Our mission in developing this guide is to provide in-depth resources to help you get started in becoming a video game designer. The job of video game designer is much like that of a movie director, and the path to that job is just as varied and difficult, and can require a measure of luck on top of competence and skill. The video game industry does not have well defined, success-guaranteed career paths. Many designers have worked in a wide range of jobs within the industry. Success is achieved by finding a way to stand out at the right moment in whatever role you’ve managed to find.
Video games consist of a combination of elements that make them uniquely difficult to develop. They exist at the crossroads of entertainment, technology, art, and literature. And, as technology advances, these advancements drive the industry. Video game developers must be constantly pushing the envelope of technology, mechanics, and compelling art and story in order to compete in this competitive market. In other words, this is a hard, unforgiving industry, and game designers have some of the most challenging and coveted jobs in the industry.
What makes video game design difficult is that designers (in tandem with producers) must form teams of individuals with vastly different experiences, motivations, and temperaments, with the goal of creating a cohesive and compelling game. Independent designers that create games alone (very rare these days) don’t face this challenge, but, instead, face the challenge of having to wear every hat, and do every job, which at the very least means considerable hard work, and still the potential for what a single person can achieve on their own is limited.
Video gaming is a growth industry. The medium has been growing steadily since the late 1970s when the first video games surfaced. There have been explosions and revolutions throughout the video game industry’s history where the medium has rapidly expanded, but almost no period in which the popularity of the medium has declined. This means that for talented individuals seeking to work in the field, signs are that the industry will keep growing for quite some time, and the job projections from various resources are all positive for almost every type of job within the industry.
Game designers have gotten to their positions through many different paths, the most common of which involve getting a foot in the door of the industry through jobs as artists, programmers, and quality assurance specialists, or by designing strong games that show their potential as independent developers or modders. Degrees can be helpful when it comes to getting your foot in the door. But no matter what track you take, hard work and the ability to demonstrate excellence in the field are the traits that will enable you to succeed.
This section takes a look at the job growth potential for various jobs within the game industry. Not all of the jobs that represent a foot in the door are listed here, but the overall breakdown demonstrates the growth rate in the industry, and why it can be a solid career choice for the right individual. The growth rate for multimedia artists and animators is around the national average at 8%, but the overall projected jobs growth rate of the video game industry is above 30% for the next ten years. This information is also useful for convincing skeptics that the video game industry is a viable career choice.
For aspiring designers, understanding the theory of game design that is the undercurrent of success in the industry is important. The following articles, article series, and video are dedicated to helping people new to the world of game design understand exactly what makes a successful video game.
The artist track is one of the most challenging. Art jobs are one of the most applied-for jobs in the industry. The first thing an artist needs to do is decide what kind of art they desire to focus on, and then focus on creating a strong portfolio, while still developing skills outside their specialty. Types of artists include 2d and 3d modellers, 2d and 3d animators, concept artists, environment artists, texture artist, lighting artist, effects artist, and more. Having a specialty is important, but being competent in a wide variety of capacities is also important. Building a body of work is one of the most important aspects of landing a job as an artist in the video game industry.
Quality Assurance is not, as many people seem to believe, “playing video games for a living”. Quality Assurance is playing unfinished games, broken games, hunting for bugs. Your job as quality assurance is to suffer through broken mechanics, and buggy games, so that the consumer can enjoy themselves. Quality Assurance jobs appeal to people with great attention to detail. They are low paying, and often involve long hours. However, one thing that isn’t required for QA jobs, is a degree. Many designers got their start in QA, however this route is one of the most competitive. Why? Most people get a job in QA for one of two reasons. Either they think it’s just playing video games for money (these wash out very quickly), or they want to get their foot in the door and advance in the field. The journey from QA to designer is difficult, but if you beat the odds, and find ways to stand out above your peers, it can be done.
Independent games development has exploded in the last four or five years. An independent (or “indie”) game is one that is created and distributed without the support of a publisher. As the technology for the distribution of media has advanced thanks to the Internet, it has become possible to create, and distribute video games without having to score a developer and sell your game in traditional brick and mortar stores. Independent developers often consist of teams of three to fifteen people, though there are some independent developers that have seen success solo, or with just two people. Independent development is difficult because you have only a small team, or no team at all, responsible for every aspect of game design, creation, marketing, and distribution. Few independent developers see much success right away, but those with the, talent, perseverance and resources needed to prove themselves often either get snapped up by major studios, or achieve personal success. Below is a list of articles detailing how to get started in independent game design, and a link to a large list of game-making tools to get you started.
This is the lite version of independent development, and is a very strong way to showcase your skills as a designer. The only catch is that you won’t ever make money off your mods. Mods are modifications of existing video games that use the native assets of the game to design anything from new levels, to new game modes. Many PC video games support modding, and have special Software Development Kits to help modders get started. The modding community can be extremely supportive, especially for individual games popular with modders. Below are some articles about getting started with modding, and some examples of successful mods, as well as a link to a bio of one of the most successful modders in the history of gaming, IceFrog, who parlayed his ten year labor of love mod project Defense of the Ancients, a mod for Warcraft III, into a designer job with Valve. There is no set standard modding software for video game modders, they tend to be reliant on Software Development Kits provided by studios.
For anyone in the industry, conventions are the place to be for networking opportunities, showcasing your wares, and having a great time with people who share your passions. The first three conventions are three of the largest, best known in the world, the final two are conferences specifically for game developers. One caveat is that you can’t attend a developer’s conference unless you have worked as a developer in the industry, or have designed your own independent game. These conventions will allow you to interact with people from across the globe as they come together and discuss their passions, and get ready to launch new projects.
This section consists of videos, articles, and article series that give you a strong idea of how to get your foot in the door. One thing all these strategies have in common is the idea that that hard work, dedication, ability, and a little luck are what will win out in the long run for someone seeking a career in this field. The first link is a video of a talk given by a designer at one of the top development houses in the industry, Valve, the last link is to a new initiative started by Valve, it’s not quite off the ground yet, but the goal of the Valve Pipeline is to create a comprehensive resource for people looking to break into the games industry. The other articles provide useful perspective on the industry that will help readers adopt a mentality more likely to lead to their success in the field.
In the digital age, the job application process has become largely automated. It is common to send resumes and apply for jobs through email or online application forms. This means that often there are hundreds or thousands of applications submitted for any great opportunity in the industry. This makes the resume and interview portions of the application process even more important than before. Building a concise, easy-to-read resume will be appreciated by recruiters and HR professionals. The interview process is key, as it is often the only point of human contact for applicants, and putting your best foot forward, and knowing how to sell your experiences is crucial to success. Below is a list of resources containing advice for job seekers in the video game industry. From writing a perfect resume, to building an impressive portfolio and acing your interviews, these job application strategies can go a long way toward helping you land your dream job.
Video Game degree programs haven’t always had the best reputation, but for the right person, the right program can make all the difference. Unless you are a programming prodigy, you’ll be required take a computer science course with a programming emphasis. Degrees combining art and multimedia communications can be helpful to artists, and there are many dual-degree programs and concentrations for programmers who want to learn the principles of game design in a cohesive manner.
Whether you’re looking for indie developer examples to follow, or scoping out the major players in the video game industry, the following list features some of the best in the business. From major AAA developers, to tiny indie firms, and major developers that started as tiny indie firms, this list can serve for both inspiration and goal setting.