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How to Make a Game Design Portfolio That Gets You Hired (Part 4)

Picture of Alexander Brazie

Alexander Brazie

Alexander is a game designer with 25+ years of experience in both AAA and indie studios, having worked on titles like World of Warcraft, League of Legends, and Ori and The Will of The Wisps. His insights and lessons from roles at Riot and Blizzard are shared through his post-mortems and game design course. You can follow him on Twitter @Xelnath or LinkedIn.

If you ask a recruiter what the critical factor is when it comes to choosing between two equally qualified candidates, they’ll tell you it’s their portfolios.

A portfolio is an opportunity to showcase not only your work experience and technical abilities, but most importantly your design judgement and decision making skills. The same skills game studios are looking for when hiring a game designer!

Ultimately your game design portfolio’s effectiveness is measured by how many job interviews you get invited to.

Also portfolio is only one of the talent filters you have to pass to get hired, so I recommend you optimize for the other parts of the studio’s hiring process as well:

  1. How to Apply and Increase Your Odds (Part 1)
  2. Game Design Cover Letter (Part 2)
  3. Game Design Resume (Part 3)
  4. Game Design Portfolio (Part 4) – this post
  5. Game Design Tests (Part 5)
  6. Game Design Job Interview Guide (Part 6)
  7. Game Design Job Interview Questions (Part 7)

By the way, as you read this post, feel free to join #career-guidance channel in Funsmith Club Discord where you can seek advice from game devs of all levels including me on

  • Breaking into the industry
  • Your resume/CV, Portfolio, design skill test, interviews, negotiations
  • Navigating your current career path

You can also get notified each week on the latest game design job listings and actionable tips here 👇

What’s Essential in an Effective Game Design Portfolio?

It doesn’t matter if you’re a game designer, a programmer, or an artist who makes 3D models. Your portfolio needs the same core pieces:

gd portfolio

  • About Me
  • Contact Information
  • Link to your CV, resume, or LinkedIn
  • Examples of your work: gameplay clips, design documents, models – whatever shows off your skillset best
  • Your thought process behind your design decisions
  • Your roles on design teams and most important contributions
  • Details showcasing your personality

There are almost as many portfolio formats as there are people behind them. But if you want to make a quick and easy online portfolio with a pre-existing template, try one of these sites:

  1. WordPress (lots of customization and premade portfolio themes)
  2. Squarespace (fast and easy)
  3. Artstation (built to show off art)

Creativity is a bonus, but don’t make your portfolio site difficult to navigate. A hiring manager should still be able to review your work at a glance.

Ultimately, don’t forget that portfolio is a medium to demonstrate your skills and experience, so make sure you prioritize those as you’re building your portfolio.

There are some amazing examples out there of stylish portfolios – but there’s more to a game designer’s portfolio than graphic design! Let’s look at what content you should include, and how to present it.

How Does a Game Designer’s Portfolio Differ From the Rest?

To get into the game industry, you need to prove that you can create gameplay players will enjoy. But no matter how amazing your prototypes are, most people won’t have time to play them.

Instead, a front page full of striking images, video clips, and design elements will grab their attention. Find compact ways to highlight your work, even if your skillset or work history doesn’t lend itself to stunning visuals or polished gameplay demos:

  • Level designers use 3D models or screenshots of levels that show their understanding of space, lighting, flow, and level scripting, as well as bottom-up or top-down design. Here is a level design portfolio guide by Nathan Kellman, who has reviewed north of 1,000 portfolios.
  • Technical designers include screenshots or video clips of a feature in action to demonstrate their scripting indirectly, along with a description of how they built it.
  • Narrative designers can list barks (shouted lines) and descriptions of environmental context for artists and designers, along with slightly longer narrative samples. Here is a narrative design portfolio guide by Blizzard narrative designer Nathan Scott.
  • Character designers feature concept art and final designs that highlight the most important and unique qualities of a character’s visual design.
  • Mechanics designers showcase tools and processes, paired with analyses of existing games and systems.

image3 min

As you can see, the portfolios for these different designers look NOTHING alike. You’ve got to know yourself and which part of a gaming company you’re aiming for. A portfolio should highlight your best work in the field you most want to work in.

What Do Video Game Studios Look For in a Game Design Portfolio?

When a game studio is trying to hire a game designer, they’re looking for the best possible blend of a number of different skills:

  1. Experience
  2. Communication Skills
  3. Critical Thinking
  4. Decision Making
  5. Player Empathy

A lot of these are subjective and difficult to measure in a short interview. But a designer’s work quickly teaches you how that designer thinks and prioritizes.

So how can you best communicate these attributes to a game studio?

