In our Meetups we always try to pick up topics that we either encounter in our work or that move our everyday lives.
In our teams, the topic “Game Design” was requested from time to time, completely casually. And also the one or other conversation at lunch turned, nobody’s surprised, to gaming. Everybody talks about it and everybody does it.
But where do the games we play on computers, consoles and mobile phones actually come from?
It’s a term that could mean anything and nothing. What does the profession of game design look like?
Some might imagine the master of game ideas is waking up at night and having the next big World of Warcraft in mind and is then delegating that vision until it’s put into action.
Another one sees people sitting in front of the computer day AND night, creating, creating, creating. Maybe it’s a mixture of both?
Jens Breuker, our Master of Game Design, is a game designer himself and has given us an exclusive insight into the world of this industry.
How do you become a game designer?
In the case of Jens, the mountain came more to the Prophet than the other way around, because after a few other stations in geology and aerospace engineering, he realized that one component in his life has always remained the same – the love of gaming.
So why not turn passion into a profession?
That’s the way it goes for many who end up in this industry. For some, it’s a detour, for others it’s never been possible to imagine anything else.
In fact, there are now international studies that train in game design and thus open up this professional field at an early age.
Anyone interested in this, however, must bear in mind that this course of studies is not yet offered at state universities and that those interested have to go to private universities and pay tuition fees accordingly.
The games industry
The games industry had its beginnings back in 1958, when the physicist William Higinbotham developed “Tennis for Two” in the Brookhaven National Laboratory. For an open day he constructed a “game” which consisted of an analog computer and a small oscilloscope. Two small boxes were used for operation: One with a button to hit a ball and one with a knob to adjust the rebound angle.
Without question – on that day, Tennis for Two, with its overall size of 5m, was the public favourite of the Nuclear Research Centre. The game can be seen as a predecessor of the popular Pong.
Just for fun, the first real game was created. But what happened next?
First of all, it was not game designers or graphic designers who developed these games, but programmers and hobby developers. The hardware limitations didn’t necessarily make the whole thing any easier.
But soon there were some real evergreens of games that attracted both small and large players and led to worldwide success.
Already in the 1980s the first so-called online games existed.
Before 2000, games were developed that are still very popular today. Who doesn’t know Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Tetris, Spacewar, Mario Kart or Monkey Island?
The games industry quickly meant completely new potential for companies. Before 2000, the first consoles were developed, which became better, smaller and more manageable.
In 1997, the first mobile game became known when Nokia installed the popular “Snake” on their phones.
While the games at that time mainly appealed to a broad audience, in the following years more and more strategy games and games that served a certain niche were developed.
With the rise of the internet, online games took on a whole new meaning and conquered the world.
Even today, the gaming industry is still a crucial part of recreational activities. While the film and music industry has been experiencing problems for years and turnover has remained more or less the same, money in the games industry has risen enormously. An annual turnover of 152 billion dollars is expected in 2019. By comparison, the film market can “only” expect 43 billion dollars and the music industry 20 billion dollars.
The gaming industry is booming. The manufacturers in particular are noticing this and earning sums that many other markets can only dream of. In 2018, the popular game Fortnite: Battle Royal made 318 million dollars alone. At the same time, however, the costs spent on the production of a game are also rising and these are now equivalent to a Hollywood blockbuster. Grand Theft Auto V had a budget of 265 million dollars and thus almost comes close to the production budget of the popular blockbuster “The Dark Knight Rises”.
The success of the games industry does not seem to come to an end.
What exactly does a game designer do?
But what does the job of a game designer actually look like? Game design combines aesthetics, game rules, control and the history of a game with interactions and a unique experience.
If you look at why the games industry is so successful, you can’t avoid a psychological aspect.
Why do we play? Even as babies we can’t help it. Whether in nature or in civilization: we learn important physical functions and abilities, our socialization and important experiences for later life through playful discovery. We satisfy our curiosity and yes, sometimes, we just want to escape from our everyday life.
All this also applies to the gaming industry. A game must be fun, challenge us, offer us an escape from boredom or everyday life. Game designers have to take all this into account when putting an idea into action.
But what does a game designer have to be able to do to develop the right game? Actually everything – and that’s not even an exaggeration.
Anyone who thinks that a game designer does nothing but spray creative ideas is wrong.
The development of a game is community work and often the coordination of this is the responsibility of the game designer. This means that he/she must above all be able to listen well and communicate well. He or she must have at least a basic understanding of the individual areas involved in the development. This ranges from design, graphics and UI to marketing and finance.
Game design means being the “Keeper of the Vision” and having the responsibility to ensure that the content and project planning are adhered to.
Texts, voice-overs, level design, scripting, creating game rules and mechanics – these are all tasks in game design and are part of keeping an eye on the vision of a game.
A game should always have a background story if it is more than a building block principle. What tasks does the player have to perform? What does he experience when he is guided through the game? What challenges should he face?
Which difficulties have to be built in to make it exciting?
Developing a good game is just as creative as making a film or writing a book.
Besides the content, the appearance is also a decisive factor for success. This is where Level Design comes in.
Together with graphic designers and UX, as well as UI designers, the right “image” is created and a menu navigation and control of the game is introduced.
After all, you want to have the feeling that the game isn’t too complicated to use if it doesn’t necessarily make up the USP.
Programming is not necessarily done by the game designer. Of course, there are some that combine both, but in general it is not an absolute must to have extensive programming knowledge if you have game design as your dream job. An understanding for it, a good communication and a trust basis with the programmers involved is however obligatory. You can only reach your goal together.
Game Design contains a lot of creativity. But also economic aspects are in demand, if a budget has to be kept and the project planning is pending. Those who lose the overview will have a problem: overpriced productions, late deadlines and no good coordination of the teams involved in the game.
So anyone who wants to combine the most diverse skills with each other and has a high level of enthusiasm for a booming industry could find himself in the profession of game designer.
Game Designer – a dream job?
But one thing has to be considered: As much as this job can be fun, it is also hard work. In many companies there is the so-called crunch.
What exactly happens during crunch? There is a deadline that can hardly be met and it has to be met. What does this mean for those involved in a game? From now on the home will be the office and weekly working hours reaching 100 hours are not uncommon. At any cost, the deadline must be met and so programmers, developers and game designers often give up their lives for several weeks and months to be productive.
In addition, although the games developed often make millions, making the production companies and bosses rich and happy, the creative jobs such as game designers are truly underpaid. Programmers are also paid at the lower average level compared to many other industries in which IT is one of the top earners.
So why is the job still so popular in the games industry?
Passion and the dream of developing a millennium game, play a major role here. Making one’s own hobby into a profession is tempting and the offers are rare, so many developers and game designers accept these conditions.
However, many Indie Games, which are not developed by the big production companies, get more and more popular, become more public and every now and then individuals manage to celebrate a viral success, which changes everything.
Whether you can handle the conditions in the gaming industry is a question that everyone has to answer for themselves. The fact is, the profession of game designer is exciting, varied and a deeper insight gave us a lot of fun on the Meetup evening.