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By Susan McKinley Ross,

Game Designer,

Idea Duck

Hey! Congratulations! You’re a game designer! Whoo hoo! Doesn’t it just boggle your mind? It still boggles my mind and I’ve been designing toys and games since 1999.

I don’t think it will ever stop amazing me that I get to do this work. My Mom has a photograph of me and my game Qwirkle on her fridge. The photo was taken the day that my first copy arrived. I’ll never forget how thrilling it was to see the finished game for the first time.

Generally when I tell people what my job is, they look at me like I’m crazy and/or like I’m lucky. I understand their reaction. It was kind of crazy to start a toy and game design company and think that I could turn it into a successful small business. And I’m the first to admit that I’ve been incredibly lucky at this job.

I doubt most people who think we have crazy jobs really understand all the crazy parts of what we do. They don’t understand the difficulty of working at something where every product you create gets a grade of an A (publication) or an F (back to the drawing board). They don’t know the stress of waiting anxiously to hear if your game has been accepted by a publisher. They don’t imagine the difficulty of contract negotiations or what it’s like to have a great game that just hasn’t found the right audience.

I’ve met some people who think game designers are a little bit crazy because they can’t imagine how we create fun out of thin air. Because let’s face it. That’s what we do. Our brains are inspired by the tiniest of things and whoosh – we’re off in a game design frenzy, unable to think of anything but the game and how to make the game better. That rush of inspired adrenaline is one of the best parts of my job.

Even though many people don’t understand all the crazy bits of the work we do, they usually have a pretty good idea of why we’re lucky to do it. First of all, we get to work at something we love. We get to turn our ideas into products. We get to create fun things. There are lots of product designers in the world, but most of them design practical things or beautiful things. Not everyone gets to design fun things.

Designing something fun is a privilege. It is a privilege that people we don’t know and will never meet are willing to spend some of their precious free time with the games we create. It is a privilege that people use our games to engage their friends and their family.

Because I don’t want to take these privileges for granted, I like to remind myself that I am a game designer and not a game artist. An artist creates something to please themselves. A designer creates something to meet the needs of other people.

An artist can be inflexible. A designer needs to be flexible. An artist can ignore every opinion other than their own. A designer guides their creation through the maze of opinions to make the best possible product.

As game designers, we listen to our play testers and we figure out how to make our games more fun. One of the wonderful things about game design is that we can change the rules and see if that makes the game better. If the changes don’t improve the game, then we can always go back to our original design.

I’m wildly grateful that my job is to design games. It’s kind of a crazy job and I’m incredibly lucky to have it.

(November 2012)

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