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Careers For Supervising Game Designers? 38

LeoDV writes "As probably 99.9% geeks out there I wish I could make my own videogame, and I avidly read the article "How Do You Become A Console Game Programmer?" and found the replies very interesting and engaging. I, however, have only very basic programming skills, and no artistic skills. What I want to do isn't program my own game, but design it, with an army of minions doing the programming and art for me. I know it's quite impossible to show up at a games company with a resume and say "Hi, can you give me a team of 20 experienced people, I want to make a videogame?" But part of me knows that it happened before (Ubi Soft hired Michel Ancel, creator of Rayman, at 17). So, is it at all possible to land such a job without those skills, at some point? If it is, what (short graduating in CS or prostrating myself) are my best options?" So, what experience qualifies you for a design position, what skills should you actually have to make games successful, and is this approach hopelessly naive?
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Careers For Supervising Game Designers?

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  • by truffle ( 37924 ) on Sunday May 18, 2003 @10:50AM (#5985386) Homepage
    What you're saying is kind of like saying, "I don't want to learn to be an architect, but I want to design buildings, and have an army of architects to turn my ideas into real building designs".

    While it's entirely possible you could direct an army of game designer minions in creating a great game, it's just as likely that one of those game minions would do as good or better a job as you. Filtering for lead design positions on game programming experience is a reasonable filter.

    Or, become a millionaire, and create your own game studio and fund your own super game!
    • That is so false. If you equate the video game industry to the film or music industry, you can see the possibility of success with little knowledge of the art. Think of all the producers that can't act, can't write, can't play an instrument or can't sing that make millions of dollars being an "idea man". I mean, bands like N'sync and movies like "Mr. Mom" come from a guy in an office saying..."We should produce a band with 5 teenie-boppers and one should be the tough guy, one should be the sensitive guy.
      • So what your're saying is: fuck the people who do the work, I should get the money they earned. This is exactly why the movie and music "industry sucks so bad in so many ways. This is why the US and various other countries are so screwed up these days. No one wants to work, so they try to take advantage of those who do, and if a hard working person tries to compete with their racket, they take that hard working person down.

        This situation cannot continue forever. Eventually most of the workers will see no

      • But the music industry (and, to a slightly lesser extent, the film industry) is run entirely by marketing professionals, whose job it is to determine what sells, and then find people with the *cough* attributes that the greatest part of the public wants to see/hear. Companies like EA, Sony, UbiSoft, and VU are trying to turn the games industry into that same model, because they always put professional marketers in top positions in order to "boost sales". The console market has had that problem for years,
    • by alphaseven ( 540122 ) on Sunday May 18, 2003 @02:17PM (#5986516)
      Or, become a millionaire, and create your own game studio and fund your own super game!

      Just like Romero.

    • You know, it's kind of always been my dream to be an Emperor. I want to have power over a bunch of people that will do my bidding, but at the same time, I don't know anything about how to cultivate, develop, or consolodate power. I've never had any sort of public service job, and I'm really not sure how government works. Oh, and I'm not charasmatic and I'm afraid of speaking to crowds. I hope that's not a problem. Anywho, anyone have any tips on how I could become the Emperor of the Known Universe? Af
  • Nope, sorry (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nedric ( 583810 ) < minus berry> on Sunday May 18, 2003 @10:51AM (#5985390)
    Well, to answer the last question in the post, yes, it's hopelessly naive. Sorry, but there will always be people out there who started early and worked their ass off to get solid experience and skills. They may even be younger than you. You will not be chosen over these people, unless it is for a company that is doomed to failure for lack of HR smarts...

    My advice: Find your own 20 worker bees, and work hard to make something to show to companies. Then they might be willing to take the considerable risk you allude to.

  • software engineering (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I know this might not be quite what you're asking about but when people talk about software design, generally they mean on a software engineering level. It's my guess that 90% of game designers are software engineers as well. Case in point, Quake, do you really think they came up with the plot before they developed the engine? First they developed the engine based on previous experience and then they said ok great, find some artists and lets get this game to market. I'm not sure there's any shortage of
    • Much less than 90% (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Scorchio ( 177053 )
      In fact, I have yet to meet a game designer who is a software engineer. Designers tend to spring up from the art or testing departments, rather than programming.

