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FAQ 00:

What is Game Design?


By Tom Sloper
Game Designer, Producer
(Sega, Atari, Activision, Yahoo)

Originally written: January, 2022


What is Game Design?

You want to design games, sure, every player has ideas and wants to design games. But make sure you know what "game design" is before you jump into online game forums and ask questions. I'm a volunteer moderator on a game development forum, and it frustrates me when people ask off-topic questions in the Game Design forum. Those people don't know what "game design" is!

Game Design vs. Game Development

Game design is a specific skillset within the umbrella term "game development." Game development encompasses programming, art, testing, audio, management... and design. Game design is a subset of game development. Not the other way around.

Programming Is Not Game Design

Programming is a separate topic from game design. Programming and game design are both subsets of the umbrella term "game development." Not all programmers are game designers. Not all game designers are programmers. Programmers and game designers are game developers.

If you want to be a game designer, you don't have to be a programmer, but the more programming ability you have, the better able you'll be to do the job of game design. If you want to go on an online forum and ask about engines or programming languages to learn, don't ask in a forum dedicated to Game Design. Ask in a forum dedicated to programming, or learning about programming. If you get a book on game design, it may not include any information on programming, and it probably will go a lot into board game design, and the theory of fun and play.

Art Is Not Game Design

Game art is a separate topic from game design. Game art (including animation, 2D art, and 3D art) and game design are both subsets of the umbrella term "game development." Not all game artists/animators are game designers. Not all game designers are artists. Game designers, game artists, and game animators are game developers.

Game designers do not have to be artists. You don't have to be an artist to be a game designer, but the more art ability you have, the better able you'll be to do the job of game design. If you want to learn how to be a better artist, don't look for answers in an online game design forum or a game design book.

Game Design Is Communication

A game designer is a communicator. A designer on a video game development team has to express the vision for the game, verbally and in writing, and has to listen to opinions and ideas from his/her/their teammates and stakeholders, and participate, collaborate. Jesse Schell says that a game designer's greatest skill is listening to the stakeholders and the other game developers on a game development team.

Solo game designers may be jacks-of-all-trades who design, program... who do it all to make a video game, or a board game, or a card game. More power to them, I say! But the majority of video games are created by teams of specialists, game developers who include programmers, artists, musicians, voice actors, audio engineers, project managers, testers... and game designers.

Game Design Is Not Bossing

A game designer is a member of the team. He/she/they do not dictate and tell everybody else what to do. The terms "producer" and "director" come closer to that description. A producer is a project manager, who has a voice in a game's design but not the ultimate say. A director is the visionary, who may or may not have personnel management duties (every company uses different job titles).

"The Idea Guy"

Part of a game designer's job might be to come up with new concepts, but the majority of concepts come from the decision makers at the top. And when a game designer is asked to come up with new concepts, most of them won't get the green light to go to full development.

Game Design Is Not Entry Level

A lot of people want the sexy "Game Designer" job title, but it's not a title given out lightly. Game development is expensive and risky. A lot of money can be spent on making a game, so the money people want an experienced and proven person filling the role. Expect to have to gain game industry experience in another role for at least 2 to 3 years before you get that promotion.

Studio vs. Publisher vs. Indie

A game designer might work for a development studio or for a game publisher. A development studio relies on publishers or investors for funding to develop a game, which can be rejected or cancelled at any stage of development by the publisher or investors. A game designer who works for a publisher may just be an "idea judge" or "design cop" rather than the creator of the concept under development.

An indie designer who cannot program mostly designs board games and/or card games, table games, activity games. If you're an indie designer and you can program your game, you're more a programmer than a designer (you spend most of your time programming what you designed). There are also freelance game designers, folks who hire their services out to a studio or publisher. You can go freelance after you've established game designer creds on one or more financially successful games (working for a studio or publisher). Just be warned: freelance game designers may have long dry spells between projects.

All Of Which Leads Us To...

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© 2022 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved. May not be re-published without written permission of the author.