Games designer

 13 March 2013

Games designers create and develop games for different platforms. These can include consoles, phones, tablets and PCs.

Computer game designer
Computer game designer

What does a games designer do?

The computer games industry in the UK is bigger than the music and film industries, and represents over £2bn in global sales.

Games designers produce games for various platforms including: 

  • PCs
  • consoles such as Playstation 3 and Wii U
  • handheld devices such as the 3DS
  • mobile phones
  • tablets.

Games designers work as an integral part of a team, which includes programmers, producers, animators and artists to design the concept for a game. They may also work on the implementation of a specific feature for an existing concept. 

You will often be developing and working on existing games rather than designing new ones, some of which may be based on licensed property.

Every aspect or component of the game must be defined – this includes the setting, story, characters, devices and player abilities, such as the weapons or moves they are able to use.

While this process normally involves input from all areas of the team, it generally falls to the designer to choose the direction that best suits the game and the resources of the team.

You work may involve:

  • Creating new and exciting worlds for the player to experience.
  • Implementing and editing the design using specialist editing software.
  • Planning out the flow of the game, balancing difficulty curves and planning level layouts and momen- to-moment game play.
  • Predicting the players’ responses to different situations in the game and having an understanding of your target audience.
  • Ensuring the game has the correct pace to keep players engaged.
  • Developing the detail, and all the actions and mechanics of the game.
  • Preparing a prototype of the game after researching and developing the initial concepts and designs.
  • Working with testers and refining the game after feedback.

You will also need to keep up-to-date with constantly changing software technologies.

Games designers are normally employed by a computer games company, although some develop their own titles.

How do I become a games designer?

Computer games design is a highly competitive career. Even with a relevant degree you will usually start at a lower level, perhaps as a junior level editor or tester, and then work your way up.

You will need to define the game's setting, story, characters, devices and player abilities.

You will need a portfolio of your work demonstrating levels that you have created and your skills in relevant software packages.

To enter this industry you will need to be enthusiastic and hard-working with a broad knowledge of many different types of games.

Experience of using different games platforms is also important.

Here are some ways you can gain relevant experience:

  • Design and build your own computer games and try them out on your friends or release them on gaming sites and forums.
  • Work as a tester for a games company.
  • Apply for work experience or an internship at a games developer.
  • Go to games festivals and events and read industry magazines.
  • Gain an understanding of the logic of coding and possibly scripting languages such as Lua, C# and JavaScript.

You will also need:

  • A high level of creativity, imagination and problem-solving ability.
  • The ability to understand the needs and preferences of different target audiences.
  • A sound understanding of player psychology and game theory.
  • Excellent communication skills to work as part of team and to present your ideas clearly and effectively.
  • A resilient personality in order to cope with criticism.
  • The ability to work flexibly under pressure.
  • Perseverance, as on large budget games as the process from initial concept to finished product can take around two years.
  • A critical eye to be able to deconstruct a gaming experience.

Education and qualifications

Relevant school subjects include IT/Computer Studies, Physics/Science, Maths, Graphic Design and Art and Design.

Most young computer games designers are graduates. As well as A levels, further education vocational courses can also provide entry to degree courses if you achieve a level three qualification, often at distinction or merit level.

Further education qualifications that are relevant to games design include:

  • BTEC Level 2 Diploma in IT– entry with two GCSEs A-D
  • BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma in IT (Software Development)
  • BTEC National Diploma in Media Production (includes Computer Games Development).

Entry to the BTEC Level 3 and National Diploma courses is with four GCSE A-C passes, including Maths and English.

There are also more direct routes, including:

  • BTEC Level 2 Games Development & Design
  • BTEC Level 2 Interactive Media Game Art and Design
  • BTEC Level 3 Games Design & Animation 
  • BTEC HND Level 4/5 Game Animation 

University admissions tutors are always happy to provide guidance about the acceptability of various qualifications.

Degrees

There are many different degree courses which include games design or programming, including:

  • BA Game Art Design
  • BSC Games Software Development
  • BSc/BEng Computer Games Programming
  • BSc Computer Games Technology.

Creative Skillset accredits various university courses in computer games design and development.

General degree courses in Computer Science are also relevant if you have a strong interest in games design and development.

Degree entry

Entry for degree courses is with a minimum of two A levels or equivalent. Popular courses may ask for three A levels at high grades. Entry to computer games courses is competitive, and admissions tutors look for evidence of a strong interest in the subject, as well as an understanding of the role of the designer.

The courses vary greatly and always visit the university open days before applying. As well as course content, ask about links with industry, work placements and job prospects.

Look at the UCAS website for course listings in 'Computer Games Production', 'Computer Games Design' and general computing courses. Research courses carefully as some are more about games programming than design.

HND courses, for example in Computing and Systems Development, may also be relevant – entry is with minimum of one A level or BTEC Level 3 or equivalent.

What will I earn?

A starting salary for a graduate junior games designer is around £19,000 per year.

With experience salaries can rise to between £25,000 and £35,000 per year. A lead games designer can earn around £45,000 and possibly more.

Salaries vary according to where in the country you work with higher rates more common in London.  


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