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Game design career interview questions

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Hello, I'm an aspiring game designer and doing a research paper on being a game designer for high school. Part of doing this project is getting an interview from an active game designer. I was hoping someone could help me with this, If you're interested in helping me that would be great! I just need you to answer these 5 questions.

What experience might you need for this job? 
 
What experience might you get from this job?   
 
What are the Hours like for this Career?
 
Is there anything extra that you would recommend to learn in order to get better at this job or something to learn before going to college? 
 
Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew when starting out?
 
If anyone could help that would be fantastic :D

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What experience might you need for this job? 
That depends entirely on what your employer is looking for. Generally speaking, you should have prior experience designing games. Almost nobody hires someone to be a designer who has zero experience with design. 
 
What experience might you get from this job?   
Well, I would hope that by working as a designer, you get better at your profession.
 
What are the Hours like for this Career?
This depends a lot on who you work for. I would expect a minimum of 40 hours/week, and maybe an average of around 50-60 hours/week.
 
Is there anything extra that you would recommend to learn in order to get better at this job or something to learn before going to college? 
"Game design" is both about designing a game, and designing software. You *always* need to keep in mind that you're designing for human beings. That means you need to center your design around the human experience with your software. How will they interface with it? What user interfaces will they use? What game mechanics are you going to invent? How do you know if its going to be "fun"? How do you get to testing a design for fun factor with minimal effort?
 
I was designing a real time strategy game and my way for testing the design and mechanics was to play a turn based table top version of the game, using cut up index cards, markers, and measuring tape. It took a long time to play, but it was fun and I was able to identify design issues early and fix them. Zero code was written. The point here is that you can design a playable video game which doesn't run on a computer, so there should be nothing stopping you from starting today.
 
Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew when starting out?
The work of making games has very little to do with playing games. It's work. Hard, hard, work. And its not very financially rewarding. Being good at playing games has very little to do with making games (though, it helps a little bit). If I was 18 years old today thinking about a career in the tech industry, I would skip the game industry. Long hours, low pay, hard work, toxic/abusive customers... there are better sectors in the tech industry to work in.

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Thank you, and I was wondering, you said that it didn't pay well but all the research ive done pointed to a minimum of 40k, but it should be noted this was all done on companys not indie designers, Is this from experience as an indie designer?

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You should go to college for programming or business if you want to design games.  You will need to either be a programmer, or found your own company to be a pure designer.  It if very likely, a near certainty, that you will waste your entire life attempting to become a pure game designer.  I don't want to see that happen too you.  It is very important that you become a programmer or have the business knowledge it will take to fund and manage your own company.  If you want to be the kind of game designer that appear to be envisioning, study business management and finance at college so that you can fund and create your own company to create the position for yourself.

There is no level of experience, knowledge or achievement that will guarantee you a career in game design.  You will be playing the lottery with your life if you pursue the path of "pure game designer".

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3 hours ago, Kavik Kang said:

You should go to college for programming or business if you want to design games.  You will need to either be a programmer, or found your own company to be a pure designer.  It if very likely, a near certainty, that you will waste your entire life attempting to become a pure game designer.  I don't want to see that happen too you.  It is very important that you become a programmer or have the business knowledge it will take to fund and manage your own company.  If you want to be the kind of game designer that appear to be envisioning, study business management and finance at college so that you can fund and create your own company to create the position for yourself.

There is no level of experience, knowledge or achievement that will guarantee you a career in game design.  You will be playing the lottery with your life if you pursue the path of "pure game designer".

Nonsense, like usual.

Whlie it's true that nothing will guarantee a career in game design, nothing will guarantee a career in anything.

 

Game designers are hired on a regular basis. You not being hired does not mean game designers aren't hired. As has been explained to you again and again. There is proof that game designers are being hired. You claiming otherwise is pure trolling at this point, and you should honestly feel ashamed for trying to trick people into believing in your delusions.

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I think it is wrong to give young people the impression that there is this career out there that they can aspire too, that is like being a movie director.  That's how younger people are envisioning it, and it is wrong to encourage them in that belief at this moment in their lives and lead them down a path that, almost certainly, leads to nowhere.  The job that these young people are envisioning is akin to the director of a movie, and to have that job they will almost certainly need to create their own position by creating their own company.  Telling them to pursue a career as a pure game designer is like telling them to gamble their life on a lottery ticket.

