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16 Dec 2013

Practical Advice for Current and Future Game Design Students

The notion that one can obtain a degree in game design today literally blows my mind. It wasn’t too many years ago that I graduated (I can count the number of years on one hand), yet even then, knowing that a freshman could enroll into a program at a university with the sole purpose of designing video games seemed like an insane concept. Yet, the future is here. Every year, more universities around the world are adding game design programs to their curriculum. If you ever wanted to design video games for a living, it is easier than ever to do so.

While you certainly do not need a degree to learn how to design video games (that argument is arriving via a post tomorrow), pursuing a degree in game design isn’t a bad idea either. Like any degree program, college works only as well as how much effort and attention you put into it. Use the following advice to make a game design degree work for you, and once you have graduated college with your beloved degree? You will not only have a piece of paper that will open some doors, but you will also be a more well-rounded individual.


Networking is a must

This is necessary advice for any degree, but for those wanting to obtain a degree in game design? Networking in college is an absolute necessity. While pursuing a degree in game design, you are actually in a better position than traditional developers in that you can use the time you spend attending a university to network with professionals before you need something from them. Moreover, do not limit yourself to networking with solely other seasoned game developers. Network with journalists, community managers, PR professionals – literally anyone that has their hand in the industry.

This is important for one sole reason: you’re going to need these people eventually. Sure, you may decide that you want to take the lessons that you have learned to start your own studio after you graduate, but what if you want to obtain some job experience before you make the final decision of going indie on your own? You are going to need these contacts. Place them on your resume, obtain testimonials from them if you have conducted freelance work for them or interned for them during your college career, and of course, ask them if they know a studio in the area that is hiring. Having a solid base of professionals in the past you have networked with is vital to standing out professionally.

Finally, get to know your classmates. You have no idea when knowing them will come in handy later in your professional career, and vice-versa. Attend conferences such as GDC (Game Developers Conference) as well. Conferences such as these are ‘networking heaven,’ and when you’re armed with hundreds of personalized business cards you can give to those you are networking with? You are going to build a base of new people you can contact in the future. In short, networking is absolutely vital to making your few years at a university work for you.


Learn to market

Of course, you are going to learn how to develop games. That’s a given. Yet, what you are probably not going to be taught is how to market the games you develop. This has always been an important lesson to learn regarding developing new games, yet in a marketplace in which there are thousands of competitors vying to get their game played, you need to know more than ever the best way to develop your games from a marketing perspective.

The notion that good games sell themselves is a lie. Get into the habit of thinking about what makes your game special (and if you cannot come up with anything, decide on the best way to make your game stand out from the crowd). Learn to analyze games at a level in which you can accurately discover why a game is fun, why people are purchasing the game, and why said game is successful (which goes back to the why of why people are purchasing said game).

Part of being a develop is knowing how to ‘hook’ your potential players with a concept they cannot pass up. Learn this lesson in college, and you will be a step ahead of many game design graduates.


Broaden your horizons

When I was pursuing a journalism degree, some of the best advice I was ever given was to constantly broaden my horizons that would benefit me as a journalist and a writer. This professor told me that the days of only needing to write and interview well was over, as we live in a world where journalists need to have more skills than ever before. His classes taught me the basics of web design, how to use social media properly, how to operate a control board at a radio station – just a ton of skills that, while seemingly not very useful to a journalist – has served me well as a writer/journalist in an ever-changing medium.

With that being said, you owe it to yourself to broaden your horizons whenever possible. Don’t know how to program? Learn the basics. Do you have trouble with the artistic side of game development? Again, learn the basics. If you are going into game development, you probably know you are knowledgeable in at least one facet of game development, right? Do your part to become even better at that skill, all the while improving your arsenal of skills. No, you shouldn’t expect to become a master programmer and/or artist by the time you graduate college, but if you are at least seasoned as a programmer, an artist, a musician, and so on? You may very well be able to lighten a studio’s workload, and if you can do that? You have a much higher chance of being hired out of school as opposed to others that are proficient in one thing.

Especially indie studios. Most indie studios do not have the funds to hire one person that is proficient at one single task. Yet, if you are good at a few things and masterful at one skill (and again, you can lighten the workload for the team)? You’re going to find you are going to be a valued candidate to many times.

Above all: learn. College is certainly about learning skills that will help you professionally later in life, but it is also about growing and finding out who you are as a person. Again, pursuing a game design degree program and college as a whole will benefit you if you take the time to let college work for you via the tips stated above. Yet the conversation isn’t close to being over, as there are many additional ways college can benefit you as a game designer and a person as a whole. Thus, I’ll turn it over to you guys? Game designers, how did college help you professionally and help you to grow as a person? Tell us in the comments below!

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