Assuming you’ve applied for the game design position you want. you’ll need to pass the game design test before you get offered interviews.
We’ll dive into the process and tips for what to do when a studio sends you a game design test.
If you haven’t read the previous parts of this series, I encourage you to start at the beginning.
- How to Apply and Increase Your Odds (Part 1)
- Game Design Cover Letter (Part 2)
- Game Design Resume (Part 3)
- Game Design Portfolio (Part 4)
- Game Design Tests (Part 5) – this post
- Game Design Job Interview Guide (Part 6)
- Game Design Job Interview Questions (Part 7)
This is a big topic and will change a lot depending on the company, position, and the people involved. The challenges of game design tests can feel overwhelming, but some basic understanding will go a long way.
My experience with game design tests comes mainly from systems design, but you can apply the same principles while tackling design tests in any game development position you’re interviewing for.
I will also provide 28 realistic practice design skill tests later, so you know what to expect and be better prepared.
- 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 👇
So, let’s dive into it.
What is a Game Design Skill Test?
The point of the game design test is for you to showcase your skills, your understanding of design tools, and your thought process.
You typically receive these if the hiring side has reviewed your portfolio and see you as a potential candidate.
The design test might be a written “paper test,” or it might include technical skills depending on the role (scripters or level designers might build something in an editor, for instance).
What’s important is showing what you can do, and applying your skills to a realistic situation. Aim to build something cool, but allow for some buffer time in case it takes longer than you expect. Managing time is important for any designer.
Most game designers assume the studio will expect you to turn in a full game design document. However, when answering a design test, you want to focus on the essential elements that make the design stand on its own. You won’t be there to explain your thought process while they review it.
What Can You Expect in a Game Design Test?
Game studios tend to send you a design test early on into your interview process, most of the time before you even have a chance to talk with anyone from the development team.
And this is by design, because the interview process will take up a lot of the game development talent resources, so they need stronger evidence that you can demonstrate design expertise first.
Typically the studio will give you one to two weeks for a design test, and often even ask when you want to begin.
If something comes up and you need to take a bit longer, make sure you communicate and let them know (this action demonstrates your communication skills).
Even though you have more time than an in-person skills test, be realistic about what you can do. You aren’t expected to have a full understanding of their game’s limits or to build something that takes weeks of polish and iteration.
Simply put, here are the 3 important elements a studio expects you to demonstrate in a game design test:
- Design analysis skill – You ability to source feedback and identify the design problem.
- Design problem solving skill – How do you make your design decisions and your thought process behind them.
- Design process – How do you execute, including
- How you communicate with other game devs.
- Your understanding of design tools (both mental and technical)
How I Approach The Game Design Tests Process
First, I’ll start by saying that I’ve been told I go a little overboard on design tests. Studios know you have other things to do, and won’t expect you to work on their game development task for 40 hours.
But my thought process (especially when trying to break into the industry) is that design tests are an amazing tool for honing your skills. Even if you don’t pass the studio’s test, there’s a wonderful silver lining:
- You level up your skills
- The tests become easier with experience
- You become better at doing more in less time
I’ll go through my process assuming I have about a week to finish the test in my spare time. Remember to adapt according to the time you have available, and what works for you.
Day 0: Have clarity before you jump in
Don’t jump in and start developing the first thing that comes to mind. Take the time to understand what is expected, and clearly define your goals.
Write these goals down as clearly as possible. If you need to make some key assumptions, write these down as well. This will help guide you in your design, and also help the people who review your design understand where you’re coming from.
It is also okay to ask clarifying questions to make sure you understand their expectations. These are all fine questions to ask, for example:
- How long is this expected to keep players engaged?
- What is the overall tone for this quest?
- How many players should this level support?
Day 1: Brainstorm different ways you can approach the test
Once you have your goals and expectations, start by coming up with a few different directions you can go in. Don’t focus too much on limits yet, just brainstorm ideas that fit your goals and see which one you gravitate towards.
