It may sound too good to be true, but you really can make a career out of gaming. Video game design schools can prepare you to work in the field as a multimedia artist, programmer or developer. Game design courses can teach you how to do the following tasks which can all be part of a video game designer career:
- Develop storyboards to outline game play and narrative.
- Design artwork and animation using computer software.
- Program software for video games.
- Test games for glitches prior to release.
- Create mobile games and applications.
Video Game Design Specializations
If you're interested in learning how to become a video game designer, you need to first decide if you'd like to specialize. There are several occupations involved in creating today's video games:
- Video game designers develop the overall concept of a game. They may write the storyline and collaborate with a team of professionals to see their idea go from the storyboard to the gaming console.
- Programmers make the magic happen. A video game programmer takes a designer's vision and turns it into a playable game.
- Animators and artists give the game its look and feel. They may be involved in creating the game play animation as well as promotional artwork.
- Audio engineers create, record and mix dialogue, music and sound effects for games.
How to Become a Video Game Designer
Your actual path to a video game designer career will depend on if and how you decide to specialize. However, those working in the field typically need to take video game courses or have knowledge of the following topics:
- Software Development
- Computer Programming
- Character and Environment Design
- Color Theory
Video Game Design Degree Programs
Video game designer education requirements can vary by occupations. Some people are self-taught, but many attend game design schools to learn necessary skills. Depending on the program, they may graduate with one of the following:
- Certificate: Certificate programs can be completed in one to two years and may focus on a specific area such as programming or art design. These short-term programs often provide a foundation of core skills needed for entry-level positions.
- Associate Degree: Completed in two years or less, an associate degree may provide greater opportunity to delve into topics such as game programming, development and art design. Students may graduate with a portfolio of work.
- Bachelor's Degree: Although not required for all gaming careers, some people prefer to earn a four-year degree. You can find these programs at public and private colleges as well as game design schools.
Schools for Video Game Design
Colleges and universities recognize that a video game designer career is not a fringe option anymore. Instead, it's an occupation offering plenty of potential for students. While there are dedicated game design schools, you can also find degrees at big-name institutions like the University of Southern California and Drexel University. There are even online video game design schools which make it convenient for people to earn a degree while working.
Video Game Designer Career Advancement
Once you have broken into the field, you may be wondering how to move up in the ranks. Some people may start, for instance, as a video game programmer and then transition to developer or designer roles once they obtain work experience. Others decide to take additional game design courses or learn new computer languages to expand their skillset and make them more valuable to employers.
Skills and Qualities for Video Game Designers
Video game designers need to have a combination of technical and personal skills to do their work effectively. These include the following:
- Programming: Even if you're not planning to work as a video game programmer, it's essential to have at least some programming skills to understand how to properly design a game.
- Writing: Video game development teams may include dedicated writers who create dialogue and cut scenes, but some designers do this work themselves.
- Originality: Having a creative storyline is key to the success of many video games, and designers must be able to develop original concepts.
- Near vision: Video game designers do much of their work on computers and need good vision to comfortably do their jobs. Good vision is also essential to see how colors blend and characters move.
- Problem sensitivity: This quality refers to the ability of a designer to anticipate potential problems with a game and address them prior to releasing it to the public.
Career Outlook and Salary Information for Video Game Designers
By now, you're probably wondering: how much does a video game designer make an hour? There is no straightforward answer to that question since income can vary based on a designer's experience, skills and other factors. However, here's a look at the range of wages typically found nationwide; you'll also see what job growth in the field may look like:
Professional Resources for Video Game Designers
Looking for more about how to become a video game designer? Then check out these industry resources.
- International Game Developers Association - The IGDA is the largest membership organization in the world for those involved in all stages of game development.
- Entertainment Software Association - This association represents video game publishing companies.
- Games for Change - Games for Change promotes the use of video games for positive social improvements.
Expert Q&A on Video Game Design Schools
The video game industry is large, and there are a number of levels of education you can attain to start out, depending on what you want to specialize in. And keep in mind that in many cases, it really helps to have a network of people who you know in the industry, and sometimes attending college can give you connections to those types of networks.
In order to find out more about starting out in the video game industry, and the role education will play, we spoke with Mayet Andreassen, a Media Arts & Animation Instructor at The Art Institute of Austin.
What is the typical educational path needed to enter this career?
When entering the game industry, it's important to understand the categories that exist in terms of jobs, so as to choose the best educational path. There are 3 main categories:
- Game Designer
- Game Artist
For all three categories, one needs to know the history of games, needs to have a passion for games, needs to have good critical thinking and problem solving skills, needs to know how to write and needs to understand basic mathematics, as well as have good time management and organizational skills, as well as be able to follow directions. Game artists and designers should understand art foundation elements like lighting, composition and color theory as well as story creation and application.
- For Game Designer: A study of game mechanics and game design is key as is an understanding of and ability to apply level design. Use and knowledge of 3D programs such as 3DS Max, Maya, ZBrush, and Substance Designer, the Quixel Suite, Photoshop, some basic programming language skills, knowledge of game engines like Unity and Unreal, understanding of the entire workflow of game creation, and the ability to create game assets.
- For Programmer: The study of game mechanics and game design is also key as is an understanding of and ability to apply level design. Knowledge and application of programming languages like Python, C++, C#, Mel. Knowledge of game engines like Unity and Unreal, and an understanding of the entire workflow of game creation.
- For Game Artist: A basic understanding of game design is important, but so is a basic understanding of and ability to apply level design. Knowledge and application skills of the entire art pipeline from concept to final deliverable asset. So, research, concept art skills, drawing and anatomy, background layout drawing, color theory, perspective, composition, 3D modeling, UV unwrapping, 3D texturing, procedural texture creation, PBR shaders, the use and application of several different 3D and 2D programs as well as the ability to learn others quickly. The ability to understand and apply lighting in 3D is crucial. They should know how to render, how to integrate several different elements into one. Understanding of presentation is important as well.
How long does it typically take to complete a education for this job?
It's about four years to earn a degree, but the education never really stops, as new programs and updates to current programs are consistent.
Why would you encourage someone to pursue this career? What are the advantages and disadvantages?
If that person had a clear passion for both games and game creation, I would encourage them to pursue this career. It can be both rewarding and fun, but its disadvantages are long hours, and no job security at any one place. However, advantages are, you create fun games for a living, the ability to be constantly creative, and to work with enormously talented people in the production of a great product.
Do you have any advice for young people who are just starting out in this career?
Be clear as to what you want to focus on, so research and experiment with the different aspects of game creation. Create some card or board games to figure out if it's really something you want to do. Get on forums, educate yourself about the industry, volunteer at game conferences. If you want to be a game rigger for example, you need to know anatomy, scripting languages and several 3D programs, but if you want to be an environment artist, you need to be able to model, texture, light and render. Both jobs are in the industry, but require different focus. I think if a young person understands and knows what their focus is, they will better be able to maximize their education too.