|December 6th, 2011|
Hi this is N—–.
I am a jr in high school right now, we are doing something called a jr research paper, and the career that I chose and have been looking into is game design and I need to get an interview with a game designer, I was wondering if you could email me back and you may help me. If you have the time that would be really nice.
Sure. Here’s my answers to your questions:
What is a good way to enter the field?
It’s been a long while since I entered it, but I think the way I did it is still a good approach: make games. Make games on your own. Design them, be they as board games, little video games, whatever you can make. The craft of game design works across media, so you can learn as much about game design from making as pen and paper game as you can from making a platformer or shooter. Have people play them, and learn from what they do and don’t do. And use them as your calling card when you go looking for a job. I would expect any game designer I hire to have a portfolio of ideas, designs, and thoughts about game design.
How are the conditions in the workplace? (Stress level, schedule, etc…)
A lot depends on where you work. The game industry is not at all a stress-free environment, as a whole.
The game industry is notorious for fairly long hours and “crunch time” – periods of intense work in order to hit major deadlines. If you’re an indie, you may be crunching yourself all the time just to put food on the table. If you’re a salaried developer, then a lot will depend on the things that affect the company where you work, whether it’s the need to ship a game inside the fiscal year, or put together a playable to land a publishing contract, or whatever.
In general, game companies often keep loose hours, what gets called “core hours.” Pretty typical would be something like “you have to be at the office between 10am and 5pm. And you have to work at least 40 hours a week.” That means you could be the sort who comes in early, or who stays late.
If you are working with online games, you have to get used to being on call or working during holidays and times that other people get time off for – those are peak times for gameplay, so if something goes wrong, you have to be available.
How many hours do you get per week on average?
It does vary, but 40-60 hours a week is not unusual at all. I usually do 9 hour days working through lunch… but I have gotten older and more protective of my personal life. I used to regularly do 10-12 hour days.
Are there any physical/emotional stresses of the job?
Many! It’s a creative industry, and that means that you have all of the usual stresses that arise from that. If you are a creative type, like a designer, then you have things like whether you’ll ever get to work on your own idea (the answer is usually “no” if you work at a big company); creative disagreements with others on the team; angst over whether you’re good enough; compromises made to creative ideas in order to hit business goals; all that sort of thing.
If you’re a non-creative type, there’s the fact that you have to deal with creative types, which is plenty stressful a lot of the time – they can be high maintenance.
The hours can take a toll on family life as well, and because of the relatively small amount of places that are centers of game development, finding jobs may mean having to move every time you change companies.
It’s also a pretty sedentary job, so you have to work to keep your health; it’s super-easy to pack on pounds sitting at a desk.
What kinds of people do you work with? (Is it usually a friendly workplace)
The games business can be an awful lot of fun. Yes, it’s usually a friendly place. People work hard, but they also play a lot. Board game nights at the office, jam sessions, desks covered in figurines, cartoons on the whiteboards, you name it. If everyone were less busy, it would be even more fun.
Is there any form of evaluation taken annually to see if you are working up to qualifications?
No. Like most of the arts, the proof is in the pudding, and you are as good as your last few bits of work.
What are the advantages/disadvantages to the job?
Being a game designer lets you exercise a lot of different talents. A good game designer will be conversant with many or all of the parts that go into making a game. They’ll understand the rules. They’ll grasp how the code works. They have a good eye for art and level design. They have an ear for music and sound. They know how to pitch and present and in general do PR. They understand the business equation and how the game will make money. Cross-disciplinary knowledge is the best way to grow as a designer. For the right kind of person, this is a tremendous advantage, because you don’t get bored.
The disadvantages tend to have to do with the overall way the business works – the publisher model, the gatekeepers who control whether your game is seen by large amounts of people, the crowdedness of the market, the trendiness of specific game genres, the rising costs in making games, and so on. And the hours.
How much education did you have prior to the job?
I personally had a Master of Fine Arts degree. But that isn’t really typical. I am not sure there really is a typical degree for a game designer, but in general, I recommend a liberal arts background.
Does this career open up any options for the future?
It can… but basically, if you make it to the upper tiers of game design, you end up as a manager or a director of games. From there, you might become an executive at a game company, or you could found your own studio, or become a consultant. These days, some people make the jump to teaching, now that there are game design programs at colleges. Some also make the jump to other media altogether – toy design, television, film – though this is much rarer.