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Choosing Your Path: What Do Video Game Designers Do vs. Game Developers?


Have you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes in the creation of a video game? From the earliest stages of production to a game's release date, many teams and individuals are involved.

From creative roles to more technical roles, professionals like video game designers and developers help turn the overall vision of a game into a functioning reality. Are you interested in getting in on the action? If so, then a career as a video game designer or developer may be right for you.

Before you can decide whether to pursue this path, you'll want to better understand what these two different roles entail.

What Do Video Game Designers Do?

In simplest terms, video game designers serve as the creative vision behind a project. They tend to be more focused on the overall look, theme, and feel of the game than on its technical aspects.

Video Game Designers: Crafting the Vision

Working in video game design can be an excellent career path for those who enjoy creative work and storytelling. Specifically, video game designers tend to be most focused on the game's aesthetic, developing storylines, building characters, and making the gameplay experience as enjoyable as possible for all users.

Key Responsibilities of Video Game Designers

So, what do video game designers do? The exact roles and responsibilities of a video game designer can vary greatly depending on the scope/size of the project and other factors. In general, video game designers are responsible for such things as:

  • Conceptualization - Creating a story and building a world around it.
  • Character Creation - Developing specific characters (playable and non-playable) to incorporate into the experience.
  • Plot Development - Creating a plot that will keep users engaged and entertained.
  • Gameplay Mechanics - Determining how players will move and interact with the world around them.
  • World Building - Designing scenery and other elements of the game, including sound.

Skills Video Game Designers Need

Video game designers need to possess a wide range of skills, including both core competencies and more technical skills, to perform their jobs well. Some examples of the most common skills video game designers need to use on a regular basis include:

  • Creativity - The success of a video game concept often relies on the designers' creativity, so being able to come up with new and exciting ideas is an essential part of the job. Creativity is especially key when it comes to setting a new game apart from others already on the market.
  • Effective Communication - Video game designers often need to collaborate with other designers, developers, and artists to help their visions become reality. Effective communication (both verbally and in written form) is a critical part of the job. This is crucial for keeping everybody up-to-date and working toward the same goals.
  • Problem-Solving - Any given video game project will run into obstacles and problems along the way, so video game designers need to be prepared to problem-solve creatively and adapt as needed.
  • Artistic Vision - A strong sense of creative vision is another must for any video game designer, including the ability to see an idea through from its earliest phases to its complete execution.

Job Outlook for Video Game Designers

According to recent data, a 2020 market analysis of the video game industry valued the global video game market at more than $167 billion, with growth projected to reach more than $291 billion by 2027. As the demand for new video games and their market size continues to grow, it makes sense that the demand for creative and innovative video game designers will increase as well.

Game Developers: Turning Vision into Reality

If you're less interested in the creative aspect of designing a video game and more intrigued by the process of turning these ideas into a functioning reality, then a career in video game development might be more your speed. Let’s dive into game developers, what it is, and what they do.

What Is a Game Developer?

Specifically, video game developers are the professionals who handle the technical aspects of turning designer concepts into functioning video games. They are less focused on the creative side and more proactive about making things happen, which usually means writing lines of code and using special software development tools to optimize the user interface.

Key Responsibilities of Game Developers

Much like the job duties of a video game designer, the responsibilities of a game developer can also differ depending on the scope of the project, the specific employer, and other factors. Still, some of the most common responsibilities carried out by video game developers on the job include:

  • Coding - Much of the work of turning a video game concept into a reality is done using different coding languages, including JavaScript, Python, and C++.
  • Game engine utilization - For some projects, video game developers may need to create custom game engines or use existing game engines to ensure that different components of the game run as smoothly as possible.
  • Sound and Art Integration - Video game developers also tend to be responsible for incorporating the design elements (including sound, graphics, and art) into the game seamlessly.
  • Testing and Debugging - Video games encounter many bugs and other issues, especially in the earliest phases of production. Video game developers are responsible for testing, identifying problems, and debugging them along the way.
  • Optimization - Throughout the video game production process, developers constantly look for ways to optimize the game for use across different platforms. Depending on how many platforms the game will be published on, this process can be a full-time job.

Essential Skills for Game Developers

Game developers need to have a wide range of both technical skills and core competencies to do their jobs well, with some of the most essential skills including:

  • Programming Languages - Proficiency in languages like C++, Java, Python, and any other languages used in video game development.
  • Problem-Solving - Video game production comes with inherent challenges and obstacles, so developers need to be prepared to solve problems creatively and efficiently throughout each project.
  • Attention to Detail - Even something as seemingly minor as a missing line of code could cause a lot of problems with video game production. Developers must possess a strong eye for the smallest details to keep things running smoothly.
  • Collaboration - Video game developers' work doesn't happen in a bubble. They must be in constant contact with other team members (including designers and other developers) to keep projects on schedule, solve problems, and ultimately create the best game possible.

Job Outlook for Game Developers

With the ever-increasing demand and market size in the video game industry, it makes sense that the demand for experienced and knowledgeable video game developers will also continue to grow. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for software developers, quality assurance analysts, and testers is expected to grow 25 percent between 2022 and 2032 alone. This projected growth is much faster than the national average for all occupations.

Video Game Designer vs. Game Developer: Key Differences

As you can see, the roles of a game designer and developer do overlap in some ways, but they are still very different. Game designers tend to be more concerned with the creative storytelling of a game, while developers are the technical wizards who turn those concepts into reality. Ultimately, both developers and designers need to work together to put out an incredible finished product.

Choosing Your Path in the Gaming Industry

Is a career as a video game designer or developer better suited for you? There are a few things to consider as you make this important decision.

Assessing Your Strengths and Interests

Start by assessing where you currently stand. Do you tend to be more interested in the creative aspects of video games, such as character development and storytelling? Or are you fascinated by the technical expertise that goes into making a great game? Should the former apply to you, then video game design may be a more suitable path.

Understanding Your Career Goals

When determining your path, consider your long-term career goals. Both video game design and development careers require a great deal of skill and expertise. While a formal degree may not be required to get into this field, it is highly recommended and can help you set yourself apart in the job market. For this reason, it's crucial to think about where you see yourself down the road so you can choose a degree program that will prepare you for real-world work as a designer or developer.

Pursue Your Passion With Chaplain College Online

Both video game design and video game development can be exciting and rewarding careers. If you're looking to break into the gaming industry, pursuing a degree is a solid starting point.

At Champlain College Online, we're proud to offer both a bachelor's degree in interactive game design and a bachelor's degree in game development to suit your interests and goals. Both programs are offered 100% online for your convenience so that you can pursue your degree on your schedule. 

Get in touch to request more information and learn all about what Champlain College Online has to offer. You can also get started with your free online application today.

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