Qualities of a Successful Game Designer

Breaking into the industry is hard work.

More people each year are turning to video games as a form of entertainment. According to The Entertainment Software Association 42% of all homes in the United States have at least one video game console. (The Entertainment Software Association, 2010) With this number so high, the need for game developers is constantly growing. Even so, there are an incredible number of people wishing to join the gaming industry. One area of particular interest is game design. To those with a passion for gaming this could be a dream come true. Game design, defined as “creating a self contained world in which characters can interact with each other and things can happen” (Pardew, 2005) is an exciting career for those with the determination to succeed in the gaming industry. It is a financially rewarding choice. Video game designers can start at approximately $46,000 yearly and the highest paid game designer was reported to have made $180,000 yearly. (www.animationarena.com, 2010) For those with an artistic flair there is the advantage of having a profitable creative outlet. That being said, breaking into the gaming industry requires many qualifications that developers insist on when hiring. The top qualities are a genuine interest in gaming, good problem solving, analytical skills and patience, ability to manage time well, work as a team member and company loyalty.

It is true that being happy at work is half the job. This is extremely accurate in the gaming industry. An above average interest in games and how they work is one of the most important qualities to possess. Studies have proven that intrinsic motivation or motivation that comes from the enjoyment of an activity is a necessary factor in creativity. (Hennessey, 2003) Game design requires a high level of creativity. Designers start with nothing and make up whole worlds with elaborate plots and exciting characters. A team member’s genuine interest in gaming ensures the development company that this person will be at their highest creative potential.

A higher level of creativity is only one advantage of having a passion for gaming. A designer who is excited about his work will be more committed and take pride in a job well done. Companies are looking for team members who are going to commit to a long term project. In order to create winning game team members need to develop a relationship with the game. Having extensive knowledge of a project insures there is minimal time wasted on retrying ideas that aren’t working. A team committed to finishing the project together will stay focused and work better as a unit. This is important for team morale and smooth production. If a team is excited and committed the end result will be a better game that developers can take pride in releasing.

The next important quality that a game designer needs is good problem solving skills. Video games are more complex than ever before. This means that the problems that come up could be equally complex. Designers will be faced with bugs or glitches in the coding that cause unexpected problems with game play. Other problems can surface when working on making a large size game fit inside a console’s capable memory. (Thibault, 2010) Along with technical problems the actual design could turn out to be a problem. If players are not warming up to the game the design team is responsible for finding out what is not appealing and fix it. (Thibault, 2010) There are many problems that can arise while developing a game and being able to solve these problems is crucial to the development process.

Another aspect of game design that makes exceptional problem solving ability important is the fact that the game itself is made up of problems that need to be solved in order to win. Creating these problems is a major part of the job. It is important to be able to create puzzles or problems that are solvable but not too easily solved. This insures lasting entertainment for the player. (Brathwaite, Schreiber, 2009) Gamers want to get to know the characters and feel a connection. Game stories involve many more characters than in the past and have become quite a cinematic experience. Gamers want more than a simple pick up and play. When asked, “What was the most important consideration when making a new game purchase?” www.frugalgaming.co.uk members answered overwhelmingly that an involved story providing many hours of entertainment was most important to them. Forum member Nyx stated, “It’s all about the story mode and length to me.” (Nyx 2010) Member Wobler agreed stating, “I’d usually go for the game that seems to have the best story and/or best review.” (Wobler, 2010) The results of this survey clearly show the Frugal Gamers like so many others want a well written story with complexity and substance. Many people play for hours at a time and choose video gaming as their main form of entertainment. A designer that can recognize game and player style is a valuable asset.

Who is the player? What type of game is the intended outcome? These are questions that designers ask themselves when working on each project. (Ferguson, Retrieved 2010) Game design will vary greatly depending on the answer to these two questions. Good analytical skills will help answer these questions and is the next favorable characteristic game developers are looking for. Being able to determine what part of the game is and is not working is important to a promising result. Video game players are looking for a game that grabs their attention right away and holds it. Instant gratification is very popular and there is no exception in the world of video gaming. Today’s player wants to be immediately impressed. To be a successful designer one must surely be able to analyze and determine where the game can be improved and what needs to stay as is. First impressions are an important part of any success. Being able to determine what a game needs to pull off that phenomenal first impression is even more important to a prospective game developer.