Days 2 and 3: Build a foundation
Once you have a direction in mind, it’s time to get to work. Start building out the foundation and most important parts first. You don’t want to get caught up in unimportant details then run out of time to show your key feature.
This also means that if your key elements don’t work, you have time to tweak them or pivot to one of your other ideas.
Day 4: Don’t overwhelm yourself, keep it rough at first
After the core elements are done, I like to set the test aside for a day. Use this time to recharge, plan any nice-to-have supporting features, or to start writing any documentation that is needed.
You don’t want a lot of detailed documentation, just the basics so that anyone can pick it up and see what you made without any trouble. This could be as simple as a list of the core concepts, alongside any player controls needed to use your work.
Some studios might also ask you to explain your design process or why you made certain decisions. If that is the case, make sure you don’t forget to include it, but otherwise I wouldn’t try to focus on it here.
Day 5: Polish your design
I dedicate the next day to polish and nice-to-have features. If these end up being a lot of work then I can quickly cut them without harming the core of my design test.
Focus on finishing touches. Yes, this frog seems perfect already, but why not give it a tiny hat?
Make sure you don’t break anything here and be disciplined about only adding things that are really worth it. You don’t want to overcomplicate things.
If you are working in an engine, I HIGHLY recommend making a build at this point just to make sure everything is working as expected.
For this who are unfamiliar: In game development, a build in this case is a compiled and ready to go version of the game, rather than trying to transfer raw assets or code.
Day 6: Explain yourself (a.k.a think out loud)
Next I finish writing the design doc. This is where you will list your goals, plus any explanations needed for your design.
If there are parts that you expect would need extra iteration, or even if you think your design falls short of your goals, it’s okay to call these issues out. It’s better to show you understand the goals and recognize problems than to hope the reviewer doesn’t notice.
You’ll often be given a clear maximum length, but even if you aren’t, it’s best to keep it short. Clear and concise communication is a valuable skill to have in the games industry.
I try to have this finished and ready to go by the end of the day. The last thing I’ll do is make sure everything is ready to turn in, but I don’t actually turn it in yet.
Day 7: Last check & visualize/play your design
This is your chance to go cross your T’s and dot your I’s and add any finishing touches. We have all noticed something we missed right before a deadline, so set day 7 aside to take this into account.
You shouldn’t be doing much work here, just last-minute things. Read through your design doc carefully, make writing tweaks, and do last-minute tests of your build if you have one.
Really, Day 7 gives you time to relax, play with what you created, and enjoy it before sending it off.
28 Example of Game Design Skill Tests
Here are a set of example design tests modeled after real design tests organized and prioritized based these 2 categories:
- Role seniority level: To demonstrate how the design tests’ difficulty and context will vary depending on your experience level.
- Specialization – To expose you to a wide variety of design tests you might encounter based on your specialization.
Note: To keep these realistic, I won’t be including any level design tests, since studios will require you to build prototypes using Unreal (or other 3D tools) to demonstrate your awareness of space and gameplay.
If you’re really interested in practicing level design, try out these 2 exercises.
All the design tests below can be done on a Gdoc, so you can practice and get feedback by sharing them in
- The Funsmith Discord
- The comment section in this post
Keep all your responses to about one page of text. Feel free to use any visuals, videos or illustrations that would simplify your answers and keep your responses brief.
Design Tests by Seniority Level:
Junior-Level Position Design Skill Tests
[Test #1] Character Design:
Context: In the upcoming Pokémon platformer, Pikachu currently has two skills:
- Thunderstrike – Calls down an AoE lightning bolt directly down on him
- Quick Step – Teleport forward a short distance
- What skill would you add to this kit and why?
[Test #2] General Design:
Context: You’re working on Stardew Valley: The Expansion.
- What feature would you add to the farm to make interacting with the villagers more rewarding?
- Why would you add it?
- How would you justify your decision with a pitch to a lead designer?
[Test #3] Systems Design:
Context: You’ve been handed responsibility for creating a new weapon in Call of Duty.
