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Any tips for a wannabe game designer?

Hey guys,

I have recently finished a Masters of Creative Industries (Interactive and Visual Design) and am lacking a direction in which to move forward. Overall, i'd love to be a game designer, but I have been told frequently that no one just applies to be a game designer, so I have been targeting QA. I have applied at a few of the Brisbane based studios for QA work, but have recieved little response due to me having no previous industry experience.

So far my relevant industry experience stems only from my masters' major project, in which i created a flash (AS3) game, where i pretty much independently developed everything.

Since finishing my masters I have started various projects in order to create a portfolio, but have been unable to decide which project to focus upon, as I am not too sure what would be held with a higher regard. I am willing to learn any software, be it 3D modeling related, level design etc. I just don't know what to focus on.

I guess what i'm trying to ask is:
1) How do you get a foot in the door in the games industry when they say you need previous experience?
2) What are some recomended platforms for a rather new designer to work on?
3) Do i need to have a coder/modeler background in order to get a job within the industry?

Cheers guys.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 13/05/11 - 11:04 AM Permalink

1) Luck and perseverance. Be prepared to move interstate. It can't hurt to try and apply overseas too. Unfortunately, "Designer" is quite a tough gig to land and there are not as many pure Designer roles going around as the traditional programmer, artists and production roles. Pretty much everyone doubles as a designer in some part in my experience (whether this is good or bad, I still am unsure).
2) Flash sounds fine, whatever you are comfortable with. Try to commit to an idea though and flesh it out a little bit.
3) Not necessarily but it can't hurt to learn how to use a variety of different tools/programs. Flash is a good start. If you don't already, try to get acquainted with at least one 2D and 3D art packages (like Photoshop and 3D Studio Max).

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 13/05/11 - 12:50 PM Permalink

Make games. Make any type of games on any platform. What you're good at will become the focus. Level design, gameplay mechanics, or whatever you focus on - that will determine how people judge you. The term 'game designer' means a million things and is the subject of much debate. What is it precisely that you design?

Stop worrying about getting your foot in the door and make things. Things that make you valuable, that will make it impossible for people to turn you down.

You know AS3, so make more AS3 games. Put up a website. Comment on others' games. Immerse yourself. Be part of the community. Do small, fast collaborations along the way. Other software will help definitely, but focus on design if you're a designer.

Seriously, though - the industry is hurting. There are no jobs. There's only jobs if you're good.

Submitted by NathanRunge on Fri, 13/05/11 - 1:46 PM Permalink

The first question I'd ask is, do you really want to make games/interactive entertainment above all the other options you have? If not, it's not worth the hassle. If so, go for it though.

My advice in approaching getting a design job is to, well, give up on that idea in the short-medium term. Your chances of landing a game design role as an entry-level position are extraordinarily slim. It's possible you might be able to get a level design role, but those are getting harder to land as the job market floods, and that's likely to continue for a number of years. QA is still an entry-level position, but 'entry-level' doesn't mean what it once did as you're going to be up against experienced professionals and accomplished indies, all desperate to be part of the industry.

So that's the situation as I see it anyway. There are a few paths open to you, depending on your interests, proficiencies and resources. The first, and most widely recommended, is to do independent development. Make games, lots of them. These won't get you a game-design role (in all likelihood), but if you do some good work over numerous projects it'll give you the edge on Level Design, QA or Associate Producer roles. The lovely catch is, however, that everyone who sticks around is doing this and, to really stand out, you basically need to do something so awesome you don't need or may not want the job.

Which brings me to the perma-indie route. There have always been 'indies' and joining or forming a new independent studio is a legitimate route, but it carries a lot of risk. I won't go into a full analysis of the pros and cons, but it's not guaranteed money and it's a LOT of work, especially if you're looking at forming your own company. It's something to think very carefully about.

You might also consider further study which, if you choose the right institutions, might be of some minimal benefit but would more importantly allow you to undertake more projects. I can't really recommend that route though. Basically, not that anyone wants to tell you this, your chances are shit. They are for most of us, even a lot of the experienced professionals who have lost their job. In my opinion, and this is a very subjective opinion, you're better off forging your own path independently if you can afford to take the risk. No matter what you do, completing projects, even small ones, and networking are the keys.

On a side note of skill development: Programming is a HUGE plus. While I personally don't believe it necessary, some people, even in HR, believe it IS necessary. It's a huge boost if joining a smaller team too. Having experience with scripting and tools such as Unreal for level design or Project for Production are pluses. Familiarity with Scrum can be of benefit, but not the half-baked versions you get taught at universities.