Every gamer has experienced the one game that has pushed them to extreme frustration. Many controllers have been broken and some games even abandoned completely. This type of stress occurs in the development process just the same. That is why it is imperative that anyone planning to be a game designer have expert patience. The process of creating the next Modern Warfare 2 is amazing. It is filled with moments of tension and monotony as well. For instance, assuming a particular chapter doesn’t seem quite natural or believable it is the design team that will go over these chapters repeatedly to determine exactly what needs to be fixed. This part of the job can be tedious at best. For Gearbox, the developer of Borderlands, it wasn’t just a chapter but the whole game that was off. The realistic look of today’s shooters just didn’t fit the layout of this game and players weren’t warming up to it. Only through patience and perseverance was the team able to realize that the style was all wrong. The game was then reworked to have a more comic book look. This decision turned general interest around completely and Borderlands is now enjoyed by a vast fan base. (Thibault, 2010) The project itself is only part of the need for patience in the industry. Every game today is designed by a whole team. This team is most likely made up of hundreds of people when looking at the project as a whole. Everyone wants to add to the project. No one member has final decision privilege. (Adams, Retrieved 2010) Each person on this tremendous team must have the will to listen to other ideas, be able to recognize when someone else’s idea may be a little better than his own and have the determination to sell when he feels his idea has the winning edge. When tackling issues such as these, it’s easy to see why anyone wanting to be a game designer must have a cool head and a patient demeanor.

No matter what the project, it will have time limits. When rushing to get said game completed in time to capture holiday revenue there will deadlines. When working to release a game which has a tie in with an upcoming movie release, there will be deadlines. Time management skills have never been more important. Designers have to push forward and produce while at the same time knowing when quality is suffering due to stress and tension. Situations frequently arise that can lead the inexperienced to panic. Being ill prepared not rested or being unfamiliar with a project can add to the risk of panic. Taking time can save money and lead to a better final product. (Schultz, Bryant, Langdell 2005) In an interview with Gamasutra reporter, Chris Remo Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot admitted that the quality of last year’s release Avatar probably was not what it could have been had it not been faced with strict deadlines that ultimately caused short cuts. (Remo, 2010) Knowing your capabilities and budgeting time cannot be overlooked when stepping up to any design challenge. Having a sense of urgency and still knowing when to take a step back make any industry hopeful a good candidate.

So far creative and task related skills have been discussed. However there is much more to game design than the task alone. To be an asset to any development company newcomers must show that they are able to successfully be an asset to the team. As mentioned before being able to recognize good ideas and sell your own are critical. Taking a more in depth look at why it is important to be a team player a few things are discovered. From the very beginning team play is in effect. Spinning ideas off others’ ideas until a story is born is the first process. There may be nothing more important in the design process than for the designer to be able to take an idea in his head and make the rest of the team “see” it. When this type of connection is made within the team, it leads to a much smoother and more natural product. When everyone sees the game going in the same direction and can move it in that direction together the end result could be amazing.

Finally, the most important characteristic a new developer can offer is company loyalty. When considering important characteristics this is not one that many people would give thought too. But, it is probably the one most important to a possible employer. Right now there is an active multimillion dollar lawsuit involving game developer Activision and former Call of Duty studio development heads Jason West and Vincent Zampella who were fired in March for insubordination and breech of contracts. (Peckham, 2010) When asked to respond to West and Zampella’s claims that the firings were unjustified Activision said this, “Activision legitimately expected [West and Zampella] to honor their obligations to Activision, just like any other executives who hold positions of trust in the company.” (Kato, 2010) This situation arising has put a multibillion dollar game franchise at risk. Gamers are now concerned about the future stability of the series. This uncertainty can be extremely costly and if the accusations are true, could very well have been avoided with company loyalty in place. New employees in this field will be required to show complete discretion when handling private company assets like design plans and contact information. Every day employees will have exposure to game information that is not subject to be shared and at the same time in high demand. It will be the employee’s obligation to protect such information. Proving that you are trust worthy and can show complete loyalty to a team, project and employer is one of the most beneficial career moves anyone can make. This act of integrity will most definitely improve a candidate’s value astronomically.

There are characteristics that make any prospective game design professional more attractive to potential employers. The above paragraphs have detailed some of the most commonly requested by employers. Becoming the best version of oneself and projecting that into work projects is critical to surviving in this fast paced, high demand industry. Only those willing to work hard and give attention to the qualities sought out in this job market will achieve success. Some of these qualities in high demand are nothing uncommon and should be found in everyone regardless of career path. Time management and problem solving skills as well as a sense of urgency and willingness to commit are skills that make up today’s greatest people. Add creativity and eagerness to be a part of a winning team for the most prepared individuals wishing to begin this exciting career.


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