If they want to become what you are thinking of when you say "game designer", then they should become a programmer.  They will have a FAR better chance of succeeding that way and, if they fail, they will still be a programmer and have no trouble finding employment in a different area of that field.  If they are trying to become what I mean when I say "game designer", then they should study business management and finance so that they can create that position for themselves.  If they fail in becoming a game designer, they still have degrees in business management and finance and should do well in life even if it is not as a game designer.

This is not about me at all, this is about them.  I believe it is morally wrong to lead 20 somethings, and especially high school students as this person is, into the false belief that there are "game designer as movie director" jobs out there waiting to be filled.  There aren't.

Edited by Kavik Kang

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Enough please Kavik.

The original poster is looking to have some questions answered by people employed in the field, and while I appreciate that you were credited on one professional product, you've also made it well known that you have not found success in our industry.

 

There is a nugget of truth in your advice that a designer in the sense that many young people think of it is not an entry level position, or they may in fact be better suited to a producer role (also not entry level) the simple fact is that pure design decisions do exist, and some junior roles are even available as entry level.

Depending on the OP's idea of what a designer does they may well need to adjust their expectations, but your inability to find success as a pure designer does not mean the same will happen to others.

Consider this a formal moderation instruction, in line with some of our recent conversation: you may share your experience, but you should be clear that it is your experience and does not reflect on the industry as a whole.

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7 hours ago, Tiny Giraffe said:

Thank you, and I was wondering, you said that it didn't pay well but all the research ive done pointed to a minimum of 40k, but it should be noted this was all done on companys not indie designers, Is this from experience as an indie designer?

$40k is barely anything. Let's say rent costs $2k/month. There's 12 months in a year, so you're looking at spending $24k just to pay rent. Add on top of that any car payments you may have, food, entertainment, etc. If you ever plan on having a family, kids are expensive so you can expect to pay a lot for clothes, food, activities, etc. Also, you get taxed on your income, so expect a 30% reduction on your income which goes towards paying taxes. 30% of $40k reduces your annual income to $28k, of which, $24k goes towards rent, leaving you with about $4k left to pay for everything else. It's not really doable. Some of these expenses can be lowered by the city you live in and its cost of living, but... $40k is nothing. You can find other jobs which are easier and lower skill which pay more than $40k.

An indie developer salary income from $0 to $2 billion (See: Notch). The median and average are quite low, and the income is a function of many variables, which mostly depend on the indie developers themselves rather than external factors. Most indies don't make enough money from their own sales so they have to take on contract work or do their indie projects on the side while the hold down a day job.

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8 hours ago, Tiny Giraffe said:

but it should be noted this was all done on companys not indie designers

There is less than a 1 000 AAA companies left. That means only 3 000 - 12 000 AAA developers exist at any given time; lots of those are scattered over the world.

If you are aiming to be a developer for a company, you have to be the best of the best; or know the right people. For this reason a lot of people who work in the AAA games industry actually started as indie developers; so that they can prove them self.

It's also true for programmers and artists. I only got a job as a artist after working with a university team on producing a indie horror game. Lot's of the programmers I work with have made games at some point.

 

All this means is that sooner or later, if you plan on working for a game company, you will also have to work on a indie game.

You don't need to publish, you just need something for your portfolio.

 

What everyone is telling you is don't get into game development unless you have an undying passion for making games. There isn't a person working for game development companies, who couldn't earn more by using there skill somewhere else.

We do it because we love making games, even if it kills us.

Edited by Scouting Ninja

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Suggested reading: A frank look at making games professionally.

 

A few notes:

It's true that roles in professional game development often pay less than similar roles in other industries. Many people do manage to make a living of it though, and you can certainly work your way up from entry level (or transition to indie) if you enjoy the work.

Yes, there is a lot of competition for a relatively small number of AAA roles, but there's a lot of professional development at smaller scale than AAA. This may or may not be suitable for what you wish to do.

