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Intro

The survey took place in 2008, was aimed at both professional and amateur level designers, and 1004 people participated in it.

Demographics

There were 1004 participants in this survey, of those, 58 percent were level designers or artists. The remaining 42 percent were gamers and developers involved in other aspects of development. Of the 58 percent, 27 percent were professional level designers (151 professionals). Only the professional level designers were presented with the more in-depth questions regarding commercial level design.

The survey was posted in a few dozen level design and gamer communities in an attempt to gather a varied demographic that accurately reflects the community as a whole. The survey was posted in Unreal, Quake, Half Life/Source, Crysis, and indie game development communities.

Note that the percentages presented below were rounded off to the nearest integer, and therefore sometimes cause the sum to be either 99 or 101 percent.

The Results – Level Design in General

Only 6 people did not know the function of a level designer. A large majority of those who did know (78 percent) believed that a level designer creates both the visuals and the game play for the level they are designing. In fact, very few professional level designers still have the opportunity to work on both visuals and game play, despite this popular misconception.

Ninety-three percent of those surveyed believe that custom levels (a third party level) enrich a game and encourage them to play that game longer. Similarly, 77 percent play custom levels regularly. Only five percent said they never play custom levels. It must be noted however, that these results are probably slightly skewed due to the high number of level designers who participated, and the relatively low number of gamers answering this question.

A small majority (51 percent) believe that server admins do not make enough use of custom levels. Thirty-four percent of the people reported having no complaints. The remaining 16 percent had no opinion on the matter.

Asked about what people regard as most important in a level, “Gameplay” unsurprisingly won with 812 votes. In second place comes “Visuals” (505 votes), closely followed by “Performance” (463 votes).

The most frustrating thing that can happen in a single-player level was found to be “Unclear what to do or getting lost” (689 votes). A clear second place is claimed by “Repetitive gameplay” (655 votes), and “Too few checkpoints” was found to be the third most annoying problem (575 votes). The least frustrating thing was “Cutscenes interrupting game play” (173 votes).

In a multiplayer level, the most frustrating thing was found to be a tied match between “Bad Performance” and “Getting stuck on geometry”, receiving 653 and 670 votes respectively. Another highly problematic area was said to be “Locations that can easily be exploited by lamers” with 584 votes. Least frustrating was the option “Too little ammo and weapons” with 168 votes. “Too simple levels” didn’t seem to cause much frustration (246 votes). Surprisingly enough, the much discussed “Excessive visual clutter” only seemed to frustrate 282 people.

The Results – The Level Designer

Asked about when they first started creating levels, the results were very balanced. Thirty-six percent of the level designers have had more than 8 years of experience and had created their first level during the last millennium. Forty-three percent started between 2000 and 2005. The remaining 21 percent only started relatively recently.

A staggering 35 percent of the level designers created their first level before their 15th birthday. An equally large group of people (33 percent) did so between their 15th and 18th birthday. Only 15 percent of the people started with level design over the age of 24.

Most level designers only seem to have made a few levels. Twenty-four percent have made less than 5 levels. Thirty-one percent have made between 5 and 10 levels. Only 5 percent of those surveyed have made more than a 100 levels so far.

Most level designers prefer to work on multiplayer levels (35 percent), or on both multiplayer as singleplayer (34 percent). Only 23 percent prefer to work on just singleplayer levels.

Asked about the technology and editor they prefer, Source wins the vote (38 percent). In second place comes Unreal (31 percent). All other engines and development platforms were well behind. Quake technology only pleases 12 percent of the people, and Crytek technology only 5 percent. So even though Unreal is assumed to be by far the most popular platform of choice for professional game development, this is not reflected by the communities.

As a level designer, most participants said they create and design the gameplay in a level (520 votes), and surprisingly enough, “Lighting a level” comes in second place (473 votes). All other possible responses received more or less the same number of votes, rendering them inconsequential. “Creating the FX” proved to be least popular answer with (267 votes).

Asked whether people felt that the increasing trend of splitting up the profession into many smaller jobs threatened the profession of a level designer, 37 percent believe that it does not. However, 31 percent of the people thought it did, and the remaining 32 percent voted for “Not sure”.

Today’s more complex but better supported tools made level design easier for 340 people, which is a convincing 50 percent. Only 25 percent felt things were more difficult nowadays.

Level designers seem to enjoy today’s more complex level design more than “oldschool” level design. 33 Percent of those surveyed said that it used to be more fun when games and the tools were simpler, whereas 61 percent enjoy today’s technology more.

Surprisingly enough, Level designers do not seem to believe that level design communities are past their prime because of today’s consoles era (70 percent). I personally believe that the various modding communities have shrunk considerably over the last few years, largely because of the lack of big PC releases.

The Results – The Professional Level Designer

Forty-nine percent became professional level designers by starting out in the mod community. Only 18 percent graduated from a game development course. Fourteen percent graduated from a related course (for example a multimedia course). Only a very mere 5 percent of the people rolled into the position through QA, so unlike it is often claimed, QA does not seem to be a common way to break into the industry, at not least for level designers.

Professional level designers have had little (professional) experience, as 63 percent have worked in the industry for less than three years. Twenty-one Percent have had more than 5 years experience.

Professional level designers are most frustrated by “Having to cut levels and features because of deadlines and hardware/software limitations”, which scored 78 votes. In second place comes “Inferior Tools and technology” (55), very closely followed by “Direct superiors who do not understand level design” and “Publisher interference” (both receiving 54 votes). Least frustrating are “Having to make changes for artists or designers” (33), “Too little management” (32), and “Bad marketing and PR” (32).

Fifty-nine Percent are still active in the mod community. This result is likely skewed though, as this survey was posted mostly in mod communities. To my personal experience most professionals are not active in a mod community.

Asked about how long they expect to keep on working as a professional level designer or artist, 38 percent wish to do so forever, and 30 percent have no idea yet. Only 3 percent intend to quit within two years.

When building a level, the majority prefers to build it all by themselves (61 percent). However, when asked about whether they should be allowed to work exclusively on a level (no teamwork), 77 percent did not think this was a good idea.

A convincing 77 percent do not believe that if many people work on the same level, it usually degrades the level’s quality.

And lastly, 68 percent believe that level design is one of the most complex parts of a game.

Conclusion

People do not like to lose their way in a single player level, or have to replay large parts of it, but they do not mind cutscenes interrupting the game at all. Multiplayer-wise they do not like getting stuck on geometry or bad performance.

The platform of choice for modders these days is definitely either Unreal or Source, and the influx of new modders seems to be relatively constant over the years. People start with level design when they are young, two thirds of the people did so before their 18th birthday.

Professional level designers seem dedicated to their work and do not intend to quit any time soon. They like working on their own and have no need to be managed closely, but are also teamplayers. They are relatively inexperienced and they do not like cutting features because of time and tech constraints, inferiors tools and technology. Also they do not feel that they are represented well by their superiors, who often do not understand the complex nature of level design.



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