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  • The Pitfall Of Game Design As An Entry-Level Career Choice

    [02.09.12]
    - Jacob Stevens

  • Boost Your Odds of Getting Hired

    My work experience brings me to my first point: in all my time in the industry, working on at least a dozen published titles, I have not once witnessed the hiring of an entry-level designer. Entry-level positions for designers are rare because the job of designer is usually earned through outstanding contribution as a team-member, or created when someone founds their own studio.

    At Wayforward, I noticed that directors (who were in charge of design) typically rose up the ranks as animators, since great animation is their company specialty. At IBM, although there were a few "pure" designers with advanced degrees in human factors, most of the designers started as either coders or graphic designers, and the ones that didn't were hired later in their careers. Finally, small indie teams often don't hire at all, and when they do, they are rarely looking for designers, as this job is generally performed as a group or covered by one of the team's founders.

    Additionally, I should point out that it is very difficult to prove, straight out of school, that you are a good designer. Artists have portfolios, and programmers have working code, but I have never been sent a resume from a designer with any tangible work to evaluate. This is one of the reasons that designers are typically raised from within a company instead of hired cold.

    Another consideration is that of having a fallback plan. I hate to break the bad news, but not everyone who wants to make games for a living lands a job right away. Programmers and graphic designers will have a much, much, much easier time finding good jobs outside the game industry than someone trained in game design.

    A Little Design Goes a Long Way

    The second reason not to choose game design as an early career path is one of simple proportions: the total number of person-hours spent designing a game is miniscule compared to the number of hours that it will take to execute the design and turn it into a sell-able product.

    A day of designing can easily create a month of work for the rest of the team. I've been on both the giving and receiving ends of this equation! A game as simple as my studio's Cash Cow, which was essentially just a matching game, was designed in a very short amount of time, but took years to implement in its current incarnation. You will be much more able to contribute, and much more valued as a team member, if you are productive in other ways.


    Good Game Designers Must Understand Art and Technology

    Let's face it: games are driven by art and technology. The merging of visuals, audio, and computers is the essence of games, and is what differentiates them from other art forms. It is hard to think of a critical or commercial success that isn't both artistically and technically competent, and in many cases even groundbreaking.

    Solid technology and stunning visuals are not elements that are injected after a game has been designed. These cornerstone elements must be deeply integrated into the design from the beginning.

    Therefore, it is absolutely essential that designers have a fundamental understanding of art, programming, audio, storytelling, and all the other components that comprise games. Experience in these fields can either be gained by working with people who fill these roles, or as someone who fills these roles. Indeed, firsthand knowledge of all these disciplines is unlikely. Nonetheless, experiential understanding beats cursory theoretical knowledge by a long shot, and therefore aspiring designers would do well to cultivate a deep understanding of at least one of these fields.

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