Game Designer or Game Producer: Which Career Path is Right for You?

David Leary

David Leary

Dave Leary is a game producer and former lead game designer with 25+ years of experience. He is a veteran of several studios including Westwood, Ensemble, Robot, and BonusXP. He is now the owner of Scree Games, an independent game industry consulting business. You can connect with David on LinkedIn and Facebook.

Over the last twenty-five years, I’ve been fortunate enough to tackle both design and production roles. Both are important to the success of a game, but they are very different from each other.

It’s easy to explain what artists and programmers do on a project. Their work is front and center in the game itself. The efforts of designers and producers can sometimes be harder to see.

I’ve even heard the phrase “What do producers actually DO?”

If you’re thinking about a career in production or design, it’s worth understanding what each role does as well as the differences between the two.

You’ll likely find that one or the other is better suited to your temperament, personality, or skillset.


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With that said, let’s first clarify the difference between the two disciplines.

What do Game Designers do?

Designers are responsible for mechanics, systems, and content

Game designer” can refer to a variety of different roles such as

A designer might be a more hybrid role as well – for example:

  • An art-savvy user interface designer
  • A code-savvy technical designer
  • An animation-savvy combat designer

What a designer does day-to-day varies a lot depending on the type of game it is.

A platformer will need levels created and jumping mechanics tuned.

A role-playing game will need quests and enemies designed.

A puzzle game will need a variety of game mechanics created.

A designer’s job requires plenty of communication with teammates. Good designers understand that iterating a system will require lots of back-and-forth with the programmers making it.

Designers protect and advocate for the game’s vision

Though a game always changes during iteration and development, a project that starts with a clear vision is more likely to succeed.

Typically a project owner or group of leads will define the initial vision. Part of the job of designers is to be good advocates for that vision during development.

As a game springs to life, everyone on the team will be offering their feedback throughout the process.

Great ideas can come from anyone on the team, but not every suggested solution will be aligned with the core vision. It’s in those moments that good designers can help.

Clearly understanding the core vision, and being able to explain why a particular element of the design supports it, will help the team get past misalignments and move forward.

Staying in sync with a game’s vision will also help designers with their tasks. You wouldn’t implement a difficult math puzzle if the core vision is “a nonstop action-movie experience.”

What do Game Producers do?

Producers are responsible for project execution

A producer’s job is to keep the project moving forward. Clarifying deliverables for the team, unblocking blocked tasks, and calling out risks are all key responsibilities for a producer.

Good producers are problem-solvers, looking out for misalignments on the team that could affect the schedule or roadmap.

They will revise the schedule to account for iteration. They’re also on the front lines of helping the team sort out dependencies between departments.

Production roles look very different from studio to studio

In the past, a lead or executive producer was often “the boss” – typically making many of the final decisions on a project, in collaboration with a game’s director.

These days, while producers may still be part of a team’s leadership, most producers view their job as a service role.

When I’ve worked in production, the question I constantly ask myself is “How can I help the team do their best work?” This might translate into filling gaps on the team.

On any given day, producers might jump in to help with a QA pass, assist in onboarding new employees, or help marketing pull together materials for a pitch deck.

Producers help define the process

With so many dependencies in software development, larger projects need some degree of process.

Regular meetings need to be scheduled; task-tracking software like JIRA needs to be set up and maintained; asset pipelines need to be documented.


A simplified example – tracking a project using Trello.

Producers spend a lot of time moving these cards around.

Every team is different. The same processes won’t work for every group or every phase of a project.

Like everything else in game development, processes need iteration. Good producers will remain flexible throughout a game’s life cycle.

That said, balance is needed.

Common mistakes producers make in the pursuit of minor efficiency improvements – I’ve made them myself – are:

  • Switching tracking software too frequently.
  • Modifying regular meeting schedules too often.

Teams need to feel there’s a foundation under them to do their best work. Changing processes too often can be more disruptive than helpful.

Striking the right balance between changing things up and leaving a less-perfect process alone comes with experience.

Where do the two jobs overlap?

Both require good communication skills

Neither design nor production is a good career track for someone who wants to “fly solo” and work in a more isolated way.

So communication with the team is a key part of both jobs:

  • Designers need to be able to clearly express ideas, both in initial design documents and when working with other departments. They’re often on the front lines of collecting team feedback.
  • Producers need to make sure processes are clearly understood by the team. When a feature falls behind, they need to surface that to other departments and help make adjustments.