- What kind of weapon do you pick and how do you balance it against the existing ones?
- If you had to cut another weapon to replace it with your new weapon, which would you pick and why?
Mid-Level Position Design Skill Test
[Test #4] Character Design:
Context: A creative director hands you the concept for the main hero of an action adventure game named Chef Chette Casserole.
The key art consists of the chef sitting in front of a fully stocked kitchen full of sharp and diverse cooking tools.
During the game, the chef uses cooking implements as weapons and is accompanied by various cooking ingredients brought to life.
- Design the core combat features of the chef, along with two one-sentence theme proposals for their companions.
[Test #5] General Design:
Context: Chop & Cook, the mobile game you’ve been contracted to support, has been required by the publishers to pivot from a game about hunting beasts to cultivating and cooking plants.
The previous core loop consisted of heading into a forest, hunting a variety of beasts and butchering them for ingredients, before mixing and roasting in camp for nutrition.
- Redesign this hunting loop to fit the new vegetarian theme.
[Test #6] Systems Design:
Context: Design the core loop of a farming sim, along with an explanation for how you would expose hooks and integrate it into the reward system of a typical RPG.
(jRPG or Action RPG system examples are perfectly fine)
- Clearly communicate how you would create effective integration between the combat gameplay and the simulation elements.
[Test #7] Critical Thinking:
Context: Choose your favorite major release from the past year. Breakdown what you personally enjoyed and separately, what you believe the core players for this genre enjoyed.
- What worked and what didn’t?
Lead / Senior Level Position Design Skill Tests
[Test #8] Character Design:
Context (part 1): You are in charge of a team of 3 junior designers who are responsible for creating the enemies for your new Magical Girl Beat ‘em up side-scroller.
- How do you communicate the core principles of enemy design and how do you prioritize their work?
- How do you prioritize their work?
Context (Part 2): Part way through a milestone, one designer’s work is far below par.
- How do you handle this situation?
[Test #9] General Design:
Context: You are in charge of explaining a controversial new system in the latest hit game Cult of the Lambs.
The team is unhappy with the sacrifice mechanic after a junior designer demonstrated the feature using members of the programming team as placeholder names during the demo.
- How do you handle this situation?
[Test #10] Systems Design:
Context: You are responsible for specifying the details of how the itemization / reward system will work for the new smash hit, Barbie: The Movie (The Game).
A core element of the gameplay is both cosmetic focus and a substantial amount of gameplay around Barbie’s professional career and Ken’s startup career as a TikTok video editor.
- How do you design a system to cater to both?
- How do you explain the details of this system to a colleague who isn’t familiar with either character or TikTok?
[Test #11] Leadership:
Context (part 1): The former lead designer quit for his dream role at Hello Kitty Island Adventures.
- How do you approach introducing yourself to the current team?
Context (part 2): You know at least two members were gunning for this position themselves before the company hired you.
- Does this change your approach?
- If so, how?
- If not, why?
- Does this change your approach?
Design Tests by Specialization:
Game Content Design Questions:
These questions test the applicant on their specialized areas of interest within content design, to see where their strengths are located.
I’ve included a variety of questions to cover examples of assignments for both junior and higher-level applicants.
[Test #12] Content / World Design:
Context: You are assigned to bring a small village to life by adding NPCs and filling the surrounding area with enemies.
The village is located on the coast and is filled with buckets. Along the docks are a series of boats moored to a dock, with others broken alongside the coast.
- Set a series of goals for the area and write a 10-step checklist you would follow to fill this area.
- List both NPC and enemy types and why you would add them, then flesh out one of them in detail.
What’s the point: A highly structured, constrained task like this one is appropriate for a junior designer. It’s designed to lead you towards an obvious solution, with the opportunity to show sparks of creativity.
How to respond: The ideal response hits the obvious major notes (pirate or coastal creature enemies, fisher NPCs), then adds a consistent thread connecting all features, for example
- The enemies are minions of a sea god the villagers try to placate
- The pirates are led by a rebellious daughter of the mayor
[Test #13] Content / Combat Design:
Context & direction:
- Pick a digital game with visceral, satisfying player actions.
