What does a games designer do?

Pete Low

The V&A’s recent appointment of a game designer in residence tells us the design establishment is beginning to see the craftsmanship required to create a great game is no less than that for the other forms of entertainment it curates – like film, music and TV. But what exactly is game design?

One of the most common mistakes outside of the games industry is to consider a game designer as similar to an interface or graphic designer. There’s a misconception that they create the look and art for the game, when it’s really about designing the entire game world and its many parts.

Game designers develop concepts and strategies, create stories, build characters and work all the way down to the tiny detail, like the projectile speed of a little bird or the most enjoyable way to crush a candy.

A diverse group of people are involved in building a game – from artists to animators, script writers, music composers and more. The game designer’s role is make sure a great gameplay experience stays at the core, as all the little pieces are put together to make the whole.

Clash of the Clans
Clash of the Clans

Both the importance of a game designer throughout the process and the amount they contribute are often underestimated. Games are made from lots of little interactive moments that build the greater gameplay. You can’t plan it all from the start, it’s an iterative process, perhaps more so than many other creative processes.

It’s a continual testing and refining process: learning what players like and don’t like and tuning the gameplay and features, while understanding the impact they’ll have on constraints like budget and time.

And it doesn’t stop when the game is launched. Any product should be tracked, measured and refined, but many games are now also ongoing services, never becoming completed products. Hugely successful games like Clash of the Clans or Puzzles and Dragons will constantly evolve and never conclude – all under the guidance of game designers.

As games become seemingly omnipresent, as entertainment and content for brands too, the V&A appointment recognises the role of great games and games designers in the UK, both past and present.

Game design is part science, part art, and part obsessive dedication to finding the magic that will make people fall in love with your design.

Pete Low is lead games designer at CHUNK.

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