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Job Description: Games Designer.

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Computer games designers devise new computer games and define the way the game is played and the 'game experience'. Computer games are a major part of the UK's media industry. People spend more money on buying games than they do on going to the cinema.

Job Description, salaries and benefits

Computer games designers devise new computer games and define the way the game is played and the 'game experience'. They develop:

  • the rules of the game
  • the setting
  • story and characters
  • props such as weapons and vehicles
  • different ways the game may be played.


It is part of their job to convince other members of the team to develop the game. They work with programmers, artists, animators, producers and audio engineers to turn their original vision into a working game.

Games designers work around 35 hours a week, but they may need to work longer hours as deadlines approach. They work in offices and spend long periods sitting at a desk using a computer or attending meetings.

Salaries may range from around £19,000 to £55,000 a year.

A computer games designer should:

  • be creative, imaginative and original
  • be fluent in a number of software packages
  • understand the market and target audience for computer games
  • have problem-solving skills
  • enjoy IT and playing computer games.

Around 6,600 people in the UK work in computer games development. They are employed by games development studios, which are either independent companies or owned by games publishers. Around half of the people working in the games sector are based in London and south-east England. The games market is likely to expand.

There are no set requirements, but most games designers are graduates. Most degree subjects are acceptable. Employers look for people with previous experience in the games industry - for instance as a games tester - and strong portfolios of relevant work. It may be possible to start on an Apprenticeship in QA and Games Production. Because of the level of experience required, most people are adults when they start this job.

Most computer games designers train on the job. They may attend short courses on technological developments and new software packages. It is important to keep up to date with developments in technology and the games market throughout their careers.

There is no formal promotion route for games designers. They may be promoted from junior designer to designer, and, with experience and management skills, to lead designer. Some designers move into management and marketing roles, or become self-employed.

 

What is the work like?

Games designers may work from their own original idea, or use various elements that have already been decided upon. They develop:

  • the rules of the game
  • the setting
  • the story and how it develops
  • the characters
  • the weapons, vehicles and other devices that characters can use
  • different ways the game may be played.

The designer presents these ideas in a 'concept document' or 'initial design treatment' which helps other members of the team to decide whether or not to go ahead with developing the game. Before companies invest time and money in new games, they must be convinced that people will want to buy the finished product. So they conduct market research and consider other factors such as timing before giving permission for further development.

The next stage is for the games designer to work with a team of artists and programmers to produce a prototype. This is a small-scale, playable version of the game, designed to prove that the idea will work. At the same time the designer puts together the full game design document which describes in detail every element of the game and how it works. This document is likely to change over time as the game evolves.

During the development of the game the game designer is responsible for:

  • making sure that the rest of the team (including programmers, artists, animators, producers and audio engineers) understand the concept of the game
  • making adjustments to the original specification to reflect technical constraints and new programming or artistic developments from the team
  • training testers to play the game - they make sure that it works in the way it is meant to
  • making sure the game experience meets the original vision.

Some game designers work on the whole game, while others might concentrate on one aspect of the design. On large projects, a lead designer oversees the work of a number of designers.

Starting salaries for new computer games designers with previous games industry experience may be around £19,000 a year.

 

Hours and environment

Games designers work on average 35 hours a week, but additional hours, including early mornings, evenings and weekends, are likely to be required at busy times, particularly when deadlines are near.

Designers are office based and spend much of their time sitting at a desk using a computer, or attending meetings.

 

Salary and other benefits

These figures are only a guide, as actual rates of pay may vary, depending on the employer and where people live.

  • A new computer games designer with previous industry experience could earn around £19,000 a year.
  • With experience, this could rise to between £25,000 and 35,000.
  • A lead designer may earn between £35,000 and £55,000.

 

Skills and personal qualities

A computer games designer should:

  • be creative, imaginative and original
  • be fluent in a number of software packages
  • have a thorough understanding of the market and target audience for computer games
  • have problem-solving skills
  • have storytelling ability
  • have excellent communication and presentation skills
  • understand the capabilities and benefits of different hardware including PCs, consoles and mobile devices, as well as the relevant software technologies and techniques
  • have basic drawing and 3D design skills
  • be able to adapt quickly to change
  • work well in a team and alone
  • work well under pressure and be able to meet deadlines
  • take criticism well
  • be willing to keep up to date with new developments and trends in the computer games market.

 

Interests

It is important to enjoy:

  • playing computer games and working out what makes them good or bad
  • working with IT.

 

Getting in

Around 6,600 people in the UK work in computer games development. They are employed by games development studios, which are either independent companies or owned by games publishers. Around half of the people working in the games sector are based in London and south-east England, but there are also important centres in Manchester, Liverpool, Warwickshire, Dundee, Sheffield and other parts of Yorkshire, and Newcastle.

Over half of all males and one in four females play games regularly, and the market is likely to expand as new technologies are introduced which make games more exciting and realistic. Development studios are keen to employ games designers who understand markets and target audiences and have the imagination and creativity to excite existing players and reach new audiences.

Vacancies are advertised through specialist recruitment agencies, on company websites, and in specialist games publications and websites. See the Skillset website at www.skillset.org for useful links to recruitment agencies and websites.

Entry for young people

There are no set requirements for this job, but the majority of computer games designers are graduates. Most degree subjects are acceptable.

Skillset accredits four courses offering education and training development for people wanting a career in computer games:

  • BA (Honours) Computer Arts, University of Abertay Dundee
  • BSc (Honours) Computer Games Technology, University of Abertay Dundee
  • BSc (Honours) Computer Games Technology, University of Paisley
  • BA in Computer Animation, Glamorgan Centre for Art & Design Technology.

Students on these courses benefit from visiting lectures, studio tours, workshops, masterclasses, mentoring and work placements.

The usual requirements for a degree are at least two A levels/three H grades and five GCSEs/S grades (A-C/1-3), or equivalent qualifications, but candidates are advised to check with individual institutions.

It is not normally possible to become a computer games designer without relevant experience in the industry. Many designers have previously worked as testers in the quality assurance departments of games development studios. Employers usually expect to see a portfolio of work, including completed game projects or written game design documents and proposals.

Skillset is piloting an Apprenticeship in QA and Games Production. For further details see the Skillset website.

Apprenticeships which may be available in England are Young Apprenticeships, Pre-Apprenticeships, Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships. To find out which one is most appropriate log onto www.apprenticeships.org.uk or contact your local Connexions Partnership.

It is important to bear in mind that pay rates for Apprenticeships do vary from area to area and between industry sectors.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. For further information contact Careers Scotland www.careers-scotland.org.uk, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact COIU www.delni.gov.uk.

Entry for adults

Because of the level of experience required to do this job, the majority of computer games designers are adults who have previously worked in other roles in the games industry.

 

Training

Most computer games designers train on the job, combining self-learning with mentoring by more experienced colleagues. There may be the opportunity to attend short courses to learn about technological developments and new software packages.

It is very important for anyone working in the computer games industry to keep up to date with technological developments and market information, and to update their skills throughout their careers.

 

Getting on

There is no formal promotion route for computer games designers. With experience, it is possible to be promoted from junior designer to designer. Successful, experienced designers with project and people-management skills may progress to become lead designers.

There may be opportunities to move into management and marketing roles.

Talented designers may be offered the chance to work overseas. It may be possible to become self-employed, doing freelance work on a contract basis.

 

Further information

 

Further reading

  • Working in computers & IT - Connexions

 

Magazines/journals

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Creativepool

www.creativepool.com

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