24 July 2013

How To Survive as Game Designer

If we talk about the 'Game Designer' there usually is immediate confusion on what this person actually does. Some say they have something to do with the 'art' and visuals in the game, and some say they are the architect of the game structure. In this article I would like to describe the true meaning of a 'Game Designer' and how they can survive in the game industry.

Confusion in Definition

Some of the confusion is related to other industries or other professions in the 'IT world'. For example: a visual designer on websites, does really work on the 'exterior' of the website. Therefore 'designer' is used to point out he can provide consistency in color and form. A game designer is someone who comes up with new 'mechanics' and 'rules'. He tests them on target audiences and provides consistency between these elements.

Confusion in Execution

In a development team everybody has it's tasks. Programmers crack their minds about the code and we trust them with that. Artists sink their hands deep into the paint and we know they will create something great. Game designers however, tinker with concept and ideas. The problem is, everyone has ideas. What usually happens in smaller teams is that everyone has something to say about the concept or the ideas or mechanics or ruleset. This is normal behaviour because everyone wants to 'contribute' something of their own. With this contribution everyone feels more connected to the project. But what really happens is that the game designer gets completely overruled. We have to stop interfering with game designers and lay our trust in their expertise!

Game Designer Only

Today there are a lot of game development companies around, especially since the rise of the mobile market. Game Designers are not needed as much as Programmers or Artists. Usually companies already have a game designer that stayed there from the start of the company. This game designer is really the core of the company's type of games, therefore a secondary game designer is not always needed. I think today all game designers still need to have a second expertise to make them employable in different parts in the company.

My Situation

If I compare this to my situation;
I am educated as a game designer. In my first year I already discovered game design alone will not be enough to assure myself with a job. I did some self-education on 'Game Art' and visuals. Besides game design I was educated with basic programmer skills. Eventually I found my true skill that is the role of a 'Producer'. Now I am blessed with the knowledge of all expertises and use them when I make decisions or explainations when leading teams, but I did not end up being a fulltime game designer.

Now my question to you is; What is your view on the game designer?


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  1. Totally agree. Game design is a job that most people say or think they can do, because - as you already mentioned - everybody has ideas. In an ideal situation I think you have to have a good and dedicated gamedesigner that is responsible for rules, mechanics and gameplay. In big teams it is easier to have a dedicated roll for one or more designers, in smaller teams you often have to multitask. I think for smaller game projects a gamedesign/producer combination is great, because the producer has the responsability to deliver a good game with his/her team. In this role the game mechanics and gameplay etc are crusial. However, I dont think a typical game designer has producing skills and not every project is fit to combine this. In this day and age every role is part hybrid part specialisation, so eventually it all comes to teamwork and people who can fully trust each others judgement and skills.

    Very interested to know how other people look at the gamedesign/producer combo. Anyone who has experience in this area?


    1. I think in smaller teams, Producer/Designer combination would work but, when a team already gets above 5+ people, I think that role should be fitted to someone else. A producer needs to reflect on each area of expertise. It's harder if one of those areas is done by him/herself.

  2. I think that those who want to call themselves Game Designers, should have the skills to write the program, and to create the art. It doesn't have to work fast or efficient, it doesn't have to be pretty, and they don't have to be able to finish it quickly, but they should be completely aware of the tools they have, and the effort involved.

    That way a designer should have solid knowledge of all the tools they can use, they can make sure their idea is implemented correctly if needed, and they can be still be useful during the end of a project (especially when last minute changes need to be made in the design to meet a deadline, without breaking the rest of the game).

    I don't see Game Design as a profession you can learn in isolation from all the other parts of Game development (looking at you, HvA). I see it as a skill that experienced game developers can improve.