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What is Video Game Design?

August 13, 2021 | Staff Writers

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Video games have never enjoyed as much mainstream popularity as they do today. Where they were once seen as little more than a simple and fun distraction, they now offer an escape from reality that pairs photo-realistic graphics with complex and captivating storylines.

With the video game industry expected to increase in value to over $200 billion by 2023, it is no wonder that so many people are looking to get involved. The rapid increase in value and growing popularity has led to an explosion of job opportunities. Within the video game industry, one of the most in-demand jobs is video game designer.

The United States Department of Labor Statistics predicts employment opportunities for video game designers will skyrocket by more than 30 percent by the end of this decade. A video game designer is one of the fastest-growing careers in the country!

How Do You Know if Video Game Design is Right for You?

Aside from the fact that the industry is exploding in popularity and job opportunities are plentiful, video game designers enjoy exciting, interesting, and rewarding careers.  

If you are a creative person with a passion for gaming and enjoy learning how to use the latest technology, a career as a video game designer could be the perfect option. The best video game designers can merge creativity, technical skills, and a passion for video games. 

No matter what sort of video games you enjoy, a career as a video game designer will allow you to take your passion into a professional setting. What could be better for creative types who have a passion for gaming than getting paid to work on the games they love? If you choose a job that you love, you will never have to work a single day in your life.

How Can We Help?

If the idea of video game design appeals to you, we can help. To help you get started, we have written this useful guide that tells you everything you need to know about becoming a video game designer. We explain what video game designers do and highlight the skills and qualifications needed for a successful video game design career. 

We will also explain the main elements of video game design and list the skills video game designers are expected to have and go over video game design degrees and list some of the best programs out there.

If you have any interest in the gaming industry and want to know how you can become a video game designer, you have come to the right place!

Main Elements of Video Game Design

No matter how simple or complex they end up being, all video games start with a concept. A basic idea is expanded into a proposal by a team of qualified game designers. They assess how feasible the original idea is and expand on it, drafting it into a realistic game proposal.

During these early stages, video game designers address important details, such as the potential target audience, realistic timeframes for completion, budget requirements. They also determine how many designers, programmers, and coders completion of the game would require.

After a Video Game Concept Has Been Approved: 

Once the game has been approved and given the appropriate amount of funding, video game designers use their skills to make the concept a reality. They will take rough sketches and storyboards and turn them into complete outlines for playable games.

During this stage, video game designers will work on the following:

  • Developing plots and storylines
  • Coming up with and designing characters
  • Designing map layouts
  • Determining various scenarios and assessing how difficult the in-game challenges should be
  • Coming up with basic user interface designs
  • Determining if the game can use game mechanics from a previous creation, or if everything needs to start from scratch
  • Writing character dialogue 

As you can see, there is a tremendous amount of work that goes into developing a video game. Almost all of this work is done using computer software that allows video game designers to turn their visions into working games.

A video game will undergo hundreds of thousands of changes during its development, so video game designers must be meticulous. During development, most games have to undergo constant checks. These typically require programmers to redo thousands of lines of code.

Video Game Designer Responsibilities:

In terms of day-to-day responsibilities, video game designers will often perform the following tasks:

  • Devise in-game challenges, puzzles, missions, and more. It is up to the designers to keep players engaged and challenged, without frustrating them to the point that they no longer want to play
  • Develop narrative features to keep the game entertaining and captivating. This includes working on storylines, characters, backstories, and cinematic cutscenes
  • Regularly review individual and team design progress to ensure the game’s development is sticking to the scheduled timeline
  • Collaborate with visual artists and sound engineers to find the perfect audio and visual style for the game and the promotional material that will accompany it
  • Work with game programmers to ensure that all design elements are being followed. If the programmers cannot work with a particular characteristic of the design, video game designers must be adaptable and can come up with solutions and compromises

Video Game Designers Must be Comfortable with Strict Deadlines:

Since video games are one of the most important areas of a multi-billion dollar industry, they often have tremendous budgets and are tied to strict deadlines, which means video game designers need excellent time-management and organizational skills.

The crunch to complete a video game on time can be stressful, but all of that hard work results in the reward of watching something you worked on to be enjoyed by potentially millions of gamers all around the world.

Skills and Qualifications for a Job in Video Game Design

Once the vision for a new video game has been fleshed out, video game designers must communicate that vision to the programmers, artists, and the rest of the production team. In many ways, it is somewhat of a leadership role. As the game moves through the various development stages, video game designers need to make adjustments when necessary.

As you can see, the role of a video game designer involves a significant amount of collaboration and teamwork. Not only must video game designers be creative, but they must also be adaptable and can use problem-solving skills to overcome obstacles.

