What Is a Video Game Designer?


Updated July 18, 2024

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Video game designers create the defining features of video games, including characters, objectives, obstacles, levels and settings, and narratives. They interact with many other professionals and teams, including technical and creative personnel.

Video game design careers have exploded in popularity. Entry to the field has become competitive, but expanding game markets and eye-popping sales numbers have created unprecedented opportunities. Dedicated candidates with the right skills and knowledge have the tools to build their careers.

To that end, a video game designer degree marks an important first step. This career guide explains the essential skills you will need to acquire. It also covers salary trends, job outlooks, and more. Use it to guide your research into video game design jobs.

What Is a Video Game Designer?

Video game design is a cross-disciplinary field that incorporates computer science and computer programming, graphic design, user experience, and creative writing. Video game designers create new video games and improve existing ones. They also brainstorm plots, settings, characters, and rules.

These designers need storytelling, user experience, and web development skills. Becoming a designer usually requires a bachelor's degree in video game design, computer science, computer programming, or a related field. After graduation, an internship or entry-level job in the industry can help individuals develop the skills to pursue higher positions.

Video game designers usually collaborate with programmers, artists, animators, and other designers.

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History of Video Game Design

Video games are nearly as old as mass-produced computers, with early games appearing in laboratories in the 1950s. Some of the first games included a version of tic-tac-toe and a digital tennis match.

In the late 1970s, video game design evolved. With arcade games like Space Invaders leading the way, the groundwork for video game design involved leveled progression through increasingly challenging obstacles.

Adding an axis of abilities, where characters gain temporary skills, brought a new level of complexity to the design process.

Today, players expect high graphic performance and interactive story experiences. Gamers play on desktop computers, external consoles, and mobile applications, allowing video game designers to tailor their skills for specific platforms.

What Does a Video Game Designer Do?

A video game designer helps create the design, layout, and story of a video game. They develop a game's characters, parameters, and scenarios from their ideas or based on existing concepts.

Designers provide the artistic direction that brings a video game to life and makes people want to play it.

Creative people who enjoy working with technology in a collaborative environment may thrive in this role. Potential challenges include the difficulty of breaking into a competitive field and the stress of working under strict deadlines.

Below, we describe five key job responsibilities of video game designers.

Video Game Designer Job Description

  • Create and Direct Games: A video game designer's job description includes using artistic and tech skills to develop game plots, rules, and characters. Sometimes, video game designers devise ideas on their own. Other times, companies hire them to create games based on existing properties.
  • Improve Game Quality: Video game designersimprove designs for existing games and projects in the development process. These professionals may make games more playable, refine overall concepts, and enhance the appeal for players by conducting user experience tests.
  • Meet with Clients: A day in the life of a video game designer may include meeting with existing or potential clients to discuss ideas or provide updates on current projects. Video game designers need to listen to feedback and communicate effectively with clients.
  • Research Developments in the Field: Video game designers must follow new developments in the market to understand what types of games people want and keep an eye on the competition. Staying up to date on new technologies and trends in the industry can also lead to ideas for new games.
  • Train New Team Members: Video game designers usually work with teams and ensure that everyone communicates with each other. Some video game designers train new team members and get them up to speed on current projects.

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Key Soft Skills for Video Game Designers

Creativity: Game designers develop products that balance established conventions and unique visions. They also conjure up intricate, fully realized worlds and narratives. These tasks require innate creativity that functions independently of video game designer degrees.

Collaboration: In developing games, designers work with technical and creative team members. This requires an incredibly well-developed collaborative outlook.

Process-Oriented Thinking: Creating a finished video game product takes months or years of sustained effort. During their development, games go through constant changes and revisions. Design professionals must be able to adapt their thinking to fit these realities.

Key Hard Skills for Video Game Designers

C++, Java, and Other Programming Languages: C++ and Javascript lead the list of programming languages game designers use. Technically focused video game designer degrees often emphasize these and other widely used programming languages, like C#.

UX/UI: The user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) often play a big part in the success or failure of a video game. While some designers draw on firsthand experience to take intuitive UX/UI approaches, many advocate for targeted skills development in this technical area.

Prototyping: Video game prototyping involves creating a concept-based design framework that allows developers to test and refine gameplay and ideas. Knowledge of prototyping standards and popular prototyping platforms like Unreal Engine is essential.

A Day in the Life of a Video Game Designer

Day-to-day tasks for a video game designer vary depending on position or project. Often, these professionals meet with team members to give and receive updates, form daily plans, and work on their part of the game. They might also find and fix bugs in the system.

