20-year industry veteran describes the ideal way to get a job in game design

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.

Listen to the audio >>

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.

Audio:

If you want to get his full, detailed answers the audio is here:

Listen to the audio >>

Respond:

Have a question? Let me know and I will ask it next time.

Would you like more articles like this here? Let me know.

whats with all these pitches about teams looking for members to contribute for free to metaverse projects? What even is the metaverse? Always a lot of vague language seemingly making mountains from molehills.

It’s always highly suspect and reads like an ad for a cult like scientology or similar. In one comment you warn that to make a small game solo it will take ten years (not true), and in another you suggest that a few people working together collaboratively are going to build a new internet and save the world.

It’s highly suspicious, seems like a way to get free work from young, gullible people.

edit: on clicking the link to the speaker, it’s double suspect.

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3 Questions I’d like to ask James or anyone with 20 years in the games industry:

  • Q1: What’s changed the most in 20 years (list some of the good but also the bad)? Seems like there’s more CRUNCH, but also maybe more awareness about that.

  • Q2: There seems to be way more CONSOLIDATION right now. Look at Epic’s acquisitions all the way to what Microsoft is up to (if they can get away with it). Wondering, what are the medium to long term implications of this, as consolidation usually means more firing than hiring (who wants to work for Microsoft anyway)? :stuck_out_tongue:

  • Q3: CONTRACTS vs Competition. Most job offers atm are contract based versus permanent, is this accurate? What’s competition like for jobs as a game designer in general. If there were 10 applications for a job 20 years ago… 100 applications a decade ago… What’s its like now: 1000 to 10000? Overall, what’s changed the most in hiring over 20 years? Game dev has exploded in the past decade. But studios and gamers expectations have also increased too. So competition seems insane now…

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click the link. I am not sure there is a James. Seems like spam.

Noted… If so, clever spam… But maybe we can still save the thread and make a genuine discussion out of it anyway… Been years since the forums discussed the biz side of things. :crossed_fingers:

What all these spam attempts make me wonder is WHY? Why bother to do this?

Presumably there’s a way for some sado to make money down the line, or is it just ‘art’ and I don’t get it? :slight_smile:

Yeah, it’d make more sense if they were pushing NiFTy Crapto scams at least.
After all 10k hungry N0rth K0rean hackers or whatever have rights to eat too. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:
The metaverse feels as useful as selling heaters in 40c heat in an energy crisis. :confounded:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/sorry-zuckerberg-the-metaverse-wont-replace-zoom/2022/08/31/94bbde74-28ea-11ed-a90a-fce4015dfc8f_story.html

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Great questions, thank you!

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Go later in the video, his webcam started working then.