The following are just some of the skills you should possess as a video game designer:

  • The ability to communicate clearly with others
  • The ability to accept and offer constructive feedback
  • Presentation skills and the ability to communicate one’s vision with others
  • Basic visual design skills. While it is not mandatory, many video game designers are also talented visual artists that enjoyed drawing and painting before they got into the video game industry
  • Basic scripting and programming skills. This is particularly important when it comes to communicating design ideas with the programmers
  • Strategic thinking skills
  • Organizational skills and the ability to stick to strict deadlines and budget limits

If you find this list somewhat overwhelming, do not worry, most of the skills you will need for a career in video game design are taught as you earn a relevant degree. 

While there is no doubt that creative people who have a solid foundation of communication and design skills tend to excel in this field, you can still become a video game designer if these skills do not come naturally to you. The main thing is enrolling in the right game design program.

Benefits of a Video Game Design Degree

While it was once possible to land an entry-level position in the video game industry without a specialized degree, that is becoming an increasingly rare occurrence.

Today, video game developers expect applicants to hold game design and game development degrees. As the industry has expanded, more colleges and universities have begun offering degrees related to the video game industry. 

Video game designers used to apply for positions with little more than computer science or computer programming degrees; now, they apply with specialized video game design degrees. If you want your studies to explicitly focus on the video game industry, enrolling in a video game design program is the perfect place to start.

Not only will these programs teach you all of the relevant theories required to have a successful career in the video game industry, but you will also learn the specific skills you will need to design and develop games. Having hands-on experience using industry-specific software under the watchful eye of a qualified instructor prepares you for a rewarding career as a video game designer.

Choosing a Video Game Design Program

If you are interested in getting started in this field, one of the first decisions you will have to make is determining which type of degree you would like to apply for. 

While some schools offer specialized degrees focusing on specific sub-categories of video game design, most video game designers earn at least one of the following video game design degrees: an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree, or a master’s degree.

The three types of degrees are in order of their complexity. While a video game design associate’s degree is the easiest and most affordable option of the three, it also leads to the fewest career opportunities. Today, most video game development companies will expect their video game designers to hold at least a bachelor’s degree.

However, as we will explain, each of the degree options offers its unique advantages.

Associate’s Degrees in Video Game Design

Most associate’s programs take two years to complete. This time frame is enough for a decent amount of experience with the fundamentals of video game design. Given that these degrees are almost always offered through community colleges and technical schools, they are significantly less expensive than degrees obtained through traditional colleges and universities.

During an associate’s program, students learn creative concepts that are practical for game creation and design. They will also have the opportunity to gain an entry-level understanding of some of the software programs used in the video game industry.

In addition to completing general education courses, students will have the opportunity to learn basic coding, scripting, design theory, and illustration.

Another advantage of associate’s programs is that you can apply with just a high school diploma or a GED equivalent. Associate’s degrees in video game design are affordable, flexible, and less of a time commitment than degrees offered at traditional colleges. They are a good way to try out video game design and see if it is the right career path for you.

It is worth noting that very few employers will hire applicants that only hold an associate’s degree, which is why many aspiring video game designers use the programs as stepping stones. Given that many colleges and universities will allow applicants to use their grades from an associate’s program to apply to their bachelor’s degree programs, enrolling in an associate’s program can be a practical pathway for those that worry that they would not get accepted otherwise.

Bachelor’s Degrees in Video Game Design

Bachelor’s degree programs usually take at least four years to complete. They allow students to gain a fairly thorough understanding of theories and skills required to succeed as video game designers.

In addition to general education credits and electives, students will need to complete a series of credits designed to teach about video game design. Most colleges and universities will also assess the SAT and ACT scores of applicants as well as their high school GPA.

Since a bachelor’s degree in video game design is considered the minimum requirement for most entry-level video game design positions, it is a good path if you are looking to start a career in the industry.

Another advantage of completing a bachelor’s degree in video game design is the opportunity to develop your portfolio. There are countless video game development companies out there. If you want the best chance of being hired by the industry leaders, do your best to compile an eye-catching portfolio that will demonstrate your skills to any potential employers. 

While the video game industry is growing, so is the number of people looking to work in it, which means the job market will continue to grow, but it will also become more competitive. Creating an impressive portfolio and graduating from a bachelor’s degree program with the highest average possible is one of the best ways you can set yourself apart and land your dream job while doing enjoyable work

Master’s Degrees in Video Game Design

As is generally the case with any type of master’s degree program, you must have completed a relevant bachelor’s degree before you can apply.

Master’s degree programs in video game design are considered advanced levels of education. Depending on the particular school, they usually take between two and three years to complete. While they certainly expand upon the skills and theories taught during bachelor’s programs, there is one key difference between a master’s program and one taken at the undergraduate level – master’s programs also focus on the business and management side of video game design.

The following are just some of the types of credits you would be required to complete to earn a master’s degree in video game design:

  • Video Game Marketing and Advertising
  • Video Game Production Management Principles
  • Human Resource Management 
  • Project Coordination 

Most programs also involve some sort of specialization. Students will select one particular sub-category of video game design and focus their studies in that direction. Some programs also require students to submit a creative dissertation and a portfolio demonstrating their abilities in their specialization for graduation. This portfolio goes with the student and comes in useful when interviewing for jobs in the future.