Designers and producers often work hand-in-hand

In the early days of a project, designers and producers will need to spend a lot of time getting on the same page.

A clear vision is crucial to a project’s success, and design plays a huge role in fleshing out an initial vision statement.

Many pipelines, such as building art assets or localization, start with design. Lists of enemies, designs for mechanics, and dialogue scripts all have many dependencies after they’re created.

Typically, producers will want asset lists from design as early as possible, while designers will want to hold them back to allow time for iteration.


A healthy project life cycle. During the prototype phase, there’s more time for iteration.

Identifying the right compromises between creativity and the demands of the schedule won’t work if design and production aren’t talking.

A producer’s job becomes more important in the final months leading up to the ship date. A good partnership with design is key, ensuring what’s being shipped matches the design’s intent.

So… which role is right for you?

Consider a design path if:

  • Making a great game is the most important thing to you.
  • You like working hands-on with the game and directly creating content, systems, or narrative.
  • You are good at coming up with creative, innovative solutions to design problems, without letting previous decisions or the schedule weigh you down.
  • You like collaborating directly with programmers or artists to implement a vision.
  • You’re okay with taking lots of feedback and iterating on your work based on comments from the entire team.

Consider a production path if:

  • Shipping a great game is the most important thing to you.
  • You like helping others do their best work, regardless of your role.
  • You’re able to think strategically about a project’s development.
  • You’re good at identifying risks and dependencies.
  • You can clearly communicate the dependencies and risks to the team.
  • You can handle an unpredictable daily workload.
  • You have a great sense of organization.
  • You can roll with your carefully-constructed schedule getting torn up and tossed out every month or two.

Learning and Career Resources

For Game Production:

  • The Videogame Industry Does Not Exist – A thoughtful criticism of the industry and game production as a field as it is today, and where it’s headed in the future.
  • Asana’s summary of Agile methodology – A good beginner’s guide to Agile, one of several popular modern project management approaches.
  • Commonly used production tools:
    • JIRA by Atlassian – Considered by many to be the industry standard for task-tracking software, JIRA is used effectively by many game companies.
    • ClickUp – An up-and-coming project management tool with some nice features. Similar in scope and functionality to JIRA with a different philosophy.
    • Asana – Easier to use and set up than JIRA, it’s more limited in functionality but is a good choice for small to mid-sized development teams.
    • ShotGrid by AutoDesk – an excellent tool for managing asset pipelines, ShotGrid integrates well with JIRA for more complex workflows on larger projects.
    • Trello – A lightweight task management option, suitable for personal or solo projects, or the prototype phase for individual features on larger projects.

For Game Design:

  • Guide to Game Engines for Beginner – Analysis of the top ten game engines currently available on the market to help you pick the one best fit your context.
    • Unity and Unreal – The two third-party engines studios most often use for building games (that you’ll most likely use). Basic familiarity with one or both is valuable for any designer.

Final thoughts on game design vs game production career paths

Both design and production are fulfilling careers in game development. Each job, at any level from assistant to lead, will have opportunities to move a game forward and make it great.

My design experience helped make me a better producer; similarly, when I was a designer, a “production mindset” helped me stay focused on the core vision for a game and better prioritize tasks to account for dependencies.

While designers are focused on a game’s vision and producers on the schedule and execution, being attuned to both will make you better at either job.

Game development strikes a balance between the two; each needs good advocates for a game to be successful.

That said, these two career paths are very different in terms of what your day-to-day will look like. In my case, I was more comfortable in a production role, and the work was more fulfilling.

And that’s the most important takeaway – for a long and successful career in game development, it’s important to enjoy what you do.

Hope this helps you choose the right career path.

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[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:
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    • 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:
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    • 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
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    • Designed quest content, events and PvP areas of Wintergrasp
    • Designed Vehicle system
    • Designed the Death Knight talent trees
    • Designed the Lord Marrowgar raid
  • Cataclysm:
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    • 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.

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  • Assisted in development of new trinket system
  • Heavily expanded internal tools and features for design team
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[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).

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[GAME] Unreleased RPG project

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[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)

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[CONSULTING] Atomech: Founder / Game Design Consultant

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

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Game Design Keynotes:

(Former Global Head of HR for Wargaming and Riot Games)
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  • USC (University of Southern California)
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  • UFIEA (University of Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy)
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