What is the difference between game design vs. game programming?

4minutes read


At first glance, the difference between game design and game programming may not seem obvious, but there are, in fact, some key differences. If you plan on pursuing a game development career, you will need to know how the roles of a game designer versus a game programmer differ in the video game industry.

What is the difference between game design and game programming?

The main difference between game designers and game programmers is that game designers work on the creative side while game programmers write code and address the more technical aspects of video games. Both designers and programmers are in high demand, and both contribute to the video game development process

While they may sound similar and experience some crossover, they are two very different disciplines that play a unique role in the game development process. 

Game design and game programming are both integral to building a successful video game. To give you more clarity on each role and help you in your career decision-making process, we have provided a description of each discipline, identified their differences, and outlined some of the most common job responsibilities.

What is game design?

Game design is an important part of game development and is more inclined toward the creative side. It involves using design and creativity to develop a compelling game that attracts players and keeps them engaged. A game consists of many different gameplay features and mechanics, which operate in conjunction with each other to give the player a better gaming experience. 

Game designers are responsible for making the story and plots of the game interesting, as well as creating characters and setting up level themes, rules, goals, and challenges.

In short, most of the creative aspects required to make a game interesting come under video game design.

What is game programming?

Game programming is considered the heart of the video game development process. It involves taking the ideas of the game designers and turning them into code to create a great video game that anyone can play. 

Game programming requires advanced technical skills and a high understanding of programming languages like Java and C++ and APIs (Application Programming Interfaces). It is a complex area of work that includes things such as game environment terrain mapping, implementation of Al (Artificial Intelligence), UI (user interface), and connecting the player input through the joystick or controller.

What does a game designer do?

The main role of a game designer is to focus on the visualization of new concepts and ideas that can help create new designs for new games. The video game design process veers on the creative side, with game designers deciding things like the storyline, how the game will move forward, what designs might attract players, and what type of characters will be best for the story. 


Job responsibilities of a game designer:

  • Identify viral trends in the video game industry
  • Create a complete game design plan
  • Inspect existing games for improvements
  • Find unique game ideas
  • Test multiple gaming genres and themes
  • Develop plot points and storyline
  • Collaborate with other designers to flesh out ideas
  • Research what makes the targeted audience tick
  • Prepare innovative and unique gameplay ideas
  • Develop the movement of characters
  • Help determine difficulty levels and maps

What does a game programmer do?

Game programming is a software development role. Game programmers will create and develop code in order to make a game playable. Their main goal is to transform all the designs sketches, layouts, and stories provided to them by the game development team.

Game programmers require a lot of technical skills and have an excellent understanding of computer science as well as other gaming concepts such as physics and dynamics. They are responsible for adding depth to the movements of the characters and determining the player's actions in every level of the game. 

There are many programming languages out there. If you’re considering a career as a game programmer, it’s good to learn the programming languages used by the game studios you wish to work for. 

To recap, the game designer gives a blueprint to the game programmer, who then develops the code required to turn the designer’s vision into a playable product.

Job responsibilities of a game programmer: 

  • Transform a game designer’s ideas into a playable game
  • Game testing to spot and fix errors
  • Collaborate with software developers
  • Inspect the code of existing games for errors
  • Implement Al to add movement to characters

How to become a game designer

A great place to start is by downloading a game engine like Epic's Unreal Engine and seeing what you can create.

If you are looking for more structure or guidance, consider enrolling in a game design course. CG Spectrum's introductory game design course is mentored by game designers who’ve worked on AAA video games like Assassin’s Creed 3, Far Cry 6, Watch Dogs 2, and Borderlands. You'll learn what makes an addicting game, starting with game mechanics and systems, genres, level design, and world building. Expect a mix of theory, paper design, concepting, and hands-on practice using Unreal Engine, and start building a game. Also, anticipate playing a lot of games in the name of research!   

How to become a game programmer

Similar to if you want to become a game designer, downloading a game engine is a great place to start. There are lots of great tutorials online to help with learning coding language too. Then, if you're serious, consider taking a game programming course

The hands-on introduction to game programming course at CG Spectrum is ideal for beginners with little or no programming knowledge. Starting with the fundamentals, you'll master the basic syntax of the programming language C++ and get to know the most important programming concepts used in video game development. Put your lessons to use and create a simple game from scratch!


If you're deciding which career path you'd be more suited to, assess whether you're driven more to the creative side or the technical side of games. Both game designers and programmers are in demand, and both can be fun, challenging, and fulfilling careers. 

Now you know the difference between game design vs. game programming, power up your skills with an industry-led course! 

Whether you've decided on becoming a game programmer or game designer, CG Spectrum's online game development courses get you job-ready sooner! As an Unreal Academic Partner and Authorized Training Center, you will receive industry-standard training from talented mentors who have worked on best-selling games at major studios like Ubisoft, Electronic Arts, and Sony Interactive Entertainment