A friend of mine wants to become a game designer without learning any other disciplines in game dev, he seems very sure this is possible but his confidence comes off as “idea guy” to me. I like thinking about design as well and how it could all fit together cohesively but I’m worried he’s setting himself up for failure by not learning another discipline to go along with it. Am I correct in this thought or am I being an jerk?

It mostly depends on what kind of design career your friend wishes to pursue. Generally speaking, having at least some understanding of other disciplines is very helpful for a designer. If a designer doesn't understand the technical and asset constraints she's working with, it can make for a lot of wasted work. My grand idea of a huge battle between massive armies is mostly impossible if the engine can only handle 12 models animating on screen before the frame rate drops.

If he wants a career in AAA games, he will need specialized expertise. That might mean working on combat, quests, cinematics, narrative, itemization, UX, enemies, levels/environments, or any of a number of other specialties. These specializations don't necessarily require external disciplines like programming or artistic skills, but they do require some pretty specific skills all their own. A cinematic designer doesn't need to understand how to code but does need to learn how to use tools like Source Filmmaker to stage and block cinematics. A level designer doesn't need to create the individual assets, but will need a rock-solid understanding of how the placement of objects and division of space can create places that are intuitive for players to navigate.

If he wants to go into the indie space and work with an extremely small team, he's going to need to wear a lot of hats. Indie devs can't just come up with the ideas for the rest of the team to build them out; there just aren't enough people to handle that kind of workload. At the very least he'll need to create his own assets and/or write his own code. Small teams generally can't afford to have single-discipline specialists, so multidisciplinary generalists tend to succeed in this space. If you look at any indie game, you'll generally see a small team of a handful of devs who are each responsible for a huge amount of different kinds of work.

If your friend is looking at a career in game design, he only needs to be multidisciplinary if he's going the indie/small team route. There's just too much work to be done without enough hands to do it within a small team. If he wants to work in AAA game dev, he will need to demonstrate that he has significant expertise in his chosen design specialty in order to put himself ahead of the hundreds of other candidates competing for the same job. In both cases, employers will want to see examples, either professional or amateur, of game design work that the candidate has done. I wish him (and you) the best of luck.

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