What Is The Difference Between A Video Game Designer And A Video Game Developer?

"I love playing video games, and I keep thinking, “Why not do something I love for a living?” It’d be super cool to be a video game developer … or designer. I’m not totally clear on the difference between the two. Are they two different names for the same job, or are they totally different? I want to make sure I get on the right career track. There are so many different job titles that go with making games, and a lot of them are similar but have totally different job descriptions."

asked by Matt from Baltimore, MD

There really are a huge number of roles involved with developing games, just as you have indicated. The two you are talking about sound similar, but they really are very different. Odds are you will be much more interested in one than the other for that reason. Which one will depend on your skills and what you would prefer to do with your work day.

A game designer is responsible for making decisions about the overall design and purpose of a game. You can think of this as earlier along the production cycle toward crafting a great game. You might be responsible for designing just one aspect, or you might be responsible for several. You might be designing game mechanics, or you could be helping with artwork for the game.

You also might come up with storylines, cut-scenes, character backgrounds and profiles, and so on. Other game designers work on map concepts, combat systems, weapons, and more. What design elements go into a particular game depend on the type of game.

Game developers on the other hand are in charge of putting the vision of the game designer into action, and turning it into a real product. These are the people who do the work of actually building the game. They may take character sketches and concept art and turn them into computer graphics, or they might take storylines and convert them into real campaigns.

They also could take map designs and flesh them out into playable terrains. Artists and programmers may serve as either developers or designers, depending on where they fit into the creation cycle.

How do you decide whether to become a game developer or a game designer? It depends both on your personal interests, and on where you would like to fit into a creative team. If you like coming up with an overarching idea and determining the direction that a project takes, you might want to become a video game designer. If you are more interested in the hands-on work of putting ideas into practice, you might be better suited for a role as a game developer.

All roles in video game creation are highly competitive, and there are a lot of candidates competing for relatively few openings. Get as much hands-on experience as you can while you are studying. Your portfolio will be just as valuable as your education when it comes to landing a position at a video game development company.

Career Spotlight: Video Game Designer

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