What's the job title on your office door?
I don’t have an office door to put a title on. I have some business cards that say Design Director, but I can’t seem to find those either at the moment...
What do you get up to during a typical week?
There’s not really any such thing as a typical week in this job, and my work will depend entirely on the games that are in development and the stages that they are at. Some common tasks include, brainstorming with my designers, presenting our designs to other people – either within the company or externally, planning what my team need to be doing and when they need to do it, helping steer the products my designers are working on, and meeting with the other departments to make sure we are all in sync.
I also play a lot of games, but mostly when I get home.
The video game industry has a reputation for being enormously competitive. How did you get started?
I offered to do anything for free! I emailed all the companies in the local area and said that I’d be happy to do anything for them. One of the companies took me up on this offer and I found myself making coffee, moving furniture, and fixing PCs. I also did a bit of testing too. After a month or two of doing this infrequently, they started to pay me to come in a few days each week (they must have liked my coffee!)
What skills are key to success in a game design role?
Obviously creativity is important. You need this to have good ideas to make a game fun, but it also means you need to be creative in how you work. What’s the best way to present an idea? Should you make a video, or prototype it with paper and dice? Can you convince an artist or programmer to help you out? Maybe you need to creatively Google your way to a solution? Each task is different, and you need to be creative in working out how best to go about it.
Confidence is important, because once you have a design you have to convince other people it’s the right one. If you doubt what you are suggesting, so will everyone else! Having said that, being open-minded and comfortable with criticism is also really important. Sometimes your designs won’t be the best, or they’ll have issues. When this happens you have to be happy to give up your design and work on a new one, taking on-board the problems people had with the original idea.
Academically, both maths and English are important. Other skills (like art) can be beneficial, but ultimately this job is about problem-solving and communication.
What one achievement are you most proud of in your career?
Hmmm... If I had to choose one it would probably be the release of my first game. There’s nothing like seeing your work on a shop shelf. It wasn’t a very successful game, and I’ve had far bigger hits since, but the first one had the most effect on me.
What has changed about the industry since you began your career?
I’ve only been doing this nine years, but even in that time a load has changed. Obviously the hardware has improved, particularly mobile phones, but the biggest change to my job has been affected by the growing power of the internet. In the past we’d make a game, print it on a disc, and that would be it. Nowadays, once a game is released we keep working on it and improving it. We get data telling us what players in our game are doing, and we use this to alter the experience – making it more fun and more compelling. The job has changed from working towards a single day, to now servicing a game far beyond its initial release.
What are the hours and the rewards like?
The hours vary greatly depending on the company you work for. Here at Relentless Software, we believe that we get the best results if staff work a 35-40 hour week. At other companies the hours can be longer. Of course just because I’m not at work doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about the games I’m working on. Often the best ideas happen when you’re not sitting at your desk, and your brain is subconsciously pondering a particular problem.
The rewards will again vary depending on the company you work for and the success of the games you make. Personally, I believe any job which results in having a fun product being bought and enjoyed by the public is inherently rewarding.
What two nuggets of advice would you offer someone looking to begin a career in game design?
Nugget one: make something. Nowadays anyone, with a bit of inspiration and a lot of hard work, can create a rudimentary game at home. There is simply no better way of getting yourself noticed.
Nugget two: don’t underestimate nugget one. Although working up from the very bottom is still a valid way to get into game design, I think the best approach is to try everything to get yourself noticed. By all means apply for jobs as QA testers or office juniors. But make something at home in your spare time. It will be the most important thing you can do if you're serious about making it as a designer.