      Going back six or seven years, the role of "designer" was carried out by a programmer or artist working on the project. The now common dedicated designer role is a sign of the increasing complexity of games. It requires a lot of time to think through an entire game structure, maintaining consistency and a sense of playability.

      Pretty much anybody c
  • Write up your ideas. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JohnFluxx ( 413620 ) on Sunday May 18, 2003 @11:08AM (#5985469)
    I'm a worldforge developer (well, thats stretching it a lot, but I develop a game, and use their stuff).
    We get someone every week come in and tell us ab out their wonderful ideas.
    I'm not actually being sarcastic, because people do come up with really good ideas - you see game designs that people have mulled with for years.

    However, always always always, people's ideas are too big :) Dream a little lower people, please. hehe

    If you have a big idea for a game, think about how it could be achieved in tiny steps. Then write about it. It is unlikely anyone will just code it, but if the ideas are good, and it is small enough to implement, then it might be done. I'm one of those that code, but don't have the imagination to design :)

    So what is a small game idea? Well, to test the MMRPG servers that were written, worldforge wrote.. a pig farming game. You buy,sell and raise pigs, and protect them from wolves. Fun, small, finishable.
    From there, it can be expanded, one chunk at a time. We have animated models now, standard templates so any texture will fit nicely on any model, ability to build buildings from building blocks as well as a proper physics model so if the building wall gets destroyed, or you didn't build it right, it falls over or collapses. The gui is worked on. The maths libraries. The connection code.

    And so on. A huge huge amount of work and effort has gone into it. But at the end of the day the game was very simple and easy to do. But provides a small stepping stone for the next game, just a bit bigger.

    That is how you have to make your game ideas in the opensource community. :)

    Btw, if you think you don't have any skills, you are wrong. Everyone has skills that they can contribute to a project. Artists, muscians, writers, translators, testers (testers aren't really needed). But also people that take part in conversations of how to do the skills system, or the health, and so on.

  • It is possible (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 18, 2003 @11:11AM (#5985481)
    Knowledge of programming does not make a person a game designer. Knowledge of games does -- what makes them fun, how they work (which is not the same as knowing how the code works), how to envision something that can be done with the resources available, how to communicate an idea, and understanding what will and won't sell.

    There are such careers and they go by lots of names -- producer, creative director, lead game designer, etc. But they don't just hand them to people with no skills. Producers deal with schedules, criitcal paths, publishers, marketing, contracts and more. Some are actively involved in the design, others spend all their time managing. Creative directors can oversee several designs or projects at once, setting look and feel of the game, making sure gameplay stays on focus, managing designers, setting schedules, and sometimes actually designing. The best ones hire smart game designers and give them as much say as possible. Game designers do everything from documenting everything in the game, creating levels/scenarios, writing dialog and scripts, working with artists and programmers to accomodate their needs, to writing even more documents. Depending on the structure, they may only be following orders or may have a large say in the shape of the final game.

    Getting any of these jobs means working in the trenches first. You have to learn the skills and prove you have them (usually with a published title) before anybody is going to trust you with this kind of job. That means being a game tester, writer, level designer, junior designer or whatever and clawing you way up.

    How do I know this? Because I'm one of these people.

    Remember, everybody has a "great idea" and everybody thinks they can be a designer. Far fewer can actually do the job.


    NO SIG
  • a supervisor (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ugly colour scheme ( 673061 ) on Sunday May 18, 2003 @11:54AM (#5985672)
    A supervisor should know the skills he is supervising... You should know programming, a little about art, a little about music.

    But generally a supervisor will get the job after he has done some programming or other task. You have to work your way up.
  • what I've seen (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mrpuffypants ( 444598 ) <mrpuffypants AT gmail DOT com> on Sunday May 18, 2003 @12:01PM (#5985708)
    ***Note*** I'm not in "the industry" and have no real basis for the following assumption:

    From what I've read and heard from friends, online reading, and print rags the videogame world is pretty much like every other industry, in that often it's not what you know but WHO you know.

