Find something you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.
It’s smart advice, but unfortunately it’s not all that easy to follow. I love writing, and it’s currently what I do for a living, but I’m not a published author nor am I anywhere near the level of freelancer that I want to be. I work part-time while I study web design, and that is another passion that takes far more dedication, patience and energy to become a career than I would have imagined.
And the same is true for video games. My brother is 17 and loves games. He’s grown up on them, and I can see the lasting impression they’ve made on him as an individual, but he’s also at that age where he’d much rather play than do anything productive. For many of us, as we get older and jobs and family consume more of our time, playing video games is almost tainted with a sense of guilt because we know we could be investing our time into something more productive.
Well, what if you could marry your passion for games to work? There are tons of jobs in gaming that I plan to cover in the future with some career spotlights, but for now, let’s focus on the most coveted that many people dream of being but have no idea where to begin: a game designer.
What is a Video Game Designer?
There are hundreds of people on video game teams for major titles, and each one has a unique role. However, there are also lots of startups and single developers who have an idea and want to build on their own. A video game designer is someone who combines their love of games and merges it with computational skills like programming and animation in order to bring stories to life.
They come from all different walks of life and can earn a variety of different degrees such as a bachelor’s in Game & Art Design, Multimedia Design, Graphic Design or Animation. But what about those of us who don’t have access to a good game design bachelor’s program? Just because you can’t commute or afford tuition doesn’t mean you’re out of luck. In fact, there are plenty of ways to learn video game design solo and lay the foundation for a career that won’t just pay you enough to go earn that bachelor’s down the line, but will also give you the type of work experience you’ve always dreamed of.
Game Designer Curriculum
I’m not a game designer. I don’t know all there is to know about the field, but I am a student who currently self-teaches and has put together her entire web design and development program solo. I know a thing or two about learning online, and by assessing the type of career requirements on major job boards like Indeed and reviewing the outline for the most common degrees held by game designers, I’ve put together this list of six classes that will get you on the right path toward becoming a real designer.
Introduction to Computer Science
This class is taught by Harvard, so you’ll be able to impress all your friends when you tell them that you’re taking a course there. Understanding the fundamentals of computer science is majorly important if you want to work in game design. You’ll learn about everything from algorithms to binary to boolean code, as well as programming languages like C++.
Introduction to Game Design
Offered by MIT, this 7-week course introduces students to the principles of game design. Through six units, you will do paper and digital prototyping, design iteration, user testing and more. You’ll create your own digital or board game by the time the course is over and utilize Gameblox, “a block-based programming language that allows anyone to make games.”
This is a class that you’ll benefit taking before you learn how to code because it goes through the actual process behind creating a game. Knowing these steps and processes will make any future projects you undertake much easier, as well as help shed some clarity on concepts and methods that would otherwise feel arduous.
Business of Games and Entrepreneurship
Part 2 of the 5-part Game Design and Development Specialization by Michigan State University, this class explores the business side of gaming that every designer needs to know if they want to be a success. You’ll learn about the stages of game production and one of the most important aspects of the process – teamwork. You’ll develop a portfolio and understand how to develop an effective business plan that works.
Beginning Programming with C#
Nevermind if you’ve never coded a single line in your life. This course by the University of Colorado is intended for complete novices who aspire to become video game creators. You’ll be walked through the entire language step-by-step over a period of one month. You’ll learn about developing in the Unity environment and what it takes to design games across a variety of platforms like Android, iOS, Windows, Mac OS X and more. The course strives to provide every student with “core programming concepts” that they can apply to all their future programming projects, not just C#. By the end of the course, you’ll have made your own small game that you can show off to your friends.
Character Design for Video Games
The characters are what makes video games so memorable, and you’ll learn all about crafting your own in this 5-week course course by the California Institute of the Arts. Featuring studio tours with three professional character designers and plenty of hands-on assignments, this class is perfect if you’ve always wanted to know how to bring your character ideas to life. It also exposes to you the creative side of game design, which you can explore even further by completing the institute’s 5-part Game Design: Art and Concepts certification program.
The Complete Unity Developer on Udemy
Udemy is one of the best tech and development sources online and they recently underwent a massive renovation that left all their expensive classes under $50. For just $45, you can take this complete Unity developer course that features a staggering 51.5 hours of video lectures. It features full support from other students and the course instructor who is active on the forums and runs on a project-based model, so you won’t just be lectured about code. You’ll learn by doing. You’ll be walked through everything from installing Unity on your computer to debugging programs, understanding scope and variables, building objects and classes and more.
The purchase comes with lifelong access, so you’ll be able to learn at your own pace and come back to it anytime you get stuck. It’s an incredible course at a miraculous value that will take several months to complete. By the end, you’ll be fluent in the latest Unity environment.
Words of Advice
Learning to design and develop is an incredible experience, but it’s hard. Don’t get sucked into the belief that you’ll never reach the level of the pros. Practice is only part of becoming a game designer, so keep at it and take your time. The most important thing to do during your training is to remember why you’re doing it. Have fun and stay inspired. You’ll try and fail repeatedly before anything starts to click, but the best part is that you’ll be setting yourself up for a career that is always changing and evolving. With dedication, you’ll be able to one day design a game that touches someone’s life the way your favorites have touched yours.