Game Design vs Game Development: What’s the Difference?

Game Design vs Game Development: What’s the Difference?
Nov 27, 2021
7 mins read

As the creator of the Civilization strategy game Sid Meier, said, “A game is a series of interesting choices”. Apparently, people want to get a chance to make choices. And virtual reality opens up countless opportunities in this regard. Perhaps, that’s why the gaming industry is relentlessly growing.  According to Statista, there are approximately 3.24 billion gamers across the globe. 

Video game market

However, gaming is one of the most enigmatic areas, causing numerous misunderstandings. For instance, confusion of game design vs game development. Is there any difference? And if so, is it significant? Let’s reveal the truth!

Since we at Whimsy Games are entirely involved in game design and development, our explanations stem from years of expertise in the industry. We create and produce all sorts of games, such as 2D, 3D, animations, and mobile games. So our team knows the difference between game design and game development firsthand. 

Now, time to dive deeper into details!

What is Game Designing?

Game designing is an analytical and creative phase of games production. It involves planning, building the concept, creating characters, settings, levels, and all other internal details. 

In some way, game designing resembles scriptwriting in the film industry. Screenwriters create the idea of the movie and inhabit its reality with the characters. They are fully into the filmmaking process in the early stages. Similarly, designers build a game reality as a basement for future development. In addition, they cooperate with technical specialists during the whole development period.

Here are the key game production elements implemented by designers:

  • Analysis of the target audience
  • Working on the idea, concept, and script
  • Defining game’s genre and virtual world
  • Inventing characters
  • Setting the goals of the game
  • Establishment of levels, restrictions, and rules
  • Working on the gameplay details

What is Game Development?

Game development is all about the technical part of game production. Game developers make all the designers’ ideas come true. They use specialized software for coding, provide computer graphics, special effects, functionality, etc. Developers build the game and make it playable. 

If a game designer were an architect, the game programmers would be engineers and builders who come up with solutions on how to implement the architect’s idea.

Here are some of the game developers’ multiple responsibilities:

  • Writing an efficient code. 
  • Creating or using an appropriate open source game engine (Unity, CryEngine, etc.)
  • Tracking and eliminating bugs.
  • Animating all elements of the game relying on the physical laws.
  • Designing and implementing all displayed features (interface, menus, etc.)
  • Ensuring everything works properly. 

The gaming industry is constantly changing. So, if you want to become a game developer, flexibility will be the priority skill. According to Indeed, some fields of game development are experiencing decline, while others are growing rapidly (for instance, old-fashioned mobile games development was displaced by smartphones, VR and AR technologies, etc.)

Key Differences Between Game Design and Game Development

Raising the question of game designer vs game developer, we are still talking about a single niche and a final goal they share. However, they differ in many ways.

Different Qualifications

Game designers and developers have different qualifications. Designers are the creative engine of game production. Understanding the target audience’s needs, they have tons of ideas on making the game successful and interesting for the users. Meanwhile, developers are technical gurus who have high-level hard skills and provide all final levels of production

Different Goals

The design aims to find a perfect concept, create an amazing world, and make the gameplay outstanding and meaningful. Development translates design ideas and makes them real. It aims to reach flawless technical performance which completely matches the original idea. 

Game Development vs Game Design

So, what is the difference between game design and game development? This comparison table will help you summarize the distinction. 

Job Differences

People often confuse game designer and game developer professions. But if you’re interested in game production or want to be involved in game design or game development, it’s essential to recognize the difference. 

Salary

Gaming industry specialists’ salaries differ. Of course, the wages of each individual employee depend on many factors. But, the numbers vary within different limits according to the specialization.

The factors that influence salaries of game designers and game developers:

  • Experience
  • Job title (lead, senior, junior)
  • Education
  • Company size and location
  • Specialization area

Here are the average annual and hourly incomes of both specialists. An approximate junior game designer’s annual income varies between $50,000 and $100,000. An hourly rate range is $24 – $48. Game developers’ pay range is $70 – $120 per year. An hourly rate ranges between $30 – $50.  

It’s worth mentioning that the salaries of game designers and developers significantly affect the cost of game production.

Skills

Game designer essential skills: 

  • Working with specialized software tools 
  • Creating game character designs. 
  • Advanced understanding of the game industry and the target audience.
  • Proficiency in storytelling and visualization.
  • A clear understanding of all game creation processes.
  • Vivid imagination and creative approach.

