I recently spent some time back at Full Sail on the Advisory Board to look at the current curriculum and give feedback on how they can improve the game development programs. When I attended over a decade ago, there was only the Game Development program which is geared heavily toward programming. I've always preached that having that technical background helped me become a better Game Designer and tried to encourage others interested in the program.
This time I focused my attention on the Game Design Bachelor's Online program which has a curriculum that is focused Game Design with no programming focus at all. Evaluating this curriculum took a major change in mentality for me since I've been so used to a programming curriculum for over 10 years. This experience really got me thinking...what do people entering the industry as a Game Designer need to do to showcase their skills and make themselves stand out to employers?
When I'm looking to hire a Game Designer for an entry level position, I prefer to see a gaming education so I know they have a solid foundation that we can build on. Their resume's are usually filled with class projects, but I also want to try them out so I can ask them questions about what their part was in the final product. But, this is on almost every resume...so what do I want to see to make them stand out? I think for me it still boils down to tangible skills that can translate easily to tools used by any game studio.
If I look at a resume and see that someone is an EXPERT at using a popular game development editor then I know that no matter what tools we are using, they should have the skill set to pick it up easily. This means not having to do extensive tools training and being able spend our time focusing on getting them working with the team and developing their skills instead.
If you really want to make yourself shine, take that editor and do something with it that is way outside of what people think it's capable of. I remember we hired a Designer once who took the Unreal Engine and built a fully functioning Qbert clone. It really stuck with me that he was able to script and create this kind of gameplay an toolset and engine that is generally focused on First Person Shooters. It not only proved his technical prowess but also his ability to think outside the box.
The scary truth for these beginning Game Designers is that there aren't a ton of jobs out there and doing whatever they can to make themselves stand out is becoming more and more important. Is there anything more important for this than being able to showcase your skills in a tangible way?