Ultimately, I think a core piece of advice is that you shouldn't get into game development to get rich; if that's your goal you're probably better off in another industry (and maybe make games as a hobby). Get in to gamedev because it's what you want to do, and see if you can make a living of it.

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Wow this is a lot of input, so it should be noted while of course I'm taking salary into account, it is definitely Not why I want to be a game designer. First "Let's say rent costs $2k/month." that seems high, we pay about that much for my house and it's got 4 bedrooms. I also noticed in my research I did find other programmers were listed as making less than game designers. I also don't want to be a "pure game designer" and I don't idealize them, my real problem is deside what degree to get, speaking of which what colleges would you guys recommend? Ive been looking at DigiPen. Ignore any errors, it's a bit ironic this text box is glitchy.

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A note on terminology.  People outside of the industry often use the terms "design" and "designer" as a bit of a catch-all term for people who work on games, but it's actually a specific role in the industry; a designer is someone who's job involves creating rules, balancing formulae, etc., and a programmer is not generally considered to be a designer at all (unless it's a small team and they're filling multiple roles).

We generally use the term "developer" as a catch-all.

 

That being said, most of the above replies apply either way. :)

 

So, that out of the way, what specifically do you invision yourself doing? Would you be writing code? Creating art? Working with formulas and creating design documents? 

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My two favorite things to do are 3d modeling and programming, I use blender and have even started a project though I admit, its very big for one person

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3 hours ago, Tiny Giraffe said:

First "Let's say rent costs $2k/month." that seems high

California rents approach or exceed that. 

18 minutes ago, Tiny Giraffe said:

My two favorite things to do are 3d modeling and programming,

Artist pay and programmer pay are very different. Programmers are paid much higher than designers and artists. https://www.gameindustrycareerguide.com/video-game-programmer-salary/

3 hours ago, Tiny Giraffe said:

my real problem is deside what degree to get

Depends on which job you want. One way to make a decision.

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12 hours ago, Scouting Ninja said:

There is less than a 1 000 AAA companies left. That means only 3 000 - 12 000 AAA developers exist at any given time; lots of those are scattered over the world.

I'd say that's an underestimate. There are fewer AAA companies - I'll estimate about 50 - and quite a few second tier developers - maybe 100 - and they each probably employ somewhere between 50 and 300 people on average. So, 150x175 = a bit over 25,000 developers at that sort of level, making recognisable branded games for PC and consoles. Plus there are many more at smaller companies, or at mobile developers. The UK alone employs over 12,000 game developers, for example.

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3 hours ago, Kylotan said:

I'd say that's an underestimate.  ... a bit over 25,000 developers...

Yes. "More than 27,000 game industry professionals" attended GDC in 2016. Mind you, that includes programmers, artists, producers, designers, marketing, business... And that includes more than AAA devs. But it includes ONLY those who took time off from their game jobs to attend one conference in San Francisco. 

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14 hours ago, Kylotan said:

I'd say that's an underestimate.

9 hours ago, Tom Sloper said:

Yes. "More than 27,000 game industry professionals"

I want to be clear that I was thinking of management positions, so not the ground floor artist and programmers or the marketing department.

If someone tells you they programmed the combat system for Dark Souls, your first thought isn't "This is the developer of Dark Souls". 

My numbers:

Spoiler

My calculation I treated every Division as a single AAA company so (2K Sports and 2K Play = 2 AAA developers). Assume the average is 200 people per team.

If we include the Eastern developers who also make AAA quality but don't publish to the Western market and any developers working with more than $30 000 000(AAA quality) on a game; we easily get almost a 1 000 AAA companies.

That is : 3 000 - 12 000 Top management jobs.

And 38 000 middle management jobs. 150 000 ground level jobs.

200 000 Jobs where you work on the game. The marketing and support staff is often just as much if not more so add a extra 200 000.

 

Giving us a rough total of 400 000 - 500 000 people working for game development companies at any given time. That I think it is a fair number. Out of that only around 12 000 people will be considered the "Developers" of the games.

I think the problem here is with the word "Game Developer" it is too open to interpretation.

