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From Pac-Man to Pokémon Go: The Role of a Video Game Designer

October 27, 2016

This is a cross-post from Stephen Jacobs, Professor, Interactive Games and Media, in the B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences, from the RIT Online blog.


We love video games because they take us out of our own reality and immerse us in an engaging experience. Whether you’re behind the scope of a rifle as you fight in an interstellar war in Halo, manage a farm and its crop development in Farmville, or strategize your gameplay in Tetris, there is a gaming escape for everyone. From console games to smartphones, the video game industry is constantly evolving to meet the needs of new audiences.

We used to only be able to play video games on an arcade cabinet or a home console system. But today, gamers are engaged on nearly all types of devices, including desktops, tablets, smartphones, and handheld consoles. And, contrary to popular opinion, it’s not a single gender pastime anymore. More than 50 percent of gamers are female and they represent a growing percentage of professionals in the industry. According to a 2015 survey by the International Game Developers Association, the number of female video game developers has doubled in the past seven years, from 11 percent in 2009 to about 21 percent now. It’s no surprise that the video game designer position has made the list of CNN's Best Jobs in America. In fact, according to, the video game industry is projected to grow to $82 billion by 2017. This translates to exciting, dynamic jobs in the video gaming industry.

Aspiring video game designers need to learn all aspects of video game production. Game designers are the creators of a game’s core gameplay. Their work must blend seamlessly into all facets of a game, from characters, plots, and storylines to the ways players interact with the game. Video game designers often start with paper, pencil, white boards, and equipment from other tabletop games to work out the goals and mechanics of a play experience. They’ll create (on their own or with a larger team) analog and simple digital versions of a game to understand how it plays and work out the game’s balance. Along the way they’ll create a game design document that details the core of the game, its gameplay mechanics, and other points of detail. This initial development stage soon grows to include technical and artistic teams that work collaboratively to fully develop the game.

Rochester Institute of Technology has been teaching video game design and development for more than a decade and its undergraduate program is ranked third in Princeton Review’s “Top Schools for Video Game Design in 2016.” Our graduates have gone on to work at leading video game companies including Amazon Games, Apple, Bungie Studios, Blizzard Entertainment, Epic Games, Google, Konami Gaming Inc., Microsoft, Rockstar Games, Sony Computer Entertainment, Valve Corporation, and Walt Disney Interactive.