Never has there been a better era to break into the game design field, given the fact that the gaming industry has grown so formidably that it now rivals even the film industry. It is a technological niche that has never stopped growing since its very conception, with most households owning at the very least one dedicated gaming console. But also take into account that games are available for mobile devices such as mobile phones and tablets, computers and various other platforms, turning the act of gaming into an almost daily activity.
Look back 20 years and the difference is stark. 1998 was a year of many firsts. It was the year of the first narrative-driven shooter (Half-Life), the first 3D Legend of Zelda release and the first modern stealth simulator (Thief: The Dark Project). It also saw the first use of cinematic techniques and direction (Metal Gear Solid) and the first RPG (Role Playing Game) from the now giant BioWare (Baldur’s Gate).
All of these genres and techniques are now well known to the gaming community and have not only become the norm, but they have been improved upon exponentially. Gaming studios such as Bethesda, EA and Rockstar games lead the way in game innovation with new techniques and concepts brought to the fore with near-enough every new release.
Now, with technology moving at an increasingly rapid rate and the gaming industry continuing to grow, the demand for Game Developers that are well versed and certified is growing at an equal rate. This creates an opportunity for aspiring professionals to gain their certification and turn their dream of becoming a Game Designer into a reality. Let’s take a look at what a Game Designer does and what is needed to break into this exciting and rewarding field.
What Will I Do?
A Game Designer is responsible for the overall feel and functionality of a game, as well as the aesthetic appeal and intricate little details that often go unnoticed. This includes any and all characters, the setting, structures such as buildings and bridges, rules, the ebb and flow of the story, in-game objects, vehicles, and devices that the characters are able to interact with.
Once this is all done, it is up to the programmers, artists, animators, producers and audio engineers to turn the game into the completed product as we know it. From there, the game will be marketed and sold to the public to be played in its various formats.
Gaining a certification is considered to be a prerequisite by most companies nowadays as this reduces the amount of time spent training new employees and also proves to the employer that you are serious and dedicated to fulfilling the role. This is no different in the game design industry.
Designing a game involves, firstly, a good understanding and decent skill in drawing techniques which are used during character design. This brings your creative side to the fore, with your abilities as an artist clearly on display. Next, you will bring your character to life with the use of animation techniques. Thirdly, your character needs to be placed into your chosen game environment. This is usually done with the help of a gaming engine such as Unity or Unreal Engine.
Many courses, such as the Game Development 101 course from ITonlinelearning, offer not only the basic fundamentals of these three elements of games development, but offer the student a chance to start their portfolio by means of a short but complete game. This will help open an array of doors when applying for entry level positions as it showcases the skills that you have learned and gives prospective employers a proper gauge of your current abilities.
Create a Portfolio
Your portfolio is another means of showcasing your talents and experience as well as the skills and knowledge that you have gained through your studies. Consider it as your game design CV which will be closely scrutinised by your prospective employers in order to ascertain your skill level and the types of games that you have experience with, such as side-scrollers, hack-and-slash, open world and platformers.
An impressive portfolio is considered by game development companies to be just as important as a certification on your CV. The Game Developers that they employ need to be well versed and should show a certain level of experience before being considered for a role. This field often involves deadlines, meaning that time cannot be wasted on extensive training. Hence, your portfolio can be the factor that either lands you the job, or costs you a great opportunity.
Expand Your Skill Set
Every role has a certain skill set that needs to be met and this holds true for the field of game design. It is a role that, more often than not, involves deadlines, liaising with other departments and roles and quality control. Hence, it is vital that there you have a firm understanding of the skills that you will be expected to provide.
As a Designer, you will be expected to create characters that appeal to the gamers who will be playing the game that you are designing. You will need to use your artistic vision to ensure that the game is aesthetically pleasing and that your audience is able to relate to your characters.
- Imagination and Originality
There is no use in creating a game laden with aspects that are found in numerous other games. This could easily cause the game to be branded regurgitative and unoriginal, causing it to ultimately be a failure.
- Know your Software
You will typically work with many different types of software during the design stage of the game, and being familiar with them will speed up the process and ensure that your deadlines are met.
- Understand the Gaming Market
The games that you will work on will be geared towards one or more specific target audience. You will need to understand what they appreciate and expect from a game in that genre and ensure that those elements are included and properly honed.
- Problem-solving Skills
No game is without its faults and these will need to be discovered and resolved before the game is released. Although games can be patched after release, no one wants to buy a broken game.
- Writing Skills
Your game will follow a narrative which needs to be immersive and engaging. The ability to conceive of and tell a story is an extremely important element when designing a good game.
- Communication and Presentation Skills
There will be certain instances where not everyone involved in the game’s development understands the concept of the game. This will need to be communicated to them in order for them to fulfil their role. You will also be working with various other departments, all of whom will need to be communicated with in order to ensure that work on the game is done efficiently.
- Understand the Platforms
As the game will very likely be made available on multiple platforms, you will need to know what their capabilities as well as their restrictions are. A PC will, for example, typically be able to handle superior graphics to a console which is more capable than a mobile phone and so on.
- Adapt to Change
It is highly unlikely that a game will be designed and developed exactly as it was conceived. When changes are proposed and approved, they will need to be implemented quickly and efficiently.
- Work Well in a Team and Alone
As mentioned before, you will work with various other departments during development. You will, however, also need to work unsupervised and manage your time effectively. Being a team player will move the design process along while being able to work by yourself will free other employees up to work on other aspects of the game.
- Work Well Under Pressure
Any role that involves the meeting of deadlines has a certain amount of pressure attached to it. This is where a cool head will prevail.
- Able to Handle Criticism
Not every idea that you bring to the table will be well received. You will need the ability to use that criticism for improvement of your skills and the product that you are working on.
- Stay familiar with trends
The gaming community is vast and is made up of a myriad of genres and trends. When designing a game, you will be expected to understand what those current trends are in order to deliver a game that appeals to your target market.
The average salary in the UK for a Games Designer role is £45,000 per annum. Games Developers, on average, can expect to earn a salary of approximately £52,500 per year with Games Programmers earning an average salary of £61,250.