Category Archives: My Career

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.

 

 

Mingling with the International Game Developers Association

In March I and six other candidates were elected to the Board of Directors of the International Game Developers’ Los Angeles Chapter, and last Wednesday we held our first event, a meet-and-greet held in conjunction with Recess LA at Rush Street in Culver City, California. Recess LA is a free-to-attend art, board game and play event that bringing creatives, gamers and spectators together for a night of mingling, chatter, music, activities and games. The event was a big success: everyone had a good time in addition to an opportunity to share ideas for additional events with the new IGDA-LA Board. So, I’d like to take this opportunity to tell those of you who are unfamiliar with the International Game Developers Association, a little bit about the organization.

The IGDA is a U.S.-based 501(c)6 non-profit professional association that exists as a global network of collaborative projects and communities comprised of over 12,000 individuals from all fields of game development – from programmers and producers to designers, writers, artists, and testers.

Our mission statement is “To advance the careers and enhance the lives of game developers by connecting members with their peers, promoting professional development, and advocating on issues that affect the developer community.”

We bring together developers at key industry conferences, in over 90 chapters around the world and in Special Interest Groups (SIGs) to improve their lives and their craft. We advocate on behalf of our membership to ensure quality of life, perpetuation of our craft and preparing the next generation of developers.

Aside from bringing game developers together, the IGDA focuses on the following issues present in the game development industry:

  • Quality of life: making the process of game development easier and more pleasant for everyone.
  • Diversity: ensuring that people from a wide range of backgrounds and their needs are represented in the game development industry
  • Anti-Censorship: recognizing games as an art form, and as a medium of expression
  • Business and Legal Issues: empowering the development community with business knowledge and advocating for developers
  • Student and Academic Relations: setting curriculum guidelines, enhancing collaboration between industry and academia and providing guidance to students wanting a career in games

The IGDA was founded in 1994 by game designer Ernest W. Adams and was initially known as the Computer Game Developers Association (CGDA). Modeled after the Association for Computing Machinery, Ernest envisioned the organization to support the careers and interests of individual developers, as opposed to being a trade organization, or an advocacy group for companies.

Kate Edwards is the current Executive Director of the IGDA, and she has focused especially on diversity and inclusion issues, such as working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to deal with the on-line harassment of developers.  Another of her areas of focus has been in welcoming new IGDA chapters in cities around the globe. Chapters are intended to provide an informal way to connect game developers within local communities. They provide forums, for example, for discussions on current issues in the computer gaming industry and demos of the latest games.

You can learn more about our own Los Angeles Chapter Board at http://www.igda.org/group/LosAngeles, and if you are interested in partnering or volunteering with us, please Contact us at la@igda.org. We want to hear from you!