Game designer is arguably one of the most attractive jobs available in the field of game development. When people think of a video game designer developing games, they often imagine an idea man, the one who imagines and describes the virtual worlds that we explore. Many believe that this is all the game designer does: sit around and think of ideas.
But what is a game designer, really? What are their duties, their tasks, and their responsibilities? What skills do they bring to the table, and what do the contributions to their team? First, being a game designer is about implementing an idea through to the end. Anyone can think of an idea, much less a vague idea of what a video game should be. "It should be like Super Mario, except that you play as a vampire." "It's a first person shooter where you and your friends are trying to break in to a bank." "It's a golf game where you can play in sci-fi environments, like the moon or on a rocket ship."
The truth is that being a designer requires getting into much, MUCH more detail than the simple phrases described above. After the conception of the game is solidified, then that's when the real design work begins. Video game designer developing games for the professional industry may come up with the original idea, but they are also involved in implementation up until the game ships. They decide how many points you lose when you are hit by an enemy, what movement the AI should take, and what actions the player should have at any given moment. All of these decisions are made by the game designer.
More specifically, the designer is in charge of crafting the player's experience. To take from an example above, if the game is supposed to make the player feel like a vampire, then the game designer's job is to find what systems, what look, what sound and feel will actually help the player transform into a vampire in their mind. This involves designing game play, driving the concept art and level development, and making sure that everything that goes into the game is moving towards that desired player experience.
The second most important job of a designer is communication. This is less rigidly defined than other disciplines, such as a concept artist or engineer, and it may sound cliche, but it is absolutely vital. Being able to communicate a design idea to the rest of the team and speak to them about why it is beneficial is absolutely key. A good video game designer developing games with other disciplines such as engineers will be able to address them and say, "This is how I was thinking we should implement this part of the game. It will be beneficial because …" and then go on to explain how it will contribute to the player's experience.
A poor designer is one who just comes up with ideas yet is not eloquent in communicating them. "Do it like this. Because I said so." This is a failure in leadership. A good designer is one who can not only lead the team, but empower and excite them about the vision they are working towards together. Crafting the player's experience through implementation, and communicating those ideas to the team. These are the marks of a real video game designer developing games like a pro.