What It Takes to Be a Video Game Designer | Travis Day | Funsmith Fireside Chats #10

Funsmith Fireside Chats Episode #10

Guest: Travis Day

[This is the last interview with my colleague Travis Day before he passed away. This episode is dedicated to his memory]

As a two decade game design veteran, Travis Day has a unique perspective on game systems! Known as “The Items Guy” for the extensive catalog of items he created for World of Warcraft, Travis has some stories that will surprise you with how much drama an item drop system can cause!

Travis Day is a lifelong gamer who chose to turn his passion into a career. He has been making video games since 2005, when he started working at Blizzard. After a long term there, Travis began working as a game designer at Phoenix Labs, and eventually moved on to Tencent, where he is currently a senior systems designer.

In this episode Travis dives into what it takes to work in the video game industry. We’ll go over topics such as

  • What he looks for when interviewing potential hires
  • Advice on how to become a strong team player
  • And life lessons that can aid you throughout your game design/dev career
  • Etc.

Watch or Listen to The Full Episode


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Referenced Links & Resources

Connect with Travis Day:


Connect with Rob Pardo:


Connect with Alex:


Connect with Ari:

Instagram | TikTok

Mentioned Resources:


D&D’s campaign

D&D’s wizards

World of Warcraft


Free Game Design Learning Resource:

What is Video Game Mechanics (Beginner’s Guide)

How to Become a Video Game Designer

Functional Game Design Document Examples, Templates, and Instructions

Game Design Portfolio, with Examples (Guide)

Episode Chapters (with Timestamp)

0:00 – Introduction to the topic and guests

1:11 – Greetings and welcomes

1:27 – What is GloomHaven

22:30 – What Travis was looking for in his career

22:42 – What’s within Blizzard culture

24:31 – Why is self awareness need by a game designer

30:09 – How can unrefined ideas help in design brainstorming

31:20 – Important mechanics of game

35:20 – Open world format of games

53:18 – Why is badge system created

57:04 – Reward in Progression System

62:28 – Advice to aspiring game designers

63:07 – Way to make sure that game designer is working in same direction

78:00 – Traits needed to grow better

80:47 – Final advice from Travis

1:22:28 – End

More Guest Quotes From This Episode

1:27 – 1:52 – GloomHaven is a D&D’s campaign in a box. It’s very hefty and if you don’t house rule a couple of roles immediately, you will have a very bad first time experience.

It put off people because there are a lot of rules about not having an alpha player that are built into the game, making it less co-op friendly.

8:45 – 8:53 – When I decided I’m just going to leave like this, this is what I want to do. My brother and I have talked about it our whole lives, like we grew up gaming, had computers next to each other, and played games for years. So I was kind of just chasing my dreams.

13:00 – 13:13 – It was the most arbitrary thing I’ve ever seen as my first sort of insight into human psychology, of rewards and progression, and positive reinforcement. People like things just because they’re rare.

16:47 – 16:53 – It very much takes a bit of mad science, you need that spark of just doing something crazy to be an encounter designer.

18:55 – 19:23 – If you can put yourself in the brains of influencers, being a vocal part of the community for the alpha testing, beta testing the games, making videos, makes people know who we were.

22:30 – 22:38 – What I personally look for has evolved over the years. It is my sort of understanding of what it means to be a designer and co-worker, and a human being has evolved, so the things I look for before, are not the things I necessarily look for now.

22:42 – 22:53 – Within the Blizzard culture, it was a lot of wanting to see passion about Blizzard, wanting to see people want to be here and not just do a job. I want you to be here because you’re passionate and it drives you.

23:18 – 23:52 – A lot of design is at its core, it’s collaboration and iteration. When you’re sitting in a room with a lot of people, you have to understand that these people may represent different types of games and experiences.

24:31 – 24:40 – Whether or not the person seems like they can grow or challenge their own assumptions, a somewhat level of self-awareness is necessary especially to be a designer.

24:57 – 25:02 – It’s valuable to have all of those alternative perspectives or differing points of insight to make you go.

29:16 – 29:17 – It’s important to know that you can’t immediately get everywhere.

29:34 – 30:03 – You would have to analog the climbing system of the game, but in a way that feels thematically cool and different if possible. You need to be able to build in limitations, to restrict where the user can access.

30:09 – 30:16 – During design brainstorming, throwing out really bad ideas that are unrefined can spark other ideas or potential refinement from people.

31:20 – 31:25 – One of the most important mechanics of the game is exploration.

32:06 – 32:15 – You design to have clear intent all the time, or like to serve some niche function. Just make cool things and people believe that they are whatever you’re trying to make them.

34:55 – 35:03 – I love asymmetry, I love games where you can get the most different experience possible by playing it in all its different varieties, somy mind would want to be there.

35:20 – 35:31 – In an open world format, you’re not really directing the player from point a to point b to point c in a linear path. It’s kind of free form, letting the players decide how they want to experience that.

35:41 – 35:56 – You need to introduce weaknesses and trade-offs, making it a compelling experience, but still just not feeling like it’s an overpowered or watered-down version of what you think, or what direction you want to take.


53:18 – 54:36 – A badge system has been created where every time you kill stuff, you get currencies, have vendors, and have a deterministic reward structure and end up making badges of justice, badges of valor, etc. until there’s like 87 different badge types. Every piece of content has its own tier badge and put it on a vendor to get good stuff while also getting upgrades and loot.

55:31 – 55: 39 – What people don’t like is that the thrill of the experience is focused around the grinding rather than grinding just being something that you do while following your own goals.

57:04 – 57:20 – It’s such that reward and progression systems are so nuanced and the answers are so specifically dependent on what your game is, what is the emotional experience you want the users to view, what are the engagement patterns or replay patterns to look like and all other sorts.

61:24 – 61:42 – When you always felt like you were willing to do the work of walking out of your office designers on other teams, we’re receptive to hear you and it’s a core value to making things work because the people who aren’t sitting in the fray often bring perspectives. They’re professional designers, they’re thinking about these problems and they will just crack something you’ve been stuck on.

61:54 – 61:56 – Appreciate and deeply just take the heart and learn.

62:28 – 62:35 – For starters, we need to be able to talk about ideas without anyone’s feelings getting hurt, so try to set aside emotional connections to ideas.

63:07 – 63:46 – To get designers aligned and working in the same direction is to start from discussing what we want to accomplish, what’s the goal that you want the idea to improve, where’s the problem feedback is coming from, and then talk about how we could alleviate and improve that problem.

78:00 – 78:22 – A really admirable trait is curiosity and realizing you don’t know anything you think you know, and being humble and open to the possibility of being wrong or being taught something that seems strange to you, and going like it’s how people grow. That’s how you become better and make better life choices.

79:01 – 79:12 – It’s important to move communities too, you need to take the person you are now and meet new people and get a reset on where you’re at too because then it lets you know where you need to grow and what you’ve done.

80:47 – 80:53 – You should experience new things and new people, and expand your horizons because if you stay in one place, you stagnate sometimes.

What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.