    That guy got hired at 17, but I'll bet that a lot of people at Ubi Soft knew him before hiring him. If you were a HR person would you ever take a 17-yr old's resume seriously for a big position without knowing him personally and his skill-set?

    I say do like this: Make lots of friends, and use them to work your way higher and higher. Eventually you'll get a name for yourself and get somewhere big. Or you'll work for a company that makes games for Wal-Mart bargain bins. Either way you're working in the game industry!
    • As an aside to this: If you can't make the art or do the coding, find a few good friends that can make the art and do the coding, but lack the orginizational or creative ability a game designer can provide.

      Then make a demo and use that to get industry interest (or realise that you're all crappy game makers or realise that by getting a few friends and making the game you're already in the 'industry')
  • Learn (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rumpledstiltskin ( 528544 ) on Sunday May 18, 2003 @01:02PM (#5986028) Homepage Journal
    You sound like you're trying to have your cake and eat it too. Just because you think you'd be a good manager leading people doesn't mean you can lead a team when you don't know anything about their profession. Actually, that's not true. As a manager, you can enter an industry and lead it well (see IBM's CEO), but that's more the exception than the rule, and doesn't really apply to midlevel managers, which is what it sounds like you want to be. If you really want to be able to take on this project the way you do, put in the work. Join a gaming development society in your spare time, learn about what goes into software project management. learn about game management. learn the code , for gods sake, that's being written so you will understand what your developers are talking to you about. If you want to be really successful, you have to understand what's going on beneath you. otherwise you'll just be another PHB who looks blankly at his employees as they try to explain why a divide by zero error is a bad thing, and no, commenting out the offending line isn't going to fix it..
  • It is possible... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by vaporakula ( 674048 ) on Sunday May 18, 2003 @02:17PM (#5986512)
    ... But patients is required. It is unlikely that you'll be able to step directly into a role with a significant level of responsibility immediately, unless (as someone pointed out) you know someone in the Industry quite well.

    (I should know, I've taken the long route. Hi Simoniker, how're the states treating you ;)

    Design is a great place to be, but it is also the focus of a lot of the tensions of games development. It's an incredibly dynamic environment, and games development is full of a lot of creative talent. People skills are as important as creative and technical skills, and you'll have to be ready with an open and flexible mind. You'll need to be able to pick up just about anything, from audio design to particle systems to simulating wingtip stall on an Apache. Designers come from all backgrounds; creative, technical, whatever. It doesn't matter, as long as you can communicate a clear vision and get down to business creating it, you can design.

    This is a fairly typical route into becoming a Games Designer; it seems to have worked for me :)

    Start in test. Plenty of places need testers. The easiest way to a fast promotion into Design is through a dev company, rather than a publisher (the less corporate the better; it is easier to talk to the management for starters.)

    Learn the industry, how the teams work, how the tools work. This takes time. Do it in small steps, get good at it. Testing games is a great place to learn about games development, although don't imagine it to all be fun and games!

    Make your voice heard in the company. Don't try to tell people their jobs (you're on the bottom rung, remember?) but don't hesitate with an opinion. Ask if people need help with their design work, start putting together mission descriptions / puzzle designs / game pitches etc. Show that you know what goes into making a good game, and more importantly that you know how it can be implemented.

    Eventually, quite often dependant on the timing of contracts and signing new projects (remember that games are more and more commercial!) if you ask you'll become a Junior Designer. From here, it's hard work and more listening and learning. Show that you have what it takes to finish a game, that you can create fun and can get other people to work to your vision, and you will move up.

    For me, the Tester to Lead Designer road took 4 years, roughly. Most would probably consider that a little quick: I certainly have no illusions or pretentions to know all there is to know about design. I've got 4 published games, and a 5th on the way; I'm certainly no Miyamoto (yet!)

