Game Design

A day in the life of a game designer

As I mentioned in my article last week on balancing game design, I wanted to share an inside look at a day in the life of the board game designer.

But the thing is, every day is a bit different than the last. At least for me. While I do schedule my work and do my best to prioritize my tasks, I’m not always doing the same thing every day.

For me, that’s a great thing. I don’t want to have a job where every day I’m doing the same boring, monotonous task over and over. I love the variety as well as the challenges that come with being a full-time game designer.

So, this will read more like a week in the life of a game designer in some cases, but either way, it will give you a feeling for what it’s like to do this full-time.

Another day in paradise?

As I said, every day is different. There are some things that I do pretty much every single day, but most of my day is focused on whatever the main tasks are at hand.

Here’s what one day may look like for me:

5:45 AM (yes, I get up that early): Wake up, stretch/exercise/meditate, get ready for the day and have breakfast

7:30 AM: Writing or editing (blog, books, course materials, etc.)

8:30 AM: Take my son to school

9:00 AM: Check emails, follow-up with publishers and co-designers on current projects

9:30 AM: Social media

10:00 AM: Work on business and administrative tasks

11:30 AM: Take a break for lunch

12:00 PM: Work on games

3:00 PM: Pick my son up from school

3:30 PM: Finish any outstanding tasks for the day

4:30 PM: Family time/making dinner

EVENING: Family time/game design work/playtesting

Write every day

One thing that I try to do every single day (at least Monday to Friday) is to write.

This has helped me to build a consistent habit, and it definitely gets easier once you start doing this regularly. I use this time to create a backlog of blogs so that I can schedule one in advance every single week and never feel rushed.

Once I got that backlog of blogs put in place, I can focus this writing time on book ideas (or scripts for a course). I find that while blogs can be helpful, curating all the knowledge you have on one specific topic into one detailed resource is even more helpful to others. They don’t have to go looking for individual articles and piece everything together (like I did when I was starting out).

I can also use this time for editing, both for my blogs and books I’m working on. This gives my writing moving forward and I don’t have to try to squeeze this into an otherwise busy day.

Every day really is different

It was difficult for me to outline a typical day because no day really is typical. When you are a game designer, no two days are exactly alike.

Depending on what current projects I’m working on, I could be spending a whole day doing any one of the following:

  • Playtesting my games and games from other designers
  • Working on my own game ideas
  • Meeting up with and working on games with one of my co-designers
  • Interacting with my course members
  • Developing new course materials
  • Recording course content or an audiobook
  • Working on my website
  • Creating or revising sell sheets
  • Recording or editing overview videos
  • Writing or updating rule books
  • Assembling prototypes
  • Reaching out to publishers to pitch games or schedule meetings
  • Collaborating and talking with artists, graphic designers, and my editor
  • Reading books and articles, and listening to podcasts on game design and business (I tend to most often listen to podcasts while driving, working out, or putting together prototypes)
  • Working on other business and administrative tasks

What surprised me most

When I started doing game design full-time, I had a bit of a transition period.

I was hired to teach game design and development at Wilfrid Laurier University on a one-term contract to cover another instructor’s leave. It was a great experience and allowed me to ease into my new career while having some additional income and stability.

But once the term ended, I was able to completely focus on game design and growing my business. I developed my first course right after this.

Being a designer of tabletop games, I didn’t realize how much of my time would actually be spent in front of a computer. Not just creating files for prototypes and writing rules, but also all the time necessary to write, develop content, work my website, and other tasks related to running a business.

Not only that, I found that despite the fact that I was a full-time game designer, I probably spend less than half of my time actually working on games.

The surprised me quite a bit!

A lot of that is due to the fact that I’m not simply a freelance game designer. If that’s all I was doing, then I’m sure that almost all my work time would be put into working on my games.

However, I realize that it’s quite difficult to make a living strictly based on licensing your games to publishers. It takes a long time before they are actually released, and your earnings can be very sporadic.

I’ve always loved teaching and helping others, which is why it was so natural for me to write books and develop courses to help others trying to get into game design. I’ve learned a lot and have so much to share with others.

I don’t want new game designers to make the same mistakes that I did. These missteps cost me time, money, and energy. So, if I can help even a small number of new game designers, then I know I will have done my part.

Closing thoughts

There really is no typical day in the life of a game designer, at least not for me.

Granted, I’m doing a lot of other things beyond just designing my own games. Other game designers may also be self-publishing their own games, which brings a whole different set of challenges and priorities.

Almost all game designers have a regular day job and just do game design on the side. Very few do this for a living. To make it as a full-time game designer, in most cases you need to have other sources of income. It may be teaching game design, editing rule books, doing development work for publishers, doing paid game previews, or something of this nature.

Did anything in this article surprise you? Any questions?

Please leave a comment below.

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