- Identify and define the components that create a polished feel using the examples from your game.
What’s the point: This question is to see how deep you can dive into understanding what you create and why.
Combat design is a mixture of animation, visual effect and timing, as well as a strong understanding of the ebb and flow of combat.
How to respond: The ideal response analyzes all of these components, and avoids surface-level player reasoning (“this ability feels good because it’s powerful” / “I feel cool when I use this ability”).
[Test #14] Content / Monster Design:
Context: Using this concept art above applied to the game is Diablo IV.
- Design this minion in context of the game with no more than two abilities and be consistent in its behavior.
- Describe the minion as you would to the animator who is going to create animations for the minion.
What’s the point: This work is right on track for a mid-level content designer. At this level, you would generally work with a concept created and approved by a senior designer, but you are responsible for filling in the details.
How to respond: The ideal response describes its animated movements, its niche in the combat ecosystem, and how its skills fill this niche and improve the combat experience.
Ideally, it shows a knowledge of Diablo battle constraints (for instance, they’re between 5 to 15 second duration).
[Test #15] Content / Player Skill Design:
Context: Dungeons and Dragons
- Add a new skill to the ranger class and don’t be concerned with damage values.
- Explain your reasoning for adding the skill and why players would choose this skill.
What’s the point: This kind of question is solidly mid-level, requiring you to understand the context around your work.
How to respond: The ideal response clearly conveys the fantasy concept, the motivations behind designing the skill, the opportunities it creates, and which situations it fits into.
Example Answer: Partner’s Path
Choose a humanoid or beast ally. You memorize the way they move and walk. For the next 8 hours, you can create a false path that mimics theirs identically.
In addition, anywhere they travel stands out to you as a glowing path, allowing you to track their steps effortlessly.
This skill is essentially a ranger’s version of the cleric’s Find the Path spell, but with added utility intended for deception and recon. It would only be useful when the party is being actively stalked and the ranger wants to attempt to lead the enemies away.
For this reason, it’s an extremely niche skill and unlikely to be picked as an active skill, so it would need to be a passive bonus from a subclass focused around deception.
…wait a minute, why did I just critiqued my own skill and said it wasn’t very good?
Because it’s not about creating a perfect skill, it’s about understanding where and when a skill is appealing.
This might not make it to live, but it opens up an interesting discussion of classes, party roles and purposes.
[Test #16] Content / Item Design:
Context: Elden Ring, weapons design
- Create a new weapon for Elden Ring themed around mermaids and explain both the unique properties of the item and the type of player who would want to use it.
- Then set ONLY the required stats to equip this item and talk about the consequences of that choice.
What’s the point: This test has a number of subtle traps in it. It’s meant for a mid-level designer who understands how to design in an elegant way. Dark Souls-style weapons are fairly basic—a series of move-sets and one ability.
How to respond: The ideal response integrates the theme and mechanical concept into a systemic whole. Since the focus is on restrictions, the designer should showcase their awareness of the trade-offs in the Elden Ring system.
Example Answer: [Siren’s Lament]
A pair of cutlasses with a serrated edge that blends into the scales of a mermaid, the Siren’s Lament’s inflicts bleed damage and has a special that evokes a torrent of ice that surges along the ground.
It has a 20 int / 35 dex requirement, limiting it to spell-blade builds, who would likely enjoy both this theme and mixing ranged magical damage into their blades.
Being a dual-blade setup, it denies you the ability to use a shield, so access to a powerful ranged attack and status build-up is appropriate here.
I threw this together quickly, but aimed to cover the purpose and gameplay niche with an appropriate level of complexity. Feel free to try improving on it!
[Test #17] Content / Level Design
Context: Work off of the above concept of an encrusted undersea cavern with bejeweled clams adorning the walls.
Assume that during the first boss fight, the second boss will break the floor from below and players will drop down to face the second, true boss.
