Game Designer

Three Finnish students started their own game design firm, Rovio Mobile. They learned the ropes in projects for big companies like Electronic Arts and Digital Chocolate. One day they had a little idea for a game about birds. At 250 million downloads and counting, Angry Birds is now the top paid smartphone app ever!

Real designers for unreal worlds

Console games for Wii, Xbox or PlayStation often use up multimillion dollar budgets, but it doesn’t always take millions to design a winner. Rovio Mobile designed Angry Birds for $140,000, and so far the game has raked in an estimated $70 million. It takes just one cool idea to design the next hot game and create an unreal world where players escape for hours of fun.

To give basic design a try, check out free video game tools like Sploder and Sandbox. Most have contests you can enter with your new game too!

Snapshot

The detail that goes into even simple games can be mindboggling – storylines, characters, environments, devices and scoring levels with huge databases of graphics and information.  Even before getting down to work on all that, the designer needs to figure out what will be the most fun for people who will play it. A family oriented or quick mobile game is one thing.  Imagine the complexity that a Dead Rising hard core gamer needs to hang in for hours fighting off zombies with giant cell phones and lawn mowers.

Whatever type of game you dream to design, there’s a fit right here in one of the world’s largest game design centers. Canada’s $2.3 billion gaming industry ranks third in the world behind Japan and the U.S.  Among its 329 companies are leaders like Digital Extremes (Unreal, Dark Sector), BioWare (Star Wars, Baldur’s Gate) and Ubisoft (Assassin's Creed, and Splinter Cell). The industry also has staying power, even when the rest of the economy stalls. It’s expected to grow 25 percent through to 2015, according to the Entertainment Software Association of Canada. No recession here!

For people who

  • Are gaming visionaries and thought leaders
  • Can combine creative artistry with technical and functional design
  • Are highly detailed oriented and meticulous problem solvers
  • Are open to new ideas and criticism of a design being developed
  • Are strong team players, able to clearly communicate a design vision, then make it come to life
  • Work well under pressure of deadlines

Education pathways

There are as many paths to mashing up a game design career as there are types of games. The biggest companies have large design teams run by a director of design who manages design specialists in storyline or lighting or environments.  In a small operation you could be the boss and doer of everything, from design to software coding. 

Search “game designer careers” on YouTube and listen to the different ways people mashed up educational choices to get their start. Also, check out the job postings on career websites of companies like Microsoft, Nintendo, Digital Extremes, BioWare and Electronic Arts to see what they require from design applicants.

Some universities like Western, Toronto and McMaster have game design specialty streams within Bachelor of Computer Science or Software Engineering programs. Community colleges like Centennial, Seneca, Sheridan, George Brown and Sault College offer programs in game design, art and animation.

Destinations

With 350 game design companies in Canada, the job market is strong, especially in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.  Become part of an international team by joining Canadian divisions of big companies like Microsoft or Electronic Arts. Prefer a smaller city? London, Ontario has set out to become a video gaming centre with at least a dozen companies like Digital Extremes, Big Blue Bubble, Beanbag Studies, RedJade.
 
Starting salary: $40,000 - $80,000

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