How to Become a Game Designer: Salary, Job Description & Requirements


If your thumbs have calluses from repeated controller use and you have stomped on your headset after losing an epic shootout on Halo, then you’ve come to the right place today. We have a special treat for all of our gamer friends. We are going to shed some light on how to become a game designer today and boy, do we ever have a lot of information for you. So, turn off your console and grab a snack because it is on like Donkey Kong.

How to Become a Game Designer

How to Become a Game DesignerAs a game designer you will work with a team of skilled people to create really awesome games, concepts, characters, story lines and game play plans. The result of all your hard work will be a game for a console or computer that will hopefully be played by millions of people around the work. Let’s take a look at how you can get started towards a career as a game designer!

Get a Bachelor’s Degree

Your best bet is to enroll in a bachelor’s degree program in game design, computer science, software engineering or some other computer/technology related degree.  Any of these degrees with help to arm you with the much needed computer and technical skills needed to make some really awesome games.

Your courses will more than likely cover 2D and 3D modeling using computer software. Once you have gotten that down to a science, animation is likely to follow, which is pretty cool since you will be able to see your work in action. Some other class may devote a lot of study to interface design, storyboarding, drawing and scripting.

Earn Experience

After you complete you education, you will need to gain some actual gain design experience before you can actually get hired by a gaming company. There are some companies that offer internships to new game designers that show that they have the right stuff. You can also check out smaller companies that may be willing to give you a shot fresh out of school. It also can’t hurt to offer your services free in exchange for the experience of simply being around other designers.

That’s really all it takes – lots of hard work and dedication!

Game Designer Salary

Let’s find out how many games you are going to be able to buy…oops we mean pay your bills, once you are game designer. We called upon the folks at PayScale to help us find this information for you. Do remember that there will be variations depending on experience, location (state and city) and the company that you work with.

According to the data available on the PayScale website, game designers may earn a median annual salary of $55,186. Also reported are an annual salaries of $34,864 for newer game designers and a $90,867 for old hats in the industry. There is a potential to earn more income via raised and profit sharing, so keep an eye out for companies that include that in a hiring package.

Game Designer Salary

What’s So Great About Being a Game Designer?

You probably want to become a game designer because you love games and it’s your dream job. These reasons alone are totally solid and we totally agree. What about some of the other advantages to becoming a game designer? Do you want us to tell you a few other reasons why we think being a game designer is so great? Yeah, we figured that you would!

  • Playing is part of your job: Yep, you will be one of the lucky few that gets to play and get paid for it. If you have a family event to attend, but would rather stay home and play Halo all day – no problem! Tell everyone that you have to “work” and they will be none the wiser. You can technically consider it work because during the course of your game play you may come up with ideas for future projects.
  • Hero worship: You will easily become an idol to kids (and some adults) that have a love of video games. Game designers used to be waved off as slackers that don’t have much going for them, but those views have totally changed over the years. Game designers are praised for the creativity and smarts now.
  • It’s deductable: When Uncle Sam comes to call every April to collect your tax dollars, don’t forget that you can use a lot of the stuff that you use for inspiration for your game designs as tax write offs. So, that means that your comics. Movies, books, games and even your console/computer can be used to save you money! They are considered “business” or “job” expenses, which is really awesome and a total win if you ask us.
  • Work attire: What work attire? You can pretty much wear whatever you want as a game designer. You can totally roll out of bed , throw on yesterdays clothes and leave if you want to. The only thing we would suggest if this is your style is to brush your teeth before you leave and maybe change your underwear. It’s ok if you aren’t the “fashion” guy in the office, but you don’t really want to be the “stinky” guy.
  • Snack attack: Bring on the Cheese Doodles and Red Bull! We here that the main food groups that a make up a game designers daily diet are: fats, starches, sugars and caffeine.
  • Babes galore: A lot of ladies dig video game designers and vice versa. Keep your cell phone charged so that you can add some digits to your contacts list once guys and girls find out that you are a game designer. We’d bet $5 that your dance card will be full in no time and that you will be able to work off some of that junk food that you’ve consumed.
  • Glory time: Praise always feels good and we can bet that hearing glowing reviews of your “baby” will be just the ego boost you need. Not all reviews will be great, but hold onto the ones that are for days when you need an extra push.

