Love gaming? Want to turn it into a career? Then the numbers are on your side. Growing global demand for interactive, online entertainment has not only created a record fan base for gaming but has also generated record-breaking revenues. During the COVID pandemic, for example, gaming exploded, with the largest online service for PC gaming – Steam – identifying a 50.7% increase in gaming hours from 2019 to 2020 and a 33% increase in the number of active players. Likewise, video games sales approached $1.6 billion in 2020, which was a 35% year over year increase.2
And the gaming market isn’t slowing down. Total revenues in 2021 rose to $180.3 billion and were driven by 3 billion players worldwide3. With these statistics, it’s clear that game designers and developers will be in demand for the long haul.
What is Game Design?
Though game design and game development are sometimes used interchangeably, they actually aren’t the same thing.
Game design is where video gaming starts. It is the vision for the game and includes everything from the genre, to how it looks and feels, to the characters, the story line, the strategy and rules, the game and level environments, the dialogue and sound effects, and the intended gaming audience. A team of game designers collaborates to identify and cohesively put together all of the game’s conceptual elements, which form the foundation for the inner mechanisms of the entire game.
Game designers must be very creative and innovative, with the ability to design diverse types of games without redundancy. They must be good problem solvers, good collaborators, and good communicators. Having a good knowledge of 2 D and 3D modeling, along with excellent visual, drawing, writing, and presentation skills is important, as well.
With gaming moving into the realm of subscriptions and streaming (gaming services) vs a one-time purchase, today’s game designers must also be able to expand on initial game concepts by creating new building components such as expansion packs, fresh features, enhanced tools, additional characters, and even “loot boxes,” which surprise players with random virtual items.
What is Game Development?
Once the game designers have the creative vision and framework for the game outlined, game developers (or programmers) take the vision and turn it into a playable game by doing the coding and adding the technical components. Without game developers, the software required to play the game would never be created.
Using various coding languages, game developers build the game from the ground up by programming different aspects of the game, such as:
- Realistic and strategic artificial intelligence reactions of the computer-controlled characters
- Graphics that match the designers’ concept and make the artwork come to life
- Physics parameters that the game follows and rules regarding how different objects within the game interact and react to one another
- Tools for automated tasks that make the overall game development easier
- User interfaces, which are the graphical menus for the game
- The network that facilitates secure online playing of the game anywhere in the world.
The key to successful game development is excellent coding and programming skills, which take the designers’ ideas, drawings and story lines and translate them into a playable game. The game developer should know at least one coding language very well, such as C++, which is one of the world's most popular programming languages for creating high-performance applications. With each additional language, the game developer salary will likely go up. Game developers should also have excellent math skills, a keen eye for detail, the ability to collaborate with a team, strong analytical skills for troubleshooting, and patience for developing complex games.
What is the Difference Between Game Design and Development?
In a nutshell, game design can be seen as an author’s story or novel in all its descriptive detail, while game development is similar to taking the story and bringing it to life on the stage. They are separate in the work that must be done to achieve them, but one cannot be done without the other. They must collaborate constantly to ensure the vision is correctly portrayed; that the proper props and costumes are procured; that the right actors are hired; that the kinks are worked out and scripts revised as needed; that each performs perfectly; that the audience responds favorably. Only, instead of a director for a play, lead game designers and developers bring teams together to produce a new interactive game for the market.
Your particular interests and abilities will determine whether you opt for the creative, game design side of a gaming career or the building block, game development side. You can’t really go wrong either way, as both the game designer salary and the game developer salary are higher than average.
How Much Do Game Design and Developers Make?
Depending on your education, experience, certifications, specific skills, and geographic location, the game designer salary can fluctuate across a wide range. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS4) classifies the game designer as a special effects artist/animator, with a 2021 median salary of $78,790, much higher than the average for all jobs. Glass Door, on the other hand, quotes an entry level junior game designer salary average of $61,292, which bumps up to $70,750 for experienced video game designers. However, Glass Door notes that the salary variance can range from the mid-forties to the mid-nineties5. Higher salaries will generally be more attainable with a bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related major, in higher paying job markets, as well as with hands-on game design experience. The job outlook for game designers is projected to be a 5% growth rate through 2031.
Game developers (programmers) enjoy somewhat higher salaries due to the technical nature of their jobs. Designated as software developers by the BLS6, the median 2021 pay was $109,020, with the majority (75%) falling between $83K and $127K7. Perhaps the better news is that the job outlook for software developers has a 25% growth rate – or 162,900 openings per year.
Start Your Career in Game Design and Development
The fully online bachelor’s degree in computer science at Ottawa University with a concentration in game design and development will provide the skills you need to begin an exciting career in this field. While the computer science degree provides students with foundation and advanced undergraduate level courses in computing and information science, the game design and development concentration lays the groundwork for immediate transition into a gaming career.
Topics covered in the concentration include:
- Production, which emphasizes the practical and conceptual use of industry-related software in graphic design, including use of the Adobe Suite
- Digital modeling, which introduces the concepts and mechanics of modeling and animation in 2D/3D environments
- Game development engine, which trains in the understanding, modification, and development of game engines (reusable runtime and asset pipelining code) by focusing on the technical details and the development’s artistic consequences; students also learn how game engines handle content creation, providing or integrating with authoring tools for sound, images, scripts, and other content to ease the process of creating high-fidelity games
- Programming and practice, a practical and conceptual introduction to game programming development, with the contrast between theory and practice serving as a cornerstone of the course; students have extensive opportunities to try out concepts and ideas before designing, developing, and testing a 2D or 3D beta version.
Get Your Game On!
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