Game designer

A game designer is a person who designs games. The term normally refers to a person who designs video or computer games, but it can also refer to one who designs traditional games, such as board games.

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1 Video and Computer Game Designer
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Video and Computer Game Designer

A video or computer game designer develops the layout, concept and gameplay: the game design of a video or computer game. They work for a video game publisher or developer. This person usually has a lot of writing experience and may even have a degree in writing or a related field (such as English). This person's primary job function is writing, so the more experience they have with the activity, the better. Some art and programming skills are also helpful for this job, but are not strictly necessary.

In the video game industry, the job of game designer is one of the hardest to obtain. It is not easy, though many people (especially teenage boys) think they "have what it takes" to perform this job. Almost everyone in the game industry has what they believe is a "killer game" concept and is waiting for the opportunity to develop the game. As a game designer, they may get the opportunity to develop that game concept, so competition is usually very high.

Since a video game publisher may invest millions of dollars towards a game's develop, it's easy to understand why they choose game designers carefully—one or two ill game concepts could end up costing them millions of dollars of revenue and could even risk bankrupting the company (as in the case of Sir-Tech). For this reason, game publishers usually choose game designers who have a proven track record with several hit games under their belts. Less seasoned designers may be assigned to low profile games that have budgets in the low thousands.

History

Early in the history of video games, game designers were often the lead programmer or the only programmer for a game. This is the case of such noted designers as Sid Meier and Will Wright. This person also sometimes comprised the entire art team! As games became more complex and computers and consoless became more powerful (allowing more features), the job of game designer became a separate job function, with the lead programmer splitting his time between the two functions, transitioning from one role to the other.

Later, game complexity escalated to the point where it required one who concentrated solely on game design. Many early veterans chose the game design path eschewing programming and relegating those tasks to others.

Today, it is rare to find a video or computer game where the principle programmer is also the principle designer, except in the case of relatively simple games, such as Tetris or Bejewelled. With very complex games, such as MMORPGs, designers may number in the dozens! In these cases, there are generally one or two principle designers and many junior designers who specify subsets or subsystems of the game.

The Video and Computer Game Design Process

The game designer starts with a concept, which may be handed to them or may be one they created themself. They may start informally by discussing the game idea with others or may start writing immediately. Either way, one of the first tasks is to create an initial game design (or proposal, depending on the circumstances). The initial design needs to be approved and then full-scale production can begin.

However, just getting a game idea or design approved can be a tedious process. If the initial design is rejected, the designer has to try to figure out why it was rejected and make changes to appease stakeholders. The process of submitting a design, getting rejected, tweaking and resubmitting can take weeks, months or even years. Often, a game design never gets approved and the designer has to attempt a different idea altogether. But when a design finally gets the "green light," it isn't over.

When full-scale production begins, the initial game design gives the production team (programmers, artist and one or more producers) a "jumping off" point for development. Artists generate concept sketches and programmers will develop several prototypes to test out various game concepts. During this time, the game design will evolve, change and grow drastically, and it is the game designer's job to document it all.

But it doesn't end when the early production phase is over. During development many discoveries are made (for example, a way to render larger scenes) and shortcomings have to be dealt with (for example, the inability to calculate inverse kinematics). All these discoveries alter the game design and must be documented. The game design is a "living document" and the game designer is its heart and blood. Making and managing all the changes is difficult and can be cumbersome, so the designer must be adept at prioritizing and tracking changes. Additionally, since changes can be made in any place of the document, the designer must be vigilant in keeping the team informed of these changes and must be ready for any anger or criticism levied at them from the outcome—many hundreds of hours of work may be discarded from subtle changes to the game's direction.

By the end of development, the design document may grow from less than a dozen pages to several hundred. Samples of artwork and graphs make up some of the content, but most of the document is text which the designer must generate.

The game designer must also be diplomatic. During development, many members of the development team will offer suggestions or request changes (actually, a good game designer will solicit comments from the team). When many suggestions for one aspect of the game are made, the designer must choose which one is most desirable. They must be diplomatic in announcing their decision so as not to offend those who proffered the unused choices. Like in most endeavors, a coherent team is vital in game development and the designer can't afford to offend those who may play vital roles.

Diplomacy is also important when dealing with the client, who may be upper management, or, in the case of a third-party developer, the game publisher. If these stakeholders are not satisfied with aspects of the design, the designer must diplomatically resolve these issues, balancing satisfying the client with keeping in features that he or she wants. Upsetting any one of several possible stakeholders could lead to removal of the designer from the game.

If the designer is not the sole designer on a game, they must exercise diplomacy when discussing features with other designers. Conflicting ideas can easily escalate into violence when passionate personalities are involved.

Though it may go without saying, game designers must be creative individuals with broad backgrounds. Early in their career, designers may be required to design games based on licensed properties or IPss—some of which may have little game potential (for example, Cap'n Crunch cereal). In these cases, the designer must exercise great creativity and patience while forming a game that is fun and interesting. After several years of such design experience, a designer may be given the opportunity to work on a game in their preferred genre.

Notable Video and Computer Game Designers

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