Set a child in front of a set of toys. What do they do? Simple. They immediately get to work, using their imagination to create entire worlds.
There’s no reason you ever have to grow out of that phase.
For many people, the life of a video game designer means living the dream: making a living out of sparking the imagination. But video game design is also a skill like any other. If you want to turn your dreams into a viable living for yourself, you’ll have to know the ropes.
What Does a Video Game Designer Do, Anyway?
What is a video game designer? Simple: a video game designer creates the characters, worlds, and puzzles that give people enjoyment when they sit down for some relaxation time.
But that’s a broad definition. Let’s get specific. You’ve probably noticed that a game of smartphone Monopoly is a little different than, say, Minecraft. To make sense of the world of video game design, you’ll have to learn the categories first:
This is the kid-sitting-in-front-of-toys style of video games. You plop the player down in a world and let them choose how they want to interact with the world. Typically, that means building new stuff. Legos, for example, are the ultimate in-person “sandbox” game. In the video world, games like Minecraft and The Sims dominate.
Civilization? Warcraft? These are two popular turn-based and real-time versions of the same type of game: strategy. In strategy games, you’ll have open-ended objectives and often command armies rather than characters. The goal is to use your own ingenuity to figure out how to beat your opponents.
Call of Duty and Fortnite are two popular titles that bring the game down to immediate, real-time interaction. You control one character and navigate them through the world, often against your friends online. First-person games also spawn all sorts of other huge categories, including:
- First-person shooters
The world of sports is so large that some of the most popular games deserve their own category. In American football, the Madden franchise dominates, while international football has FIFA.
Candy Crush and Angry Birds may have evolved past their initial conception, but they’re two of the most popular franchises in a newer form of video game: those designed for quick use on the phone.
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How to Become a Video Game Designer
Video games are massively popular. But in the grand scheme of things, the industry is relatively new. You can major in English or history at college; a video game designer degree is harder to find.
Which all leads us to a vital question: If you know your passion is creating video games, how do you crack the market and become a developer yourself? Here are a few steps.
Get a Video Game Design Degree
It’s hard to find degrees with names like Doctorate of Video Game Designer Education. But it doesn’t mean you can’t improve your chances of landing video game design jobs by selecting the right path in your education. According to STEM Jobs, the best degrees for video game designer jobs include:
- Computer science
- Software engineering
- Computer animation
- Video game development/programming
Before you decide your path, look at a video game designer job description that seems interesting to you. What are the most common degrees required for the type of job you want? If you notice a pattern, you’ve probably identified the best degree for you.
Video Game Design Online Courses
You can, of course, learn just about anything online. That includes game design. The key is to work at your own pace. If you’ve already mastered Unreal Engine—a 3D video game creation platform—then you probably don’t need to learn the same basics new video game designers do.
On the other hand, everyone has to start somewhere. You may have to learn how to design a video game character for the first time. The good news? If there’s a reason to learn it, then someone out there has already made a course out of it.
Video game design courses online can offer an amazing education for a fraction of the cost of a degree. Take advantage.
The Best Jobs and Positions in Video Game Design
Where to Work
You can’t have a great job without a great employer. Here are some of the top names in the world of video games that might be hiring:
- Nintendo. Initially famous for Donkey Kong and then the Mario characters in the 1980s, the Japan-based company has since grown to over six thousand employees.
- Electronic Arts. Based in California, EA (as it’s often known) includes major divisions behind some of the most popular game franchises, including EA Sports and Madden.
- Activision Blizzard. One of the largest gaming companies in the world. Activision Blizzard is behind giant names like Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, and the Candy Crush saga.
- Epic Games. The maker behind Gears of War and Fortnite, this company is based on the east coast, with its headquarters in Cary, North Carolina.
- Sony Interactive Entertainment. The company behind the production of the PlayStation may just have a job or two open in the video game industry.
Given how many companies out there are having success in video games, it’s safe to say the video game designer job outlook is strong for at least a few years.
What Kind of Salary to Expect
It sounds like a dream that your mom or dad wouldn’t believe: getting paid to put together video games. Yet all of the numbers suggest that not only is it a living, but a video game design salary can be a lucrative one.
What’s the Job Outlook in Video Game Design?
Just because video games are in demand and there are lots of top companies hiring video game designers doesn’t mean that your path will be as simple as sending out a resume.
But considering the size of the industry (mobile games alone will be an $11 billion industry by 2025), there will always be opportunities for people willing to put in the work. Recruiter.com lists the outlook as favorable, with the industry growing by an average of 5% each year.
Your job? Be a part of that 5%.
The World of Independent Video Games, or “Indie Games”
On one career path, you might take a traditional route to fill out and tailor a resume for video game design jobs. You might seek out employment with some of the top names in video game design.
But it’s not the only path to success. There’s also the world of independent game designers who bootstrap their way to success—and it can be far more rewarding than you might imagine.
Indie Video Games and Their Designers
One beautiful thing about the digital revolution? It puts the power of a video game studio in the hands of any given video game developer. Simply trying out video game design classes online can put you on the road to developing your own game.
While it’s true that creating large, complicated worlds may require entire teams of developers, there are plenty of success stories that show what one individual with enough drive can accomplish. Consider a few indie game success stories from people who created their own video game designer positions:
- Kerbal Space Program is a space flight simulator that lets the user design and launch their own rockets. It comes from a company named Squad, which was initially a digital/interactive services firm out of Mexico that did work for companies like Coca-Cola. Then an employee named Felipe Falanghe approached them with a bold move: he wanted to resign to work on his video game dream. The company assured him he could work on it at the company—as long as he finished his prior assignments. He did, and the rest is history.
- Minecraft initially launched as an independent game, the brainchild of Markus “Notch” Persson. While first making the rounds in online forums, the eventual alpha version brought in enough early sales that he was able to quit his job and devote himself full time to the game. He eventually launched the company Mojang with the sales from initial copies. The company now has several hundred employees and has become a subsidiary of Microsoft through Xbox Game Studios.
There are also indie designer studios forging their own brand of success. No Man’s Sky (Hello Games) was released to lots of fanfare—only to flop upon launch. But Hello Games continued to incorporate user feedback and updates with previously missing features. Eventually, No Man’s Sky became the success people initially hoped it would be.
For indie game designers who want to get into the industry to work on their own material, you’ll have to follow some basic steps:
- Test your ideas: Minecraft, for example, was an idea that was destined to succeed with the proper execution. Before you start your own journey—which could take years—make sure that you constantly test your early games and ideas to see which ones have legs.
- Choose an “engine”: Game engines like Unreal are essential if you’re going to develop a video game on your own, which gives you some next steps. What engine will you learn?
- Create and test a prototype game: Once you have a prototype game in hand, you can begin soliciting feedback online and adding features you otherwise wouldn’t have thought up.
Making Video Game Design Work
If you’ve never grown up from those early days of playing with blocks and dolls and action figures as a four-year-old, consider it an advantage. That creativity can serve you well as a video game designer. But only if you’re willing to put in the time and effort to hone your skills with video game design online classes and plenty of practice. Once you do that, your imagination’s the limit.
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