Game Designer is one of those mythical positions everyone wants to fill. What isn't cool about getting to actually make the games you love so much? What isn't cool about being able to brag to all of your old-school gaming buddies that you are a real live game designer? What isn't cool about getting to come up with awesome ideas and having the programmers and artists implement them? Well, there isn't anything uncool about any of that. Unfortunately, reality is a bit different.
You do get to make the games you love so much, and you do get to brag to all your buddies, but you actually have to implement all those cool ideas, and you may not have the freedom to implement all the cool ideas you come up with until you've been a designer for quite some time.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves just a little bit, aren't we? The first step in becoming a game designer is deciding you want to become a game designer.
A game designer doesn't get paid as much as someone with his equivalent skills in the business world. In reality, a game designer works long hours, relentlessly pursuing to improve himself and his designs, hoping for a little recognition from his superiors.
But there's a bright side. After all, you really do get to make games. Office hours are generally set up so you can show up to work as late as 10:00 a.m. You even get to leave whenever you want, as long as it's after core hours. I personally show up around 8:00 a.m. so I can head home pretty early (and so I can get a lot of work done while the office is still quiet). And a game designer's dress code is "clothes."
So let's assume you've decided you want to become a game designer, despite the cold reality that it's still a job. Where do you begin? Chances are, you're already in the right place to get started on the road to becoming a game designer - you play a lot of games.
You have to play games - even those you don't like. I decided a long time ago that I wanted to become a massively multiplayer online game designer, so I started playing a ton of them. I didn't limit myself to good MMOGs, nor did I limit myself to North American ones; I played them all.
Keep playing those games. But, instead of simply playing them for fun, start analyzing them. What did the game do right? What did it do wrong? What did it do differently from most games, and why? Start looking for all of the little quirks you never would have noticed without looking for them in the first place. If the game is good, discover what makes it good. Many times, it's not just polish and it's not just cool features, but it is instead a concrete idea working cohesively to produce something magnificent, even if it's not the type of game you would normally enjoy.
The next step in your journey to becoming a game designer is to learn even more. Pick up every decent looking book you can find about game design. Don't just read game design books, either; you'll want to pick up general development books, production books, storytelling books and anything else you might imagine could apply. Every game design book has at least one valuable lesson, and you'll eventually start putting together what those lessons are after reading enough of them. While you're learning from books, check out every resource you can about game design. There are some great blogs, forums and now even schools that will teach you about game design.