Game developer essential skills:

  • Maths and computer skills. 
  • Operating various programming languages (C++, Pearl, Assembly, etc.)
  • Knowledge in web design and development, computer graphics and 3D models, game algorithms, and network fundamentals. 
  • Ability to perform quality control and basics of testing. 
  • Advanced use of software tools (Unreal Game Engine, Cinema 4G, Blender, etc.) 
  • Problem-solving, determination.

As Indeed study shows, to be involved in the gaming industry, one will need to have a bunch of hard skills and soft skills. 

Study Plan

What about the game designer vs game programmer study plans? In most cases, it’s too difficult to learn both, so make your choice and follow our tips.

A step-by-step guide to becoming a game designer:

  1. Get a bachelor’s degree in graphic design or any related field. 
  2. Take a course or study on your own to earn more skills in the gaming field. Master the necessary design software tools (Photoshop, Blender, Unity, Autodesk Maya, etc.) 
  3. Create your own character designs and plots to enrich your portfolio.
  4. Build your resume and apply for the position of junior designer.

A step-by-step guide to becoming a game developer: 

  1. Get a bachelor’s degree in computer science or game programming. 
  2. Learn how to use the essential software (Unity, Unreal Engine 4, Autodesk, Stencyl, etc.) and programming languages (C++, Java, Assembly, Pearl, JavsScript, HTML5, etc.) Attend a specialized course or keep learning on your own.
  3. Build your portfolio. Deliver the source code to each developed game. 
  4. Find an entry-level position in a game development company. Consider internship.

Career Path

Now, let’s reveal the video game designer vs developer career paths. Game designer and game dev go side-by-side but in different ways. 

With their skill set, game designers can build a career as animators, character artists, or character designers. Game programmers have options to develop their careers in web or application development, software engineering, quality assurance, etc. 

Job Requirements

Now, having learned all the details regarding the difference between a game developer and a game designer, let’s deal with the requirements.

Designers and developers work in tandem. They must complement each other, and their work is closely linked. Their collaboration resembles the filmmaking process performed by a director and a producer. The former works with the script, actors, camerapeople, and editors to create the film. The latter organize the workflow and launch the actual production

Collaboration in the game industry is quite similar. Just like film directors, game designers are required to come up with the creative part of the production. The technical side, covered by producers in the film industry, falls on f developers in games production.

Subdisciplines in the game programming

These are some aspects of game development that programmers with different specializations can take up:

  • AI programming
  • Physics programming 
  • Game engine programming
  • Animation programming
  • Graphics programming

Subdisciplines in game design

Game designing is a complex process that involves various specialists to perform:

  • Game character design
  • Digital art
  • World design
  • System design
  • Content design
  • Level design

Design and Development: Two Halves of a Whole

Game design and game development are often confused because both concepts belong to the same industry. A designer and a developer are genuine game enthusiasts. But in everything else, they are completely different. Being responsible for separate stages of game production, the specialists have individual goals, qualifications, requirements, salaries, education, skills, and career paths. 

It’s essential to see the difference between game design and development. Especially if you’re going to get involved in the gaming industry or hire a team of professionals to create a game. Thus, you will understand how the internal processes occur and clearly know who is who.

We at Whimsy Games are deeply involved in game designing and development. Our team contains a full squad of advanced specialists. Many clients are confused about the industry, having misunderstandings about various internal processes. But we’ve got transparency and open communication among our values. So feel free to ask us any questions concerning the project progress, services, portfolio, or else. 

Turn my idea into a game!

FAQ

Is it possible to be both a game developer and a game designer?

Yes, but it completely depends on the size of the game production studio. A large company is more likely to have a full set of specialists, each of whom is performing a certain task. But small firms don’t have the resources to hire so many employees.

What's the distinction between level design and game design?

Game design is not level design, but the level design is most definitely game design.” Sounds tricky, right? Level design is a subdiscipline of game design. Level designers create characters, objects, events, and gameplay details. 

Should I hire the same firm for game design and development?

Yes, definitely. The specialists work together, striving for harmony and consistency. They create an environment with a certain style and atmosphere. Separating design and development, you risk upsetting the balance. 

Denys Kliuch
Denys Kliuch
CEO

I'm a CEO and a Co-Founder of Whimsy Games. Before that, I advanced my expertise in engineering, management, traffic marketing, and analytics working for large game development studios with a $1M+ monthly income. With a clear vision of how game development should work, I run Whimsy Games, being responsible for the marketing and sales of our products and services.