Truth Time…

We are going to let in you in on some funny little “truths” about being a game designer. Here we go!

  • For the sake of coolness: One of the most common thing you are probably going to hear as a game designer is going to be, “OMG! You have the COOLEST job ever!” Get used to it and embrace it because the truth of the matter is…working as a game designer really is pretty dang cool!
  • Get ready for questions: Most people aren’t entirely sure what goes into working as a game designer and will bombard you with questions. You will likely hear things like, “Do you program?” “Do you make art?” “Do you design the games and write the story?” and “Do you know the guys that make >insert random favorite game here<?” It will probably be pretty hard to tell someone what you really do as a designer and if you do fall down the rabbit hole, just make sure that you send out and S.O.S if you need too.
  • Oh, Mom: You’re Mom will probably continue to ask you when you are going to stop playing video games all day and get a “real” job. Despite the fact that dear old Mom thinks that Super Mario is the owner of the great pizza shop down the street, you know what that you have a real job and it is also really awesome.
  • Bring on the experts: Once people find out what you do for a living, well they will all think that they know how to do your job too. There is always going to be that one person, if not more, that will inundate you will ideas about new games or give you suggestions on how to improve the one you are already working on. The best advice we can give here is to smile and nod followed by a pretend emergency call that allows you to sneak away.
  • Lone Ranger: It is super hard to create, design and properly executive the game all by your lonesome. There are a lot of elements that go into a game and having an extra set of eyes, ears and hands will definitely work in your favor.
  • Big Pimpin’: You probably won’t be invited to P.Diddy’s yearly white party or live next door to Paris Hilton with the salary you earn as a game designer. That’s totally cool though! You are not interested in this job because of the money, but for the love of games. You’re going to be giving kids and adults the same experiences that sparked your love of this industry.
  • OCD party of 1: There is something cool and slightly overwhelming about working inside of a closed system where every single design move you make impacts the game as a whole. It’s pretty natural to compulsively check, recheck and check once more each and every detail. Just take a break if you start flipping light switches or locking locks the same amount of time.

Are There Different Types of Game Designers?

Yep, there sure are. In fact, there are many different types of game designers out there and we plan to tell you all about the different options now!

Lead Designers

The lead designers are the guys or gals that are in charge of managing a group of designers. They are tasked with ensuring that the intended vision of the game is brought to life. You are kind of like the boss and will follow up on each designer’s job to make sure that the areas they are responsible are getting the proper care and attention needed. If you are able to figure out to clone yourself before stepping into this position, we suggest you do so. There is a high need to be multiple places at once and put out many fires throughout the game design process.

Level Designers

We owe each level of the games that we know and love to level designers. Their job is to literally create the game play level by level. Level designers are responsible for all those fun little bits that we love in games so much. They are the mad scientists behind each monster that jumps out at you or perfect spot to shoot from, among many other things. If you are an artists and programmer, this may be the avenue that you want to pursue.

Content Designers

Content designers, as you’ve likely guesses, are responsible for the content or story that drives the game. Not only are they responsible for creating the narrative of the game world, but also the extras that support the game’s story. Content designers are in pretty high demand with the demand only continuing to grow with the success of role playing games.

Game Writers

Game writers are also responsible for the in-game speaking portions that usually take place before you are to complete a mission or encounter a game boss. This isn’t just a regular old writing job though and requires a lot of creativity. Game writes have to find a bunch of different ways to say the same thing unlike traditional writers who are able to just write things whichever way they want and move on. One of the cool things about being a game writer is that you can totally work as a content writer too. You can cover a lot of ground and really make your mark on the game you are working on.

