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How To Survive as Game Designer
by Koen Deetman on 07/24/13 06:13:00 am

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


If we talk about the 'Game Designer' there usually is immediate confusion on what this person actually does. Some say they have something to do with the 'art' and visuals in the game, and some say they are the architect of the game structure. In this article I would like to describe the true meaning of a 'Game Designer' and how they can survive in the game industry.


Source: Abbey Games



Confusion in Definition

Some of the confusion is related to other industries or other professions in the 'IT world'. For example: a visual designer on websites, does really work on the 'exterior' of the website. Therefore 'designer' is used to point out he can provide consistency in color and form. A game designer is someone who comes up with new 'mechanics' and 'rules'. He tests them on target audiences and provides consistency between these elements.

Confusion in Execution

In a development team everybody has it's tasks. Programmers crack their minds about the code and we trust them with that. Artists sink their hands deep into the paint and we know they will create something great. Game designers however, tinker with concept and ideas. The problem is, everyone has ideas. What usually happens in smaller teams is that everyone has something to say about the concept or the ideas or mechanics or ruleset. This is normal behaviour because everyone wants to 'contribute' something of their own. With this contribution everyone feels more connected to the project. But what really happens is that the game designer gets completely overruled. We have to stop interfering with game designers and lay our trust in their expertise!

Game Designer Only

Today there are a lot of game development companies around, especially since the rise of the mobile market. Game Designers are not needed as much as Programmers or Artists. Usually companies already have a game designer that stayed there from the start of the company. This game designer is really the core of the company's type of games, therefore a secondary game designer is not always needed. I think today all game designers still need to have a second expertise to make them employable in different parts in the company. 

My Situation

If I compare this to my situation;
I am educated as a game designer. In my first year I already discovered game design alone will not be enough to assure myself with a job. I did some self-education on 'Game Art' and visuals. Besides game design I was educated with basic programmer skills. Eventually I found my true skill that is the role of a 'Producer'. Now I am blessed with the knowledge of all expertises and use them when I make decisions or explainations when leading teams, but I did not end up being a fulltime game designer.

Now my question to you is; What is your view on the game designer?



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Art Director


Kyle McBain
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To answer I agree that the literal definition of a game designer is someone who develops mechanics and rules.

I am not employed in the game industry, but I am a stamping engineer for the automotive industry and have a degree in architecture. I am also someone who's earliest memory was playing NES. I have been a gamer my whole life. I have also been in situations both as a volunteer designer with the city in which I lived and as a professional where thinking about multiple aspects of the job and working through elements of a project cohesively all while staying a few steps ahead and thinking outside the box are a must. Especially when it is a design/art based job. I basically never sleep which to me says the job is getting done properly. Not very many people can do this and I am happy to hear you are doing so well, but for anyone to say they are a "game designer" alone is strange to me.

My humble opinion is it should be a pre-requisite to any job involving games. Honestly art and programming should be in there too but I know that is a lot of knowledge and talent for one person to have and is a rare occurence. If everyone on the team could have the mind of a producer with thick skin to bounce ideas but still understand that they have a role to fulfil it would never fail. That to me is the proper way to design a game. And I think this is how a lot of indies do their work actually.

Koen Deetman
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Thanks for your comment Kyle.

To have a short reply to your piece about how game development is done. I think it's a Producers dream if everybody was just fulfilling their role and kept their ideas on the shelve. I know a lot of indies do their work like this, but sooner or later someone will argue about someone else his expertise. I often get programmers that do not think it's logical what the artists came up with. This is a battle I always have to face. If you can set the teams vision straight and everybody is developing 'for the user/audience' you get really close to a great and accurate product.

Anyhow, I would like to know if there are people experiencing otherwise :).

Maxime Landry
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I do believe your definition is either too specific or incomplete.

In my opinion, all designers working on a game should be called game designers. This should include narrative, level and user interface. If we do so, then your definition is too specific.

I understand that you are probably talking about the typical game designer (the one that do not have a specific name). Even though, I think your definition should include the concepts of progression and mastery. For example, the mechanics and rules in Demons Souls are pretty common but the game shines because the player have a unique sense of mastery over the mechanics. This need to be designed by someone.

But finally, we both agree on the fact that the definition of game design is confusing. As an industry, I really think we should work hard on that because I am afraid this is only the tip of the iceberg of a sever identity problem that harms the quality of our games.