What does a video game designer do?

Video game designer: job description

The games industry rivals the movie industry in value and is evolving all the time. Now is an ideal time to put all those hours spent zapping aliens to good use and design video games.
Work experience and a portfolio of work will become absolutely essential early on in your career in this very competitive industry.

What does a video game designer do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Video game designers, also known as games designers, design games for a variety of formats, such as consoles, wireless applications, the internet and mobile phones. They decide on the overall design and purpose for the game but many also specialise in one aspect of the design, such as the story line, characters or layout. Lead designers coordinate the design aspects. A game mechanics designer works on the balance of the game and its rule system. The environmental designer creates the different scenarios and environments of the game. Designers have a different role to that of video game developers, who take designers' concepts and write the code to make them into a game that can be played.

The work of a games designer typically involves:

  • Coming up with new and appealing game ideas
  • Developing gameplay ideas
  • Experimenting with themes and genres
  • Developing plots and storylines
  • Developing characters
  • Developing maps, scenarios, and levels of difficulty
  • Coming up with ways of winning and losing the game
  • Developing user interface (menus and controls) concepts
  • Improving existing games

Creativity, innovation and technical know-how and experience are all-important in the games world. While games are primarily made for entertainment, there can be real-world uses for some of the software and hardware developed, such as:

  • UK-based studio Glitchers developed a mobile game that is being used to help scientists gather data to diagnose dementia
  • The US Navy has used Nintendo’s Wii Fit game for physical therapy
  • A number of applications and scenarios are being developed for Microsoft’s gaming peripheral the ‘HoloLens’ including the trading floor at stock markets and jet propulsion design at NASA

Salaries for those working on graphic design and animation will be relatively typical of that profession (starting around £18,000) although this may progress with years of experience or particularly well known projects. Find out the typical starting salaries for graduates in IT jobs here.

Typical employers of video game designers

  • Video games developing companies (also known as video game developers, publishers or studios)
  • Marketing companies

Qualifications and training required

There are routes into video game development for university graduates and other posts in related fields may be open to school leavers.

Graduates typically need a degree in computer games design, graphic design or animation. Work experience and a portfolio of work will become absolutely essential early on in your career in this very competitive industry.

School leavers may progress to video game development or design by undertaking an apprenticeship in graphic design or another related role. To find out about how you can get into this career via a school leaver route see the media section of TARGETcareers or the IT section of TARGETcareers, our website aimed at school leavers.

Key skills for video game designers

  • Creativity
  • Artistic vision
  • A passion for video games
  • Storytelling ability
  • Wide-ranging knowledge of gaming trends
  • Strong analytical frame of mind
  • Excellent programming skills
  • Ability to work as part of a team

Read more about games development as a graduate area of work here.

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