System Designers

If you are interested in working hard on one particular area of a game, then working as a system designer might just be what you are looking for. These designers hone in on one particular area of the game and make it the best it can be. They are often responsible for weapons, spell casting and even character development. This is a position that requires a lot of attention to detail.

Technical Designers

Technical designers are a hybrid of part programmer and part designer, which makes them the go to people for getting all of the important stuff combined for effective game play. An easy way to think of technical designers is to imagine them as middlemen that are able to facilitate changes within the game without impacting the integrity of the design.

Now we could probably go on about some of the other game design areas, but we will spare you a novella on the topic for now. The areas that we have already mentioned are the top spots that designers like to gravitate towards and for our purposes today these are the positions we wanted you to know about.

Game Design Schools

Your creativity is a big part of who you are and where you're going. To take it, and your future, as far as you want, you need an education that's focused on developing your talents and putting you on the path toward the creative career that stirs your imagination.

Programs:

  • Game Art & Design (BFA)
  • Graphic Design (AS)
Locations: Durham
Learning at Full Sail University has always centered around interaction and the exchange of ideas. Our online curriculum fully embraces this philosophy. We have developed our own online learning environment with the aim of being the most people-focused education experience on the web.

Programs:

  • Game Design, Bachelor of Science (Online)
  • Game Art, Bachelor of Science (Online)
  • Mobile Gaming
  • And more...

100% Online & No Standardized Testing

We are committed to helping you achieve your goals and complete your degree as quickly as possible.

Programs:

  • Master of Fine Arts: Graphic Design

Regent University prepares students with the knowledge to excel and the faith to live with purpose. Our 20,000 alumni, from more than 110 countries, are changing the world as accomplished professionals. Named a top-15 school nationally for online bachelor's programs (U.S. News & World Report, 2015), Regent is among the most affordable undergraduate Christian colleges (CCCU 2015). Fully accredited, challenging programs are available online and on campus. New classes begin every eight weeks.

Programs:

  • Master of Arts in Film & TV - Producing
  • Master of Arts in Film & TV - Script Writing
  • Master of Fine Arts in Film & TV - Script & Screenwriting

Success Stories

There are a ton of games out on the market. Some have been successful and have helped to define this field of work with their innovative design methods and creativity. Behind each of these successful games is a game designer that watched an idea they had, blossom into a popular game that has been played by millions of people. So, to provide you will a bit of extra inspiration and to show you that the sky really is the limit in game design; we are going to tell you about the minds behind some of your favorite games.

David Jones

Some of you may have heard of a little game franchise called Grand Theft Auto, which was created by David Jones. Jones is also the go founder of DMA Designs that began creating games in 1988. Grand Theft Auto redefined how games were played, marketed and drew in A-list celebrities to participate even in the early years of the franchise that began in 1997. The GTA franchise is actually so successful that well over 120 million copies of the game have been sold worldwide. Develop Magazine is such a fan of this British game designer that they have ranked him in the number for spot on their list of heroes.

Hironobu Sakaguchi

Hironobu Sakaguchi cemented himself into the history of game development when he created the super popular game series, Final Fantasy back in 1987. Final Fantasy has been so successful that it has clocked in somewhere around 100 million copies sold to date. He is also the brain behind other mega popular games such as Kingdom Hearts and Blue Dragon, which in conjunction with Final Fantasy have changed the face of role playing games. Sakaguchi was inducted into the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences’ Hall of Fame in 2000 and has left a pretty indelible mark on the gaming industry.

Michael Morhaime

It’s really not all that surprising that game designer, Michael Morhaime earned a top ten spot on Develop Magazine’s list of heroes. He is the creator and designer of iconic multiplayer online role playing games like Diablo and World of Warcraft. We’re not sure if you’ve heard of either of those little games (LOL). WOW has well over 12 million (yes, you read that right) subscribers with a 62% market share. It has earned itself a nice little title of most popular game of its kind too. Morhaime has been awarded many times by the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences’ and the Annual Technology and Engineering Emmy Awards. He still remains a top dog in the industry and is president and co-founder of Blizzard Entertainment.

