Design by Randall Montanari
dmit it. The thought has crossed your mind while playing a game at some point. Maybe it was a terrible game you rented at the video store, and you thought to yourself, "I could do this a lot better." Or perhaps it was a fantastic game that enthralled you for hours, and you imagined how great it would be to have your name associated with such great work. Almost everyone who has played a game has thought about what it might be like to be a designer--for some of you, it might actually be a lifelong dream to work as a designer in the game industry.
It's no wonder so many gamers who want to work in the industry aspire to be designers, as opposed to, say, networking engineers. Despite the fact that creating a game today is a collaborative effort, involving the work of dozens, if not hundreds, of different people, being a designer is still the most glamorous job in the industry. Designers are the closest thing our industry has to rock stars or movie stars, because their names are the most visible. A select few have even become household names, at least among hardcore game players. Will Wright and Sim City. Sid Meier and Civilization. Peter Molyneux and Populous. Shigeru Miyamoto and, well, countless games. If you read this site regularly, you almost certainly know those names.
But how many of you actually know what being a game designer means? What does a game designer do on a day-to-day basis? Some of us might imagine that all it takes is vision or having great ideas. But it's much more than that. The days of just scribbling something on the back of a napkin are long gone, if they ever even existed. Today's game designers need to be multidimensional. Their job is to make great ideas become reality, and that involves working with many different people and understanding the different specialists who need to work together to create games. Coordination, cooperation, and compromise are the name of the game.
"A great idea is meaningless. A great idea that leverages your existing technology, gets the team excited, is feasible to do on time and budget, is commericially competitive, and, last but not least, floats the boat of a major publisher... Now you have something."-- Ken Levine
Even if you know (or think you know) what it takes to be a game designer, what is the path to becoming one? Yes, a number of interactive-entertainment programs are popping up at accredited universities, but there are no standardized tests and no schools of game design that offer you a clear path to employment. Today's game designers learned their trade and rose up through the ranks via the school of hard knocks.
Rather than read about what we at GameSpot think it means to be a game designer, you'd probably be more interested in hearing from people who actually do it for a living, and do it well. We got in contact with four of the industry's most accomplished and well-regarded game designers and asked them about their jobs, their career paths, and what advice they have for those who might follow in their footsteps. Read on to find out what being a game designer really means.