Deciding to become a game developer at initial glance seems like the ultimate dream job. In fact, it is one of the most highly sought after industries. Now, as a teacher that teaches game development, I have seen many students and games throughout my nine years in the classroom. One this is almost always certain, the reality of game development is significantly different than what they originally believe it to be. The good news is that most students still find it enjoyable, just different.
So, is game design fun? Game design is fun for designers that enjoy art asset creation, programming, and marketing. While game designers work report working longer hours than the average American worker, flexibility and telecommuting is a major component of improving job satisfaction.
There are many factors that may lead to whether you want to be in this industry. It is clearly not for everyone. The things that I enjoy about game design, may be specific to my needs and desires in a career. The things you may value might be significantly different from the things that I want in my own work. Let’s discuss some of these things that might be major factors in your decision.
Game Design Requires You to Always Be Learning New Things
If there is one thing that I have learned quickly in game design, it is that learning new things are always going to be in my future. Unlike math, which rarely changes, the game design industry is always evolving. There are new platforms to develop for. New software is released frequently to help provide solutions. There are a wide range of art styles in the game design industry.
Just when you think that you understand everything about the 3D design industry, something new comes out. I recall walking in class for the first time fairly confident in my ability. Then I recall hearing about software used for texturing models called Substance Painter. Wow, this was revolutionary! I went from feeling confident to inadequate in a hurry!
I then remember hearing about ZBrush for the first time. Oh my goodness, I can now sculpt crazy detail into models unlike I could do in Maya at the time. Just when you think you have one area figured out, something else comes out that improves the process. There is new software that you need to add to your arsenal to make the best game possible.
This goes for almost every subcategory within game design. On the development side, it seems as though there are always new ways being discovered to tackle specific things. Unity themselves are pushing out updates to help improve processes.
As you improve your development skills, you continue to learn that there is deeper learning. In coding, there are things known as “programming patterns”. These help keep your projects organized and make development better in the long run.
If you enjoy learning new things, this is a great industry. Unfortunately, this feeling of needing to learn new things all the time often leads game designers to feeling inadequate.
If a high level competency is directly related to job satisfaction for you, game design may not be the best career option for you. Some people have a need to feel highly competent in their work, and unfortunately this industry does not lead most people into that area for years, if ever.
Some of the most popular and admired game designers in the industry that own YouTube channels frequently talk of having “imposter syndrome”. They create great work. However, they still feel as though they lack some of the necessary skills such as knowing how to code.
Thomas Brush, someone who has released several games successfully speaks of feeling this way (see below).
Game Design is Challenging, in a good way
I know they say never to use sports analogies when explaining things, but it seems to be the best fit ever. Have you ever played a sport and the game been on the line with everything riding on your ability to be successful?
As an example, in basketball, I recall a few times being on the free throw line, down by one or maybe tied. I have two shots to take and there is no or very little time left. In this situation, there are people that want to be on that free throw line and there are people that absolutely want to avoid it. The reason why people want to be in this position is not only because they are confident they can be successful at hitting the shot. In addition, they absolutely crave the feeling they receive when being successful in it.
Game design has this same appeal. I watch students on a routine basis look at a programming challenge or perhaps an issue they are having in Unity. It simply isn’t working right. There is a huge obstacle to overcome. At times they may leave the classroom feeling frustrated or anxious about whether they can meet a deadline or finish the task they were given.
However, in a two year program, rarely do I have students leave. Why? Why would someone sign up for that? The reason is because the feeling of overcoming those challenges is worth so much more than those days that they leave feeling frustrated.
As a game designer, it seems like you are constantly running into situations that are very challenging. You are taking on tasks that you may have never come across before. When this happens, you do not look at how big the challenge is, but how big the victory will be when you overcome it. Admittedly, it’s a bit hard to see it when you’re in the moment feeling frustrated.
Game Design Versatility
When not tackling tough challenges on the development side, game design often has many repetitive tasks. 3D modelers sometimes get burnt out from the profession. As the game design industry continues to demand bigger, better, more detailed game environments, so does the amount of assets a game designer has to create to create something impressive. There are days, sometimes months, or in my case years working on projects where your day to day task is to build 3D models.
The same is the case for many sectors of the game design industry. It seems like many of the tasks are somewhat mundane. Even though you are modeling something different every so often, the modeling process can become stale.
The good news about game design is that the smaller the team, there are often more areas you have to work in. This allows game designers on small teams to often take on other tasks, spread out the work load, and perhaps even plan it out where they are not spending weeks modeling, but perhaps a few days and then onto something different for a bit. Thus, while some tasks are mundane in themselves over time, breaking it up keeps it fresh and enjoyable.
Game Design Is One of the Most Flexible Jobs
In my time speaking with people within the game design industry, I have found that they often have very flexible schedules. Those working full time, primarily in the indie game design industry, often have odd hours of their choosing.
I remember reaching out to one very popular game designer. He was going to speak with my class. We never could coordinate a good time in the morning. He worked primarily evenings and late into the night. He was not far from our time zone either, this was simply his preferred work schedule.
As long as he was putting in the hours, the time of day was less important. In many jobs relating to development, not just game design, this often the case. As long as you can attend a meeting a few times a week, have a little bit of overlap in time to discuss any major issues throughout the day. The rest is pretty well up to you!
Game Design is Fun
Even though this article speaks much of the negative aspects of game design and how it may be turned into a positive, my goal is not to sale you on this industry. That being said, I do find game design fun. I find myself doing it in my own time and participating in game jams. There is something about the creativity and the challenge that peaks my interest. Whether I get paid for it or not. In the end, I think the process is enjoyable for most people, but is not always the best option for everyone.