- Create the outline for a three-room raid zone consisting of two boss fights and a winding corridor connecting them.
- List out your primary concerns with this type of level design, as well as a bullet-point list of art assets and technical concerns you’d want to be sure game engineering prioritizes before committing to building this raid dungeon.
What’s the point: This mid- to senior level question tests your awareness of the broader organization.
How to respond: The ideal response doesn’t just show level design skills, but demonstrates that you know how other teams work and what a level designer can do to help balance overall priorities.
[Test #18] Content / Live Balance Design
Context: You are working on a live PvP game in your choice of genre (e.g. CCG, RTS, MOBA or fighting game).
- How do you ensure that a lively and non-stagnant metagame exists?
- How do you break down and balance the entities (characters, cards, units) for the game?
What’s the point: This question is about your ability to isolate the elements that affect game balance from an existing structure or system.
How to respond: The ideal response covers broad-spectrum awareness of game balance topics, but also goes into some nuance and depth on specific topics.
The expectations will vary depending on the experience level of the position.
See How You Can Learn the Gameplay Design Abilities Game Studios Are After To...
Game Systems Design
For this systems design section, I’ll present 4 variations of the same example design test tailored to the 4 seniority levels:
- Junior / associate level tests focus on a single example
- Mid-level tests focus on self-directed creation
- Senior level test focus on broad impact
- Lead-level test focus on running a team and overall product vision
Note: Since these tests (especially the higher-level ones) touch on so many game design topics that I’m not going to list everything the studio might be looking for in a response.
[Test #19] Systems / World Design:
Game: Elden Ring
Directions: Develop a repeatable quest for the in-game event for Valentine’s Day in Elden Ring, then describe the characters, activities and rewards you think are appropriate.
Directions: Develop a currency to be given as a reward for the Valentine’s Day event in Elden Ring, then describe how the currency would work, what kind of activities would reward it, and what kind of rewards the player would get.
Directions: Develop a system for rotating yearly holidays in Elden Ring.
Considering the diverse set of cultures, nationalities and player types that play Elden Ring, where and how would you focus the activities and rewards around these events?
Context: You are assigned to assemble and lead a team that will develop all of the holidays for Elden Ring for the next year.
Direction: Describe the criteria your ideal team would possess and how you would distribute their time and focus.
[Test #20] Systems / Combat Design:
Game: World of Warcraft / Diablo IV
Context: World of Warcraft’s Hunter class’s current talent Spirit Bond causes the pet to heal you, due to problems with the skill in PvP.
Direction: Design a new talent for the Hunter class to replace Spirit Bond.
Directions: Reimplement the WoW Death Knight as a class in Diablo IV, then describe how you would approach this task and what you would preserve and what you would change during the conversion.
Context: You’ve been assigned to revise the talent tree system for World of Warcraft once more.
Questions: Where do you look for inspiration and what are the key pillars of your new pitch?
And How do you achieve this while minimizing the impact on game balance as a whole?
Context: You’ve been assigned to help lead a team of class designers on a long-term live service game.
They have consistently missed deadlines and players have been demoralized with the changes and output for the past year.
(This one applies to any game)
Question: How would you approach the team to overcome these two challenges?
[Test #21] Systems / Mechanics Design
Game: Arti & The Way of The Wasps
Context: A level designer has created an incredible new outer space region for Arti & The Way of The Wasps, a 2D insect-themed metroidvania platformer.
Direction: Design one reusable interactable that is thematically appropriate for the moon-like surface of this new zone and walk us through your process.
(Keep in mind that a junior level task like this has a limited scope. Stay focused on the assignment and design something that can stand alone, with limited impact on the rest of the game.)
Context: Assuming Arti & The Way of The Wasps takes place in a dense jungle full of insect life. Use that to inspire your new power.
Direction: Design a player movement skill for the main character.
Context: Your creative director has asked you to add 16 new temporary weapons to the next game in the Arti series.
Direction: Design the temporary weapons system, and describe how you will make it easy to add or remove weapons down the road when the creative director changes his mind.
