The Game Design Job Description

‘Grassroots Gamemaster’ wrote this post about what they don’t tell you on the game design job description. It’s pretty funny and pretty accurate.

[Company] is seeking an experienced Lead Game Designer to join our team developing games for [console] and other next-generation platforms. The ideal candidate will have developed and released multiple games in the role of Lead Designer. Experience on consoles, handhelds, or casual games is highly valued. We are located in [some bland suburban place with cheap rent; you can’t walk, bike or take transit there, ensuring you pile on extra pounds and diabetes] minutes [via car] from [big exciting metropolis, which we are too cheap to have an office downtown in] and we have a highly collaborative, low ego culture headed by game industry veterans [meaning we want you to be passionate… but not THAT passionate…].


It is about the conflict between industrial reality and artistic ideals. It shows to which degree a game designer’s ‘creativity’ is dependent on his or her environment. It shows the somewhat schizophrenic double definition of ‘game designer’ in the games industry – on the one hand you have the ‘capital G’ Game Designer, as it’s sometimes referred to: the Peter Molyneuxs and Will Wrights and Sid Meiers. And then you have the ‘normal’ game designers who do stuff that is neither art nor programming but that needs doing anyway, while perhaps someone else, or no-one, is the visionary. (And good arguments can be made that perhaps you don’t need a visionary.)

Even though I personally tend towards the ‘artistic ideals’ side, I can see both points of view expressed in that post. I have been on both ‘sides’. I have had to work with game designers who were too attached to artistic ideals to do a decent job, and in some cases I had to remove them from my team. Similarly, and longer ago, I have left teams and companies because of what I felt were unbearable compromises in the artistic approaches taken.

Anyone in the industry who has some creative ambition has to come to terms with this conflict between ‘industry’ and ‘art’, between the pragmatic and the idealistic. My solution has been to be patient and professional and to hone my skills. More recently, my solution is to work as a free-lancer. The parameters of free-lance work are so much clearer than when you’re employed. You don’t ‘own’ anything you work on, and when the project or task is done, you’re done as well. There are hard limits on the amount of time and emotions you can invest into a given project. It’s hard to be a prima donna free-lancer. There are downsides as well, but so far I am loving it.

There was a great cartoon in the New Yorker some time back. The punch line was something like ‘I want to slowly lose sight of why I originally chose this profession, with benefits’. I wanted to cut it out and stick it on my wall, as a permanent reminder. One thing I’ve always liked about my career is that I am doing something I feel passionate about. The downside is that setbacks hit you much harder. This is something I had to learn to deal with, and I think I have. At the same time, I don’t want to become jaded (or, not the wrong kind of jaded) or an apologist for the ‘System’. I still believe there is much that can be done to advance the medium of interactive entertainment. This can be a tough balancing act, especially if you are often in a managing role as I am. Perhaps one day I will stop balancing and solve the problem once and for all. People change with time. But right now, I am still up there on that rope.

(Via Robin.)

Update: Someone found that job description (without the comments) and sent it to Robin.

Another update: Catching up, I found some echoes of the thoughts above in this post by Robin. It’s hard to care and invest, but it beats the alternative.

Comments 2

  1. fluffy wrote:

    Well there’s always the opposite approach, taken by Guillemot/Longtail/whatever when I was there, which was to have an overpriced trendy office space (shared with a sister company) in an expensive part of Manhattan and make up for it by paying the employees well below the national average for gamedevs while they have to live in the most expensive city in the country or have a two-hour commute.

    (Though from what I hear, they pay their developers a lot better now. I bet the writers/designers are still making about $12/hour though. Considering their thrust was towards dialog-driven games, you’d think they’d spend more on dialog, but whatever.)

    Posted 03 Apr 2007 at 0:10
  2. Jurie Horneman wrote:

    Hey Fluffy. Yeah, that sounds like the ‘small g’ game designer treatment. ‘I guess we need you creative types but we don’t really understand what you do and jeez how hard can it be so don’t expect high pay.’

    Too bad, I would love to have a decent job in NYC :). By now I can flaunt my indie cred though by mentioning Sprung, not even my savviest friends have heard of it :) I should finish it one of these days (along with a ton of other DS games).

    Posted 03 Apr 2007 at 11:42