How to become a game designer?

I’m very interested in designing and playing RPG’s like Diablo 1/2, Lore, etc.

I’ve researched this back in the 90’s, and back then, the way to do it was by getting a degree in programming, and then becoming a systems analyst.

In the late '90’s, the paradigm changed and then the career path was through game theory and AI, and some colleges offered degrees in actual game design.

But, if I got a degree in say military strategy and/or medieval technology/weaponry and have decades of experience playing these games, would it be possible to get a job designing games? In other words, is it possible to design computer games if my expertise is in the content, not the process?

Seems to me knowing the content of the video games but not the process would qualify you to be a consultant, not a game designer. You’re probably going to need the computer science knowledge to get anywhere at a game designer, the reason being they often are moved to different projects or genres, which might make your specialized knowledge a little less important. For example, game designers frequently consult military experts on strategies and the like, but it just remains a consultation… They take that knowledge and go back and design the game themselves.

Yeah. No matter how boring you might find programming, the fact is that games get made by people who make them, not people who talk about them. If a job ever existed for people to just talk about video games, the position would be already filled. But look at it this way: BS in compsci while building a portfolio of mods in your spare time? That’ll take four years, 6 to 8 part-time. Becoming a big enough expert in strategy and medieval history to outshine all the Middle Ages wonks and history buffs at prestigious universities, and get a phone call from the Total War team asking you if you wanna be a realism consultant for a few weeks? That sounds like it would take the better part of a lifetime.
On the other hand, if this idea you have for a video game is cool enough to make you ask about amateur game designers, it’s probably hella bitchin’. Now I’m curious. I mentioned this a few weeks back, in another thread, how many people have tight ideas for games that haven’t been made yet. This is probably going to require a thread of its own, though.

Erm… I’m not in the game industry, but I have been in the software industry for over a decade. Anyway.

So what are you interested in? Game mechanics? As far as I can tell you don’t need actual programming skills to do game mechanics - card games like magick are full of game mechanics decisions and they don’t even run on a computer.

BUT. Game mechanics is a really hard topic in (especially) multi-user games because it’s so hard to get the balance right between fun and actual playability. Software adds an extra dimension to that since it’s pretty much possible to do “anything”, only some things are very easy to create, and others are new and fun to play, and they don’t often match - chances are you’ll end up with an expensive game that nobody want’s to play. Having a really good insight in what’s possible and what’s not in software is probably pretty important here.

Except from flight sims - and they’re arguably not even games - no game design requires in-depth knowledge of whatever the game is about, not least because most players won’t know the ins and outs of the topic either. What’s important is how to translate the topic into something that’s actually fun/challenging/exciting to play. Topic experts can be found when needed, but I suspect most game designers can get away with a reading maybe one or two introduction books on whatever the topic is.

Finally, I’d note that the US game software industry has had a pretty bad rep for at least the last decade as far as pay and working conditions are concerned. Especially with the likes of EA.

(I’m a professional game designer. I current work for Sony.)

No. If a game studio is making a game where it’s important to get historical or technical details right, it’s more likely they’ll hire an expert for a few months as a consultant, not bring him on staff permanently.

You’re right that the best way to get in to the industry as a designer USED to be to start out as a programmer. That’s the way I did it.

Now it’s somewhat less common for game programmers to become designers (although it still happens). Most junior designers these days come out of game development programs at universities, or they build up a portfolio modding existing games, or they create their own titles in the indie development scene.

I know someone who’s studying to be a game designer. She’s at the Parsons School in NYC; her master’s will be in Design & Technology.

I’m going to add that there are approximately forty three bazillion people who get into computer science or computer stuff in general with the goal of being “game designers” or “game programmers.” A friend of mine who’s in the game industry was recently talking about how at most game shops, they have so many people that just want to be involved in making games that they can pay shit for really boring work and still have tons and tons of resumes to choose from. Or you can work at Microsoft, where they pay well but 1) games are not taken seriously, so they don’t get much of a budget and are always at risk of being canceled, and 2) it’s not exactly a place where individual contributors get to be really creative – they plan out what you’re going to build and you pretty much stay within the lines. I was a senior developer on a game team at Microsoft for a year and I basically ended up doing mind-bogglingly boring work like redesigning a whole bunch of casual games’ main menuing systems so they’d all fit together as a package – big whoop. The only creative work I ever got to do I did on weekends and wowed my boss with on monday morning in order to get it put in the product. ETA: and the product was canceled before it was ever released. :slight_smile:

I made me a thread in the game room about this topic.