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How to Become a Game Designer: Skills, Portfolio, and Getting Your First Job

Author: Game Maker's ToolkitTime: 2024-01-20 16:50:00

Table of Contents

What Does a Game Designer Do? Including Game Designer, Level Designer

The specific responsibilities of a game designer depend entirely on the size of the studio and the structure of their teams. At a small studio, the game designer may oversee all aspects of design. But at a larger studio, the role is likely split between game design and level design.

Game designers come up with ideas for mechanics and systems. If approved, they create detailed documentation to guide the implementation. They may also tweak mechanics using scripting tools. Level designers create environments for players to explore using assets provided by artists. They may also script specific encounters.

Game Designers Focus on Mechanics and Systems

Game designers dream up ideas for mechanics and systems that make up the core gameplay. For example, they may design progression systems, economies, or a complex AI behavior. Once their ideas are approved, game designers create detailed design documentation and asset lists for programmers and artists to implement them. They may also have access to scripting tools to tweak the mechanics further by tweaking stats or scripting interactions.

Level Designers Create Game Spaces

Level designers focus on creating environments for players to explore and traverse. This includes aspects like navigation, pacing, and encounters. Level designers build spaces in "greybox" - simple geometric shapes - that artists later texture and decorate. They may use scripting to control specific encounters or mission flow in an open world.

How to Become a Game Designer Including Building a Portfolio, Gaining Experience

There are four key things you need to become a game designer: design thinking skills, soft skills like communication, a strong portfolio, and some industry experience. While degree programs can help, you need to focus on building an impressive portfolio.

Create small game prototypes or level edits to showcase your skills. For game design, focus on novel mechanics and systems. For level design, recreate or remix spaces from existing games. Thoroughly document your work and process.

While some entry level design jobs exist, gaining real world experience first via internships, QA testing, or junior positions can help you transition to a full design role.

Building a Portfolio Demonstrates Design Skills

The most crucial thing is having a portfolio that demonstrates your design abilities. For game design, create small projects with unique mechanics or systems. For level design, build playable spaces using modding tools or editors. Make sure to thoroughly document your work with videos, images, explanations of your process, and descriptions of the decisions you made.

Gaining Experience Improves Candidacy

While some entry level design positions exist, they are highly competitive. Gaining real world games industry experience first can make you a stronger candidate. Options include internships, junior positions, and working in quality assurance. These allow you to learn studio practices while showing your skills.

Acing the Interview Including Demonstrating Design Thinking, Showcasing Soft Skills

In a design interview, employers want to assess your personality fit, communication abilities, and resilience to feedback. But most importantly, they want to see strong design thinking skills.

Be prepared to analyze and critique games on a deep level. Understand how mechanics tie together into complex systems. Employers may challenge aspects of your portfolio to see how you handle criticism.

Demonstrating Design Thinking

To assess design skills, employers will ask you to break down games on a deeper level than the average player. Be prepared to critically analyze mechanics to show your understanding of systems and balance. You may be asked "what would happen if you removed rock from rock paper scissors" to showcase analytical thinking. Prepare by thoroughly reviewing games and being able to discuss their designs.

Showcasing Soft Skills

The interviewer will also assess your soft skills to determine if you're a fit for the team culture. Show you work well with others, can communicate ideas clearly, and handle critical feedback well. Don't be afraid to express your passion for games and desire to create amazing experiences for players.

Is Game Design a Dream Job?

Game development can involve long hours and job instability. The work is difficult and often thankless. But many designers say problems like crunch and layoffs shouldn't deter passionate candidates, as conditions are improving.

Smaller indie studios provide opportunities for more creative freedom and control compared to large AAA studios. But they come with their own extreme challenges in terms of funding and resources.


Becoming a professional game designer takes dedication through building skills, experience, and connections. While challenging, it provides the ultimate opportunity to turn your passion into a career creating games played by millions.

If you focus on developing demonstrable design talents, persistently improve based on feedback, and leverage any connections possible, you can successfully transition from gamer to game maker.


Q: What are the main roles and responsibilities of a game designer?
A: Game designers create mechanics, systems, design docs and assist in implementation. Level designers create environments, script encounters and tie missions together.

Q: What should you include in a game design portfolio?
A: Include small finished games or prototypes showing mechanics you designed. Document your process and role. Use videos and screenshots if possible.

Q: How can you gain experience before becoming a professional game designer?
A: Complete internships and work experience programs. Start in QA. Make connections through networking. Consider a college game design course.

Q: What skills do employers look for in game design candidates?
A: Strong communication and teamwork skills. Ability to accept feedback and work collaboratively. Solid understanding of game design principles.

Q: What challenges exist in game design as a career?
A: Long working hours, job instability, online harassment, lack of diversity. Research studios carefully. Consider indie development.