Game Designer - Computer Games
Game Designers are responsible for devising what a game consists of and how it plays. They plan and define all the elements and components of a game: its setting; structure; rules; story flow; characters; the objects, props, vehicles, and devices available to the characters; interface design; and modes of play.
Sometimes the Game Designer is the originator of the game’s concept or premise. More often, most of the core ingredients are already defined and the Game Designer must decide how to create the best game using these elements, within the constraints of budget and timescale.
Games are usually large projects and the design process might be shared between a number of different people, overseen by the Lead Designer.
Game Designers are employed by development studios, both independent and publisher-owned. The current industry climate means that most conventional publishers and developers are increasingly risk averse.
Originality and creativity are valued, but a thorough knowledge of a game’s target audience and market is equally if not more important. Game Designers should also have a deep understanding of the capabilities and benefits of different hardware platforms (eg PC, console, mobile device, etc.), as well as familiarity with software technologies and techniques appropriate to each platform.
A lot of game design builds on what’s gone before, but as the medium develops and matures the challenge for the Game Designer is to create new and engaging titles that will expand the current genre base and cater to new audiences.
What is the job?
Game Designers formulate the concept and vision for a game. They devise the world, setting, story, characters, and all other game elements and design details, and then communicate this to the rest of the development team who create the art assets and computer code which allow the game to be played.
It is the Game Designer’s responsibility to ensure that the whole team understands and shares the original concept and vision of the game.
During development, the Game Designer makes adjustments to the original specification to respond to technical constraints which have been identified and to incorporate new programming and art creation methods developed by the team.
The Game Designer also trains testers to play the game, making sure that they understand what is expected of the finished product.
The design process goes through various stages. After a period of initial research, the Game Designer puts together the Concept Document, or Initial Design Treatment. This is a ‘selling’ document, used to convince other members of the team that the game is worth taking forward.
The next phase might require the development of a proof of concept or playable prototype. A small team of artists and programmers work with the Game Designer to build the prototype, while at the same time, the Game Designer puts together the Full Game Design Document.
This should describe the intended playing experience and define all the game functionality and associated art and animation assets required to create it. Referred to by all development staff throughout the development process, it may require changing, updating, and version management to reflect production and technical decisions taken during the production cycle.
Typical career routes
There is no set route to becoming a Game Designer, but this is not an entry level role. Game development is a highly complex, intensive process which can last up to 2 years or more, requiring teams of programmers, artists, project managers, writers, musicians and many others.
The Game Designer is central to this process and most have been educated to at least degree level and have acquired a reasonably high level of industry experience and knowledge. Employers usually expect to see portfolios of work, which can take the form of completed game projects or written game design documents and proposals.
Many Game Designers move into the role from other jobs in the industry. They will usually have direct experience of at least one other aspect of game development and a good working knowledge of others.
A common route into the role is via a developer or publisher Quality Assurance (QA) department working as a Game Tester. This offers a good grounding in the development process, access to software and tools, and an insight into the different job roles.
Essential knowledge and skills
Game development is a collaborative process involving multi-disciplinary teams. Designers must be able to communicate their vision to artists, programmers, producers, marketing staff, and others involved in the development process, and accept feedback on their work.
This involves presenting their ideas both verbally and on paper, for which they need writing and basic visual design and drawing skills. They should also be reasonably fluent in a range of 2D and 3D graphics and animation packages, such as 3D Studio Max, NUKE or Maya.
Good technical knowledge is required, with some programming skills at least at ‘scripting’ level and awareness of the various games platforms and technologies. This is a multi-skilled role, requiring:
- thorough understanding of game play theory;
- storytelling and narrative development skills;
- information design and user interface design skills;
- excellent communication and presentation skills;
- the ability to work as part of a team and independently;
- systematic and strategic thinking;
- imagination and creativity;
- knowledge of the requirements of the relevant Health and Safety legislation and procedures.
There are no specific entry requirements for Game Design roles, but most new entrants to the industry are graduates.
Degree subjects range right across the board, and include the sciences and humanities, as well as art and design. There is also a growing number of games related higher education courses, some of which have established links with local industry and include arrangements for work placements.
Professionals from the games industry have worked with Creative Skillset to identify which courses offer the best and more industry relevant training - you can find these here List of Accredited Postgraduate Games courses.
You can also read about what the graduates of these courses thought of the eductation they received - Accredited Computer Games courses case studies.
Prospective Game Designers should check the content of courses, particularly the balance between programming, game art and game design. Designers need basic programming and 3D design skills, preferably some drawing ability, but perhaps above all excellent communication and presentation skills.
Where to go for more information
Creative Skillset Careers is the UK’s specialist careers careers advice service; visit the website Creative Skillset's careers services.
- Trade Associations and Regional Support Networks
- Recruitment Agencies and Job Information
- Magazines, Trade Publications and Websites
If your computer has the relevant software, click the document icons or document titles to view the relevant document. Right-click (PC) or hold your mouse-button down (Mac) on the document icon/title, you'll be given the option to save the file to disk. If you don't have the necessary software to view the documents, take the above links to download free reader programs.