Here are 7 portfolio tips to increase your odds of getting accepted:

1. Make your focus obvious: Are you a single-player designer or a multiplayer designer? Do you mostly do indie work or do you have experience at a AAA game studio? The answers should be obvious at a glance.

2. Only include your best work: Make sure each project you include adds something unique to your profile. Is it your only board game? A role with more responsibilities? If you don’t have an answer, don’t include it.

(By the way, if you need help, you can learn how to make a board game here)

That doesn’t mean every work has to be ready for release. Prototypes, mods, and game design documents can all make great portfolio elements if they demonstrate those attributes the game studio is looking for.

gd portfolio 2

3. Highlight the most valuable parts of each project: For example, if you’re proud of your multiplayer gameplay, include a quick YouTube montage of a couple of players gaming while you speak over it discussing your work.

(On the subject of video clips, here’s a bonus tip: always include subtitles for hiring managers in busy offices!)

4. Describe your process (aka think out loud): Make sure that you show and talk about the specifics of what you did.

Keep in mind, unlike game art or game programming where you can just show the visuals or code you created, game design is your ability to make intentional design decision and analysis.

When I hire game designers, here are a few things that give me and understanding of the candidates design skills:

  • What challenges and roadblocks run into? How did you overcome them?
  • Why you made particular design decisions?
  • What went well? What didn’t go well? What lessons did you learn?

This kind of analysis can turn a quick, rough project like a game jam into a valuable demonstration of your design sensibility, even if the final product isn’t impressive.

5. Keep iterating your portfolio: As you improve your design skills, you want to make sure it’s communicated in your portfolio, so when recruiters come across your portfolio, it doesn’t showcase a less skilled version of yourself.

So develop an intentional practice to update your portfolio as you improve by replace and updating older work

The last thing you want is for a studio to see one bad example and reject you before taking a look at your best stuff.

6. Keep it easy to digest: Recruiters and hiring managers has to go through thousands of portfolios, which means they have very limited attention. So if it takes too much attention drain to digest your portfolio, they’ll just move on to the next portfolio.

So the key is to make your information as simple and concise as possible without losing important nuances.

I highly recommend using videos as part of the portfolio. Videos are HUGE here for adding context.

7. Showcase your pivots: It’s okay if you had big plans but ended up cutting back for a smaller finished project. In fact, this actually works in your favor!

Game development studios do this constantly, so showing that you can make tough adjustments is good.

Keep in mind that it’s also okay to bring up disagreements or directions that didn’t pan out, if this gives insight into your design approach and ability to iterate. Just make sure you don’t throw anyone under the bus.

Game development is collaborative and you won’t get anywhere if you come off as someone hard to work with.

How to Get Experience for Your Own Game Design Portfolio

When a recruiter is skimming applications, a well-presented portfolio with only the best examples of your skills makes them a lot more likely to pass YOUR resume on to a hiring manager.

But what if you’re just getting started and don’t have any examples of your work at a professional level of execution?

Step 1: Find opportunities in game development projects

And here are a few ways you can do that:

1. Game Jams: Game jams are 2-3 day events where you quickly prototype and assemble games with a small team. These are fantastic options for beginners who know enough basics to contribute.

Ori and the Blind Forest started that way when the other founders and I got together at a game jam to create a simple platformer adventure game. But you can also show up without a team and mix your skills with others on the fly.

You can find out more about game jams and how to find them here.

ori rough prototype
This humble bouncing square was the start of Ori and the Blind Forest.

2. Start Your Own Project: The next option is to come up with and develop a project on your own. This journey will teach you which skills you need to develop and which areas of game design intrigue you.

If you’ve never worked on a game before, start small! A short, complete experience is much more valuable for your portfolio than overambitious work that takes many years to make.

It’s not easy, but chasing a dream is incredibly powerful fuel for pushing yourself through the difficulties ahead of you.

3. Become Part of a Project Team: Finally, you could find an existing team of volunteers and offer to help them with a small part of a project. Many people are developing mods, games and even entire platforms for free.

This is how I first started my game design journey: approaching the Graal Online community, asking what they needed, and learning how to make levels, items, and eventually monsters.

Step 2: Document your process as you work

What really differentiates so-so portfolios from stand-out portfolios is how you showcase your work.

In particular, try to demonstrate that you understand the entire process of performing your craft. Record your process in a condensed but accessible format, highlighting your insights, lessons, and decisions along the way.

This proves that you did the design work – and didn’t just sit by while someone else solved the problems.

Here’s the kind of thing I’d expect a game designer to have ready when discussing a project (depending on their contributions):

  • Screenshots of their work
  • Bullet points of major decisions and changes along the way
  • Time-lapse videos for visual design work
  • Simple illustrations to help communicate mechanics, narrative structure, etc.

gd portfolio summaries

Step 3: Ask others for their insights and references

Turning inspiration into execution is at the heart of a designer’s role. Ask for input throughout the design process, and learn how to work with all members of the team.

