How To Become A Video Game Designer

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on RedditShare on Tumblr
This interview is part of the Quest for Your Career series. We focus on each specific job in the video game industry by interviewing an expert in the field. Learn what they do, how they got started, and whether it's a good job for you.

Meet Kelly Toyama, Video Game Designer

G. Kelly Toyama, Video Game Designer

This is Kelly. He’s got something to say, and you need to hear it.

Kelly is known for his design work on such titles as Assassin’s Creed: Bloodlines, and Age of Empires: Mythologies. But his design work doesn’t stop – or start – with video games. He’s been designing pen-and-paper games as well as board games since he was a child, and draws design inspiration and techniques from traditional and non-traditional games alike.

Kelly’s advice is deceptively simple. But if you’re thinking about a career in video game design, then you need to hear it and turn it into action. Don’t miss the part about how to manage the vision of your team.

How would you describe what you do every day?

A little bit of everything. Design is really the go-between with all the disciplines. We have to ride between art, code and production, driving the product forward. It’s design’s job to try to have a vision of how the game works, what makes it fun, and to be a leader on the team to guide them towards that goal.

Find game schools near you

How did you become a Game Designer?

Long story short? Lots of luck, and lots of trying.

I started in Q.A. but design has always been my passion. Game design is a funny thing: Just because you have the title doesn’t mean you can do it, and not having the title shouldn’t stop you.

The thing that served me best is that I have been making games since I was five years old. Card games, board games, DMing homebrew RPGs. No one is going to give you permission to be a great designer, you have to go out and take it. You don’t need anything but a pen and paper to get started.

READ  How To Become A Video Game Journalist

What’s your favorite part of the job? What’s your least favorite part?

“being a good designer is about recognizing good ideas, not necessarily having them yourself.”

The best part is the collaboration. Making games is a team sport and being a good designer is about recognizing good ideas, not necessarily having them yourself. Working with a team of talented people to make fun, elegant games is the best part by far.

The least favorite is time. I’ve never made a game that I didn’t think I could have made better with 6 more months of time. But at some point you need to call all projects finished, and push them out to the world. But that part, the letting go, is the hardest part.

What aspect of the Game Designer job would be surprising to people looking in from the outside?

I think design is mis-understood generally. We don’t code, we don’t draw things. Design is a lot like doing sound work in theater (a thing I did in high school), the only time it gets noticed is when it’s done wrong. When it’s done right, it’s so seamless that it should look like you are doing nothing at all.

What kinds of talents and personality does it take to succeed as a Game Designer?

“You are the visionary, but that means gathering together the vision of the team, not forcing your own vision down their throats.”

Passion and teamwork are the things that get the job done. The best games are made when the whole team believes in it and understands the idea. If you find yourself at a point where you are dictating or mandating, then you have lost the thread of the design process. You are the visionary, but that means gathering together the vision of the team, not forcing your own vision down their throats.

READ  Video Game Industry Internships FAQ

What would you recommend for education, books, or other learning to start down that career path?

In a more practical sense, if you’re looking for video game design work then look into statistics, programming and art classes. These will help, as the more you understand what the other disciplines are doing the better you are going to be at forging them together.

Lastly, writing and public speaking are your friends. You’re going to be doing a lot of communicating. If you’re intimidated by standing in front of a room and going though your ideas, or getting your ideas down on paper, you will have a hard time being a successful designer.

What advice would you give to somebody who’s thinking about Video Game Design as a career?

“Nothing should stop you from doing design right now. Go make a game. You don’t need a programmer, you dont need an artist, you just need yourself and some paper and you can start designing.”

Nothing should stop you from doing design right now. Go make a game. You don’t need a programmer, you dont need an artist, you just need yourself and some paper and you can start designing.

Start! Like I said, nothing should stop you from doing design right now. Go make a game. You don’t need a programmer, you dont need an artist, you just need yourself and some paper and you can start designing.

Design is something that is best learned by practice. So get out there and start doing it.

Kelly can be reached at his latest game’s online home, www.TitansTactics.com. If you liked this article, return the favor by sharing on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter.  

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on RedditShare on Tumblr
Join my newsletter...
...get a free ebook!
Join 1,000+ awesome people reading my "Top 20 Free, Easy Resources for Building Your Video Game Career" e-book.
Tagged with: , , ,
Posted in Careers
12 comments on “How To Become A Video Game Designer
  1. Michael Matos says:

    I’ve wanted to become a video game designer for awhile but I also wanted to be able to do everything else like coding and programming. How hard ( or if possible at all ) would it be to do that?

    • Jason W. Bay says:

      Hi Michael! It’s tempting to want to do everything yourself. But making a game is a LOT of work – usually way too much for one person alone – so it’s best to be part of a team. Each person on your team can have a different specialty: designer, artist, programmer, and so on.

      If you’re in school and just starting to think about your career, I’d recommend that you take some programming classes and some creative writing classes. Both of those will help you with a future career as a game designer.

  2. Garron J. says:

    Holy shiitake mushrooms!!! I didn’t know that entry-level was that high!!Now I know what career path I’m taking!!make game+friends+money=:)me

    So I have been wanting to be in the gaming industry for a while now but am a bit confused. What part of the game do designers work on and/or do they do a bit of everything?

  3. khatim Rhino says:

    ive always wanted to be a game designer , i really like the that you can get that much money for doing something you like im glad that i want game design as my career. by the way im 16 and a junior next year im going get a ultrabook specifacally for game design this post helped me alot. Thank You

  4. I really liked this post and great pointers, which in my opinion, stand for truth. Something I would like to talk about:

    I’ve been designing games for some time now, having ideas flowing and I’m ejoying it. What I’m struggling with, how to go forward? How to get you noticed by people in the industry?

    Is a portfolio good, if it is filled with game concepts with Design Documents available? Tips and advice?

    Thanks!

    • Jason W. Bay says:

      Many people have game design ideas, so you might need more than just Design Documents when you apply for jobs. Companies like to hire people that have proven they can do the work: designing levels, or tuning/balancing game systems for example. For a game designer, I recommend that you make some game mods to show that you can do those things.

  5. Robert Schultz says:

    Hey! I have been always worried about which degree to take and how demanding the job for game designing is. I have taken computer science and creative writing in my high school and now about to go to college.

    I heard that many people seem to try to apply to the job and many end up not getting the job but that is only word-to-mouth source. Do you think that if I apply to game and simulation degree will help me reach my dream job?

    Also, will being an Eagle Scout also give me an advantage?

    • Jason W. Bay says:

      Hi Robert, it’s good that you’ve taken computer science and creative writing in school, it will help in your career. It’s true that many people want to become game designers, it is a competitive field. I believe that getting a game and simulation degree will help you, because you’ll learn a lot and you’ll build a portfolio that proves to employers that you can do the work. Best of luck!

  6. Emil Delvaux says:

    Hey Jason,
    I am an aspiring game designer/programmer and was wondering what type of university course would be the best choice for :
    1) Standing out and getting a job as a game designer
    2) Still getting a job in computing if no game design jobs are currently available

    Thanks for any reply, and btw, this website has been the most resourceful out of any I have currently found, THANK YOU!!

    • Jason W. Bay says:

      Hi Emil, if you want to do a degree program that has a good chance of getting a job if a game career doesn’t work out, then I’d recommend a program that has a heavy computer science component to it – as opposed to a “game design” focused program. Once you become a strong programmer, you should be able to work in games or many other fields that require programmers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

Find Game Schools
Find Game Jobs
Powered by Indeed
Free Career eBook
Game Jobs