Video Game Designer

01

What Is Video Game Design?

While video games are fun for people to play, they are often complex to create and develop. Video game designers plan the stories, create the graphics, test the game to work out any bugs, and help to produce the final product. In 2013, CNN Money listed video game design 15th in its list of the best jobs in America. It assigned the career an A for personal satisfaction and low stress and a B for benefit to society and flexibility.

02

What Does a Video Game Designer Do?

Video game designers must create all of the dimensions that a user encounters when playing the game. After conceptualizing a story, they need to create a system that responds to every possible action a user could take during the course of the game. Video game design typically requires making several prototypes to see what works well and what should not be included. The hours can be long during this phase as all functions of the game need to be perfect. Video game designers also need to meet a pre-determined production schedule.

03

How to Become a Video Game Designer

The video game market is growing at an accelerated rate thanks to technology that makes increasingly sophisticated games possible. In spite of this, the competition for entry-level positions is strong. Employers and clients look for people with formal education as well as experience. Several different degree options are available depending on the student’s ultimate goal in the video game design industry.

EDUCATION

Both online and offline colleges offer associate, bachelor, and master degree programs in video game design. Certificate programs are often available as well, both for students just breaking in to the field and those who want to specialize in a certain area. Some programs focus on the art and design aspect of creating video games while others focus strictly on development. Additionally, students who choose to obtain a degree in animation can choose video game design and production as their minor. Regardless of the specific program, a degree in video game design teaches students about the gaming industry as a whole. Courses encourage analytical and thinking skills required to produce video games and resolve issues with them before releasing a new game to the public. Some of the specific classes in a degree program for video game design include:

  • 3D Animation
  • Algorithms
  • Animation
  • C++, Java, and other programming languages
  • Color Theories
  • Cinematography
  • Computer Graphics
  • Digital Media
  • Drawing
  • Game Design
  • Game Theory
  • Gaming Tools and Technologies
  • Modeling
  • Physics
  • Programming

Students learn to create two-dimensional (2D) and three-dimensional (3D) games early in their video game design degree program. The design process begins by creating the rules and content of the game. The next steps are to develop graphic and sound as well as the various actions a player could take during the course of the game. From there, students learn how to create responses to each potential action. They also need to decide the requirements to win the game and any time limits. An important part of the formal education process is for students to create a portfolio that demonstrates their best work. Those who have created an online game can create a link to it along with a brief description of the purpose and rules. For games with physical components such as a board game and dice, students should plan to take several photographs of the game and describe the development process. Potential employers and clients are just as interested in seeing the thought process and problem-solving skills of the prospective worker as the actual game itself. Professors at colleges offering video game design degrees should spend considerable time discussing how to prepare a portfolio.

EARN PRACTICAL EXPERIENCE (INTERNSHIPS & VOLUNTEERING)

Although employers and clients want to see that a video game designer has earned a degree, they are often more interested in practical experience. Completing at least one internship while a student is the best way to obtain this experience. While evaluating potential schools that offer video game design degree programs, students should pay special attention to the internship requirements and assistance offered by each one. In a four-year bachelor degree program, students typically complete an internship in the junior year, senior year, or possibly both. A college’s career center is the best place to start when looking for connections to a possible internship. Some schools have established connections with companies in the video game industry that expect to receive inquiries from its students. Other colleges offering video game design leave it more to the student to research and follow-up on local leads. This can take persistence since people in this industry are busy and don’t always have the time to work with beginners. Schools that require internships usually expect some type of reporting on the experience, such as a presentation to a student’s peers or a paper on an industry topic. Volunteering is another way to gain experience in this industry and build the portfolio. Many video game manufacturers host large events where they demonstrate new games. Offering to sit at a table and help answer questions or even handing out programs is a way to connect to the video game industry outside of school. The benefit is that many high-ranking professionals from various companies attend these events and there may be an opportunity to chat with them. The best way to receive notifications of these types of events is to join one or more organizations dedicated to video game design.

CONTINUING EDUCATION / ADVANCE YOUR CAREER

Some people test the waters in this career by earning an Associate in Video Game Design and Development. This gives them the opportunity to learn if they enjoy entry-level work and wish to pursue a higher degree. Other popular degree choices include a Bachelor in Game Art and Design, a Bachelor in Game Software Development, a Bachelor in Game Design and Development, and a Master of Science in Game Design. Each level of education offers the potential for greater responsibility and pay on the job. It’s also possible to earn certification in a specific area of video game design, such as storyboarding or programming.

04

Video Game Designer Salary & Wage Estimates

According to the International Game Developers Association (IGDA), the median salary for a video game designer in 2015 was $72,000. This is the average of all people holding similar job titles, including those with their first job out of college and those with several years of experience and seniority. Those at the top of the wage scale earned an average of $117,000 that same year, with the potential to earn as much as $200,000. Video game designers with some experience can expect to earn an annual salary of approximately $57,000, with starting salaries as high as $80,000.

IGDA reports four classifications of jobs for video game designers. These include basic game designers, lead designers, level designers, and screen and fiction writers. As expected, the pay and responsibilities differ according to the specific job functions performed. Someone entering the industry as a basic game designer can expect a starting salary of around $37,000. Lead programmers and experienced designers typically command salaries in the $80,000 range.

05

Video Game Design Jobs & Employment Outlook

The video game industry is an explosive one, with a projected growth rate over the next 10 years of 27.6 percent. In 2013, approximately 520,800 people held a position as a video game designer. A big reason for the increased demand is that consumers continue to expect more realistic and complex video games, particularly in the category of role-playing games. Video game manufacturers will depend on the advanced skills of designers to respond to this demand. They will create intricate storylines as well as 2D and 3D graphics and sounds that make people feel as if they are actually in the game and not just playing it.

06

Related Art Careers & Occupations

People interested in creating video games for their career don’t always become designers. Three similar occupations give them the opportunity to use their strong technical skills or artistic sense in slightly different ways. These include:

3D Artists and Animators:  People who work as a 3D artist or animator within the video game industry are responsible for creating the visual images contained in a game. They create sketch storyboards to visualize the story from start to finish before beginning their work. Some of the specific programs they may use in their work include Lightwave 3D, Macromedia Flash, 3D Studio Max, and Alias/Wavefront. These software programs enable the 3D artist or animator to create realistic characters and movements. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a median annual salary of $63,970 in 2015 for the general classification of multimedia artists and animators.

Web Developers:  Video game manufacturers rely on web developers to write software that enables games to operate without any glitches. Approximately 50 percent of people who work in the gaming industry are employed as web developers. The technical coding they create determines the precise movements of characters and other objects. Gaming computer programmers need to be knowledgeable about industry trends and advances in their own profession in order to produce games people will continue to buy. The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists a median salary of $79,500 annually for web developers, although it does not differentiate for those who work primarily with video games.

Game Testers:  This can make an ideal position for students, interns, and those brand new to the video game industry. Game testers play beta versions of video games to help identify problems before the game goes into mass production. Potential problems include having the screen freeze, problems with character movements, and lack of realistic sound effects. Game testers need excellent written communication skills to create detailed reports about their experiences. Indeed.com reports an annual salary for full-time work as a game tester between $18,000 and $55,000 per year. However, many of these positions are temporary and do not pay any benefits.

Video Game Designer Career Resources