Will Wright

Will Wright is a responsible for your addiction to the simulation game, The Sims. Yep, he is the guy that is responsible for the endless hours that you spent as a kid making your Sims work, sleep, eat, party and goodness knows what else. The Sims just so happens to be the best selling PC game of all time and has many spin off games under its belt. Wright’s impact on the game design world did not go unnoticed judging by the many awards and induction into the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame in 2001.

Shigeru Miyamoto

When talking about the most successful game designers without bowing down to the undisputed king of all video game designers – Shigeru Miyamoto. He is the creative mind behind some of the most successful video games ever. We can thank him for The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Brothers and Donkey Kong. He is also responsible for many successful games for Nintendo, which have helped him to earn his spot as the second highest earning employee with the company. Naturally, Miyamoto is the recipient of an induction into the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences’ Hall of Fame and a Life Time Achievement Award from the Game Developers Choice awards. To top off his accolades, he once took the top spot on Time Magazine’s list of the 100 Most Influential People of the Year.

Final Grade

Our final grade system is rather similar to the star rating system that your future games will receive when they are reviewed. We like to give you a solid look at some of the more important aspects of a career to help you make the most informed decision about your future as possible. Let’s get right to business so you know where we stand!

Degree vs. Debt: B

Considering that only a four year degree is required to make a career out of being a game designer, we’d say that the degree to debt ratio is more than reasonable. We know that college is expensive and that there may be loans that need to be taken out to pay for it, but the benefits and career potential are worth it. Plus, the salary isn’t too bad and there is the potential to make a lot of cheddar if you work in the industry long enough.

Difficulty of Degree: B-

We kind of feel that the difficulty of the degree is in the eye of the beholder and that for the most part it’s on the harder side of easy. You may be totally comfortable working with programming, graphics, algorithms and several other computer/technological areas though and sail right through your schooling.

Happiness Quotient: A

This is a job for game lovers and a place to be creative. It’s seems like it would be a pretty awesome job and that there aren’t many downsides. It’s kind of like getting to live out your childhood dreams while you are getting paid. Sounds like a sweet deal to us.

Job Outlook: C-

Make that a big fat C-…we are feeling too nice today to give it a D. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that game design is only expected to grow as a profession a measly 6% between 2012 and 2022. This is pretty slow when we compare it to other jobs out there. It seems that some game companies are tending to hire designers from overseas, which can make it a bit difficult to land your dream job here.

Other Interesting Jobs

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Tattoo Artist School and Salary

Want to Get a Feel for What People Do in this Field?

Major League Gaming

Major League Gaming is the global leader in eSports. MLG runs MLG.tv, an online broadcast network for professional level competitive gaming, the MLG Pro Circuit gaming league, and MLG play, a cross-platform tournament system with 9 million users. If you want to try your hand at professional gaming, MLG is the place for you.

Hidden Door Interactive

Hidden Door Interactive is a mobile game development company founded by three industry veterans. HDI created Happy Flock and Speed Tiles, both available for download on the App Store.

Association for Computing Machinery

ACM is recognized as the premier association for computing professionals, and is dedicated to advancing computing as a science and a profession. Among its many other activities, ACM presents the prestigious A.M. Turing award, heralded as the “Nobel Prize of Computing”.

Stevens Institute of Technology

The Stevens Institute of Technology offers a Masters program in interactive game design, state-of-the-art behavior modeling and animation, with courses such as “Graphics in Gaming”, “Animation in Gaming” and “Principles of Computer Mediated Entertainment”.

Sources and Recommended Reading

So, there you have it, peeps! That’s all there is, there isn’t any more, but as a parting gift, we are sharing our sources with you! Thanks for hanging out with us today!

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