Recently I had the privilege of sitting down with James Mouat who has almost 20 years experience in the game industry as a game designer and game director.
I asked him some game design career questions that new designers would ask. His answers were incredibly insightful and I thought I would share them here.
I have summarized the answers:
Me: Are game design degrees worth having?
James: They can be but you have to weigh the pros and cons. The con being their extremely expensive. To get a job you’re going to need a lot more than just a degree you’re going to need to show what your specialty is.
Me: What do you look for when hiring a designer?
James: A degree might get their foot in the door, it’s useful when a recruiter is looking at their CV but what I look for is someone I can trust with a bit of the game, big or small and give them ownership over it rather than have to micromanage them.
Me: What are some red flags I should look out for when choosing a game design school?
James: Check if they have a good placement rate. Talk to their grads. You need to understand very clearly what they’re going to teach you. What they teach should line up with your exact game design career goals. Watch out for bogus programs that don’t teach you what you need to know to become a game designer.
Me: What are the most common mistakes that new game designers make when seeking to become a designer?
James: People trying to become a game designer as their first job within game development. Since game design is a small niche, plan your path to get there but don’t count on there being Junior game design positions.
Me: What do you think are the most important skills for a game designer?
James: Communication. You need to be up to listen, absorb information and convince people about your ideas.
Me: What is the best experience you need to get a job as a game designer?
James: Make games. Board games, paper prototypes, stuff you have made in a game engine. Demonstrate that you can create fun and manage rule sets.
Me: Is relocating important to becoming a game designer?
James: Very few companies are going to want to bring you across international lines. The visas may not even be present for the junior jobs, but that said you may have to move to a bigger city for sure.
Me: If you were to start all over right now, what path would you craft for yourself?
James: Work with a team, maybe not through school since it costs so much, but find some people, explore ideas and build a portfolio around that.
At this point he goes on to generously plug my hobby community. However, he might have over-sold us a little as nowadays we don’t just take anyone due bad experiences with “idea people”.
If you are a mature hobbyist dev looking to expand your knowledge and you like working with people. You can learn about my open collective of 17 daily-active mature hobbyist devs who make games here: http://p1om.com/join
Me: What do you think are the biggest challenges faced by people who want to be game designers?
James: It’s a massive field of competition. A lot of people get into game design because they’re not good at code and they don’t like art and therefore they think that they should be a game designer. That’s not a way to approach your career.
Build a convincing portfolio. Remember, the studio must trust you with the millions of dollars that’s going into their game and if you mess it up it’s not about the paycheck it’s about the game itself.
Show that you have knowledge and experience.
If you want to get his full, detailed answers the audio is here:
Have a question? Let me know and I will ask it next time.
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