Darkened Software

Design does not yet rule in game development

by on Jun.30, 2011, under Development, Industry, Lessons

This debate has been raging for ever since I joined the industry, lets just end it right now with the results of the Gamasutra Salary Survey for 2010.

Programmers: $85,733 ( Avg.  4 year degree )

Artists: $71,354 ( Avg.  4 year degree )

Designers:  $70,223 ( Avg.  High School Diploma or GED  )

You can argue as an industry based in entertainment we should value designers more than artists and programmers but the facts clearly state we currently do not.  Now stats like this are tricky, it is hard to say if they are the cause or effect.  Are designers paid less because the market is flooded with great designers and thus do not need to be paid as well?  Or are designers getting paid what they are worth but do not yet provide the same value to the industry that the other disciplines do?

To me it is very clear just by playing games out there that we are not even close to having an over saturated market of great game designers.  Most game designs are just painfully derivative, most levels are unimaginative and the game play systems we are forced to learn are repetitive and far to basic.  The level of thinking these games require is often minimal, often it comes down to just pure memorization or repetition.  If there is any fun in the game at all you either have to sit through 1/2 the levels before you run into it or you have to fight with so many other bad systems that it is just not worth going after.

So I am going with the theory that designers are not yet providing the same value as other disciplines, in fact when I saw the survey I was blown away by how much they were getting paid.  Know many other careers were people with no formal training can end up making 70k a year?  For what the game industry is getting the average designer salary should be much closer to 45k than the current 70k we are seeing.  That delta of 25k is just how desperate the game industry is to attract good people into the game design field.

If game designers want to rule the industry like they should then they need to get some training in skills that would really help ensure every game is great fun and worth buying.

Currently it seems the curriculum for game designers is:

  • Play a lot of games
  • Come up with a big list of reasons why any game mentioned sucks.
  • Declare they could do better and should already be working  at blizzard.

New curriculum you could get at any university:

  • Study psychology: stop guessing why things may or may not be fun and learn what really makes people want to accomplish goals, drive for payoffs and stay interested in the pacing of rewards.
  • Study human learning: stop making games frustrating by being to easy or overwhelming.  Learn exactly what people can handle, how they process information, how they attempt to solve puzzles, how long it takes to makes skills permanent.  There are many different learning types but most games are only set up for one.
  • Study biology:  go learn exactly what information people process out of images, sounds.  How the brain shuts down or speeds up by stress, sound, threat and reward.  Build games that are paced to work with the body instead of taxing it to much and being a drain.
  • Introductory writing,  game theory,  coding, art just so you know what the other disciplines are doing.
  • Play a lot of games from all time periods and categories.  Understand were they have been, why they have evolved and were they are going.

When designers have the skills sets that they can consistently take even primitive tool sets and build great levels for their target audience then they will be the highest paid people in the game industry like they should be.

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