All words presented in this blog are purely opinion, not fact - unless specifically stated otherwise in the post.

Monday 9 April 2018

Questions from an aspiring games designer

Recently a Games Design student sent me a bunch of interesting questions abotu beign a games designer. I figured that other people might have similar questions so I figured I'd post them here.

What does your average day in the studio look like? What kind of tasks or design work do you have to tackle most days?
This can change day to day and depending on where we are in a development cycle (early, middle, end). Generally, in early stages my day to day job involves meetings with the team (mostly brain storming but if the feature is complex then there will be follow up meetings with the design team to discuss how we think it should work) and writing design documentation. Middle stages are working with other developers (Code and Art) to implement the feature. This can look like review and feedback, but also actual implementation. Finally, towards the end of a cycle I spend my time playing the feature, reviewing it, balancing it and offering feedback.

What was your greatest misconception of the games industry before you worked in it?
It’s fun. Don’t misunderstand me, I’d not work anywhere else. From time to time you do have fun with your work, but there’s a misconception that when you work in games your playing. You’re a QA tester? You just play games for a living. You’re a designer you just come up with fun little ideas. But its more than that. It’s work. Sometimes its hard, sometimes its frustrating, sometimes you aren’t doing what you want, sometimes you’re doing things you don’t want to do. That said, I wouldn’t work anywhere else.
That or ‘you’ll earn 50k in your first year’ that’s lies.

What do you believe to be the most critical skill for any game designer? Or just as a developer in general?
Understand your players. Understand what you’re trying to do. Understand how your getting there. But mostly the first one. If you understand what the players want to see in your game, you will have a much better time of it. Now that isn’t to say ‘make only the games that you know 100% people will buy’. Knowing someone will play something is different to understanding them. You might know that the games market will buy and play a gritty realistic shooter, but you might understand that the audience you’re looking at is more inclined towards something else but plays the shooters because that’s all that’s on the market. According to Forbes of the top 5 highest selling games of all time only one of them even had guns in. Understand that what’s on the market isn’t necessarily what should be on the market.

As someone who also studied a games development related course at university: what advice would you give to graduates with 3 years of game development experience in a simulated 9-5 studio context for getting into the industry?
Sadly, I’m not the best person to talk to about that. I’ve been in the industry for almost 9 years now, but the first 6 years of that I was QA. QA is a way into the industry, people use it as a stepping stone to the other departments all the time, but from there it’s often luck.
Best way I can think of though: make a game.

What do you feel like is the most powerful piece within your own portfolio?
Either my work with the discovery channel on shark week for 4 years in a row, or my time running Hungry Shark Evolution, specifically the times when we broke company records for player retention and Daily Active Users.

What did you do when you were in the position of applying for jobs without professional work in your portfolio?
I designed games and wrote documentation privately and put them on my site. However, it’s worth noting that it didn’t work. I eventually got the job while working as QA, writing documentation for a game I was working on and sending it to my Creative director, who allowed me to prove myself. I got lucky.

When you were a junior designer at Future Games of London, how much creative control and agency did you have within a project's design?
For the first 3 months I was given some creative control, designing things on my own but getting approval from others. For the latter 9 months of my time as a junior designer I had full creative control over Hungry Shark Evolution. It’s worth noting that this is not normal.

What was your first big responsibility as a game designer?
Taking the lead on designing the features for Shark Week 2015.

It appears that you took the QA route into game design and development: what were the best things you learned from that role and is it a route that you would recommend to others? 
There are 2 reasons to go through QA;

  1. You understand their perspective
  2. You learn how to see the flaws in your designs.
QA get a bad rep. people don’t like them because they tell them what they’ve done wrong. But its important. It’s incredibly important. A game comes out buggy I guarantee you that 90% of the time the testers found the bug but someone else either waived it or there was simply no time to fix them.
When you design something you need to be able to see the flaws. You need to be able to see the problems with it. Developing your critical eye within QA significantly reduces the amount of time it takes to put out a feature.

You have been in the industry for a while now, how does your present skillset differ from when you first started out and why did you learn these new skills?
I have a lot more technical knowledge than I did back then, specifically in Unity 3D and Photoshop. I learned these so that I could implement features and so that I could create mock-ups of UI. I’ve recently begun learning C#, this makes it significantly easier to develop games. It makes you a vital part of any prototyping team and it makes it easier for you to design a feature and understand how it can work.

Is there anything else that you would like to add or share with someone looking to get into the Games Industry as a professional that works within it?
The Game industry is incredibly small. I have never been at a company where I haven’t either already known someone there or at the least known someone who has known someone I know. Other industries you can burn bridges and not make a difference, but in the games industry that might be the same bridge you need to cross 6 months from now. So cultivate good relationships and you’ll do well!

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