Alum is Living His Dream as a Lead Game Designer
What Mikhail Akopyan, NYSCAS ’05, Does as a Successful Video Game Designer, and How He Got There
Mikhail Akopyan designs video games for a living. It took two higher education degrees and a move around the world before he landed his dream role as Lead Game Designer at the Copenhagen-based Ghost Ship Games, a Danish game development studio founded by a group of veteran game developers. Akopyan, who is originally from Russia, relocated to New York as a kid. He graduated from NYSCAS in 2005 before receiving an MFA from Parsons School of Design and heading to Denmark to pursue a career in game design.
We recently caught up with Mikhail, who shared what he does as a video game designer and offered vital career advice (hint: internships are important!).
Being a video game designer sounds like fun! What is a typical day?
I often use the analogy of the game of chess to explain how a video game is made. The board and the pieces were created by a craftsman or a machine, while the rules and the design of the game are carefully chosen by the designer. Designing a game is about creating a set of rules within a confined space. The selection of the design is at the core of each game. In video games, craftsmanship is a big part of the creation process. The creation of a game is a team-focused effort and you’ll find teams that range from five to hundreds of people. Sometimes designers work with budgets that are even larger than the budget of big movies.
While my day-to-day responsibilities are ever-changing depending on where in the development cycle the game is, coding is a major part of this role and I spend a lot of time on my notepad brainstorming new ideas. My favorite aspect of being a video game designer is prototyping new ideas and then seeing them come to life. As for the least favorite, it’s unquestionably fixing bugs, and that is a problem that’s likely never going to go away completely as we will always need to make adjustments.
When did you start coding?
“My initial introduction to coding was during my first programming class at Touro. . Coding is something I highly recommend understanding or learning to do, no matter what career one chooses. It’s behind everything, nowadays including graphic design, Web content, and social media. Everything is controlled by algorithms and it’s the backbone of our society at this point.
What was your experience at NYSCAS like?
College is a very special place, perhaps I realize that now more than I did when I was a student. There are few times in life that are built solely around the idea of bettering yourself individually, and college is certainly one of them. In the tech field, it’s important to create a portfolio. When you graduate and begin applying for jobs, it’s hard for companies to understand what you’re capable of unless you have a portfolio that demonstrates your unique capabilities.
How did you move up the career ladder?
Internships have been an invaluable part of my career path as they’re not just a way to gain real-world experience and build your portfolio, but they’re also a way to get your foot into the door of a company. At first, I spent some time building my professional network. I did some graphic design work, and then ultimately made my move into the video game world. The last game my company released is called Deep Rock Galactic. It’s a sci-fi co-op game, which means multiple players can work together as a team, and I’m proud of it because I’ve been working on it for several years now
What advice do you have for current students?
Don’t delay securing an internship! This experience will help you learn what you enjoy doing and want to learn more about. An internship will enable you to quickly identify what you don’t like doing as much or the areas you need to improve upon.