What Does a Game Designer Do? Lots of people don’t really know what a game designer does – even people in the games business! Here’s a simple explanation.
Game ideas are like baby salmon. For every thousand hatched, only a few grow up. Even after a game’s basic concepts are decided there are lots of little problems that need ideas and clever solutions. Brainstorming, sometimes called ideation, is very much a skill that one can develop with practice.
Manage the Project
A producer will usually give the designer milestones to hit. This means he or she needs to have various features of the game working by a certain date. It’s the designer’s job to plan how to reach these goals, communicate the (often changing) goals to the design team, and communicate progress to those above him. The designer also needs to communicate closely with programmers, artists, and writers. The bottom line: write progress reports, send update emails, and have milestone meetings.
Write Design Documents
A design document is the written description of the game that the producers, programmers, and artists will execute. It details how to win, what the main parts of the game are, the mechanics, all the units, their stats, level charts, all the places one can go in the game world, the tutorial, and often business and technological issues. A brief design document might be twenty pages, while a very detailed one could be two hundred pages.
Create System Mechanics
What’s the central fun thing you do in your game? Shoot bad guys? Jump on mushrooms? It’s the designer’s job to invent and polish the entire system of actions a player can take in the game. You do this by writing descriptions, discussing them with other designers, building them, trying them out, and modifying them over many iterations.
Okay, your team has a game system built. Now how many hit points does each monster have? What is the storyline of the main character? What’s the key dialog? Who’s the villain? What are the layouts and challenges of each level? Assigning a strategic role, behaviors, descriptions, and stats to every character, creature, location, and object in the game can be a monumental task. That’s why game designers like you have to be so damn smart.
Playtest and Adjust
It takes a long time to get the game play balance right on most games. A designer needs to be sure that no matter what strategy a player chooses to win, their choice is fun and fair. As long as every strategy has an equal chance to win, the game is balanced. If it turns out that a certain strategy is just better than the others, then there is no interesting strategic choice for the player. This kind of imbalance is called a ‘broken’ strategy and it’s up to the designer to fix it.
A big part of getting your game right is testing it. First you play it a bunch yourself. Then you put it in front of users. You can put them in a room with a one-way mirror and watch what they do with your game. Or you can have focus groups, in which players try a game and then have an in-person discussion about what they liked and didn’t like. Beta testing is when lots of players try the game and then send comments and bug reports to the designers.
Make Sure the Game is Fun
Ultimately, the designer’s job is to ensure the end user has a satisfying entertainment experience. Exactly how the designer does this varies a lot and is hard to list, just as it’s hard to list all the things a movie director does to craft a great film. The designer acts as the director of the game play experience.
Play, Learn, and Read About Games
A game designer is, above all, a games expert. As a designer you are expected to know more about game play and the end user experience than anyone else. You need to play a bunch of games to understand what makes them tick, what players like, and what your competitors are up to. You need to read fan sites and forum posts, as well as go to industry events. The point of all this is to build up an internal library of game mechanics and solutions so that when you encounter a problem your mind can grab the right tool immediately.
Things Game Designers Don’t (Usually) Do
Many good designers are also programmers but it’s usually not in their job description. There is some debate here, but it’s commonly thought better to have a excellent designer and and excellent programmer rather than two people who are okay at both.
Game designers may work closely with artists, graphic designers, and art directors. But they don’t create the visuals themselves.
If there’s a lot of world development, dialogue, and in-depth story content, the producer will often hire this out to freelancers or a writing team.
Sound, Music, and Voice Acting
There are exceptions of course, but usually designers aren’t in charge of this.
Managing the Entire Project
It’s the job of the producer or project manager to make sure the art team, engineering team, game design team, and marketing team are all coordinating their efforts and handing in their work on time. Producers often do a lot of game design work, but the designer is ultimately focused on content as opposed to production management.（source: thegamedesignguild）