How to Get a Job As a Game Designer

I got a question from one of you readers asking how to get a job as a game designer:

I am just a compliance tester, but i want to design and ONLY design. I dont want to code, or do any art just design. What can i do to get into this field?


Since I do much different production tasks besides design I’m probably not the best person to answer to this question, but I have some ideas on this.

A week ago I wrote an article titled 7 Plans for Getting Further With Your Game Idea. While most of these ideas are applicable only if you do also programming (or have budget to hire somebody), I think the last tip about making pen & paper RPGs might be quite interesting for some people. If all they want to do is design – then why not choose pen & paper (or board game) industry where it’s easier for designers to get their work done?

I googled for “game design” and “game designer” and found an article titled: Design Job Info. While that article is from year 2002 I still think there’s lessons to learn also today. I’m sure you can find many more simply by using search engines.

The first Round Table session about breaking in the industry was targeted for producer, but the tips are applicable for designers as well. I recommend taking a look at that blog post also.

Last but not least I would start gathering names of video game designers and would approach them. I would ask how these guys got their jobs and would there be any tips they could share. If you can provide them something in exchange, the better chances you have to get in touch with them.

Besides directly contacting designers you could google for more designer articles and read books by designers. You could find out how these people got in the industry and follow their footsteps. Check out job offers from company websites and send your resumes to companies, just to let them know what you’ve done.

You could consider launching a video game design website and start writing your design ideas and tips there. You might simply start designing games for free, and put these designs online. Make your goal to get a job as a designer, and start going towards it. Sooner or later you’ll get it. It will take some time depending on your skills, your determination and your willingness to work on getting that job – but if you are willing to pursue that goal, I’m sure you can achieve it.

In summary:

  • Make your goal to become a video game designer
  • Read everything you can about design and designers
  • Find out how some professional designers got their jobs and model their actions
  • Check out job offerings and send your resume to these companies
  • Consider launching your own video game design website and get publicity

And the most important reminder: Work on your goal every day. Do something to go towards your goal. Take baby steps and be patient.

Learn From the Top 100 Indie Games

There is a cool thread at Indiegamer forums where Russell Carroll threw a big list of indie games at Game Tunnel. There’s 100 different indie games from the past years.

There’s one great element that you can benefit from these types of lists. Naturally you can start going through those games and play them (if you happen to like playing good indie games), but in my mind there’s one better lesson: use this list in your marketing research.

This list isn’t directly about the best selling games (for example: Titan Attacks that sold over $3000 USD was ranked 32 while Virtual Villagers that was one of the best selling games was ranked 37) What you can take from the list is to find what makes these games so great. You can also check out if somebody else has already done a game that you are going to create and perhaps find some good game design tips to make your game unique.

Check it out.

See How Easily You Can Benefit From Making Mistakes

Some days ago I received a $50 bill for something that was promised to be free. I asked from the company what was going on and explained that they had promised (no written words though) that there would be no fee for this specific item since I had agreed to use their services. Their official response was something along line “Unfortunately to get item X for free, you also need to have item Y”.

I decided to write to the person who promised the free service, and asked why this service was billed.

In less than a day I got an apology from that specific person and she said that we don’t need to pay the $50 bill and that she’s taken care of the issue.

At that point I was amazed to see how well these guys handled the issue. The official explanation was using “company policies” to explain why the fee would need to be paid, but the attendant who was dealing with us took action and gave me what was promised.

They made a mistake by promising something that wasn’t along with their company policies – and made me feel like they wouldn’t keep their end of the deal. In the end I was surprised that a company that big could so easily apologize and get rid of the bill: and make me feel good. I felt like they actually wanted to keep their promises with me, and show proper customer service.

If you mess something up – make it correct as soon as possible. That’s how you can strengthen the customer relationship.

Ask These 2 Questions That Will Get You More Time

Yesterday I wrote about customer service and mentioned a story about getting a key from the maintenance company. Basically I needed a key from a maintenance company and visited their office. When I explained my situation to the clerk, she took a pile of keys and started guessing which might be mine. This company didn’t ask the two important questions would have helped them to get more time. I’ll mention them soon, read on.

There’s like 30 or 40 different keys, and the maintenance company cannot tell where they go. They have been delivering the same keys for years. I wonder how they could not put some numbers to the keys or place the keys on some board that would tell where the keys go. Now they have 30-40 different keys and every time somebody goes there and asks for a key, they have to randomly guess which one it might be.

I wonder why they are not doing something about the issue. It might take couple of hours for somebody at the maintenance company to take all the keys, try them and mark them properly. After that they would save countless hours on guesswork (I know it’s countless hours because in my case it took me at least 30 minutes extra time for me to drive to their place and get them to make something about this – and I’m sure I’m not the only one who needs these keys).

What they should do is to ask 2 simple questions.

