanced math/algebra. They will even perform tasks associated with programing language and coding. Designers will construct story plots, and create interesting characters to keep players motivated and challenged.  A good designer will also think out of the box, be original, and inventive. 

Video game designers must also possess certain creative skills to be successful in this field, such as basic drawing and design skills and communicate ideas. Designers are also aware of the various design platforms, and often fluent in 2D and 3D animation and graphics packages, such as NUKE, Maya, and Studio Max. They are computer savvy, able to communicate and work with a team, and have the fortitude to take direction and be open to critique. It also helps to be a avid fan of video games and the industry.


Build Your Knowledge of Programming Languages

Becoming a video game designer requires finding the right learning environment. However, the path to employment in the gaming industry may also require self-guided study and on-the-job training. Programming is an essential part of the video game designer's toolkit no matter where a video game designer wishes to work within the industry. From roles in creative development to jobs as a programmer, video game designers need to build and maintain working knowledge of popular programming languages. Additionally, learning to use a programming language is like learning a foreign language. It will only remain fresh in a student's mind with regular use and repetition, so on-the-job-training is invaluable.

After completing formal training and embarking on various personal projects, a fledgling computer game designer may elect to find work as a programmer with a company that produces video games. It may take a few years to reach a managerial position or gain the qualifications necessary for a high-ranking, creative role with an established company, but "paying dues" in an entry level position is a common requirement within many industries today.

While employed in an entry level position, a new hire will receive valuable on-the-job training, even if the school program he or she completed offered a current and updated curriculum. The speed at which the industry adopts new programming languages and standards is swift, and there is always more to learn as a programmer of any computer program.

Finding success as a video game designer means building strong working knowledge of current industry trends and practices while also cultivating new skills through independent study and exploration. The best video game designers are always operating at the cutting edge and imagining new stories, games, and characters to fill creative gaming worlds.


Build a Strong Portfolio

In most any artistic job, but particularly true for creatives like video game designers, a professional portfolio is a must-have. It can mean the difference between getting an internship, landing a job, or building your reputation. Projects that may prove valuable for a designer's personal portfolio include:

  • Mini games for smartphones
  • Scripts & stories for use in computer games
  • Animated shorts that introduce a new gaming world
  • Illustrations of environments and characters
  • Simple web-based games that showcase programming knowledge

A degree or certificate of completion in video game design or a related area may help a student get an interview with a potential employer. However, evidence of independent projects, an internship or past work experience will help a student's resume move to the top of the pile. Not only does self-guided study outside of school ensure a student remains current on newly introduced programming languages, but creating projects outside of class also helps the student build a valuable portfolio.

To learn more about the aspects of a great portfolio, read this article: Getting a Job in Video Game Design – Portfolio Tips 

Helpful Resources

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