How to Hire a Game Designer

Hiring a Game Designer?

A question came up on Reddit/r/gamedev the other day, “How do you go about hiring a game designer?” This can be a difficult process. An artist can have a portfolio that clearly defines their skills but a designer’s work is intertwined with all aspects of a game’s execution. It be difficult to tease out their individual contribution. You can give the designer a test, which can be useful, but it only tells you a small parts of their skills.

I have a set of questions I put to potential game designers and vendors to identify what I think is the most important question – do they think like a game designer, and not just a game player?

A few points before the list:

  1. I am systems designer. I am looking for designers who can design compelling gameplay systems. I don’t deal with more soft skills like character and narrative design. I work for Cartoon Network, those aspects are usually filled in for me 🙂
  2. I don’t think there are too many “right”answers but I am often looking for “wrong” answers. I’ll note what I identify as bad answers where I can.


Game Designer Interview Questions

To you, what is a game designer?

Is their vision of a designer role match your workflow? Or even better, can they offer something new and exciting? Or does it totally conflict with your culture?


Where do your designs start?

This identifies their process and where they get inspirations. Do they start with code? Pure mechanics design? Sketches? Do they challenge themselves with limitations? Do they need to take walks every day to think about design?


What discipline led you to game design?

This could be art or programming or more non-game disciplines like product design or architecture. This can expose their thought process on the aspects of design.


What would you tell someone else who wanted to be a game designer?

Does their ideal path to be a designer match yours? Do they talk about collaboration or solo? Do they talk about finishing something and getting it out?


What education or experiences would you recommend?

What are some things in their life that have been instrumental in shaping them?


What is your favorite type of fun?

Trying to see if they are familiar with the formal concepts such as LeBlanc’s 8 Types of Fun, Lazzaro’s 4 Keys of Fun, Koster’s Theory of Fun, Bartle’s Types of Players, etc. I know some designers hate the word “fun”, even to the point where people are not allowed to say it, but I want to know a designer recognizes the differences and can speak to them.


What are your main tools for design?

This is just to figure out people’s workflow and specific skills. Are they an artist? Scripter? Prototype maniacs? Excel masters? Writers? Paper prototypers?


What are your primary, secondary, and tertiary responsibilities?

This is where I am trying to see if they are “I write a GDD and hand it off” or “I constantly collaborate with everyone throughout the whole project” type of designers. Also, if they are designer/scripters, designer/producers, etc.


What is the greatest game system ever designed?

Looking for them to speak as a formal designer and not just a player. My favorite answer ever was “rock, paper, scissors” 🙂


What is your least favorite common game system and how would you fix it or replace it?

Again, looking for thinking and speaking like a designer, not just a player. Big red flags are generic gamer terms like “better multiplayer”, “better framerate”, and other common gamer complaints.


What is one of our games you liked? How would you improve it?

Did they do a bit of research about your company? Are their suggestions good? Do their suggestions align with your sensibilities?


What is one of our games you don’t like? How would you fix it?

Can they speak rationally and candidly about your work they think could be better? If they bring up something you already is bad, and the good candidates will, engage them in the process that produced that bad result and see how they would have handled the situation.


What is your greatest success and failure?

This is a standard interview question but what I am looking for is a candidate to be able to speak to their failure and say, 1) I messed up and 2) It was 100% my fault. If someone puts all the blame on someone else for their failure, that’s a big red flag.


What *don’t* you do?

Identify candidates missing skills or potential areas of improvement: writing, scripting, music, etc. This can also reveal red flags you may take for granted even talking about. I once had a seemingly good candidate tell me he had some grudge against programmers and wouldn’t talk to them! :O


I am holding a robot under the table, what does it look like?

This is a creativity test. Do they give a generic description? (e.g. “It’s metal and had some lights”) or do they go nuts (“It’s purple and yellow and has tank treads for legs and probably shoulder missiles. You gotta have shoulder missiles!”)


What is design?

Inspired by the book, The Design of Everyday Things, I am looking for an answer along the lines of “problem solving”. Extra points for “problem prediction”.


What is Your Ideal Job Entail?

This is to tease out a candidate who only want to do the fun parts of design – the initial concept and design. Do they want to bail when the process of execution, compromise, and collaboration becomes difficult?


Game Design Test

A common game design test is to give candidates a number of physical items and give them an hour or two to come up a game. That is a sound idea. I have another approach.

Give the candidate a relatively simple game design, like a simple runner or a shooter, and ask them design deeper systems. What I am looking for here is true depth. An inexperienced designer will start layering features (power-ups, classes, more levels, etc.) instead of depth on the core feature.

A good test for a level designer is to give them a core system, like jet packing or dashing, and ask them to design levels around the core mechanic. Do they ramp up use of the mechanic well? Do they provide clever twists on the design you didn’t even think of? Do they pace use of the mechanic well?


Some of this is not useful for hiring junior canidates. It’s unrealistic to expect a recent college graduate to be able to speak to many game design aspects in a formal way. Sometimes you have to settle for a glimmer of greater than “just a game player” in their interview and work to make them grow into smart designers. A strong mentor to help young designers make progress is important. Having activities (such as weekly design challenges, game jams, etc.) that clearly measure progress in place for the employee and yourself is ideal. You also have to face the reality that some people in the games industry never make the leap from passionate game player to smart design creator.

I have other, standard interview questions mixed in (“Tell me about your last job.”, “Why do you want to work here?”, etc.) but this are my go-to list to determine if candidates have the mindset to be game designers.


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