Things You Should Know About Ian Phipps, Game Designer

You may have vaguely heard of Ian, but until now, he’s generally avoided the public eye.

That is, until he let on that he made a Benny-O’-Lantern, and then bam, now he’s dodging paparazzi. Just kidding. But that did remind us he needed a bio for our website.

And lucky for you, dear fans, Ian is indeed a cool guy.

Bored with small-town Alaska, Ian played a lot of video games. So much so that they would become his livelihood.

So hence started Ian’s journey to San Francisco (one of the prime game development capitals of the world) for college. He started as a tester at Planet Moon Studios testing the Sims 3 Wii Multiplayer component. He also worked on Disney’s Tangled games for the Nintendo DS and Wii. Ian moved on to Bigpoint, working his way up to Junior Designer, then on to Flying Wisdom Studios before landing up here at Vector Unit as Game Designer (courtesy of former colleagues passing along his name).

What does a game designer do?

In our studio, Ian designs systems and tweaks hundreds of numerical values in dozens of spreadsheets - all to ensure that the game is fun. The number of coins you earn in each level, what the bonus levels are worth, what it takes to upgrade your vehicle -- those are all under his domain.

By far his favorite Vector Unit game is Beach Buggy Racing 2, especially since he’s been living and breathing it since he started working here. “It’s turning out to be a damn fine game,” he says with a smirk. “I know ALL the secrets... but I'll never tell!”

But while Ian is tight-lipped when it comes to Easter eggs, he’s almost poetic about the future of games.

“We're at a point where it seems like many games really just wish they were films. Play is a unique experience, so games deserve their own symbolic language, their own brand of rapport with audiences, and their own rubric for what makes them work well.” His research is vast, having played so many. Apart from now working on racing games, his favorite games include Super Meat Boy, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the Devil May Cry series (1, 3, DmC), Hotline Miami and Ico.

And how can Ian save your youngsters with video game development dreams thousands of dollars?

By telling them that they DO NOT need college.


  • Play anything and everything, especially the kinds of games you don't like.

  • Read other people's opinions, such as reviewers, but do so with the eventual goal of being able to form opinions of your own.

  • Find someone to talk to about games who challenges your opinions, which will force you to articulate your ideas and develop them further.

  • Get a job as a tester (yes, I know, it's not really what you want), preferably at a small studio, and make a point of dealing as much as possible with the actual gamemakers, learning all you can about the ins and outs of what makes games tick. Ask ALL of your questions, especially the ones you think are stupid, and suggest anything that seems like it might be a good idea.

  • Read A Theory of Fun by Raph Koster and then look at the bibliography and read all of those books, too. In fact, read everything about games, psychology, neuroscience, and culture that you can get your hands on.

  • Once you're finally making games, work doggedly to make everything you touch better, and listen to people who've been doing this longer than you. They won't always be right, but you'll have to listen to them in the first place to figure that out.

  • The most important thing is to make it your goal to put out the best games you possibly can, ego, fatigue and restrictions notwithstanding.

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Ian Phipps, Game Designer

Ian Phipps, Game Designer