Becoming a Game Designer

In a recent e-mail, a reader wrote:

Hello. I am currently a student at UW-Rock County. I saw your article in the Stateline News and had a question for you. I wondered if you had any advice for someone who would like to work in the gaming industry. Although this has been a dream of mine for a few years now, I do not know what I should do to achieve this goal. Currently, I am planning on working towards a graphic arts major after obtaining my associates degree this semester. I would appreciate any advice you could give me.

I assume you’re talking about tabletop (paper) games, since that’s what I’m most familiar with. If so, there’s really no set path to becoming a game designer. Some designers only have high-school diplomas. Others have multiple PhDs in a wide variety of fields. 

I have a degree in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan, but no publisher I’ve worked for has ever cared about that. My liberal arts education gave me the tools I needed to be able to design games—including research skills—but my diploma was never a golden ticket. Publishers only care about two things. Is your work any good? Can you turn it in on time? 

From what little I know about your situation, I’d suggest you keep working at your degrees and try your hand at freelancing in the gaming industry in your spare time. You might even think of applying for a summer internship with one of the larger publishers. If you can gather a few credits during your college years, you’ll be better positioned to make your way into the field once you graduate. Good luck!