How Much Do Video Game Designers Make?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not track employment data specific to video game designers. Instead, the BLS includes game designers in other categories, of which special effects artists, animators, and software developers are most relevant.

BLS data projects the following job growth rates for these professions from 2021-31:

  • Special effects artists and animators: +5%
  • Software developers, quality assurance analysts, and testers: +25%

How much do video game designers make? As of June 2023, Payscale lists the following salary averages:

Payscale video game designer salary data also highlights the importance of experience. Entry-level designers earn an average of about $59,000 annually, while their late-career counterparts command base salaries averaging more than $98,600.


Average Annual Salary

Source: Payscale

Similar Specializations and Career Paths

Rooted in software development, video game design can provide experience for many related jobs. Video game designers can advance in the field to work as supervisors, directing whole projects. They can also work in fields like computer programming or web development.

Career paths for video game designers include:

Computer Programmer

Collaborating with software developers and engineers, computer programmers write code for software and applications. They need deep knowledge of programming languages like C++ and Java.

Web Developer

Web developers handle website design and operations. They create webpages according to client or employer needs. They also create content, refresh layouts, and monitor traffic. They study how much traffic a site receives to prevent malfunctions.

Video Game Producer

Video game producers oversee projects and start conversations across departments. They keep product development on schedule, perform market research, and participate in marketing efforts.

Technical Project Manager

In the video game industry, technical project managers work with specific teams to maintain content schedules. They often break projects into multiple parts, establishing milestones and goals. They solve problems, prioritize tasks, and support their team through project development.

Career Paths for Video Games Designers
Career Required Education Required Experience Median or Average Annual Salary Projected Growth Rate (2021-2031)
Computer Programmer Bachelor's degree N/A, open to entry-level candidates $93,000 (Median) -10%
Web Developer Bachelor's degree N/A, open to entry-level candidates $78,300 (Median) +23%
Video Game Producer Bachelor's degree Several years of experience in the video game industry $81,126 (Average, May 2023) N/A
Technical Project Manager Bachelor's Degree Several years of experience in game development $97,309 (Average May 2023) N/A
Source: BLS, Payscale

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Do You Need a Degree to Be a Video Game Designer?

Like many other tech fields, game designers do not follow a uniform path, and employers tend to place more emphasis on skill sets than formal credentials.

Video game designer degrees are one of the multiple ways an emerging professional can build the proficiencies they need.

Beyond video game design colleges, candidates can also consider game design bootcamps, non-degree programs, and self-directed and experience-based learning.

Networking, certifications, and recommendations from professional colleagues can also boost a person's chances of landing a video game design job.

To learn more about the process, explore the links below:

How to Become a Video Game Designer

How to Become a Video Game Designer

Learn whether you need a degree as a video game designer.

Day in the Life of a Video Game Designer

Day in the Life of a Video Game Designer

Explore the day-to-day tasks of a video game designer.

Online Software Engineering Programs

Online Software Engineering Programs

Earn a degree in software engineering without leaving home.

Game Design and Development Bootcamps

Game Design and Development Bootcamps

Hone your skills in video game design without a degree.

Professional Organizations for Video Game Designers

Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences

Founded in 1996, the AIAS provides a strong community for video game designers and artists. This group offers memberships for organizations and people. Members can access digital roundtables and discounted registration to the annual summit.

International Game Developers Association

Any game developer can join the IGDA, a global nonprofit that promotes core values like professionalism, expression, and leadership. Members can participate in a mentorship program, access an online library, and take advantage of professional discounts.

Indie Game Developer Network

The IGDN offers membership to all game designers, including board and card game designers. The organization emphasizes a commitment to diversity in the field. They offer scholarships, awards, a mentorship program, and conventions.

Entertainment Software Association

Dedicated to protecting the intellectual property of video game designers and other entertainment-based coders, the ESA advocates for their members through legislative awareness and enforcement. Members can access research, working groups, and discounts.

Popular Online Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

Video Game Design Career Questions

What is video game design?

Video game design involves conceiving, developing, testing, and refining game elements, including characters, settings, game objectives, obstacles, and storylines. The profession blends technical competencies and creativity.

Do software developers work on video games?

Yes. Software developers play an essential role in the technical side of video game development. Their role mainly focuses on using programming and coding skills to bring creative concepts to life.

Can you learn video game design at college?

Video game design colleges offer degree- and non-degree programs specifically focusing on building technical and creative skills. Their structured curricula help learners build job-ready skills.

Is game design a growing industry?

Market researchers forecast that the global video game industry will increase in value from $220.79 billion in 2022 to $583.69 billion by 2030. This would mark a sharp annualized growth rate of nearly 13%.

Last reviewed May 31, 2023.

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