What exactly does … a game designer?
In the new series “What exactly does … do?” we present a range of different jobs in a gaming company. Today we’ll start off with Jake; he works as game designer for Travian: Legends.
What exactly does a game designer do?
A game designer supports the development of computer games by coming up with game ideas and concepts. The game designer is responsible for whether the game mechanics work together and create a better game. Together with lots of other people, such as graphic designers, UX designers, UI designers, programmers and last but not least testers, the game designer carries the vision of the game forward.
What does a normal day at work look like for you?
(Laughs) There’s no such thing as a normal day at work. Every days brings with it new challenges. Whether it’s requests from community management or a detailed technical question for the testers. I could probably best describe my job like this: I have to keep all the information about the game readily available at all times. And that doesn’t just relate to the game mechanics, but it’s also about the changes the developers most recently made as a means of helping testers identify how errors are caused.
How did you get the job?
The answer to this question is also quite funny. I trained as a computer scientist, specializing in app development, and during my training I developed a browser game that was really similar to Travian. Sassault – the game was called. It won an award that Travian had also won. When I applied for the developer position, I didn’t quite fit the profile. So I asked whether I could support the game designers with my technical expertise. I was then invited to another interview where I was able to convince the team of my technical background as well as my design experience in browser games.
Is game design something you can learn?
Of course.There are now quite a few training programs in this area. There are plenty of books you can learn the basics of good design from as well. But in the end, it’s experience that matters. Game ideas have to be implemented and as many games as possible have to be analyzed. If you often ask yourself “What’s fun about this?”, you’re moving in the right direction.
Do you have to be able to code?
No, being able to code isn’t necessary right away. It helps of course, as you have be able to talk to developers, but it isn’t a “must”.
How can you guarantee the right balancing in multi-player games?
Using mathematical models. For example, you want a swordsman to only win against an archer when he’s directly in front of him. On the basis of this rule, you can then work out how much damage a swordsman would have to take and how much damage an archer should be able to inflict. It’s a lot more complex in multi-player games, of course. So it’s useful to do a lot of testing and to listen to the players’ feedback.
What specific game mechanics are you really proud of?
Right now, I’m really proud of the “Send reinforcements” feature in Scattered Empire. It adds to the interaction and creates the role of the “defense keeper”, i.e. a player who keeps defense troops and quickly sends them to alliance members if they’re under attack.
What games do you like playing or do you even play PC games/console games?
I’m a huge fan of Blizzard and I’m really looking forward to Overwatch. I’ve currently picked up Borderlands and I also spend a lot of time on Heroes of the Storm.
Where do you get your ideas from for games or game mechanics?
Pretty much every designer has their own games they’d love to play that have simply not been developed yet. On the other hand, company management also have ideas that need to be considered. If the company believes XY will be popular in the future, for instance, then we’ll work on making a game based on that.
How does an idea become a concept and a concept become a game?
Every gaming company has their own process here. At Travian, we have a clear concept of what we’re doing at any given time each year, such as the tournament or the annual special. And we work toward this by looking at what worked well last year and what didn’t work that well. What does the community currently want, and so forth.
What’s so fun about working in the gaming industry?
Do you really need to ask? My colleagues are crazy and most of them are players themselves! And it’s generally a good idea to have a pinch of insanity when you’re working on a project like Travian.
Is player feedback welcome?
Absolutely. Our team receives a weekly report from community management which lists the most important points. Unfortunately, we can’t respond to every piece of feedback and some points are simply outside the decision-making scope of a game designer.
Thanks for the interview, Jake.
And here’s a link to the game: Travian: Legends