If you’re working on a solo project, learn how to get useful feedback from playtesters, and how to put it into action.

This will help you grow as a game designer, but it’s also evidence of your social skills and collaboration ability. Ask collaborators to write a few lines about how they enjoyed working with you, and sprinkle just a couple examples into your portfolio.

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Step 4: Study popular titles in your specialization

Analyze content from other games and practice thinking consciously about how they are made. The best games in the industry are the standard you should strive to learn from.

Keep your career goals in mind as you pick a narrow focus and go deep into the details. A level designer should focus on map layouts, NPC placement, and lighting, while combat designers are much more interested in animation, timing and communication.

Step 5: Critique and improve

A lot of the design process involves iteration. The designers identify what is wrong, adjust, and repeat until they’ve achieved their goals. Examine your game frequently to identify flaws and how to improve on them.

Once you have some experience with this, you can add it to your portfolio by breaking down existing games. Try making blog posts or videos that discuss a game’s flaws, trade-offs in design, and possible alternatives.

Just remember that your audience is fellow game designers, maybe even the ones who made that game! Real, in-depth critique is welcome – but don’t drop insults or claim you could easily do better.

Which online tools to use when making a game design portfolio

There are many different ways to turn your game work into portfolio elements. Adobe Creative Cloud gives you most of the tools you need to make interesting images, but there are plenty of free or affordable alternatives as well:

  • Level designers can make rough blockouts in Unity, Unreal, or even Blender.
  • Systems designers can use tools like Machinations to showcase resource flows and progression.
  • Mechanics designers could use any flowchart software, while quest designers often use Google Docs and Visio to plan both text and mission flow.
  • Narrative designers can use interactive text game software like Twine to generate visual ‘maps’ of text paths.
    image11 min 1024x907 1

There are many, many, many more tools for visualizing your ideas above and beyond these. Find the ones that are best for your medium.

What NOT to do (mistakes to avoid):

Mistake #1: Don’t put every student project in your portfolio

Recent grads often jam every possible example into their portfolios. This creates a cluttered and distracting look that makes it hard to tell where the applicant excels.

Mistake #2: Don’t include too many rough sketches.

Some unpolished work is fine, as long as it demonstrates skills and experience the rest of your work doesn’t cover. But balance this out with more complete material as well.

Mistake #3: Don’t hide your mistakes.

Talking about your failures builds trust and lets you demonstrate what lessons you’ve learned and how you’ve grown.

Mistake #4: Don’t present yourself as the greatest designer of all time.

You aren’t, and you won’t win points for pretending.

Mistake #5: Don’t imply that your ideas are the only ones that made a project successful.

Game studios rely deeply on collaboration. Show that you recognize and appreciate other people’s contributions.

What are some great examples of effective Game Design portfolios?

Example 1: Joe Sopko – Game Developer

gd portfolio example 2

This is one of my favorites. While not visually impressive, it has all of the essential parts of a game design portfolio and a great variety of work:

  • Several games in different genres
  • Design-related research projects
  • Links to both articles and youtube videos that depict his analytical capabilities.

Example 2: Nathalie Jankie – Level Designer

gd portfolio example 3

Nathalie Jankie lists her most important work first, and includes videos that demonstrate her level designs. In the description, she lists not just her roles, but her specific contributions.

Overall, she includes a wealth of information in an attractive, concise format.

Example 3: Joeb Rogers – Gameplay and Tools Engineer

gd portfolio example 4

Joeb Rogers’ portfolio focuses on exactly what he wants to become – a gameplay and tools engineer, with a splash of game design. Tools design is highly in-demand, and he knows that centering it will help attract interested developers.

Example 4: Yuri Mainka – Narrative and Level Designer

gd portfolio example 5

Yuri Mainka divides his narrative and level design work into separate pages, and includes a good mix of examples, analysis, and synopsis.

Click on an example to get a direct link to the entire work, specific writing samples, and most importantly, the goals and contributions Yuri provided to the project.

Bonus Examples: Good Layout and Visual Style

I especially enjoyed the look of these clean, professional game design portfolios:

Conclusion

Game design portfolios can make or break your ability to get jobs early on in your career. With just a few weekends of effort, you can dramatically improve how you represent yourself.

However, nothing can cover up a lack of experience. If you are new to the game design world, here are a few things you can do to start gaining hands on experience:

  • Take the build a game challenge (in 6-days)
  • Join game jams
  • Participate in a volunteer project or collaborate with friends
  • Start your own independent project.

Don’t give up! There’s a lot of competition for entry roles but few people put in the time and energy to develop their skills AND present them well. You can gain an edge if you do both and get started right now.

Have any other questions about game design portfolios?

