How to Get a Game Designer Job Today

It's the first question every would-be game developer asks - how do I break in and get that game designer job?

game design jobs

Is the secret going to the right video game design schools? Hobnobbing at industry networking events? Getting incriminating photos of the Creative Director from his holiday in Thailand?

Well, all those methods can work. But if I'm the guy sitting on the other side of the hiring desk, I'll tell you exactly how you stand out from the crowd and get my attention.

Here's the grim reality of hiring: you rarely get exactly the candidate you want. All too often, you settle on the compromise candidate. The guy or gal that ticked enough of the boxes to make them the best candidate. As the former Secretary of Defense once memorably stated, sometimes you go to war with the army you have (not the army you want).

But it's your job to get the hiring manager excited. It's your job to convince them that you are the only possible candidate. You want your manager to be eager to go to war with you - because that's what's going to happen when you get into production.

So here's how you blow me away - and make want to hire you today.

Show me a design document you wrote
Take a game you love (and that I know) and write a design doc for it. Document either a level or scenario. Do it to a professional level of quality and I'll be highly motivated to put you on my team.

You see, one of the key things designers do is communicate. If you can't write a good document - you're going to have your work cut out for you in this business. That's not to say you need to be Shakespeare - you just need to be logical and clear. And if the idea of writing documents fills you with dread - you may want to re-think your career choice.

I'm looking for concise - but accurate - documentation of what you envision as a designer. You'll probably need to talk about things like location, starting points, key encounter areas, points of interest and enemy placement. You might want to include information about characters, dialogue and background.

What I don't want is a phone book or your version of War and Peace. If its too long, nobody will read it. A good designer is not a control freak specifying ever single detail. They are someone who can logically break down a scenario and communicate to other reasonably intelligent developers with a minimum of fuss.

Rule of Thumb: if there are environmentalists outside your house protesting Amazon de-forestation - your document is too big. Design docs generally do not improve with more pages - they get much, much worse.

Which game should you write your document for? Make sure it's a game I'm likely to know - a good rule of thumb is anything with a meta-critic score in the 90s. And I'll bet you're wondering about what format for the design document? Well, that's a big topic - more than I can cover in this post. Suffice to say, there are as many different design docs as they are designers. But google can help you find some good ones.

Show me a level you built
Take an established game engine and build a level for it. Show me a level that I can actually play. Better yet, show me video footage of you playing it (You don't me to wrestle with installing your game engine of choice). Demonstrate to me you have an understanding of guiding a player through space. Don't show me a giant maze or a big open plain. I'm not a lab rat and I've already visited Kansas. I'm interested in that you understand how the physical environment interacts with the player and game systems. And if you're really clever, the level you've built will be in an engine that my company uses in development (so I know you're already far along on the learning curve for production).

Show me a mod you made
Take that level you made in a game engine - and mod it. Do something different with an existing game engine. Make Unreal into a Sin City-style noir thriller game. Or turn Crysis into a mech game. Not only are you going to show me some level design chops, you're going to impress me with your ingenuity. You're also going to tell me a lot about what kind of designer are you. Do you care more about atmosphere and aesthetics? Innovative gameplay? There's no right or wrong answer here - I just want to see the work.

Just make sure of two things: that I can tell what you actually modified. And that it actually works (rather than crashing my computer)

Show me a game you made
That's right - the best calling card for demonstrating you're a game designer - is to have designed an actual game. And it's probably not as difficult as you think. You don't need to know assembly code. There's a lot tools to choose from Unity to Flash, Java to C++. And any of those skills make you vastly more marketable as a game designer (even if you're skills are a little rough). Heck, there's even a lot of game building engines that are practically point-and-click. I'm not grading you on how technical you are - I'm looking at how motivated you are to find a solution and deliver a product.

Your game doesn't have to be the next Bejeweled. If it was, I'd tell you don't work for me, go make yourself rich, kid. No, what I'm looking for is a game with a reasonable degree of polish that I can play and see the fun. I'm looking for promise. Something that shows me you can conceive of a game and bring it through to delivery.

And if you want to really impress the hell out of me - put your game up on Facebook or in the iPhone store. Show me your game like that and watch how fast I race down to HR to process your hiring paperwork.

What do all these things have in common? It boils down to initiative. Taking the initiative like this will convince me you're serious about your career as a game designer.

So there it is - the magic formula for how to get a game designer job.

Now all you have to do - is do it.

- Sean Dugan remembers being a wide-eyed young developer during the days when Pac Man roamed the world freely. 

Image by Duchamp under Creative Commons License


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