Designing computer games may seem like a dream job, but how do you actually become a games or level designer?
One of the most common questions we get is ‘what qualifications do I need to be a games designer?’
Well that’s a pretty tough one to answer. We’ve placed candidates from all kinds of academic backgrounds—English, Physics, Product Design, Scriptwriting and even Biology. The one thing they all had in common was their passion and enthusiasm for games.
A games designer might need to find out the top speed of particular car or decide the diameter of imaginary planet. What these things, and all the things a games designer may do, have in common is the person’s ability to imagine, understand and communicate information effectively both in writing and verbally. Here’s the fun part (and the bit most career advisors wouldn’t want us to tell you): if you want to be a games designer you should play LOTS of games, watch LOTS of films and read LOTS of books/comics/poems/jokes/cereal boxes/…
Firstly, having a passion for games is absolutely crucial. Only the best candidates succeed and these candidates are totally committed. You need to be passionate about games. If you want to succeed in games it must be games that you want to make. It may seem as though every job advertised requires industry experience, but there are a limited number of places for candidates who have not worked in the games industry before.
Still with us? Then…
Make sure your CV screams out your objective of getting into the games industry! Write this at the top in your Objectives, Profile or Career Aims section to grab the reader’s attention. Then, in the rest of your CV, emphasise anything you’ve done which is relevant and/or shows your enthusiasm for and interest in games—e.g. games designs and ideas (not the details, just the fact you’ve done some) and/or level designs or game mods you’ve done in your spare time.
Your hobbies and interests section is a great opportunity to show how keen you are. What type of games do you like? Any specific examples? Why? Here is the place to say! When you are playing think about what you like and don’t like – in an interview you’ll need to be prepared to talk about anything in your CV.
Don’t be frightened of using agencies. Choose an agency which has a longstanding reputation in the games industry. A good agency will know exactly which companies are looking for what type of candidate. One call to an agency can save you many hours of time contacting every games company in the country. They are also an invaluable resource. Agencies look at CVs every day so they know what CV will get an interview and what won’t. Ask their advice. Openness and honesty are crucial. Your agency is working for you; they should keep you fully informed.
Most companies would like to see some examples of your work. This often depends on the type of job you’re going for so here’s a run down of some of the work we’ve seen or been asked for by companies in the past:
This would normally be in the form of a full, single player level in one of the common level editors available (Worldcraft, UnrealEd, etc.) The things that people will be looking at are game-flow, NPC/weapon/item placement and overall gameplay of the level. Any written work done while designing the level will also be of interest.
This could take the form of a simple game review or a comparison between two similar (or completely different!) games. What’s important is that it demonstrates the way you think about games and analyse them.
Some companies will set candidates a design task, which would normally take the form of one of the design document elements listed above but working to a particular brief or subject matter.
*Note on Game Designs
Many companies are not interested in seeing your game ideas as part of your initial application. This is something they may ask for if they are interested in taking your application further. There are also some legal issues associated with original game designs that need to be addressed on an individual basis. The general rule is don’t send a game idea to a games company unless you’ve been asked to as part of your application—they probably won’t look at it—and it’s even more unlikely they’re going to make it their next project 🙂