Paths: audio • design • productionprogrammingvisual artsbiz & misc.

Ed Bartlett
Lead Game Designer
The Bitmap Brothers

Chris Degnan
Lead Designer
Vicarious Visions

John Feil
Level Designer
LucasArts Entertainment

Kristine Ishii
Assistant Game Designer
Big Huge Games

Dave Konieczny
Helixe Games

Sarah Paetsch
ION Storm Austin

Patricia A. Pizer
Designer at Large

Damion Schubert
Creative Director & CEO

Joe Shochet
Game Designer & Programmer
Walt Disney Imagineering

Tim Stellmach
Senior Designer
Vicarious Visions


Ah, game designer. Quite possibly the industry's most desired and most misunderstood role. Being a designer is not about sitting around thinking up cool ideas and getting paid. But just what is it about, then? As game genres expand and diversify, the designer's role is becoming ever more specialized.From level architecture to fiction writing, we’ll fill you in on the basic elements.

Salary Info

Low: $50,000 (designer with 1-2 years experience)
High: $80,000 (lead designer/creative director with 6+ years experience)
Average: $57,500
Highest: $200,000

Design Sub-Types

Game Designer

As the game designer, you'll be the person primarily responsible for the playability and Fun Factor of the game. You'll use your skills to create the best game under the given circumstances, targeted specifically for the platform, the genre and the audience. You'll start by writing and diagramming the game in a design document, using such tools as screen shots and interface diagrams, flowcharts, script templates, and state tables. Throughout the project you'll keep the documents current so that the rest of the team always know the game's current status. The design document is not just a top level idea statement - over the course of the project it will come to hold many details about the game, such as the characters, worlds, control schemes, systems, interface, story and puzzles. As the game progresses from document to reality, you'll play it constantly, in order to ensure the proper "balance" of difficulty to fun, at all player skill levels. This will often be informed by results of user playtesting, pointing out areas where the game especially needs attention. You'll be expected to stay familiar with the genre of your game, and know well the strengths and weaknesses of competitive products through comparative research. Game design isn't a one-person show, of course; in addition to your fellow designers, you'll work closely with the other parts of the team to design the elements that the player will experience. As the game engine and tools come online, you'll use them to build out game spaces, and script the non-player characters in the game. On any particular project, the designer's role may include all or a subset of the responsibilities described. Most games have more than one designer, and designers might divide up the responsibilities according to their expertise and interest.


Lead Designer
A Lead Designer may or may not be the person who "invented" the game's idea, but it's almost certain you'll be specifying its primary interactions. As Lead Designer, you will perform most of the tasks mentioned for Game Designer, and you'll also lead the other members of the design team to achieve the product goals. Along with producer, you'll have decision-making power regarding the design, especially in cases where your choices don't result in any changes to scope or schedule. You will participate in, and may be ultimately responsible for, the selection of the other designers on the team. Often the Lead Designer holds or shares the responsibility of representing the game to the media.


Level Designer
For a 3D game, a level designer builds the interactive architecture (both constructed buildings and natural terrain) for a segment of the game. This means you'll be designing all the specific gameplay in your part of the game, since most 3D games use world architecture as the basis for gameplay. The level designer equivalent in game genres that don't rely on interaction within 3D spaces is the campaign or mission designer. This role is appropriate to games such as a tiled role-playing (RPG) or strategy (RTS) game in which designers use a game-specific layout editor to place terrain and resources. In all game types, level design may include scripting enemy goals, skills, and behavior.


Fiction Writer or Screenwriter
Game writers research and create the fictional "backstory" of the world if there is one, compose the on-screen text, write the dialogue for the characters and voiceovers in a game, and script the scenes for any intros or transitions. Depending on the kind of game, your task may be as basic as interface menu text, as focused as sportscaster's play-by-play commentary, or might be a complex multi-path conversation tree - the interrelated set of all possible dialogue lines based on the decisions of the individual player. Interactive conversation writers must work with the designers throughout the project in order to account for and to understand every possible route through the game. Close collaboration with designers is also crucial to the writer's success in maintaining the proper dramatic pacing and balance between mechanics and fiction, throughout any potential game path. You'll need a familiarity with databases, since non-linear dialogue is organized in this fashion. Because scope and style vary widely from game to game, the game writer often works on a contract basis. In addition to writing, you may also help direct voice actors in their readings.



Presented by:

International Game Developers Association