Game Design and Writing
The game designer is to the video game what the movie director is to the movie. The game designer is often, but not always, the person who comes up with the initial idea for the game. It is the game designer who must have a vision of how the game will look, feel, and play, and then make sure everyone else working on the video game shares that vision.
Whether explaining to the physics programmer how the main character's jump move should feel to the player, or describing what an end-level boss should look like to an art designer, or even playing video games in the name of research, the game designer is the jack-of-all-trades who is involved in every aspect of video game creation.
Hours involved: Typical forty-hour workweek, but can often turn into a sixty- to eighty- hour workweek during game production.
Work environment: Studying video games in various places and overseeing the development team in the office.
Salary: Starting salary around $40,000; more experienced game designers can make $75,000 and up.
Because the game designer must have an understanding of nearly every aspect of video game production, there is no standard set of qualifications most employers look for. For the same reason, being a game designer is rarely anyone's first job in the video game industry. Many game designers start out as testers or even programmers.
A large part of a game designer's job is coming up with entertaining video game concepts and then fleshing them out into fully realized characters and storylines. Therefore, a background in writing and literature would be extremely helpful.
Some trade schools offer classes in game design and level building. However, because a game designer must have experience in so many different aspects of the game-making process, actual experience in the gaming industry may be more valuable to a potential employer.
A solid sense of story, an understanding of how video games are created, a vast knowledge of video games, and a vision for the future of the industry are important skills all game designers should have. A game designer needs to be able to quickly understand a technical problem being faced by a programmer or the hardware requirements involved in the visual design of a game. Therefore, it is important that he or she has at least a cursory understanding of all of the programs being used in the video game industry today.
Leadership and people skills are a must for this position. You've got to be able to communicate your thoughts articulately and patiently to a large group of people who may understand and visualize concepts differently than you do.
Game design can be a long, arduous task, but its reward is the excitement of watching a video game grow from a basic idea to a well-made product being shipped to gamers all over the world.
How to Get Your Foot in the Door
Getting a job as a game designer is based solely on experience in the video game industry. The best way in is to start as a video game tester or an intern at a video game company and slowly work your way up, gaining experience in as many different video game fields as possible.