What You Can Do
Harris notes that there is a debate among game designers about what kind of informal education is best: whether one should play every single game that comes out and be able to reference them when designing new games, or be a player who has completely fresh eyes all the time by not paying too close attention to what has come out in the past. Harris says he sees both sides of the debate and has himself been in both positions, having gone through stints of extreme game playing and then not.
Harris does have a list of soft skills that a game designer not only needs to have, but needs to radiate. Excellent communication skills, both written a verbal, sit at the top of that list. No matter what odd day-to-day jobs designers are asked to do, at the end of the day, they will always have to present their ideas clearly to other members of the game development team.
Second, designers must be creative in the sense of having fresh and effective ideas and approaches. A designer can't have just one good idea, but needs to have hundreds and needs to be willing to change those ideas outside of his or her own tastes and preferences to best serve the audience and the game's integrity. Third, a designer must have the ability to understand and appreciate what works in a game and why. "It won't always go your way," says Harris, meaning what's best for the project at hand may not be what the designer had originally envisioned. And on that note, Harris ends the list with "adaptability"; being a designer is rarely the same job twice.
A designer should recall that number one skill, communication, when initially making contact with a game company, whether that is in person, over the phone, or via a CV or resume sent by email. The applicant's speaking skills, use of language, and personal skills can all work together to create a strong first impression about their ability to communicate clearly. "With perhaps the exception of a producer, a designer is the person who has to talk to everyone on the team," says Harris, adding that getting along with others is just as important as communicating with them.
The need to be "adaptable," he says, has several meanings, too. Designers should be versatile in what they're willing to do and be prepared to "get in through the back door" of a company in whatever position they can.
"If I were to receive an email from someone saying, "I've been playing a lot of Buzz! lately, and I'd like to share with you some thoughts I've had,' I'd love that. I absolutely want to hear feedback about what I'm doing.
"If you're looking to find a job, don't just go to a recruitment agency, don't just send out letters." Harris' advice is to talk to the people who work in game development studios about their games, and show interest that is relevant. "They might not agree, but it's far better than an irrelevant CV with your grades on it. That's interesting, but it's not as interesting."
Another piece of advice Harris has is to play all kinds of games. "Don't just play video games: play card games; play word games in the paper; play everything you can get your hands on." Figure out why people like to play, and have conversations with players about why they think they enjoy a certain puzzle or game.
"It's just as important to know what your mum thinks of Wii Sports as it is what your friend thinks of Halo 3.