Of all the roles you can obtain while working in the video game industry, few are as rewarding and sought-after as “Game Designer”. Game designers not only come up with great gameplay ideas but also figure out how to implement them in the best way possible. Wherever there’s a game that’s fun and addicting, you can bet there was one or more game designers who used their passion and creativity to make it happen.
But like most jobs, being a game designer doesn’t mean you’re having non-stop fun every time you step into the office. While very rewarding, it can also be one of the most stressful and taxing positions in the entire studio. The following are some of the challenges and professional demands you can expect while on your road to becoming the next great game designer. The sooner you start preparing for what’s to come, the better!
Being More Than Just The Idea Person
A big misconception about the role of a game designer is that they just sit around coming up with good ideas all day. The time spent thinking of ideas is only a fraction compared to what a game designer actually does most of the day. From the first stages of prototyping to the last week of release (and sometimes beyond), the game designer’s main job is to make sure everything fits together well, resulting in a fun and polished experience. If you’re a lead designer then you also have the task of making sure everyone on the team follows the main vision of the project.
That being said, you will be expected to come up with awesome ways of making the game not just better but unique as well. With games releasing on a daily basis now, our industry is more competitive than ever before. This means that game designers must keep their skills sharp and creativity brimming in order to conjure great ideas and find the way to make it an experience that will blow away the competition.
You Will Face Problems All The Time
If you get stressed out easily when faced with a problem, perhaps being a game designer isn’t right for you. Since games tend to be complex and constantly-evolving beasts, game designers encounter a fair share of difficulties almost every day. This doesn’t just include technical bugs, which also need to be addressed so that the game runs smoothly and as intended.
You’ll also be expected to come up with good work-arounds when the gameplay needs to be tweaked or a big part of the game (abilities, an entire world, etc) has been axed due to time constraints. Solutions are also needed when the story and/or characters are changed. Like we mentioned before, being a game designer isn’t about being the idea person. Rather, it’s about knowing and learning how to keep the game fun and fresh despite not having things always go according to plan.
Getting Hired Isn’t Easy, But Not Impossible
Before you even start worrying about the challenges and demands of a game designer, you need to actually get a job first. If your goal is to make a living while working at an established game studio, know that each year hundreds of new graduates with the same dreams as yours are going to compete for the same job. Fortunately most schools, including NYFA, offer valuable resources and help prepare students so they stand out and find success in breaking into the industry.
These days going indie is also an option, though it’s easier said than done. Making your own games is very rewarding but there’s also a lot more to it, and some would say it’s one of the toughest career choices you can make as a game developer. Whether you want to work at a studio or independently, know that plenty of developers have overcome the same challenges as you and are now living happy lives as a game developer. With enough passion and determination, you can too— no matter how competitive the industry becomes.
An ugly side of game development is what is referred to as “crunching”. This is when developers must work longer hours than normal to meet an upcoming deadline. Crunching usually becomes necessary when a big project milestone or the day the game is supposed to be shipped is fast approaching. So if you’re normally working 8 to 10 hour days, you’ll probably be in the office for around 12 to 15 hours during these crunch time periods.
The fact is, crunch time is one of the biggest criticisms of the game development next to the huge layoffs that occur at the end of a project. The good news is that efforts are being made by developers all over the world to reduce the need for extra hours. Perhaps they’re realizing that a team of happy workers who have had enough sleep are more likely to produce amazing content.