Joe Kinglake, lead game designer at Sumo Digital, talks about his path into the industry and the importance of empathy in leadership roles.
What is your job role and how would you describe your typical day at work?
I am a lead game designer working at Sumo Digital in Sheffield, on an unannounced title. A game designer’s role on a project is, in my opinion, largely being a creative and proactive problem solver – it’s not necessarily about being the most knowledgeable on video games (though understanding convention is helpful). Instead it’s about knowing how to deliver a creative vision through our medium’s most unique aspects, e.g. interactivity & challenge. As lead designer, my main responsibilities are working with the directors on driving and communicating the game’s vision, and managing a team of designers to enact that vision together.
My days are certainly varied, but it’s always with a focus on the design team. Mostly you’ll find me in meetings answering questions, providing information and reviewing content, all with a focus on shaping the game towards the vision. I also spend a lot of time working 1-1 with designers; mentoring, giving guidance, and problem solving. Working with such a creative and talented group of individuals is really one of my favourite and most rewarding parts of the job, and an aspect from which I learn every day.
What qualifications and/or experience do you need to land this job?
I personally worked my way into my current role over the last decade after graduating from a Computer Game Design degree, which was definitely a huge help finding my first job. There are some folks who suggest a degree is a must-have, though I will say that I feel having a degree is certainly not essential, and is instead useful in that it provides a good starting point that gives you time to learn, grow, build a portfolio and network with like-minded people. Lacking a degree can realistically create some initial hurdles in building a portfolio and applying for roles, but patience, hard-work and resilience will still allow you to create a strong portfolio.
Your primary goal should be showcasing your theoretical, practical and technical understanding of game design with a collection of past projects. Demonstrating practical application of design theory and skills is especially critical. For leadership roles, I also believe that less tangible traits like empathy, communication and other soft-skills are important; to ensure that your team feels heard and their needs fulfilled.
If you were interviewing someone for your team, what would you look for?
Initially, I’m looking for a good portfolio and CV which illustrates an understanding of game design. In the interview however, I am most interested in the candidate’s passion, demonstration of them being a proactive problem solver, and their ability to talk through the critical thinking done for design choices they made previously.
What opportunities are there for career progression?
At Sumo, we work on a large and diverse collection of games which leaves a lot of room for specialisations and internal career growth. Such a range of projects means that you’re constantly surrounded by lots of different people, interests and skills which provides infinite opportunities to learn from. At Sumo we also have five learning days every year for self-directed learning, which is optionally available to everyone throughout the year – personally I use mine to keep up to date with GAConf & GDC!