For anyone who loves art, design, technology and video games, being a game designer is a dream job. You’ll get to ideate with people who have similar interests and create products that make players smile. Game design wasn’t a career 30 years ago, and while the gaming industry is now booming, this job still requires a leap of faith. Design can be a difficult role in which to get started, and many working game designers began their careers in animation, graphic design or art direction. People in this role lead the vision for a project and establish its core principles. To be a good game designer, you’ll need creativity to come up with concepts, logic to problem-solve and bring them to life, and empathy to understand player behaviour, amongst other skills.
So how do you get started? We spoke to game designers at different stages in their careers – from a creative director and lead designer, to an executive producer and 2D artist. Here are their tips for a career in this creative field that will allow you to invent escapist fun for the world’s gamers.
Develop your creativity
It goes without saying that game design requires creativity. And this is a skill you can work on. Gregg Mayles, Creative Director at Rare says, “I believe that everyone has creativity within them and that you can develop this as a skill.” He recommends setting yourself diverse creative challenges, such as five ideas for new features in an existing game or five ideas for making a real-life journey more interesting. Mayles says, “Try to think of different ideas, approaching the challenge in as many ways as you can think of. Don't worry too much about quality, just let your imagination run free. The more you exercise your creativity, the better you will get at it.”
Focus on your strengths
Game design requires a diverse range of skills, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed trying to be good at everything. In this respect, our experts say your best bet is to play to your strengths and learn how to collaborate. Ben Furneaux, Lead Designer at Sony Interactive Entertainment and a judge in the Professional D&AD Awards says, “Game development is a broad field that thrives when people with diverse skill sets collaborate together. If you're passionate about making games and are looking for where your skills might match a role it's easy to feel overwhelmed and feel that you need to be a great artist, designer, coder, tester and producer to make games. You don't need to be great at everything. Find where your talents and passions align, and focus on becoming a master of one field.”
Similarly, Louise O’Connor, Executive Producer at Rare says, “Embrace what you’re really good at and recognise what you’re not so good at. Don’t be afraid to self-reflect and allow yourself not to be absolutely perfect – lean on others to help you fill the gaps, and lean into your own strengths to develop great ideas.” O'Connor started her career as an animator and says, “I lean into my experience as an animator and my ability to see things in my mind's eye. I like to bring people on a journey by crafting stories and helping others to get creative and use their imagination.”
Take part in game jams
Game jams are events where participants try to make a video game from scratch as quickly as possible. They’ll usually take place over a weekend, and have a theme to help get your creativity flowing. Catherine Unger, a freelance 2D Game Artist and Illustrator who previously worked at the BAFTA award-winning studio Preloaded says, “Take part in game jams, so you can start getting your assets into games and working with developers and start understanding the process of working within that team dynamic. It's also a great opportunity to network and in the future these game developers might think of you when they need art for a paid project.”
Keep an eye out for game jams to get some real world game development experience, and if nothing else you’ll meet some cool people.
Have a game design portfolio
As with any creative field, it’s necessary to put yourself out there in order to get your dream gig. Speaking in the context of game art Unger says, “My advice for anyone wanting to get into game art is start putting your art into games as soon as you can and share your work online. If you can't do game jams then start making demo animations or illustrations you could imagine being in games and share the hell out of it online. What this does is takes away that step for a potential employer, where they have to try to imagine how your art could work in the game setting.”
Making games takes time, effort and money, and as well as showcasing game art, having a game design portfolio is a great way to get a company to bet on you. Sites like Behance and Coroflot are a good place to start.
Learn a game engine
Game engines are a set of tools that help you build interactive applications including games. Many gaming companies will have their own game engines, or platforms to build video games, and knowing your way around one can be priceless.
Rosh Singh, who’s the Managing Director EMEA at Unit9 and also D&AD’s Gaming President for the 2021 D&AD Awards says, “Learn a game engine. Be it Unreal or Unity, game engines power so much more than games these days (mobile apps, theme park experiences, film sets) so even if you don’t end up working in traditional gaming you will have a superpower that will open doors.”
Learn how to empathise with people
As a game developer, you want people to enjoy and play your games, and in this sense knowing people and being able to empathise with them is essential. Mayles says, “Probably the least obvious important skill is having empathy with not only the players you are designing for but the team bringing your ideas to life. You'll require a good understanding of human needs, motivation, behaviours and emotions. Designers are often the players' representatives in a team, so it's your job to ensure the team understands and shares ownership of what you want players to experience.”
Similarly O’Connor says, “Games don’t just have to be technical showcases, they are emotional, beautiful and personal experiences.”
Stand out from the crowd
Finally, it’s safe to say that gaming is now an extremely competitive industry and as with any industry that’s competitive — you'll need to make sure you’re the nicest, most hard working person in the room to get a seat at the table. Soraya Sobh, Head of Creator Management at Fnatic says, “My advice would be the same for everyone, work hard and be kind to others. Particularly in a booming industry such as gaming, we are experiencing unprecedented interest in the sector which means there are not as many jobs as people trying to get into the industry. If you’re interested in game design because you love the industry then just work as hard as you can to put yourself in the right place when the right opportunity presents itself.”
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