Today, video games constitute a global industry worth billions of dollars per year. This means that there are more opportunities than ever for young people to build a successful career around a pastime their parents always assumed was a waste of time.
As recently as 2013, the gaming sector was seen as a male-dominated industry, full of frat-boy mentalities and locker room humour. Today, there is still a degree of gender inequality, but this is reducing at a rapid rate. Not only are the majority of today’s gamers female, there are also more women than ever who are proving they have what it takes to make a career of game design.
A thriving industry, at home and abroad
The global gaming industry is worth an estimated $90 billion. While you might think that the focus would be in the USA and Japan, Australia was described in the Digital Australia Report as “a nation of gamers.”
And it is not just a case of us loving to play video games. The Interactive Games and Entertainment Association (IGEA) reported in 2016 thatAustralia’s own gaming sectoris worth well over $100 million per year and is seen as one of the country’s most important growth industries. So how can you become a part of it?
You do not have to be the world’s best programmer or an amazingly talented artist to get into game design, although a little experience in these areas would certainly be a bonus. The point is, though, that these are things that can be learnt and developed along the way.
Most important is a passion for gaming that runs deeper than an unhealthy obsession with Candy Crush or Angry Birds! You need to have the sort of enquiring mind that is interested in what makes a great game, and how the different aspects of gameplay, story arc and graphics all come together, like ingredients in a perfect recipe.
You also need some solid personal skills – the clichéd image of the “computer geek” living in a world of her own with zero social skills simply doesn’t cut it in the real world. Successful designers have to be team players and good communicators.
Last but not least, you will definitely need a thick skin. The overtly sexist attitudes of years gone by might be behind us, but right now there are still far more men
than women in senior positions. As in any creative career, there will be plenty of “constructive criticism” on your way to the top.
Training and qualifications
The most important training is done on the job. Most designers start out as testers – it does not pay much, but it gives you a great grounding in all aspects of design and troubleshooting.
Having said that, there are a growing number of academic courses that prospective designers can take, with everything from short evening school classes to multi-year undergraduate courses available.
Exactly where to specialise is, of course, down to you, but one word of advice is that if in any doubt, you should keep the subject matter as broad as possible. For someone just starting out, it probably makes more sense to consider a general degree in computer science than to immediately pigeonhole yourself with a specific qualification in “game design.”
After all, very few of us know exactly where we will be in five years’ time.