Getting involved in the process of making video games is a dream to a lot of people, especially those who enjoy playing video games.
Since game design doesn’t require coding, and is generally the area where creativity is involved, it is the first choice that comes to mind to a lot of video games fans.
So the question now becomes, how do you become a game designer without having to go to university or get an official degree?
Here are a few things that you can do to help you land your dream job as a game designer at a large game studio:
1- Learn the basics of game design first
Who would have thought…
If you have zero knowledge about anything game design related, you have to start by at least learning the fundamentals of game design, and the basic skills that can get you started.
There are thousands of resources online that can teach you the skills needed to become a game designer.
YouTube alone is full of free content that can get you started.
If you understand what game design is, then just playing video games and noticing how different game design decisions have been made throughout the game can help you improve your set of skills as a game designer.
It is all about creativity, so first understand the fundamental concepts of game design, and then start learning from other successful games, and from your own experimentation.
One place you can check is the Game Maker’s Toolkit YouTube channel. It has some excellent breakdowns of some of the most successful video games, and it goes into details about the game design aspects of these games.
2- Build your portfolio of video games.
Now that you have an idea about what your job is as a game designer, then the next thing to do is to start building stuff.
This is by far the most important thing that you should do in order to have a chance at becoming a game designer.
The first thing that recruiters will be looking for is the games that you have worked on before, not necessarily the “degrees” that you have. Degrees can definitely help, but generally speaking, it is the projects that you have worked on before that make the difference.
If you have never worked on any game, then it will be almost impossible to be able to land a job as a game designer.
You don’t have to spend years designing full games in order to prove yourself. What you could do is just design 1 level of a certain game for example, and use that as a chance to show your skills and abilities as a game designer.
You’ll probably need more than one project in your portfolio in order to be able to land your first job as a game designer, so keep building your portfolio as you apply for jobs.
There are several things that you can do in order to start building your portfolio. You could start by choosing your best video game, and then either add new mechanics to it, or fix certain mechanics in it that you think were not well made enough.
This will help you avoid not having any idea where to start. If you start from scratch, you might find it very difficult to know how to get things done. So I would suggest that you start by building on top of other game ideas and designs.
You don’t have to rebuild the whole game for you to be able to add your mechanics, instead, you can just work on the parts that are only needed for the extra mechanic that you have added or modified.
You don’t even have to know how to code to be able to do this. There are a lot of game engines that let you build games and prototypes using visual scripting (ie, without any coding).
That doesn’t mean that it’s very easy, you will still have to learn some of the fundamentals when it comes to programming logic, laying things around and so on, but if you are motivated enough, you can learn by watching online tutorials and reading the documentation of the software that you are using.
If you absolutely do not want to experiment with building your own game even without having to code, then it might be time to ask your fellow programmer friend for a favor.
You could work on the game design of some small game, and your programmer friend can bring your design decisions to life. This way, both of you will have a portfolio to showcase.
If you are one of the many people who don’t even know any programmer who might be willing to build a game with you, that’s totally fine.
You can go join game jams and assemble teams on the spot to build games. Game jams can be a gold mine for your portfolio.
If you don’t know what a game jam is, it is basically a competition where a large number of people form groups and compete against each other by making a game within a certain time limit. The team with the best game wins the competition.
Many successful game jams are organized virtually. Meaning that you can participate in a game jam while sitting at home.
Game jams are extremely important for your portfolio as a game designer for these reasons:
- They link you up with programmers and artists that are willing to bring your game design ideas to life
- They give you the chance to work with people you have never worked with before, and this alone can give you great experience when it comes to communicating your ideas clearly to people you never knew before
- They force you to meet deadlines and avoid procrastination
- They are a fun experience overall
With that said, game jams can be an excellent way to fill your portfolio with cool games. You can find them on itch.io, where many successful game games get hosted.
To sum this whole section up, I would say that you need to show the recruiters what you can do instead of telling them what you can do.
One final note before we move to the other sections is this: whenever you are working on a portfolio project, document everything, write design documents, and so on. These might be useful in showcasing your documentation skills since this is a big part of game design.
3- Apply to small studios first
Landing a job at your dream game studio is amazing and all, but it might not be possible if you don’t have any prior experience in the field.
With that said, you need to start looking either for internships, or for freelance work, or for small studios that are willing to accept junior game designers.
Internships are a great place to start. Go look for local studios around you, and apply for an internship there. Your portfolio will show them your potential and your willingness to learn and improve as a game designer.
You don’t even have to limit yourself to your local area. Many game development studios are now accepting remote workers after what happened during the lockdown period.
You could also go look online for freelancing opportunities. I am a freelance game developer myself, and I found most of the projects that I worked on by checking freelancing sites like Upwork.
These freelancing sites are full of employers who are willing to recruit game designers who don’t have a large portfolio yet.
You can think of these projects as new additions to your portfolio, and your first steps towards your dream job.
4- Keep expanding your set of skills
Get yourself familiar with the software that is used by your target studio. For example, if they use certain software for prototyping levels, get yourself familiar with the software and maybe use it to build levels for games that are similar to the type of games your target studio builds.
This shows that you are clearly interested in the work the studio does, and that you are always willing to learn to meet the standards that the game development studio is looking for.
5- Make yourself known as a game designer.
Go to game development and game design events near you. Update your social profiles to include the fact that you are a game designer, or you’re planning to become one, engage on game design and game development related forums, and so on.
Just put yourself out there as a game designer. As mentioned earlier, join game jams and connect with likeminded people.
Ask for criticism, then constantly improve and iterate on your projects and ideas.
Maybe this could help you catch the attention of certain employers who are willing to give you a chance to join their game design team.
With that said, I truly wish you all the best with your game design journey, and I hope that one day, you will get to share your ideas with the rest of the world.
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