Today, video games are some of the most popular forms of entertainment today. Everyone plays video games, both young and old, whether they are on game consoles or cell phones. In the early stages of video game history, a designer was essentially the lead programmer for the game. The entire process was developed by the lead programmer as they were the ones singlehandedly created the vision and wrote the code for the entire game. Game development shifted as technology improved because it began to involve more people in the process. Today, video game designers wear a number of different hats and there are many different opportunities available since most games are created by entire teams of writer, programmers, designers, and etc.
Careers within the field of Video Game Design
Video game design splits into a number of areas depending on the specialty of the person. Here are some of the main specialties available:
- Lead designer -
The lead designer is usually a senior designer at a company that creates the entire concept and overall plan for a game. They form the development team, create a time line, and oversee all aspects of the project. They will work with writers, producers, artists, and programmers and keep everyone aligned with the vision of the project. Rarely do they actually do any coding or menial tasks involving the actual development of the game. Other people report to them and they will make all of the decisions, and usually they are the ones that receive most of the credit for creating the finished product. It is likely that they attended video game design school or completed a bachelors degree.
- Level designer -
A level designer specializes in developing the actual levels of the game, the virtual environment, and how each mission will be constructed. This means that they create the buildings, structures, and terrain on each level and create a goal for the player for each mission. They play a much more hands on role in actually programming and designing the game. Intensive programming and testing comes along with the task as every line of code must function properly to avoid glitches and bugs. This role requires a firm grasp of programming languages, graphic design, and art.
- Systems Designer -
A system designer focuses on the actual gameplay, the mechanics, and the rules of the game. It is also focused on the engineering and structure of the game as they decide how points are gained, how the character moves, and etc. This position primarily deals with programming and design.
- Writers -
Writers are not usually designers, but they work very closely with the designers to create the dialogue and story of the game. This position does not require a knowledge of programming or design, but a general understanding would be helpful.
Salaries can start at around $30,000 for entry level game designers and progress to $100,000 for more experienced professionals. Lead game developers, producers, and project managers can go on to earn anywhere from $150,000-$250,000+ depending on the company and their level of experience.
Education is a vital requirement for aspiring video game designers regardless of which specialty they go into. Online video game design school can be a way to learn the basics. Though some people take a couple classes in graphic design or game design, that is usually not enough to have a career in the industry. Most designers are well versed in both the arts as well as computers, mathematics, and science. Admittedly, there are some people who have been able to succeed in the industry without formal training or degrees, but those people are few and far in between. Essentially, any serious aspiring game designer must attend college and obtain at least a bachelors degree in a field like computer programmer, computer engineering, animation, graphic design, or software engineering.
Most major employers of video game designers are very selective in their hiring process and even though there is a substantial demand for people in technical fields, it is still a very competitive industry. A strong background in computer science is necessary because most designers at least know how to write programs and code software. Moreover, many people begin their careers with internships with video game or software companies and most of those opportunities are only open to college students or those attending online video game design school. Some begin by working as game testers, which is something that does not require a college education, but it does not allow people to make games and it pays substantially less money.