This continues our IT Career series. These are designed to introduce you to the variety of career options in information technology and how you can get started.
Whether you’ve played video games your entire life or you enjoy creating storylines and puzzles, a job in game design might be right for you. Many people dream of working for the gaming giants, such as EA Sports, but game design can be a lucrative career for almost anyone with the right skill sets and passion. Before you embark on a quest to enter this career, though, you need to understand how to become a game designer.
Why Become a Game Designer?
The first step in any career decision is understanding why you want to do that job. Reasons to become a game designer are plentiful – CNN Money rated video game designer as one of the best jobs in the country in 2013 because of the high job growth and salary averages related to the position. Not only is earnings potential decent for game designers, but you also get to revel in creativity if you land such a job. While no job comes without the tedious bit, when you are a game designer, your biggest responsibility is making something that will be fun and entertaining for others.
While you might think game designers do work with computer code–and some do–there are also artistic components involved. Large gaming companies usually build teams that include artists, writers, coders, and game design experts to create games. Smaller companies might pair artists with programmers to design pared-down games or apps.
Where Do Game Designers Work?
Game designers do work for the big gaming companies, which include enterprises such as Nintendo, Midway, Epic Games, Capcom, Blizzard, LucasArts, PopCap Games, SquareSoft and dozens of other global gaming corporations. But game design isn’t akin to rock music or professional sports – just because you don’t get in with the big dogs doesn’t mean you can’t find rewarding work that pays well. In fact, some smaller companies pay more than the bigger companies, and savvy game designers often end up creating their own products and organizations.
As a game designer, you might end up working with a company that doesn’t produce games as a base product. Many companies are turning to gamification for marketing and training purposes. Businesses in the retail and food industries are increasingly using game-based apps to promote products, for example, and tech startups are leveraging this need to create a complete new sub-industry in gaming. As a game designer, your skill sets and your ability to think outside of the box can help you land a job in many industries.
How Much Do Game Designers Make?
Because game design jobs range widely when it comes to experience and responsibilities, it’s not surprising that pay also ranges widely. Payscale.com notes that game designers make an average base salary between $36,000 and $96,000, and employees report being paid commissions, bonuses, and profit sharing on top of base salaries in some instances. A report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics provides average salary ranges for various jobs within the game design field. Composers helping with soundtracks for games might earn around $50,000 while artists and writers could earn $25,000 to $75,000. Art directors in charge of game development could earn even more, as could project managers with game design experience.
How to Become a Game Designer: Experience and Education
It’s important to note that while programmers and coders might be involved in game design, the process of game design is not the same as that of game development. Game designers are often responsible for coming up with the game’s concepts, mechanics, storyline, and artistry. Developers then apply programming and computers to make the concepts a virtual reality. Depending on where you work, these responsibilities might be integrated in one team.
Game designers are often writers or artists with a love of or experience in the gaming industry. In some cases, a creative degree might help you land a game design job. Some gaming companies, such as Blizzard Entertainment, regularly seek four-year college graduates with degrees in art, game design, or computer engineering.
Whether you have a four-year arts degree or an associate’s degree in game design, you will need a portfolio to be considered professionally. A portfolio is a body of work that lets employers review your skill sets and capability — whether you are creating game graphics, drawing game storyboards, or writing game storylines. While it’s always good to have a physical portfolio, today’s employers often want to look at online portfolios. Since portfolios also let head hunters and recruiters find you, though, it’s worth taking the time to create a standout sample set.