If you’re overflowing with ideas for interesting stories, have some artistic flare, and have been playing games since you were old enough to turn on the television, video game designer might be the gig for you!
Not sure how to get started? Our handy guide will tell you about what it takes to become a video game maker, the best game design schools to attend, and the types of jobs in the video game industry—plus what kind of game designer salary you can look forward to. Video game design is an ultra-competitive field full of creative people, so you’ll need a killer online design portfolio to stick out from the pack. But don’t worry, we’ll help you learn how to build your portfolio so you can get more video game designer jobs.
Ready, player one?
So, What Does a Video Game Designer Do?
Video game designers develop the concept of the game. In a game’s pre-production stage, they come up with the rules that dictate how the game is played, and its overarching storyline. Once the game moves into the production stage, they build out the world of the game, developing all the characters and the environment—from the castles that you storm through with your crew to the beautiful seafloor you swim to in order to retrieve a priceless jewel. Video game makers also develop the side quests you play to win points.
One important distinction: a game designer’s job description is often confused with that of video game developer. Despite being referred to interchangeably, they are actually quite different. Video game developers are responsible for back-end work, like animation and coding.
What are the Video Game Designer Requirements? Do I Need to Attend a Game Design College?
Good news: getting a video game degree isn’t the only path to getting a game design job. In most cases, a high school diploma is the minimum video game designer education requirement, with some applicable skills or previous experience. While there are plenty of video game design colleges, non-traditional educational paths are also welcome in the industry—although it may be worth keeping in mind that some employers will require a computer science or game design degree.
Some video game makers are completely self-taught—below, we talk about game design software you can learn on your own—but a lot of video game designers’ education experience is in subjects like computer science, programming, and art.
What are Some of the Best Game Design Schools?
You don’t need to go to an Ivy League institute to attend a top game design school. We’ve rounded up here the best game design schools in North America.
The United States has a bunch of top-tier video game design schools, so it could really come down to the place you’d most like to live. Here are the best game design colleges in the country for undergraduate game design programs, according to the Princeton Review:
- University of Southern California
- New York University
- DigiPen Institute of Technology (Redmond, Washington)
- Becker College (Worcester, Massachusetts)
- Rochester Institute of Technology
If you’ve already done a Bachelor’s program and want to do a graduate video game design program, these are probably the best video game design college options:
- Southern Methodist University (Plano, Texas)
- New York University
- University of Central Florida
- University of Southern California
- University of Utah.
If you live north of the border, you’ll probably be headed to Vancouver or Toronto for video game design school. These schools are ranked as having the best game designer education in the country, according to the Princeton Review and gamedesigning.org:
- LaSalle College Vancouver
- Vancouver Film School
- Matt the Mutt College of Animation, Art & Design
- Sheridan College
- Visual College of Art and Design of Vancouver
What Does a Game Design Degree Entail? What Will I Learn in Game Design Courses?
Video game design programs offer an interesting mix of courses. In addition to attending game design classes that will teach you the basics—designing game systems, mechanics, and game levels—you’ll also learn about how to script a game.
Written communication, how to write professional design documentation, and 2D and 3D art will also be emphasized in game design courses.
If your video game course also focuses on development, you’ll have more of a focus on computer science, mathematics, and coding.
What Kind of Game Design Software Do I Need to Learn?
You’ll probably need to be fluent in some game design software to get started as a video game designer, but don’t be nervous—you can start off with some basic software that doesn’t require any coding skills to start creating simple games, and work your way up from there. We’ve broken down some of the common game design software you’re likely to come across as a video game maker, in order of complexity.
If you’re looking to test your story-development skills, Quest is a great way to start—it’s an in-browser game design software that creates text-based adventure games.
Twine is another great free text-based video game designer.
Stencyl is a good bridging software; if you have no coding skills, you can still make a cool game. But if you want to challenge yourself to work on your coding, the software allows you to augment its capabilities with your code.
Construct 2 allows you to create 2D games with no coding experience required, and gives you the opportunity to branch out into making mobile games.
You’re going to need to know how to code for these two. Both Unity and Unreal Engine are professional-level game design programs that video game designers with major studios use every day—and, for individual users, both allow you to monetize your creations. Knowing these programs will give you a leg up with any video game jobs you apply for.
(If you’re looking for some game design inspiration, check out these seven video games that were practically made with video game designers in mind.)
Can You Take Online Game Development Courses?
What Kind of Video Game Jobs are Out There?
There are so many game industry jobs! You can even specialize in one small part of the game design process if you want to. Some video game designer jobs on the market right now include 3D animators who develop and edit the animation of game characters, and concept artists who help conceptualize the game universe.
Other game design jobs include designing fight levels, developing things like in-game reward and motivation systems, and developing game systems and controls.
Your video game career will likely begin with a video game internship—but don’t worry, you won’t just be fetching coffee. Even six-month interns can be given a lot of responsibility, and eventually you’ll work your way up the ladder.
What is the Game Designer Salary Like?
You’re in luck: on average, video game jobs are quite well-paid—even the entry-level or junior positions.
According to Payscale, the average video game designer salary for a junior game designer, the most entry-level position in the business, is more than $61,500 a year—although, obviously, some junior video game designers will make more or less, depending on what studio they work for and in what city.
Indeed estimates that a game designer salary can range from $44,000 for entry-level positions to upwards of $125,000 for the most senior video game designer jobs, with the average being a little more than $81,000.
For comparison’s sake, the average game developer salary is $101,000, according to Indeed. The site says the low end of the scale is around $59,000, and the highest video game developer salary sits around $144,000.
How Do I Build an Online Portfolio For My Video Game Designs?
It’s important to showcase your previous work in an online portfolio so that game studios can see how talented you are. To get started, use a website builder to create a website within minutes that will showcase your game design work. Make sure to pick one that offers beautiful templates and professional-looking fonts. You can also use your About Me page to showcase your credentials; make sure to include any video game school experience you have, along with, perhaps, some personal anecdotes about why video games mean so much to you.
If you’re looking for a little inspiration, check out how these designers have set up their portfolios.
Now that you’ve got all you need to get started as a video game designer, it’s time to level up. Good luck!