To be a Games Designer: Make games
One of the most common questions people ask you when you say you’re a Games Dev, and I’m sure all other Games Devs will nod here, is “How did you become a Games Dev?”
“ How do I become a Games Dev? ”
The truth is, there is no one correct path in terms of work or education. I can’t say “Oh yeah, do exactly what I did, get a really low mark in AS level art due to lack of understanding of the difference between illustration and fine art and a teacher with no clue how to deal with me, go to Uni to do English Lit/Japanese on a whim, go into freelance illustration and comics with a factory job on the side to save up for an MA in Games Design and join a small hobby group that’ll turn into a games company! EASY!” Yeah, that’s…a really roundabout way and it wouldn’t work for everybody.
In actuality, what you do in terms of education is secondary to the bigger question: Do you actually like making games?
And no, I don’t mean “do you think making games sounds like a cool job?” or “do you like playinggames?” or “Would you like to be famous for making games?” I mean do you genuinely enjoy the process of designing and making them?
If you claim to enjoy making games and to want to make games but have produced absolutely no mods, no micro games, not even like half-finished ones, no game assets and picked up none of the skills required to be a games dev under your own steam, never taught yourself or tried these things for fun…. If you have seriously never picked up Ren’Py or RPGmaker or AGS or Unreal Ed or Game Maker etc…. I am calling bullshit on your claim. Yes, I am straight up calling bullshit. You don’t actually want to be a Games Dev, you have zero interest in making games, you just like the idea of being a Games Dev because you like playing games and it sounds like a way cooler and more fun job than working in a standard office job or whatever.
I started designing my first characters and levels for games when I was about 6 years old. I loved Sonic (the old 2D ones, it was the 90s) and I would design characters and come up with what their abilities were, and I’d draw up ideas for Sonic zones based on things I saw or read about, and would come up with obstacles Sonic or my invented characters would have to overcome in those environments and draw them up. In my early teens I discovered I could open the texture files for models in ms paint and edit them, and would make my own little mods to enjoy, like adding cool scars to faces or making the character look like a Warhammer Space Marine. I created a whole army list for Warhammer just for fun (it was horribly unbalanced but the fact remains I wrote up history, I drew designs for how the hypothetical models would look, I wrote up stat charts and I playtested them!) I learned to make simple levels in Unreal Ed, I got into the RPGmaker community and made art for games and experimented with making games myself, learning to import graphics and sound, like voice clips I’d recorded, I taught myself about text adventures and the like. I wrote up and ran campaigns for Dungeons and Dragons and the like. Even though the tools were very limited back then compared to now, I was interested enough in making games, passionate enough about it, to want to spend time doing it in my free time.
If you compare how I was about say, playing the flute, there was a marked difference. I played the flute in high school (in the UK, High School is age 11-16 to clarify), I did so because playing instruments was what smart, middle class kids like me did and because my sister played the flute. I was terrible at it and if I’d had any self-awareness I should have given it up. I was terrible because I wasn’t passionate about playing the flute, I didn’t enjoy it, I almost never picked up that flute under my own volition just for love of playing it! I just liked the idea of being a flortist like my big sis. I spent years looking back on teenage me as this huge flake who didn’t put in effort, but now as a games dev, I realise that I actually taught myself a lot of stuff as a teenager I still use now, and created a lot of work. I drew tonnes and taught myself things like anatomy, colour theory, perspective and composition. I taught myself things about games design and making them, and not because some teacher was telling me to; because I enjoyed it!
Being a Games Dev is not always fun. it’s a very involved job with a ridiculously huge skillbase for one particular job title/Unit course, and if you work for a major company, or even sometimes as an indie dev, there will be long hours and crunches and not particularly great pay yet a really high skill and experience level required.
I got to be a games dev because I love making games enough that I was happy to make them as a hobby for nothing. I contacted somebody else who was the same way inclined and we worked well together and we ended up forming a little games company, releasing some titles and running a successful kickstarter and getting attention from big companies I can’t talk about due to NDAs. It could’t have happened if I didn’t enjoy making games enough to do it for nothing in my free time out of pure passion for the act of making games.
If your computer’s had drive isn’t full of docs where you’ve written up game ideas, drawings you’ve done of designs for levels or characters, attempts at making RPGmaker or Game Maker or Ren’Py games or mods etc. etc. There is nothing I can do to make you a Games Dev or tell you how to be one because YOU are the obstacle. If your hard drive is like that, just keep doing it and try to finish some things and connect with like-minded people and collaborate to make finished things. Enter the Ludum Dare competition then refine and sell what you made or release it as freeware! You’ll become a Games Dev. It’ll happen!