Excellent question. I’ve tried to keep the descriptions brief for both of our sakes, but included links to other posts I’ve written about that role in particular. There’s a lot of them, so let’s just jump into it.
Executive Producer (aka Game Director) - The mastermind in charge of the entire project. Makes all of the high level decisions, including major features, story, world building, budgeting, scheduling, team composition, marketing, contracts, etc. The final decision maker. Also the one who answers to the publishing executives. Spends most of her time in meetings and assigning/prioritizing tasks for others.
Creative Director - Design lead. All designers and content creators answer to him. His job is initially to work with the executive producer come up with core designs and ideas that will drive the gameplay, then gradually shift to managing the design team as they join up and keep them all tasked out and productive. Keeps a high level view of the game’s content and systems to make decisions to direct the different design subteams during development towards the ultimate goal.
Art Director - Art lead. All artists report to him. Works with the executive producer to establish the game’s visual style and reference materials for the art team, then gradually shifts to managing all of the artists and keeping them tasked out and productive. Keeps tabs on all of the incoming art assets to make sure they adhere to style and meet requirements.
Technical Director - Engineering lead. All engineers report to her. Works with the executive producer to establish the game’s technical specs and scope. Architects the game’s major technical features and framework, then gradually shifts to managing the engineers that join the team and keeping them tasked out and productive. Often writes the least code overall among the engineers, but the code she writes is also the most mission critical because she has the best understanding of how everything fits together.
Concept Artist: [Iterator Extreme]. Given a description, then comes up with different visual concepts that could meet that description. The description is refined, and the process repeats. A lot.
Technical Artist: [The hybrid artist/programmer]. Writes shaders, writes scripts, works with code. Is often responsible for the art tools and keeping other artists’ work performant.
Rigger: [The skeleton master]. Builds, adjusts, and maintains animation skeletons for animators to make motions with. Sometimes called “technical animator”.
Animator: [Sculptor of time]. Takes the rigs built by the riggers and manipulates them so they can convey believable motion over time.
VFX Artist: Maker of particles, explosions, dust poofs, blood spatter, lightning bolts, fireballs, speed lines, motion blur, depth of field, god rays, and all sorts of stuff.
Storyboard Artist: Maps out how cinematics should look. Lays out general shot to shot progression and framing of cinematics to show the player what’s going on.
UI Artist: Maker of buttons, widgets, fonts, and more icons than you could imagine you’d ever need. Specializes in converting concepts into self-contained images.
Character Artist: Creates the wire frames that form the shape of living things and house the skeletons the riggers create.
Prop Artist: Creates the wire frames that form the shape of not living things.
Texture Artist: 3D wire frames need skins that make them look right in various lighting situations. They need lots of skins - diffuse, specular, normal, AO, etc.
Environment Artist: Models, textures, and places the stuff in the game levels.
Lighting Artist: Places, colors, and adjusts lights in a space to make sure that the environment’s mood is met and properly visible.
Systems Designer: [Creates and tunes the various rules of gameplay]. Works a lot with math and formulas. Often responsible for things like leveling up, crafting, itemization, etc. Subspecies: [Combat Designer]
Level Designer: [Creates interesting spaces and places for the player to engage with and explore]. Places the objects and interesting things there for you to find.
UI/UX Designer: Puts things where you expect them to be, so you don’t have to get annoyed trying to make it do what you want. Also creates the descriptions of things so you know what they actually do.
Scripter: [Hybrid designer/programmer]. Sometimes something needs more complex behavior - conditions to check, branching outcomes, etc. She writes that stuff.
Technical Designer: Even more hybrid designer/programmer. Builds tools for other designers need to create the content.
Writer/Narrative Designer: Somebody built an ice dungeon and you need a reason why the player needs to go there. [She can convince them in one tweet’s worth of words].
Engine Programmer: The closest to the hardware - how does the hardware work? What does our code need to do to make the hardware do what we want? She writes that interstitial code.
Server Programmer: Somebody needs to write the code that pulls the data from the database, manipulates it into something the client cares about, and adjudicate the rules of the game.
Graphics Programmer: We’ve got all this data about what objects are where and what they should look like. [How do we turn all that data into an image?] How do we do it faster? Even faster than that? No, even more faster than that!
UI Programmer: All of the buttons, sliders, widgets, health bars, chat bubbles, auction houses, etc. you see have to actually do what you think they should. Who makes them work? She does.
Animation Programmer: When you need to allow a character to shoot to the right while running at full speed, getting smacked in the face, and singing “Uptown Funk” all at the same time, [somebody has to create a system know when and how to play the different animation assets].
Tools Programmer: There are a lot of tasks the team needs to do all the time, and automating those tasks makes a lot of sense. She builds the tools that handle those tasks for the designers, engineers, artists, etc.
Build Engineer: Nobody can work if the game doesn’t run. She makes sure that the dev team has access to the most up-to-date version of the game that is stable.
Producer: Sometimes also known as development director. Like a miniature version of the Executive Producer, keeps track of scheduling and tasks for smaller parts of the team. This may be as broad as all of engineering, or as small as just the cinematic design subteam. Most duties include scheduling meetings, making sure developers aren’t blocked by talking to people involved, and keeping everyone productive. This also includes practical duties like ordering food and procuring dev kits/cables/monitors/etc.
Tester: Tests assigned parts of the game (e.g. the crafting system, the leveling system, the ice dungeon), writing up bug reports, and reproducing the problems for the developers to look at.
Test Engineer: QA/Programmer hybrid. Instead of testing manually, she writes automated tools that test parts of the game for her.
There’s a lot of different roles in the industry. I didn’t even mention some of the others like sound designers, audio engineers, composers, voice actors, marketing team, community management, etc. and I’m certain that I missed some of the other roles. That said, this is a decent basic rundown of who does what on a given dev team. Not all teams will have developers in all of the roles, and the actual titles may vary depending on the team and company, but it should work in general.
This week we continue the Design Phase of the FANTa Project!
Got a burning question you want answered?