 

20 hours ago, Tiny Giraffe said:

My two favorite things to do are 3d modeling and programming, I use blender and have even started a project though I admit, its very big for one person

If you want to be a 3D modeler focus on your portfolio. Some 3D artist will say a degree isn't needed, yet finding a job without one is much harder.

Blender is not recognized by many of the large companies, it's reputation is improving but it is going to take some time. So you will need to get experience with Maya or Max before applying to a large company. 3Ds Max has a student license.

Indie and Big Indie developers do accept Blender experience.

Edited by Scouting Ninja

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54 minutes ago, Scouting Ninja said:

you will need to get experience with Maya or Max before applying to a large company. 3Ds Max has a student license.

Indie and Big Indie developers do accept Blender experience.

That seems, well stupid, you can model anything in blender, what does 3d max or maya have that blender doesn't?

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Commercial support, and an established userbase; those packages are what has been the professional standard for years (back when Blender wasn't so great), and that won't change without some compelling reason. Existing workflows and pipelines are designed around Maya and 3dsMax, and existing workforces are experienced in using it.

Fortunately, the skills are largely transferable, so you can start learning with Blender.

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5 hours ago, Tiny Giraffe said:

Oh, well fair enough when I do switch which would you recommend I use?

I think Maya is the best bet in general. I'm pretty sure it's the most popular package for this kind of thing, and it seems to have the best support by major game engines (Unreal, Unity) as well. That said, your best bet is to look at teams/companies that you're specifically interested in, and see what they use.

I also don't think learning a new package is quite as critical as some people would want you to believe.

 

7 hours ago, Scouting Ninja said:

Blender is not recognized by many of the large companies, it's reputation is improving but it is going to take some time. So you will need to get experience with Maya or Max before applying to a large company. 3Ds Max has a student license.

I started at my current job (which is in fact at a very large company) with essentially negligible Maya experience (I didn't have a personal copy of it and still don't) but many years of experience with Blender, and I picked up Maya without much conscious effort just by being around people who are comfortable with it, and now I use it every day.

I'm more of a technical artist, so I'm more comfortable with the API/design of Maya than I am with the actual hotkeys, etc. needed to model efficiently, but I can model in it without completely embarrassing myself. For more advanced modeling/texturing I usually jump back into Blender. I don't think anyone really cares what package you use as long as a) you actually get your work done, b) your work is good, and c) you're willing to take on the responsibility of making sure your stuff plays nicely with whatever the rest of your team uses.

That said, learning another package can only increase your usefulness. On the other hand, if you need to choose between either learning how to use Maya or having a good portfolio (even if it's Blender-only), focus on your portfolio first.

Edited by cowsarenotevil

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12 hours ago, Tiny Giraffe said:

Oh, well fair enough when I do switch which would you recommend I use?

Max is used mostly by game development companies so I recommend it. Once you go for your degree you can get it for free under the student license; your just not allowed to use it commercially under that license.

 

I use 3Ds Max at work but Blender at home. There is many of us who is doing our best to fill in the last missing tools Blender needs. Have you seen Text tools for Blender? http://polycount.com/discussion/197226/textools-for-blender By renderhjs.

There is lots of tools like that for Blender on Polycount.

13 hours ago, Tiny Giraffe said:

hat seems, well stupid, you can model anything in blender, what does 3d max or maya have that blender doesn't?

Max has some very fancy Auto mesh tools. Repair your topology with a click of a button kind of tools. It renders great with little effort and is the best for 3D modeling.

It is however not worth the price, it's too expensive. You can get 80% of the tools for free with Blender and Blender is proven to be much faster for modeling; Max is just easier because it has good Auto tools.

 

Maya has some great animation tools. Max and Maya is often fighting over the top spot for animation software. Maya is leading for over a year now. Blender is better for modeling for games than Maya.

Sadly Blender's animation tools are very low quality compared to Max or Maya.

 

 

My advice is stick with Blender. Then once you get your student ID go get Max if you want to be a 3D modeler or Maya of you want to be a animator. That way you don't have to pay for them and you can still use blender if you want to sell your models.

Blender is improving by the day, sooner or later it will be recognized by everyone. It has advanced a lot this past 10 years.

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