Game Design Career Preparation

By Tom Sloper [08.30.06]

Game Designer“Game Design Career Preparation” has been revised with permission from Tom Sloper’s extensive lessons and advice on game industry available at Sloperama Productions’ School-a-Rama.


Make a Career

That's right, we're talking about a career here. Nobody just dabbles in game design. (Nobody just designs one game idea, sells it, gets rich, and retires at age 21). If you're interested in designing games, you should make a career of it!

Go to college and get a Bachelor's degree. That's a 4-year degree (not a 2-year degree and not a learn-by-mail or learn-by-internet degree). Get a degree in a subject that you're passionate about at a college that you choose based on your own personal criteria.

But even with a degree in hand, you will not get hired as a "Game Designer" right out of school without industry experience! You have to have other useful skills to get a job at a game company. Once you've gotten your foot in the door, you can gravitate into a design position. ... So why get a college degree?

One thing that a university degree does for you is that it shows a potential employer that you have stick-to-it-ive-ness (the ability, strength, stamina, and intelligence to apply yourself for the long haul). Another thing that going to college does for you is it teaches you to learn. High school is about school learning—basic stuff everybody needs to know. College gives you skills you can use in real life. Making goals, overcoming problems, devising solutions, and surviving. Yet another reason to go to college before getting that game biz job is that they say a college degree adds a lot of money to your lifetime income. I even heard this on a TV show, so it must be true!

To become a "game designer," you will need a broad education. Major in just about anything that interests you, especially if it relates to computers or entertainment—just get a degree. If you can find a school that offers a program geared for game design, fine—go for it. If you can't find one (there are some, and new ones are popping up all the time, but they are still fairly rare) or if you can't get into one of those, then don't worry about it. Just get a 4-year Bachelor's degree in any topic that interests you and take classes in the topics listed below.

I myself am not a programmer, and I am not a graphic designer. I am a producer and designer of games, but I couldn't program a game if my life depended on it—and I couldn't animate one either. "Game Design" does not mean "programming," and it does not mean "graphic design."

© Tom Sloper 2000-2004

Courses for Game Designers

Here's a list of things you must study (as classes, not necessarily as majors):

o Physics
o Math
o Psychology
o History
o Drawing / Painting / Sculpture (learn how to make your own art)
o Music Appreciation
o Writing
o Literature
o Mythology
o Foreign language (any language that interests you; especially one from a country where there are game developers)
o Computers (even if you want to design board games)
o Acting
o Playwriting / Screenwriting
o Film Appreciation
o Public Speaking / Debate
o Marketing / Salesmanship
o Management / Leadership (especially, how to inspire and manage people)

The above subjects are necessary if you are going to design games—you need to understand what makes the world work and what makes games fun. What should you major in? That's up to you. Probably one of the above, but your passions should be your guide.

Game designers are, above all, effective communicators and storytellers. Don't sleep through your writing, acting, and speaking classes.

Additional Subjects

It would also be good if you study some of these things too:

o Music (learn how to play an instrument)
o Geology
o Astronomy
o Paleontology / Archeology
o Ethnic Studies
o Biology
o Art History
o Radio / TV
o Drama / Film
o Business
o Fencing or karate (some kind of one-on-one martial art)
o Archery
o Sports (try lots of different sports; find one that you enjoy and get good at it)
o Crafts (learn how to make stuff with your hands and simple tools)

The point is that game designers, as creators of worlds for players to inhabit, need to have a solid understanding of what worlds are made of. They are not just made of stone, metal, dirt, and water—they are also made of people with an extensive body of knowledge.

One day you're going to be having lunch with some guys from a game company. If they start talking about the parts of a... flower, say, then you don't want to be sitting there with a blank look on your face when they're punning about a "pistil-packin' mama" or something.

It's unlikely any game designers are actually going to get raucous over flower parts, but you get the point. Get a good education.

© Tom Sloper 2000-2004

Follow Your Interests

InterestsBecome very knowledgeable about the things that interest you. You will never go wrong following your interests. Interested in snowboarding? Great—watch TV shows about snowboarding, read magazines about snowboarding, play snowboarding videogames. Don't just whine about the fact that your college doesn't offer any classes in snowboarding. Get out there and learn about it on your own.
Which opens one more of my favorite topics:

"Winning vs. Whining"

People can be divided into two classes: winners and whiners. Whiners are people who go around constantly complaining about the unfairnesses of life. Winners are people who figure out how to deal with the unfairnesses of life and get what they want in spite of it all.

Oh, a whiner might win a little victory once in a while, but for the most part he's just a perpetual "victim." Nothing is ever the whiner's fault—bad stuff just seems to always happen to him.

And a winner might whine once in a while (especially in his/her formative years), but s/he soon realizes there are better (more constructive) uses for his/her time and energy.

Ask Good Questions

One last bit of advice about preparing for a design career. By all means, use the internet and chat rooms and bulletin boards—and especially the newsgroups—to learn more about what it takes to get into the game business. Don't be afraid to seek advice, but don't expect all knowledge to be spoon-fed to you. You will have to do your own research. When seeking advice, keep this thought in mind:
Ask good questions and you'll get good answers.

Game designers are good communicators. Want good information? Communicate your questions well. A good question contains a lot of information for the advice-giver.

Here's an example of a bad question: "Any advice you can give me?"

That's a bad question because the asker didn't request specific advice. And the potential advice-giver doesn't know what the asker is looking for. My typical answer to this question is, "Yeah. Learn to ask better questions. Have a nice day, now!"

A good question involves equal effort by both parties. A seeker who asks "give me advice," or "tell me all about making games," is being lazy. The lazy seeker is asking the advisor to work harder than the seeker does – which not only puts the advisor on the spot but makes the advisor suspect that the seeker may not even listen to what is said!

You can ask questions at the Game Career Guide Community or directly to Tom Sloper at his Q&A Bulletin Board.

© Tom Sloper 2000-2004

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