Let me know in the comments or request other topics you’d like me to cover next.

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5 Responses

  1. Huge Xbox head here, who also doubles as a game programmer …seems like design portfolios are much more complicatd than game scripting portfolios.

  2. I’m currently do web design and IOS app design looking to venture into game design. These are some great tips, I especially appreciate the portfolio website examples you shared.

  3. It’s so good that experienced people share and give advices to motivated noobs 😛 Thank you, Alex! Please keep up the good mission ^_^

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All tactics. No fluff . Pro advice only. Unsubscribe any time

EXPERIENCE & BACKGROUND:

[STUDIO] Blizzard Entertainment: Content, mechanics, and systems designer

(Creator of Apex Legends & former Creative Director at Respawn)

[GAME] World of Warcraft: MMORPG with 8.5 million average monthly players, won Gamer’s Choice Award – Fan Favorite MMORPG, VGX Award for Best PC Game, Best RPG, and Most Addictive Video Game.

  • Classic:
    • Designed Cosmos UI
    • Designed part of Raid Team for Naxxramas
  • Burning Crusade:
    • Designed the raid bosses Karazhan, Black Temple, Zul’Aman
    • Designed the Outlands content
    • Designed The Underbog including bosses:
      • Hungarfen, Ghaz’an, Swamplord Musel’ik, and The Black Stalker
    • Designed the Hellfire Ramparts final bosses Nazan & Vazruden
    • Designed the Return to Karazhan bosses: Attumen the Huntsman, Big Bad Wolf, Shades of Aran, Netherspite, Nightbane
  • Wrath of the Lich King:
    • Designed quest content, events and PvP areas of Wintergrasp
    • Designed Vehicle system
    • Designed the Death Knight talent trees
    • Designed the Lord Marrowgar raid
  • Cataclysm:
    • Designed quest content
    • Designed Deathwing Overworld encounters
    • Designed Morchok and Rhyolith raid fights
  • Mists of Pandaria: 
    • Overhauled the entire Warlock class – Best player rated version through all expansion packs
    • Designed pet battle combat engine and scripted client scene

[GAME] StarCraft 2: Playtested and provided design feedback during prototyping and development

[GAME] Diablo 3: Playtested and provided design feedback during prototyping and development

[GAME] Overwatch: Playtested and provided design feedback during prototyping and development

[GAME] Hearthstone: Playtested and provided design feedback during prototyping and development

[STUDIO] Riot Games: Systems designer, in-studio game design instructor

(Former Global Communications Lead for League of Legends)
(Former Technical Game Designer at Riot Games)

[GAME] League of Legends: Team-based strategy MOBA with 152 million average active monthly players, won The Game Award for Best Esports Game and BAFTA Best Persistent Game Award.

  • Redesigned Xerath Champion by interfacing with community
  • Reworked the support income system for season 4
  • Redesigned the Ward system
  • Assisted in development of new trinket system
  • Heavily expanded internal tools and features for design team
  • Improved UI indicators to improve clarity of allied behaviour

[OTHER GAMES] Under NDA: Developed multiple unreleased projects in R&D

Game Design Instructor: Coached and mentored associate designers on gameplay and mechanics

[STUDIO] Moon Studios: Senior game designer

(Former Lead Game Designer at Moon Studios)

[GAME] Ori & The Will of The Wisps: 2m total players (423k people finished it) with average 92.8/100 ratings by 23 top game rating sites (including Steam and Nintendo Switch).

  • Designed the weapon and Shard systems
  • Worked on combat balance
  • Designed most of the User Interface

[GAME] Unreleased RPG project

  • Designed core combat
  • High-level design content planning
  • Game systems design
  • Game design documentation
  • Gameplay systems engineering
  • Tools design
  • Photon Quantum implementation of gameplay

[VC FUNDED STARTUP] SnackPass: Social food ordering platform with 500k active users $400m+ valuation

[PROJECT] Tochi: Creative director (hybrid of game design, production and leading the product team)

  • Lead artists, engineers, and animators on the release the gamification system to incentivize long-term customers with social bonds and a shared experience through the app

[CONSULTING] Atomech: Founder / Game Design Consultant

[STUDIOS] Studio Pixanoh + 13 other indie game studios (under NDA):

  • Helped build, train and establish the design teams
  • Established unique combat niche and overall design philosophy
  • Tracked quality, consistency and feedback methods
  • Established company meeting structure and culture

Game Design Keynotes:

(Former Global Head of HR for Wargaming and Riot Games)
  • Tencent Studio
  • Wargaming
  • USC (University of Southern California)
  • RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology)
  • US AFCEA (Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association)
  • UFIEA (University of Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy)
  • West Gaming Foundation
  • Kyoto Computer Gakuin – Kyoto, Japan