    Don't imagine for a second that games design is an easy career path; it is very hard work, but incredibly rewarding at the same time. If you like games ;)

    Hope that gives you some insight.

    • This is excellent advice. My son wanted to be a game designer. He got a CS degree at a local college, then got a good break because his sister was working as a tester for a game maker. On the strength of her recommendation he got an entry-level job, and is now working his way up. I think it will take him more than four years to reach Lead Designer, but he is on the path.
      John Sauter (J_Sauter@Empire.Net)
  • Skills/Experience (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 18, 2003 @04:34PM (#5987319)
    If you want to lead a team, you have to have the project management and team leadership skills and experience. Quite a bit of the success of a project doesn't depend on how good the idea is or how good the technology is. The success depends on the team's ability to deliver the project on time and satisy other goals (quality, among others).

    Sure, design, development and doing great art is hard. But, getting a group of people to work together and keep the end goals in mind is harder. A lot of the failed great projects haven't failed because the idea or the technology was bad: they failed because the team wasn't able to deliver what they needed to deliver before someone pulled the plug (or got fed up and shipped the game before it was done).

    If you want to increase your chances for being in a position to lead a game development team, particularly a successful team, you need to gain and demonstrate project management and team leadership experience. You might be able to get into such a position with just a great idea, a whole lot of luck and/or money, but there is a really good chance that the project will fail miserably unless you have the project management and team leadership skills/experience to carry things through.

  • What makes you think he didn't have any experience just because he was 17? He was probably already pretty skilled, or they would not have hired him.

    The question that you have to ask yourself is, if you were in their position, would you hire someone in yours? I can't see any way someone would be able to get a job without producing something (even if unfortunatly sometimes that is a piece of paper saying that you are a CS graduate).
  • by bsharitt ( 580506 ) <bsharitt@ g m> on Sunday May 18, 2003 @05:03PM (#5987496) Homepage Journal
    Many people are trying what you want to do. The first thing you should do is register a project at Sourceforge. Then go around message boards and get game programers to join your project. While all the similar projects are in the planning stage and a 0% activity, I'm sure they'll take off an time now.

  • IMO games need a lead criticiser (LC), someone who has played hundreds of games and then works with the game from the design document right thru to publishing and sharply raps with a claw hammer all those stupid ideas that somehow make their way into games, and should have veto on release. Granted, not many games need this guy and I can think of a string of them just released which are great: GunMetal, Enclave, Red Faction2... And then theres the other sort of games: Enter the Matrix and Wolverine etc, re
  • How it is . . . (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    You aren't going to get a game design job without any experience making a game. There's just too many other people in line (i.e. everyone else working in the trenches dealing with the realities of making a game, dealing with hardware and performance limitations). A job in testing a game doesn't really cut it; testers don't make the game at all, their primary purpose is that of a very tedious and boring job of systematically making sure the whole product functions correctly, or tries to figure out and repr

  • I wouldn't say it is impossible to get a job without any technical knowledge or art skills but it is a niave assumption. Considering there are probably thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people currenlty STUDYING and WORKING on games on thier own to obtain the same position you are tyring to get without any STUDYING and WORKING.

    You can answer your own questions just by trying to make a game.

    Start out and design it and either start programming and doing the art yourself or try to hook up with a te
  • Wow, I guess I just assumed that all of us geeks were programmers at one point or another. What other species of geek are there?
  • So.. basically, you want to tell programmers how they should program and tell artists how to draw with barely any knowledge of how a programmer programs and barely any knowledge of how an artist creates art. I think you should go read Dilbert. See what the pointy haired boss does and see if that's what you want to be doing for a living.
  • Check and download the Blitz3D demo. Prototype your game.
  • One of the first game designers to make the move to computer game design was Sandy Petersen []. He had worked at Chaosium on Call of Cthulhu and teh Glorantha game world, and had a lot of experience running and designing both roleplaying and board games. He really knew what makes a good game, and saw that the IT industry was mainly producing fairly predictable platform games. So he teamed up with some fairly obscure game programmers calling themselves Id, and helped create Doom. After Quake he went to Ensemble

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