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Can I Be The Game Designer I Want To Be?

Today, videogames are a multi-billion dollar industry and the competition has never been so strong. The industry has reached a stage where striking a balance between creative game design and playing it safe has become vital.

John Kolencheryl

July 20, 2009

5 Min Read

I am a game designer. I am a game designer. I am a game designer. I am a game designer. I am a game designer. There were times when I used to sit back and look at my career path and wonder how I could possibly be a game designer. What qualifies me as a game designer?

Do I have the necessary skill sets to be a game designer? The simple answer was I didn’t know. I often told people that I understand the language spoken by programmers and artists and therefore have an edge at being a good game designer. However, over the period of time at the ETC I have realized that is not necessarily true. I have seen great examples of game design from people who never really spoke the languages of an artist or programmer. And I have stumbled upon design challenges where I really did not have a good solution.

So I again end up asking the same question to myself, am I qualified to be a game designer? However, now I know the answer. It is exactly the first five statements of this blog. I have come to realize that if I ever want to become a game designer at all, my first step would be to accept the fact that I am a game designer no matter what people may say or think.

I need to gain a level of confidence before I can design games and conquer its challenges. So now that I am a game designer it means I just have to brainstorm and come up with the most innovative and out of the box game ideas and implement them.

I have seen how the games have evolved over the years. Compared to games of yesteryears today they have become more realistic, challenging and bolder. Games have evolved into so many genres and have started to address a wider audience. Each genre has been the brain child of some of the greatest game designers out there.

So do game designers have a characteristic genre? Do we need a further classification under game designers? I believe these questions would have been a lot easier to answer when the game industry wasn’t so big; the period when it was mostly about passion and less about business and profits.

Today a lot of the creative control of a game lies in the hands of the publishers. It reminds me of how cinema has evolved in my native place. There used to be a time when movies were all about creative expression irrespective of how the audience received it. It led to the creation of some ofthe most magnificent films I have seen and they were all well received by the general population too.

Today when a movie formula succeeds you see a hundred others following it. The producers say it is the current trend and this is what will make profits soar. God forbid that the game industry enters a similar situation. The game industry is today a multi-billion dollar industry and the competition has never been so strong.

With so much competition and money involved, the stakes are high and there isn’t enough room for taking risks. A publisher is far more comfortable reusing a successful formula than taking chances with a completely new one. I do not blame them. The industry has grown to the extent that if the cards are not played right there are chances of going out of business, especially when the economy is undergoing a major crisis. As my professor, Jesse Schell, mentioned in his class, the most important skill of a game designer is listening. I believe the number of people a game designer has to listen to these days has increased considerably compared to when the industry was still at a very nascent stage.

So in the end all of this boils down to one question. Can I really be the Game Designer I want to be? Or do I have to mould myself into making games which are improved versions of already successful formulas. But wouldn’t that obstruct my creative freedom as adesigner? Doesn’t it completely shut down the possibility of making a completely new game genre? When Ernest Adams asked what kind of a game designer I was, I replied with a question; does it matter, if I couldn’t be the game designer I am? These are a lot of questions and the answers to them aren’t very straight forward.

Of course I can be the game designer I want to be and of course I may not become the game designer I want to be. There are a lot of factors that go into making a game. Personal passion and creative freedom is one thing and generating enough revenue to keep this process of game development going is another. So there is definitely a line that needs to be drawn between creative freedom and playing it safe. There needs to be a balance between innovation and pragmatism. 

Videogames are a powerful media and its recipients are mostly the younger generation; a generation that will run the world of tomorrow. I want to make games which are able to deliver an important social message; games that allow players to experience another’s tragedy or happiness; games that make people think while they have fun; games that teach them to be better human beings. So can I design such games? Well, I could if it strikes that balance between creative freedom and playing safe. And how exactly do I know if the balance exists? Listen; that is the most important skill a game designer can have.  

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