What is a game designer?
A game designer conceptualizes game plots and storylines, levels and environments, character interactions, and other creative aspects. It’s their job to work with other specialists - like developers, artists, and others - to communicate ideas and then project manage those ideas through to game production.
Depending on the situation, game designers can specialize in a particular game element, and can work among a team of others for a commercial or independent game development company. They can even work on their own, conceiving, creating, programming, and publishing their own titles.
The evolution of game design
The term “game designer” is used quite generically these days. In fact, most commercial game development companies are made of large teams with many individuals contributing to the game’s success. There are programmers, producers, level designers, modelers, animators, technical artists, testers, marketing and finance specialists, and more.
Level design, for instance, is the concept of brainstorming what a player will encounter when playing a game. Thus, level designers need to consider a number of different elements to ensure they’re making an engaging game for players to experience.
Game difficulty is one such key consideration, as level designers don’t want to make games that are too easy, or too hard for that matter—they want to make games that are “just right,” or, said simply, fun! So, their games should be challenging enough to encourage repeat gameplay and evoke the feeling of “I did it!” when players find success.
This balance in difficulty will vary by game and type of game. For instance, multi-level games can progress in difficulty with each level, with the first level being easy, the next more challenging, and so on. Or, all levels can be of the same moderate difficulty level throughout the entire campaign.
Conceptualizing a video game in its entirety
As the above shows, there is a whole lot more that goes into game design than just characters and plots.
Those who are interested in successfully designing a game need to think through these many different aspects, but also need to remain focused as each decision can branch off to smaller sub-decisions that need to be sorted out before work can commence.
For instance, one of the first major decisions a game designer will make is what type of game they want to create. From action games to sports games, puzzles, simulations, and more, there are a number of different types of video games from which to choose.
From there, what’s the game’s theme? While the list of the different types of video games is long, theme options are even greater! It’s not meant to be daunting or overwhelming, but more to inspire the fact that whatever idea a game designer is toying with, there is an audience out there who has played and enjoyed something similar.
The next step could be level design as explained above, and in which game designers will want to create level blueprints in order to plot ideas and plan how a developer can bring them to life. This blueprint can include the different places available for characters to explore, from houses to cities, dungeons, and more.
There are many other steps to follow, but from this, you can see the level of detail required to plan and create a game that others enjoy playing.
Video game industry outlook
Industry trends over the years have shifted dramatically. Indie games, casual games, social networking games, and mobile games have become crucial (and still rapidly growing) segments, adding to the massive presence created by consoles and personal computers.
With this shift, the barriers for creating, publishing, and distributing games digitally have been removed considerably in recent years, spurring astonishing levels of creativity and opportunity to reach the masses via the internet.
A career in game design is also a smart move in terms of stability and earning power—video games generated over $35 billion in revenue in the US in 2019.
The takeaway here is that, no matter what, games have to be conceived, coded, tested, and sold. There is room for top talent—talent with solid, proven portfolios.
Have a kid or teen wanting to take their first step towards designing a video game? Consider any of our cutting-edge game design summer camps or learning options below! Programs are held at 150+ locations including Stanford, NYU, Caltech, and others.