Context: You are converting an IP that has primarily been 2D into a 3D space.
Direction: What approaches would you take to help teach your design team how to work in this new space?
[Test #22] Systems / Monetization & Personalization
Game: League of Legends
- Explain how you choose which champions fit and why you picked the champions you did.
- Design a new skin line for League of Legends.
Directions: Design a battle pass to go along with a new skin line for League of Legends and describe the key elements and how you would price it.
Direction: Design a progression system to reward long-term consistent players and high-spend players for their long-term commitment to the product.
Directions: Define the criteria necessary to evaluate if a skin line for League of Legends (or your favorite free-to-play game) is appropriate to expand.
Then explain how you would handle it when an internally popular skin line falls flat with players and needs to be discontinued.
[Test #23] Systems / Technical Game Design
Game: Any game
Context: You’re assigned to catch all monsters which have been copied and pasted from another region and have incorrect combat values (health, damage, etc).
Direction: Describe your process for tackling this challenge.
Context: You’re assigned to support some less technical mission designers in prototyping a zone.
Direction: How would you help and what would you do to make your work reusable?
Question: How would you design game systems that reduce the need for technical design intervention, while still enabling your team to create bespoke solutions to one-off problems throughout the game?
Context: A junior technical designer is very talented and pushes the gameplay forward, but regularly bumps heads with the programming team.
Question: How would you mentor the junior designer and interact with the programming team to reduce this stressful friction, avoid long-term damage, and increase trust between both teams?
General Design Test Questions
These are common game design tests questions that are not specific to any design discipline. They are mainly used to vet for those who can think like a game designer.
[Test #24] General / Designer vs Player Thinking
- As a game designer, what are 10 of your favorite games and why? (Limit to one sentence each!)
- As a game designer, what are 10 games you consider important to study and why?
- As a player, list 10 games that had impactful examples of player choice.
- As a player, list the 10 games that had the greatest importance to you.
- What competitive games do you enjoy and why?
- What single-player games do you enjoy and why?
What’s the point: These types of questions mainly help the studio to
- Filter out players/enthusiasts from designers.
- Get a read on your personal taste and reason you love the games you love.
- See what resonates the most and whether that matches the direction of the game your position will work on.
These will vary depending on the company and position you are applying for.
[Test #25] General / Design Nuance & Quality
Question: What is the most well-designed character in any video game and why?
What’s the point: Questions like this are designed to tease out applicants who focus entirely on power characteristics over design characteristics such as overpoweredness or effectiveness.
In addition, this question also helps you get a sense of what the applicant considers well-designed.
[Test #26] General / Multiplayer Live Balance
Question: What’s an example of counterplay?
What’s the point: This tests the applicant’s awareness of agency and combat balance. This one is more common for roles in the context of PvP games than PvE games.
[Test #27] General / Design Analysis
- What characteristics do you believe makes a First-Person Shooter a success?
- What do you believe successful FPS do that failed FPS games miss?
What’s the point: This question is about examining your ability to compare products, as well as establish your own criteria for strong and weak games.
How to respond: I recommend focusing on aspects that matter to the role you’re applying for, while still including the most important criteria outside of your role.
Keep in mind, there are many answers here and they will vary broadly.
[Test #28] General Leadership / Brand Awareness
Question: If given complete control of our game, how would you change the experience?
What’s the point: This question is a lead-level question, and most people’s answers are limited in scope and awareness of the product.
How to respond: A great answer showcases strong vision balanced with lots of understanding of the context and realities of the situation.
Now you should have a decent idea of what to expect from a design skill test, and a look at what my process is like.
If you are looking for more examples you can find some online and try your hand at them, or come up with your own. Just a reminder this doesn’t need to be perfect, no one is expecting you to have something ready to ship.
You’ve made it to the end of this article series, and are clearly dedicated to entering the game industry. If you haven’t already started, then go out there and apply!
Good luck and maybe we’ll be working together soon.
And if you any questions or thoughts about designer tests, feel free comment below!