What time consuming tasks I currently do manually?
They should have asked the first question and locate this problem. By thinking about the lost time, they could easily see that their key system increases their workload – and it’s always done by somebody. Over and over.

Is there something in your job that you need to do over and over, and it consumes time? Locate the most time consuming tasks and make a list.

Then ask the second question:

How can I automate this task?
The second question’s idea is that you somehow remove yourself from doing the work. For example, in customer service it is quite typical that certain questions are asked over and over. If you need to answer to the same questions over and over, then perhaps you could create an FAQ (frequently asked questions) list and put it on the company website? You could also set up an auto-reply to your support email and attach the FAQ to it.

It’s important to concentrate on how to automate the task. Sometimes I heard people focusing on the problem rather than the solution. For example, somebody might insist that there must be a human to reply these emails because it’s “good for the company imago”. These guys are automatically stopping the process, where the core idea is to find a solution. If it’s not “good for the imago”, then they could ask “how could we use that FAQ list AND make sure it’s good for the imago”. Maybe they could also attach phone numbers or realize that by having an automated reply, the customer will get much faster response – perhaps that would be “good for the company imago”?

Typical time consuming task is checking emails. One could say that “I have to read these emails, I cannot automate that”. That’s actually again focusing on the problem. The idea is to ask how can I ease my email pile. Perhaps you could hire some trusted guy to first read your business emails and ask him to either reply them or forward them to you. I’m not saying that’s necessary a good idea or not – I’m just saying it’s an idea. For somebody it might work.

Think of the most time consuming tasks you currently have. Think how you can automate them, or get rid of them.

The Most Important Element in Customer Service

The most important guideline in customer service is very simple: to serve to customer. The moment you stop serving customer (and start offering policies instead) you are taking a step to a wrong direction.

I needed to get a key from one maintenance company as earlier they managed to give me a wrong key with words “try these”. This time I went to their office and had to wait for some time since the clerk was on a phone. I couldn’t miss hearing words “oh, so they key is not working?” from clerk’s mouth. I started thinking that somebody might have a similar problem…

The phone call continued and then I heard the clerk saying “I don’t know anything about that. You could call to the other company. They should know how that goes”. As he was saying that I noticed a sign on the wall that had couple of lines under a headline: “Our values:”. The 2 most striking sentences were “customer service” and “results”. I started thinking: these guys gave me wrong keys first (poor results) and somebody is calling about maintenance and they are avoiding responsibility by saying “I don’t know anything about that, ask somebody else” (poor customer service).

I wondered why they even have company values like that when they don’t seem to get things done (and by the way, “we get things done” is their slogan under their company logo). If the clerk would have shown a little bit of customer service, instead of avoiding the responsibility she could have said: “I don’t know how that goes, but I can find out. Please give me your phone number and I’ll ask about it and let you know”. Now she just didn’t want any additional work and buried in to the customer’s shoulders.

Naturally there are situations when customer service really shouldn’t take responsibility on some tasks, but I have visited their office earlier and also then I heard the sentence “I don’t know about that” – without any further action. That’s why I have slight doubts with their attitude.

Their job is to serve their customers! If they don’t know how something goes, then it’s absolutely fine to tell that – if they continue by saying that they’ll find out and let me know.

Back to the story. After the call the clerk took a big pile of keys and randomly attempted to give me some. I then I suggested that maybe some maintenance guy could check out the right key and drop the right key to our apartment. That was okay, and then I left.

I wonder how many others go there just to find out that they cannot get the right keys. I wonder how difficult it can be to have places for keys so that you can actually tell where they are used?

Customer service is about serving the customer. This company has slight problem remembering that.

Averages Are Useless – On Average

It’s easy to use word “average” to describe something. It’s easy to ask “How much indie games make money on average?”. There’s just one problem: average alone can be pretty useless. Let’s suppose there are 90 games that sell $100, 9 games that sell $1,000 and then there’s one game that sells for $100,000. Now, if you ask: “How much indie games make money on average?” the result would be “for hundred games, the average is $1180″ – which is pretty useless figure. Basically it suggests that there’s not much money for making indie games. From that figure, it would be easy to think that “most games make $1180″.

By looking at the original numbers, you could tell that this is far from true. Instead of only looking at the average, you also need to see the whole scale (or median at least) to make better conclusions. If you would know the Median (which is $100) and Average or could see the whole range (from $100 to $100,000) then you would be in a better position. You could figure out that some games make around $1180 but you can also see that “most games don’t make much” and “there’s still one game that made lots of more in this group”.

Bear in mind that these figures are imaginary just to show that “average” alone doesn’t do much good.

Instead of using average numbers, I like to find our case studies and real-life examples such as these games sales statistics. I wouldn’t base marketing research solely on these stats, but I would use them to see what kind of figures people are making and what kind of marketing was used in these games.

