The Barriers Of Entry To A Career In Game Design

“What are the barriers of entry to game design?” one hopeful video game designer asked me a few days ago. I had to look up the term to make sure I understood what he meant.  “Barriers to entry: the existence of high startup costs or other obstacles that prevent new competitors from easily entering an industry or area of business.”  That was helpful, because I immediately came up with three barriers to entry for a video game design job.

One barrier to a video game job is indeed competition: there are far more people wanting to be game designers, and think they have the skills to be game designers, then there are openings.  To break into the field professionally, you need to have a portfolio of work demonstrating your game design skills, which begs the age-old question, “How do I get experience if I can’t get hired do to lack of experience?” The answer to that question is that you have to build up a portfolio on your own, perhaps as part of your schoolwork if you are pursuing a game design or development degree, or by volunteering for an indie team.

This is where the high startup cost comes into play, but not cost in terms of money.  The cost is the acquisition of skills, another barrier of entry to a game design job.  Being a successful game designer involves a cornucopia of skills.  Coming up with a game design requires you not just to have experience playing games, but a deep understanding of what makes games engaging.  Then the game needs to be designed in such a way that the development team can implement, so a game designer needs to have a fundamental understanding of programming, art, and audio principles.  Explaining that design to the rest of the team also requires good written and spoken communication skills, as well as skills of persuasion to convince everyone to follow your vision.  It also helps to have some knowledge of math, physics, history, mythology, storytelling, and other subjects, depending upon the type of game you’re making.

A third barrier is ignorance: many people who want to become game designers have little idea of what the work entails. Many think that it is about coming up with ideas, stories or art for games, when really it is mostly about tweaking the controls, difficulty, rules, systems and object properties over and over and over again based on playtesting feedback until the game is fun enough for players.

Even then, video game design is not an entry level position. Most game designers start off as programmers, artists, level designers, assistant producers testers, or some other development position. Then, if a game design opportunity opens and they’ve gained the trust of the hiring manager, they may move upward or laterally to a game design position.

While none of these barriers are insurmountable, they can be difficult and time-consuming to overcome.  But if you’re very passionate about games, then you should already have acquired years of experience in overcoming difficult and time-consuming obstacles, right?



About David Mullich

I am a video game producer who has worked at Activision, Disney, Cyberdreams, EduWare, The 3DO Company and the Spin Master toy company. I am currently a game design and production consultant, a game design instructor at ArtCenter College of Design, and co-creator of the Boy Scouts of America Game Design Merit Badge. At the 2014 Gamification World Congress in Barcelona, I was rated the 14th ranking "Gamification Guru" in social media.

Posted on February 27, 2017, in Career Advice, Game Design and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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