Anyone who has ever gotten wrapped up in a video game has perhaps wondered what it takes to design a product that can be so engrossing.
Although most video games are developed by a team of experts, including artists, writers and programmers, the central figure is the designer, who develops the overall concept of a game. People interested in a video game designer careers should be strong storytellers, but they also have enough training in other disciplines, including art, theater, computer graphics and computer programming, to understand how to guide their team in the creation of an effective game.
Key subjects to study
Video game designers acquire their skills by studying fine art, film, computer graphics, animation, computer science, mathematics, literature or some combination of these areas.
Video game designer careers are often require a bachelor's degree in game design, game development or computer science. Those interested in a career in video game design can gain experience and start building a portfolio of games by studying at specialized vocational schools where interactive media or game design is taught.
Most of their skills will come from working on video games, however, and employers want to hire game designers who have successfully collaborated with others. Successful collaborations indicate the designer has the ability to communicate with a diverse group of people and can perform well under pressure.
What the job is like
Video game designers kick off the development of a video game by writing a detailed design document that describes all aspects of the game and everything a player will encounter while playing the game. This requires that video game designers be creative and well as concise writers, but they also have to understand how to create a story in which the players control the action and the outcome.
Those pursuing careers in video game design also have to be able to describe their concepts to other members of the development team, including the artists who will draw the scenes in the game, the programmers who will write the code to create the action, and the testers, who will play the game and try to find flaws in it.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov), job growth for multimedia artists and animators is expected to grow at the relatively slow pace of 6 percent annually from 2012-2022, while job growth for software designers is projected at 8 percent for the same time period, which is about average.
The BLS doesn't track specific wage and job growth data for video game designers, but includes them with multimedia artists and animators. Game design also requires the expertise of programmers in most instances, so it may be helpful to look at data for that career as well. The BLS reports the following national median annual wages as of May 2013 for those careers as follows:
- Multimedia artists and animators: $64,470
- Computer programmers: $76,140
According to a 2013 salary survey by Game Developer magazine, game designers earned an national average salary in 2013 of $75,065. Freelance video game designers earned an average of $46,786 during that same time. Average salaries for entry-level designers was $6,300 higher in 2013 than in 2012, but salaries for designers with 3-6 years experience was down $1,500.
Although large studios are producing fewer games, narrowing the employment options for video game designers, smaller studios are increasingly producing smaller games for use on social media and mobile devices. This may give those interested in a video game design career opportunities to build their portfolios and gain the experience needed to work for larger studios. If a career as a game designer piques your interest, you may wish to check game design programs offered by vocational and technical schools.
"Computer Programmers," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes151131.htm
"Computer Programmers," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/computer-programmers.htm
"Game Developer Salary Survey," Game Developer Magazine, Game Career Guide, January 30, 2014, http://www.gamecareerguide.com/features/1279/game_developer_salary_survey_.php
"Multimedia Artists and Animators," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes271014.htm
"Multimedia Artists and Animators," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/arts-and-design/multimedia-artists-and-animators.htm