The Secret To Becoming A Game Designer
The question I am asked most often is, “What to I need to do to become game designer?” That answer to that is both simple and obvious. It comes down to two words. Are you ready? Really? Okay, here is the big secret: design games.
Seriously, that’s all there is to it.
I began designing my own board games to play throughout my childhood — I also wrote short stories, drew comics and illustrations, made home movies, performed magic and puppet shows for the neighborhood kids, and built haunted house attractions in my garage. I was always creating, but the last two things I listed were especially important because game design is about creating experiences for others, not just entertaining yourself..
When I learned to program in college (which, at the time, the late 1970s, was the only way to learn), I created my first computer games. One of my professors was impressed with how I was using the university computer for creative purposes, hired me to work in a computer store he owned, and there I met a game publisher to hired me to design and program games for him to publish. Thus, I became a professional game designer.
So, again, you become a game designer by designing games. This will allow you to develop the needed skills and portfolio to get a job. There are also many resources today that I didn’t have access to when I started — books on game design; free, downloadable game engines; video tutorials; access to amateur and professional game designers for advice. If the best way for you to learn is in a classroom setting, many schools and colleges now offer game design, development, and programming degrees — but if you go that route, just be sure to pick one that has had success with its students actually getting jobs in the game industry.
If you are interested in being a board or card game designer, there aren’t many job openings for those positions. I did know a few professional board game designers when I worked for the Spinmaster toy company, and they all had degrees in industrial design, since they had to be able to professionally design the game components.
Most likely, if you want to be a professional board game designer, you are going to have to raise money to develop and possibly publish your game by yourself. So, you’ll also need to learn about running crowdfunding campaigns, attending board game conventions for networking and pitching, manufacturing, and possibly online sales and advertising too.
If you are interested in being a video game designer, be aware that it isn’t an entry level position, except perhaps on an indie team of other novice developers. More than likely, you will enter the industry at some other position — junior programmer, junior artist, level designer, assistant producer, or tester — and after a few years move over to a game designer position when you are presented with an opportunity to do so. So, that means you will also need to pick up skills in programming, art, level design (using a game engine) and/or project management to get that first job in the game industry (except, perhaps, a tester job, but it can be tough to get recognized for advancement when in the testing department of a large game company).
And always be designing games to add to your portfolio, if nothing else. Just like a programmer is always programming and an artist is always creating art, a game designer should be always creating games.