As you may suspect, earning a master’s degree in video game design will prepare you for a role in project management. If you are interested in leading a team of video game designers, pursuing a master’s degree could be the right decision. With that said, master’s programs are fairly competitive, so it is not a given that you will be accepted into a program just because you have a bachelor’s degree in video game design.

How Do You Choose the Right Video Game Design Program?

Once you have decided on the right type of degree for your situation and needs, you can begin choosing schools you want to apply to.

Do Your Research

As mentioned previously, there are now more schools than ever offering programs specifically tailored to the unique skills required to work in the video game industry. As you may suspect, the first place to start is doing your research.

Start by looking at job postings for video game designer positions in your area. Get an idea for what level of education employers are looking for. You should also look beyond education requirements and see what sort of practical skills employers expect. Write down what software they expect students to be familiar with. Knowing this ahead of time will help inform your decision when it comes time to choose a program. From there, decide what type of education you are looking for. 

Decide What Sort of an Education Experience You Are Looking For

Before you can choose a school, decide if you are willing to move away from home to pursue your studies or if you want to find a local option if you need to stay close to home for financial reasons, or you are not quite ready to move away. Take a look at the program catalogs for your local schools, and find out if they offer video game design programs.

If your local colleges do not offer a video game design program or you are not impressed with what they do offer, look into an online bachelor’s degree or other distance learning opportunities. Many schools now offer distance learning opportunities for their video game programs. While these programs do have some limitations, they are a flexible and affordable way to get your career started. Not having to relocate for school can save you a significant amount of money if the on-campus experience is unimportant to you. 

If you are willing to relocate for your education, you can cast a wider net and look for a school that meets your exact preferences and needs. Once you have chosen your favorites schools and you have compiled a list, you can begin taking a closer look at what they offer.

Make Sure the Program is Practical

Before you apply to a video game design program, ensure that the school holds institutional accreditation. Accreditation means that the school meets the educational standards set by the Department of Education.

Once you have confirmed this, you can begin looking at program-specific details, such as the program’s length. Make sure that they use qualified professors who can give you the hands-on learning experience required to become a competent video game designer. You should also look for programs with a built-in portfolio-building component, as your portfolio will be incredibly important when it comes time to apply for jobs.

Which Schools Offer the Best Video Game Design Programs?

Video game design programs are offered across the country, so there are plenty to choose from. But certain schools offer some of the most highly-regarded game design programs in the world. These schools pair state-of-the-art facilities with highly-qualified teaching staff.

Do not be discouraged if these schools are outside of your budget, or you do not think your grades are competitive enough to get accepted. These programs are certainly prestigious, but they are far from the only options for aspiring video game designers!

1. The University of Southern California (USC)

Los Angeles, California

www.usc.edu

USC’s Game Design program focuses on the technical aspects of designing and developing video games. The program stands out because it teaches students every step of the game design process. Where other programs offer more of a surface-level understanding of game development, USC makes sure students are ready for their first jobs in the industry. 

The school is also located in Los Angeles, where many game development companies have offices, makes the transition from school to the workplace that much easier.

2. New York University (NYU)

New York, New York

www.nyu.edu

NYU only introduced its video game design program in 2015. In that relatively short period, the program has become recognized as one of the best in the country. Where NYU’s game design program stands out is its ability to offer students access to the latest technologies. The school’s reputable computer science department gives students access to advanced computers, while their famous school of arts helps video game designers learn from some of the best art professors in the country.

3. Michigan State University

East Lansing, Michigan

www.msu.edu

Michigan State University offers two separate undergraduate programs in game design and game development. The school is also home to the Games for Entertainment and Learning Lab. This setting is the perfect place for graduate students to practice their design skills and create prototype games.

By enrolling in Michigan State’s video game design program, students have the opportunity to learn all of the theories and skills required to succeed in the industry. They could even potentially have the opportunity to turn their ideas into fully functional video games right on campus!

Additional Resources

If you have more questions about what it takes to become a professional video game designer, the following resources could potentially help you out:

What is the Video Game Design Process?

The CG Spectrum College of Digital Art and Animation has provided readers with a full overview of the entire video game design process. If you are curious about what it takes to turn a concept into a playable video game, this guide is really helpful.

They cover the three main stages of the design process in detail and explain everything from storyboarding to final marketing and packaging efforts.

All Careers in the Video Game Industry

If you would like to know more about other video game careers you could take in the video game industry, this incredibly useful guide from www.gameindustrycareerguide.com is a great place to start.

They explain some of the most popular career options for those looking to get into the video game industry. While video game design is an excellent option, other options could be worth taking into consideration.

Five Types of Video Game Jobs

5CA details the top five video game industry careers out there today. Best of all, they highlight the personality traits that make a person a good fit for each type of job. If you know you want to follow your passion for video games and turn it into a career, but you are unsure where to start, this guide is incredibly useful.

Find the program that’s right for you

Whether you’re trying to start your career or make a big change, we can help you find the perfect school to help you reach your goals.

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BestValueSchools.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.
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