Case study

Game designer — Jimmy Mullin

Jimmy worked as a quality assurance (QA) tester before moving into a game design role. Find out how his career has progressed as he's gained more experience in the industry

How did you get your job?

I graduated with a first-class degree in game design, but didn't immediately walk into a design position. I started as a quality assurance (QA) tester before I successfully applied for an internal junior design position. A few years later, I was promoted to designer.

What are your main work activities?

I spend some days communicating with lead programmers, discussing the best way to implement game features, and to ensure my designs are flexible enough to work with our systems.

Other days I'll be implementing character mechanics, balancing the vehicle handling, level designing or entering translation text.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The sense of trust. I've worked alongside some truly inspirational people who put their trust in me, especially my managers. If you can build a good reputation for yourself in this industry, you will be trusted to get on with the job, which is so rewarding.

What are the challenges?

Most of the challenges come from outside your control, whether that's external IP holders, upper management or just an idea that doesn't work with the system.

More often than not, no matter how experienced you are, you won't see the issues with your design until it's partly implemented and playable. Providing solutions to these issues is the real challenge, as you need to be aware that changes you make to one part of your design could impact another.

How relevant is your degree?

Without my degree I wouldn't have been given the chance to prove myself in industry, it's that simple.

I sometimes hear people say it's not about your degree, it's about what you can do. However, unless you're at the top of your game, that's simply not true, especially for designers or those trying to land their first position. The industry is extremely competitive, and the majority of applicants have a degree.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

The more time I spent as a designer, the more I was trusted, and the more responsibility I was given. I was responsible for the designs of some of the main mechanics in our games and sometimes I'd be working on three major releases at a time. This continued until I became the main designer on some of the biggest features in the company's most recent games.

However, my passion was always for educating others, and I became responsible for teaching some of the less experienced designers on certain features of our games. I feel this is when my career ambitions were solidified. Therefore, I've recently moved to become a games design lecturer at the University of Bolton, where I impart my knowledge and first-hand experiences.

What's your top tip for choosing a Masters?

Do your research carefully as a Masters course can take your skillset to the next level and help you find your specialism in industry. A lot of my contacts in the industry have an MA.

Any advice for others wanting to get into game design?

  • Apply yourself at university. I'd study for eight to 12 hours a day and have the weekends off. While it can be mentally taxing, it's not forever. Without doing this, I wouldn't be in the position I am now.
  • Work on your portfolio. Aim to have between three and five projects in your online portfolio, and only show your best work. In an interview, if you can present your work on a tablet, that's a huge plus.
  • Network, network, network. Contacts are extremely important and can be key to landing your first job. During my second year at university, I networked with students from other universities at events. These same students are now professionally employed in the industry, and as a result I have a huge network of contacts.
  • Don't be afraid of starting in QA testing. You'll learn the company's pipeline, how they operate and how the games are made. All this knowledge will improve the quality of your application when the job you're after comes around.

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