Let’s take another example. Let’s suppose there are two students who (with grades scale of 1 to 5) have finished courses with average grade of 3. It would be easy to assume that “these students are average students” and stop there. What we might miss is how well these students do on different subjects. It might be that the other student could be always getting grade 3 whether it’s leadership or artistic courses. The other might be barely getting 1 for artistic courses, and then 5 to leadership courses. If we are considering hiring a new project manager, it might make sense to understand what lies behind those average grades.

Averages can be deceiving, and even totally useless when used alone. Your team members are individuals not “average people”. Average sales stats alone tell very little about the business. Find out more than just average.

What Terence Hill and Bud Spencer Movies Taught Me About Haggling

I’m kind of a Terence Hill and Bud Spencer fan. They act in clueless stories concentrating on fighting with as many people as possible… yet there’s something in their movies that makes you want to watch them over and over.

Anyway, in their movie I’m for the hippopotamus there are scenes of haggling. In these scenes, these guys are always countering to money offers by saying “double at least”. The price should be at bigger – double at least.

While I doubt it’s efficient on every situation, I think this tip is worth remembering. If you are thinking of doing a $100 deal or $100,000 deal, you can always try to think bigger – “double at least” bigger. The next time you are about to make a deal, why not asking to double your price?

Who knows, it just might even work.

Do You Make False Savings?

By false savings I mean things that look like a good deal, but in the end they cost you a lot. False savings can be anything such as poor deals or using cheap labor just to notice that the level of quality is far from satisfactory. Here’s another example for making false savings: Not spending $5,000 on proper tools, but then wasting $50,000 (and lots of time) to hire a clueless guy.

That’s pretty common I think. Companies might be hesitant to get external consultant or perhaps hire an “expensive” short-term help, because they think it will be “too expensive”. Then they continue working the old ways, using the old tools just to realize they might have saved a lots of time by hiring somebody to aid them.

Many indies are also guilty of doing false savings. For example, they are hesitant to spend $100 to buying some art assets. Instead, they learn from the net (since it free, and ebooks might cost like $20 – after all, that’s like 4 meals at McDonalds) and spent months on learning how to do art. Then the worst element of the equation is that they work part time. Wouldn’t it make more sense to simply do one week more for contract work, and then use the salary to purchase those assets? It would have saved them a lots of time – and money in a long run.

How about you, are you making false savings?

The Worst Business Mistake I’ve Seen

About one year after starting this blog so I had about 15,000 monthly unique visits on this blog. Last month (about 6 months later) the site got over 36,000 unique visits. As you can see, the site visitor stats are going up. It has taken time to reach this point, but the growth is getting speed. It takes time to accelerate, but it’s going nicely.

Some people do a horrible mistake when they see no growth: they give up and don’t realize that the growth might be happening tomorrow. Some people keep going for one year (or two years) and not seeing the results they like, so they give up and quit. Little they realize that if they had kept going for one more month (or one more year), their business could have grown exponentially.

Dramatic growth requires patience and a mindset to keep going towards your goal no matter what. Don’t make the worst business mistake when something is not working. It requires the success attitude that makes you ask: How can I make this work?

How to Find a Great Game Idea

One secret of getting good game ideas is to read a lot of different books and watch a lot of different movies. The key words are: lots of different resources. It isn’t necessary so wise to spend a lot of time watching same show over and over – and reading books around one theme over and over. Instead, try gathering knowledge outside your expertise. If you haven’t ever read philosophical books, then how about going to your local library and reading one? While it might sound ridiculous to read topics such as philosophy, by expanding your knowledge you can actually grow a lot and get a lots of different game ideas.

Here are some sources for getting great ideas. They’ve worked for me:

  • Cartoons: lots of great game ideas. Good ideas on what kind of monsters you could have in your game. Don’t necessarily clone their ideas – but use them as inspiration.
  • Religious texts: there are lots of ideas that you can apply to leadership, and lots of ideas that can be used in games. Besides: god games are very popular genre, so why not do a bit of research about it.
  • Anime: Japanese have really unique ideas and stories. By reading and watching anime (or manga) you can learn a lot. One friend of mine (and an Insider) is hosting a new anime site that you might want to bookmark for future use.
  • Science: There’s lots of good to steal from science. Whether it’s about traveling in space or earthquakes, there’s plenty of good ideas that you can use.
  • Politics: Another juicy area for getting ideas and inspirations. Politicians (and scandals) might be fruitful topic for a game.
  • And there’s lots of others. Pretty much everything imaginable psychology, culture, arts, technology, animals – you name it – can be a source for inspiration and ideas.

If you keep reading books only in one area, then you are limiting your possibilities. By expanding your knowledge, you will get new ideas for games and new ideas on how to solve problems.