What is the Difference Between a Video Game Designer and Developer?

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Video Game Designer

The gaming industry is the biggest entertainment industry in the world, having not just overtaken the global movie and music industries, but outperformed the two put together in the recent past. The estimated value of the gaming market is $152.1 billion thanks to an army of 2.5 billion gamers the world over. If that isn’t enough to convince you of the gaming industry’s dominance, here’s another fun fact – the biggest movie in history was outperformed on opening weekend gross revenue figures by the biggest game. Avengers Endgame clocked $858 million of revenue on its opening weekend, but GTA V got to $1 billion, and it only took three days to reach this landmark.

So whether you are a casual mobile gamer or someone who spends hour upon hour on the PC or console, you are a part of the biggest entertainment industry in the world and one that only continues to grow. Take the recent times as an example. The COVID-19 pandemic has seen movie theatres shut down, and studios are scrambling to cope with releases pushed back and production halted. Not the same for games because gaming companies and platforms have seen a revenue spike in these times.

If gaming is your life and you enjoy it more than anything else, it only makes sense to turn this passion into a profession. And if you are planning on entering the professional world of game creation, there are two paths you can choose from – game design and game development. Not sure what the difference between the two vocations is, and which one you would prefer? Don’t worry, we have got you covered.


Game Designer vs Game Developer

While both game designers and game developers are integral to the creation of a video game, their roles are quite different from each other. A game designer is the creative force behind the game. Everything from storyline to narrative, character development to artwork, and design all come from the game designer. This an artistic job that requires flair and talent to excel at. All the aspects of the game that elicit responses from your senses – what you see, what you hear, and how the story of the game flows – is all driven by the game design side of things.

The game developer is the more technical force in this equation. Your job as a developer would be to write and analyze code so that the game works how it is expected to work and doesn’t overburden the console or system it is being run on. Everything from source code to programming, compatibility, graphics, and AI comes from the game development team. Of course, a game developer needs to have deep expertise in programming languages as part of their job.


Skillsets Required, Curriculum and Education Roadmap

Since these two careers are so different, the skillsets that each career requires are different too, as are the education courses that you need to undertake to be qualified to enter each field, and the curriculum that is covered as part of the courses in each field.

Skillsets needed to become a game designer:

  • Creative flair
  • Passion for design
  • Ability to weave storylines
  • Plot and character development
  • An interest in artistry and artistic capabilities

Skillsets required for prospective game developers:

  • Programming expertise
  • Interest in science and math
  • Analytical bent of mind
  • Ability to spot and fix errors
  • Determination
  • Patience

In terms of education, a game designer needs an associate degree in game design or a bachelor’s degree in game design to enter the industry. A game developer either needs a generic bachelor’s degree in computer science or preferably a bachelor’s in computer science with a specialization in game development. If you aren’t sure what the differences between these two courses are, a look at the curricula will give you an idea. Below is the latest curricula from New England Institute of Technology – one of the top ranked video game design university by The Princeton Review.

A typical game design course features the following modules:

  • 3D Modeling
  • Animation
  • 3D Scripting
  • 3D Rigging
  • Texturing Design
  • 3D Digital Sculpting
  • VR Development
  • Motion Capture

On the other hand, you will have to complete the following courses as part of your game development education:

  • Algorithms and API
  • 2D and 3D Game Programming
  • Mathematics
  • Game Engine and Tool Development
  • Software Testing
  • Quality Assurance
  • Web API for Gaming
  • Game Design
  • Artificial Intelligence & Virtual Reality Development



Career Opportunities

While the opportunities to make a career in both these paths are widespread and growing, as you can imagine, the specific career opportunities for the two disciplines will defer as well. Here’s a look at the type of jobs a game designer can qualify for –

  • Character Artist
  • Video Game Designer
  • Video Game Programmer
  • Character Designer
  • Animator

If you graduate with a degree in game designer, you can look forward to careers such as –

  • Application Developer
  • Web Developer
  • Software Engineer
  • Video Game Designer
  • Quality Assurance Engineer
  • Junior Programmer


Which Career Should You Choose? 

The big question is, which of the two careers is the right one for you? Well, to find out, you need to first think about what your strengths and interests are. Do you lean towards art or science? Do you like crafting and drawing or programming? Even your high school results can provide an indication of which one is the better choice. If you did better in your art programs, game design might be the path for you. If you scored higher in computer lessons, maybe you are likely to enjoy game development more. Either way, as long as you have an interest in gaming and want to enter a profitable and enjoyable career, you can’t go wrong whichever avenue of the game creation industry you choose to go down.

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