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Stop Telling New Game Designers to “Climb The Ladder”

garrett profile image Garrett ・3 min read

Note: This is old content from GarrettMickley.com. I am no longer pursuing a game design career, but I didn’t want the content to go to waste, so I’m relocating it here. I hope the Dev.to community finds it useful.

Any social site where people talk about game design or game development will always have this one question frequently asked:

“I have a lot of ideas for games but I don’t know how to program and I’m not good at art. How do I get into game design? My favorite game designers are X, Y, and Z.”

And the answer to this question is, without fail, always:

“Learn to program or get good at art, start working for a company, work your way up. That’s how your favorite game designers did it.”

I absolutely can not stand this answer.

Here’s A Better Answer

There’s a pretty solid possibility that your favorite game designers did, in fact, do it that way. When the video games industry was just getting started, and growing to the mainstream level we see now, this was pretty much the way to do it, because the resources needed to make video games were held tightly by companies with with money.

If you didn’t have money, you either needed to go get some, or go work for a company until you were able to get the position you wanted.

We don’t have that problem anymore. Game design and development are able to be done in affordable ways. It’s often free, to a point. Unity doesn’t require you to pay until you’ve made $100,000 in a year on games. For 3D modeling and animation, Blender is completely free.

Start your Own Studio. Design Your Own Games.

  1. Learn what goes into designing video games
  2. Learn how to design great video games.
  3. Design great video games.
  4. Learn to code in pre-made engines like Unity (3D/2D) or GameMaker (2D). Alternatively, hire or partner with someone who does.
  5. Learn to do basic art required in free software like Blender (3D) or Inkscape (2D). Alternatively, hire or partner with someone who does.
  6. Be a game designer.

You Can Still Go The Triple A Route

You might be thinking, “What if they/I don’t want to be an indie developer? What if they/I want to work on AAA titles like Halo or World of Warcraft?”

No problem. I still don’t recommend working your way up from the bottom.

Design your own games. Ship them. Make a name for yourself. Get the job you want at whatever studio.

There are three ways to get to the top of the AAA gaming industry:

  1. Start from the bottom and work your way up the corporate ladder of a company that was never yours and most likely wouldn’t ever be yours. Even if you stuck with them for 50 years, they’re probably already owned by another company who most likely won’t give it up, ever.
  2. Start as independent, build up your own indie studio, then get a job as a game designer at a big AAA company.
  3. Start as independent, build up your own indie studio, become AAA yourself.

3 is the option I prefer.

I’m Going To Help You Do This

Here are a few other posts that can help you get started with this:

No one should have to spend 3 years “getting experience” as a QA tester and then spend 10 or more years slowly working their way up the corporate ladder.

Discussion (1)

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jdriviere profile image
J. Djimitry Rivière • Edited

I never thought about it like that. But then, what you said makes a lot of sense if you have that kind of mindset to "create your own experience." I guess most people want to "make their way up" because of job security, or that it increases their marketability for employment if the human resources see big studios in your resume. Not sure...

It's almost like the college/university thing: do you go to college to find higher paying jobs, or do you educate yourself and gain the experience you need on your own, with strong self-discipline?

But thank you. I'll definitely re-read it again. It's worth it.