The profession of game designer is probably one of the most recent job existing. Video games are out for a quite short amount of time and it took a few decades before they become an appealing product for consumers. However, at that point, creating a game was more a matter of programming than anything else; the real need for artists began when hardwares were powerful enough to support nice graphics.
The need for game designers, instead, arose later, when market started to be more competitive and games more complex. At that time, selling any game was no more that easy, consumers started to be more picky. There is no need to explain what is a designer and which tasks he/she holds during the development of a game (although, still nowadays, many managers are not fully convinced of the need of a designer for their projects and do not understand the advantages that these professionals can take to the products they work on; many still think that anybody can be a designer since, to be a designer, the only requirement is having an idea (any idea) for a game).
In the last 6-8 years, the video game market changed a lot, thanks to the introduction of the digital delivery, the online stores and the mobile and social gaming; not to mention the creation of free(mium) games. These really brought a revolution in the industry and in the market!
From this long and boring opening, finally we reached the core of this post: being a designer today and in the future. With the new market and the new mobile and social games, the game designer’s expertise have started to adapt and changed. This fact is leading to a real split in this profession, creating to different and parallel business roles: the “traditional” console/pc game designer and the “social/mobile” one.
The former is exactly the same as before: not much has changed; he/she works on complete (or almost complete) products, sold the old way and with no need to create players’ retention and loyalty to the product (at least, no more than pushing the player to buy the sequel of that game).
The latter, on the contrary, given the platforms on which he/she works (mobile and/or social), given the fact that he is giving away a game for free but the company still needs to make a profit of it, given the totally different customers (mostly casual gamers), given the reduced development costs and tons of other factors, he/she needs a complete new set of skills, skills that are often extremely different from those needed by a “traditional” designer.
With the passing of time, the two figures are getting more and more separated: the “traditional” one going everyday more in the storyteller/movie director job direction, while the “social/mobile” is transforming the designer into a seller with psychologist/mentalist competencies.
Take a look at the nowadays game designer job offers; they already witness the upcoming change. In the next few year, these two jobs require so many different skills that they will truly turn into two different professions. Extremely good expert from one sector will be almost totally unable to move to the other, exactly like a skilled UI artist can not instantly transform into a seasoned environment one. separated: the “traditional” one going everyday more in the storyteller/movie director job direction, while the “social/mobile” is transforming the designer into a seller with psychologist/mentalist competencies.