Submitted by martythemage on Fri, 13/05/11 - 4:20 PM Permalink

Thanks for the words of wisdom guys, I really appreciate it. Looks like I better start bunkering down and focusing on the projects I started.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 14/05/11 - 5:58 PM Permalink

Well I'm working at GameLoft now, and they have been hiring junior game designers.

What they have typically done when they have hired a game designer is they look at the projects you are currently working on. i.e. one of the juniors has done a fairly successful command & conquer mod in a more up to date engine, better graphics etc.

Start getting a portfolio together.

Also programmer at a basic level is useful for a level designer tbh, but consider that most programming involved would be some sort of scripting language like lua etc at most commercial games company.

Don't be afraid to head overseas if you want to work commercially in the games industry also. Australia is only just starting to recover from a nasty games dev recession.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 14/05/11 - 6:04 PM Permalink

I disagree with you completely on some of your points just based on my experiences. As I mentioned in my subsequent post that companies do hire juniors but there needs to be content/projects for them to see. i.e. most of the juniors have done their own iPhone dev, or mod development etc.

Some companies now don't see QA as a entry position any more. They want people who are skilled at games QA. Some companies deliberately tell you during the meeting this is not going to be a stepping stone position. If you want to be a level designer, apply for the positions.

Also as you mentioned in you post, there are a lot of level designers compared to talented programmers. It tends to be a flooded market so you got to make yourself stand out. Stand out in a good way anyway :)

I do agree with your programming point. It is handy for a level designer to know python, lua or some scripting languages. Also obviously with building a portfolio etc.

Submitted by designerwatts on Sun, 15/05/11 - 12:20 AM Permalink

G'day Marty,

First off congratulations for completing a masters of creative industries. I hope you had the opportunity to work alongside some passionate teachers and fellow students.

First rule of thumb to keep in mind with becoming a game designer is that there is no real right and wrong way to approach working towards this career. Some ways will take longer then others but as long as you're learning then don't let it stop you.

As a game designer myself, my personal advice to you are as fellows:

- You are almost always wrong: As a designer you need to keep a very open mind and accept that all your ideas and designs are revisable and will change over a games development. Always be open to criticism from your team-mates and peers. Always revise and keep your revisions up to date. If your a designer who writes documents then create a new version once every few weeks so you can see how you're progressing.

- Defend what you think is right: When you feel justified in an element of a design then explain to people as to why you think this is so. I've found in my experience that when you defend a design decision with logic and experience the argument against it fades away. Of course you should always scrutinise the design element before defending it. [ie: You are almost always wrong.]

- Design what you love: Our industry is huge now and design is specialising by genre and platform. Designing a game for a social network like Facebook is very different to designing a console game. Ask yourself what genres and platforms you love to play and work towards that. When you can demonstrate an intimate knowledge of that genre to a studio who works on that said genre then you will be a valuable asset to them. If you love genres with large and complex design methods then dissect them down to core elements and gain an intimate knowledge of it.

- Make games: Either alone or in a team you should always be making games. Video games, board games, RPGs all are valid in your design development. I personally suggest that you start small. Games that could be made in 3 to 6 months are great for learning experiences. Work on making a single gameplay element polished to a diamond shine rather then trying make 6 elements mesh together poorly. I tell you this from personal experience.

- Play games: Don't ever take the stance of "Working to much to play games." As a designer is it part of your duty to play the shit if of games you love. To consider why these games appeal to you and how you could improve upon them.

Most of all understand that the journey IS the destination. Have fun working with creative people and making the best nuggets of fun and joy you can. When you love what you do and do it very well then the job will find you.

But! My wuffling aside:

1) How do you get a foot in the door in the games industry when they say you need previous experience?

- "Make" experience. Make games and make them fun and polished.

2) What are some recommended platforms for a rather new designer to work on?

- Any platform that allows you to cheaply develop on. PC digital download and iOS are viable at this time.

3) Do i need to have a coder/modeler background in order to get a job within the industry?

- No. But it does help when you have additional skills to bring to the table. This can be anything from artistic skills, programming skills, project management skills, marketing experience, anything that shows people that you are a valuable member to a team.

Also keep in mind that an employer will hire you for your BEST skill set. So if your level design skills are more polished then your high-level game design skills then you will be hired as a level designer.