Video game designers are considered the "dreamers" of the game industry. Think of a video game as a light switch: the designer chooses the shape, type and position of the switch, while the programmer does the technical part to make the switch work. Designers imagine all parts of the game, including the plot, characters and dialogue. Their role as a writer varies depending on the genre. Role-playing games, for instance, rely on hundreds of pages of dialogue repeated to reflect numerous choices the player has while progressing through the story.
Video game designers must be avid game players so they know what separates a good game from a bad one. This helps them understand how games are put together. Strong writing and communication skills are a must. Not only do game designers write everything needed within the project, they also communicate this to a team of designers, programmers and producers. They often are skilled in programming languages such as C++. Knowing the basics of programming help designers understand functionality. This skill, however, can prove counterproductive as it can change the way the designer approaches design in a negative way by hindering their ideas.
Game designers write the story, level concepts, character descriptions, plot and dialogue. They write and diagram the game in a design document made up of sketches, in-game screen shots, flowcharts, script templates and tables. Designers usually work in groups of other designers with different responsibilities, such as level designers. Design writers script the many actions taken by the player and coordinate with the level designers to make their scripts functional.
Design writers must keep current documents to keep the rest of their team informed. The design document contains game details such as the characters, worlds, control schemes, systems, interfaces, story and puzzles, and is updated by each member of the design team. Designers play the game consistently at all stages of the design process to ensure it is properly balanced and fun to play. Writers often rewrite the script based on feedback from play testers, other designers and programmers.
Video game designers are not required to have a formal education; that isn't to say a degree in game design, game development, computer science, creative writing or communications isn't helpful. Experience in other areas of game development is most important. Designers are often promoted from other aspects of development, such as programming or art. According to the International Game Developers Association, video game designers earn an average annual salary of $57,000. The lowest earn $50,000 while the highest earn more than $200,000.
Johnny Kilhefner is a writer with a focus on technology, design and marketing. Writing for more than five years, he has contributed to Writer's Weekly, PopMatters, Bridged Design and APMP, among many other outlets.