Blog Funsmith Fireside Chats Candace Thomas: QA to Principal Game Designer – Funsmith Fireside Chats (#3)

Candace Thomas: QA to Principal Game Designer – Funsmith Fireside Chats (#3)

Candace Thomas: QA to Principal Game Designer – Funsmith Fireside Chats (#3)

Funsmith Fireside Chats Episode #3

Guest: Candace Thomas

Candace Thomas is the former Lead Game Designer on World of Warcraft and Diablo 3 at Blizzard Entertainment and the current Principal Game Designer at Riot Games. In addition to mentoring many game designers, she has a range of design experiences through 15+ years of experience in the video game industry such as

  • Single and multiplayer combat,
  • Enemy design and AI
  • Game modes and narrative

In this episode, we will explore insights from Candace on how to get into the game development industry, her experience starting from a play testing position all the way to becoming a Lead Game Designer for one of the biggest games in the world and sharing collaboration stories with Alex at Blizzard.

Watch or Listen to The Full Episode

Podcast Platforms:


Video (Youtube):

Referenced Links & Resources

Connect with Candace:


Connect with Alex:


Connect with Ari:

Instagram | TikTok


Game Design Skills

Episode Chapters

00:00 – Intro

00:45 – Greetings

01:28 – Why Candace doesn’t like small talk

03:02 – Responsibilities as a principle game designer

04:12 – How Alex and Candace first began working together at blizzard

04:39 – How Riot games utilizes embedded QA to their advantage

07:34 – The different roles in game design 08:21 – How Candace began her career

08:57 – The first game encounter Candace worked on

10:25 – The first video game boss Candace ever made

11:18 – Our Experience Working Together on World of Warcraft

13:32 – How leaving WoW helped Candace improve as a designer

14:12 – Candace’s role when working on Diablo IV and how it differed from WoW

18:11 – Stages of career development

20:15 – QA feedback in Game Development

24:30 – “My Journey to Become a Principle Game Designer”

28:36 – The challenges of starting a new job

32:49 – Mentorship in your journey

37:37 – Mid level vs senior level game designer mindset

41:16 – How to find mentors in the gaming industry

45:41 – How to get good as an Aspiring Game Designer

49:18 – Creating games on Twine

52:13 – Is networking as crucial to one’s career as people Say?

54:36 – Don’t get discouraged

56:28 – Alex’s thoughts after leaving Blizzard

1:04:25 – Advise for anyone looking to make a career change

1:05:40 – Final thoughts

More Guest Quotes From This Episode

“As a principal game designer you basically lay all the foundations of the game. It’ll be differ depending on what project you’re on and what the life cycle of that project is.” — Candace Thomas

“Good design isn’t just good design on paper. It is a design that serves the player, serves your needs for personal satisfaction or it either meets the vision that you are going for.” — Candace Thomas

“No matter how good of a design that you have and no matter what your intentions are with a design, if you can’t work or collaborate with a team and get a team excited about it, the amount of time it takes to ship something into playable like status will be exponentially longer.” Candace Thomas

“When you come in as an associate level, the lowest level of designer, you’re very unsure about yourself, you’ve never shipped anything, you don’t know how it’s going to turn out, you don’t know if it’s going to break horribly, you don’t know if anyone’s going to like anything you’ve put out. You feel very vulnerable.” — Candace Thomas

“As QA, I always told people that feedback needs to be specific enough to be actionable. Either do more of this thing or do not do this thing and try not to prescribe an answer.” — Candace Thomas

“I can’t overstate how important it is to have representation in the workplace. As the only woman in the team, I think if there was a woman in leadership I could have looked up to, I could have seen what the role model for that kind of behavior was then maybe I could have been more of my own authentic self at that time.” — Candace Thomas

“There’s this Wyatt quote: when you’re Associate Designer we hand you one of those little squirt guns full of water. Pull the trigger as much as you want, you’re not gonna do too much damage.You get to associate we’re handling you like ak-47, use it wisely. We’re gonna ask you if you ever fire it. You get to Senior, you’ve got a heavy six bullet magnum. You can kill and kill, you really can do damage but you shouldn’t fire it too often. When you become a Director, we hand you a sniper rifle. You can kill absolutely anything from any distance but every time you pull the trigger, everyone in the team is going to be terrified and scared that they’re next.” —  Alexander Brazie

“My best advice is to use your Manager as that tool, if you don’t know who to turn to. Your Manager is a great starting point.” — Candace Thomas

“If you haven’t got your first job in the game industry, my first advice is whatever entry-level you take it will at least help you solidify if you’re going in the right direction or not. Most of my learning comes from doing or making a reality that something I’m envisioning. You can’t do that unless you have professional tools that you’re using. So just start making stuff, download the portal editor and make a cool portal level.” — Candace Thomas

“What can be important is the sponsorship and the mentorship, even if someone isn’t going to guarantee you a job, just knowing who to ask whenever you run into roadblocks, that’s the actual value of networking.” — Candace Thomas

“If someone says ‘no’ to your portfolio, it doesn’t mean no forever. Sometimes it just means that someone more experienced came up. There’s a hundred reasons why you don’t get a job and only one of those reasons is now you aren’t good enough.” — Candace Thomas

“I’m fortunate that I got the first job I applied for in game design. I’ll admit that. I worked along side another super super talented designer, who actually out leveled me very quickly because he’s a very good ideas person, very good at execution, but also a very good collaborator which I struggled with for a very long time. He applied for the WoW team 8 TIMES before he got the job.” — Candace Thomas

“My advice to anyone who’s looking to either change their career or get a new career is don’t forget to interview the company back. It’s really easy to assume the power dynamic is off and that they’re only scouring me to see if I’m worthy of working for them but you really need to be interviewing them back to find out if their culture is right for you, to find out if their hours are right for you, find out if their collaboration styles mesh with your collaboration styles. It’s completely okay.” — Candace Thomas

People Mentioned

Travis Day (13:29)

Owen Landgren (13:36)

Morgan Day (24:37)

Jeff Kaplan (29:23)

Eric Maloof (36:00)

Geoff (Jeff) Goodman (36:26)

Wyatt Cheng (40:40)

Paul Kubit (56:38)

What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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