Systems Designer

  • Systems Designer

If there were an ultimate jack-of-all-trades in the video game industry, systems designer would best fit that description. Systems designers work closely with programmers, producers, and other disciplines within game design to develop specific game functions, from the mission systems to fluctuating gameplay variables like experience points and player inventories.


Duties

Their duties may be too many to list, but that’s only because they are some of the most versatile employees in the realm of game design. Systems designers are involved from the earliest stages of a game’s design to the end, creating and tuning specific features such as fighting systems, artificial intelligence, scoring rules, matchmaking, lobbies, and community features, as well as different game modes. Systems designers often take primary ownership of the design, prototyping, and fostering of both single-player and multiplayer games. They also lead, coordinate, and participate in teams within the pipeline with the responsibility of implementing and balancing game features from the initial design to the final stage. Not only do systems designers author internal design documentation, but they’re also responsible for revisions when needed and provide feedback throughout the entire process; systems designers work closely with quality assurance and other design teams to ensure that gameplay features are continually balanced and tuned according to this feedback. Sometimes, a systems designer will also be responsible for scripting the system as well as creating the initial design. Toward the later end of the design process, they organize and facilitate game testing sessions and compile reports and action items based on the testers’ feedback.

Skills & Education

As one of the careers in gaming requiring a great amount of versatility and knowledge, a systems designer is expected to have years of experience and the education to back it up. It is common for systems designers to hold degrees in computer-related areas of study, but they can also have degrees in subjects as diverse as engineering or mathematics. More than a few years of experience are required by most studios for this position, and experience with previously shipped titles is a virtual prerequisite. Knowledge of gameplay scripting and various programming languages is vital, as well as knowledge of software tools and programs like Unreal, and the subtle design differences between gaming platforms. The skill set of systems designers is not merely technical, but must also include the diplomatic communication skills to work with a variety of different interdisciplinary teams along the pipeline. Leadership ability is also needed, as systems designers are required to lead collaborations between teams facing strict deadlines and the myriad of design anomalies that always occur. Finally, a successful systems designer will have comprehensive knowledge of the video game industry and be up on the latest trends in gaming and game design.

What to Expect

As a systems designer, expect to care more about the game you’re working on more than your spouse or children. All right, maybe that type of commitment isn’t required, but these games do become your baby and systems designers often treat them as such. Systems designers are there from the conceptualization stage to the final polish, and have a great deal of influence on the experience gamers ultimately have. A little knowledge about a lot of things will go a long way in this career, but it’s certainly not for the casual gamer—there is a great deal of competition, as well as responsibility. However, when your baby finally arrives and brings joy to millions of gamers across the land, you will beam with pride as only a parent can.

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