Preface: How to Start a Career in Game Design
Here’s the preface for the original Lazy Designer book. I’m posting this here as a supplement to my serialization of the Lazy Designer via my newsletter. If you would like to read “How to Start a Career in Game Design” then go and sign up now; the first post will hit this weekend.
If you love building videogames and aspire towards a career in videogame development I can relate. I spent my childhood writing stories, creating imaginary worlds and building games but never thought a career in the industry would be possible. It just seemed too impossible.
I was wrong.
What to Expect
I had the pleasure of spending a decade working on top rated role-playing games with the games developer BioWare. I would like to share that experience with you.
Who is this book for?
This book is geared primarily towards those looking to start a career in the games industry. Specifically the book is about obtaining a design position (writer, level designer, game system designer) but the text should be of use to anyone entering the industry.
Practical advice on how to enter the industry leads into an exploration of what a bright and shiny new employee might expect in their early years in the games industry.
Later books will focus on design specializations, improving quality assurance, becoming a manager and other facets that I believe will be of more value to industry veterans.
This is not a book with any tricks or magical techniques that will make you a better videogame developer. I am a practical designer and in my time with BioWare I built high quality video games in reasonable time frames and with reasonable resources. This is not a design book. It is a book about becoming a capable designer and an asset to your team and to the company.
I will not go into great detail on how to design a game, the components used to build games, how game engines work, or even how to develop an emotionally engaging storyline from start to finish.
To be blunt I learned all those skills after I already had started employment with BioWare. Certainly my fiction writing and gaming experiences had prepared me with the basic skills I needed but I was a raw recruit.
I have since attended lectures and read several manuals on various design philosophies (some of which are referenced at the end of this book) and expanded my skills. But my practical work methodology and never-ending eagerness to learn is why I was constantly given new responsibilities early in my career and why I became a lead designer not long after starting work with BioWare.
There are no shortcuts when creating great games but you can improve your own skills by understanding how others, like myself, solved common problems in game development.
This book begins with a chapter on to how best prepare yourself for a videogame development career and how to find that first job. The next two chapters explore improving your skills and tackling the roadblocks you will encounter. After a discussion on how to design fun frustrations for players I end with a list of links to online references I have found useful in my own career.After reading this book you will know how to increase your chances of getting an interview, obtaining the job you want and excelling at the tasks given you.
I encourage you to read other design books, to master the nuts and bolts of gameplay and story and world-building. Those are important. But without a strong work ethic and the desire and ability to improve yourself and your project, you will not have the opportunity to put those other skills to the test.
What is a Game
At this point in most books of this nature the author usually writes a lengthly discussion of what a game is and offers some descriptions. Because there are many great books already covering that topic, I will not do so in any great detail.
Personally I think a videogame should have choices –interesting and entertaining choices and consequences for those choices. Most choices should influence the game’s narrative. But not all. Some choices should simply be amusing or should help the player gain ownership of the game world they are experiencing.
About the Lazy Designer series
Throughout this work I’ll make reference to other books in the Lazy Designer series. This is only the first book of what will eventually be five titles, each exploring a subset of the game development experience, mirroring my own career from new employee to specialist to manager. Later books will give advice on how to improve design skills, improve communication and balance work in life… all things I had to do as I moved onto my second project, the Neverwinter Nights franchise. Eventually, the final books will delve into my experiences as a design manager — my successes and my mistakes.Before we start delving into content I would like to make a couple points clear.
- Feedback. I thrive on feedback. Please let me know when you find mistakes. My Contact Page has a variety of methods to reach me. I’m eager to know if there are topics you would like to see covered in later books, discussed on my blog, or even added to a later edition of this book. I want this to be a cooperative process where I’m learning as much as you.
- You, the Reader. I will often delve into topics of a higher level than a new employee needs to know. I do this because this is what I am familiar with. For most of my career I was a manager. I also do it because I think it helps prepare you for when you yourself might be leading teams. Even if that is not something you aspire towards it might help you understand the influence behind the decisions that your manager makes.
I believe in enhancing the work experience, no matter the task I am engaged in.
There is a time for designers to roll up their sleeves and just get the work done but when possible I think it is important that designers understand how valuable their time is. Should you waste days doing a task that could be automated and completed in a couple minutes? Doesn’t it make more sense to devote your time to more creative tasks?
I believe in getting tools and procedures in place so that design effort is spent in the right way — making the game entertaining. In that regard I am lazy. I don’t want to do the hard, boring work. I want to work hard at the fun stuff.
Part 3 of my Unity prototype is available to read via Gamasutra (yes, I’ll be pulling it into this blog at a later date, but if you are impatient you can head over there to read it).