“I want to be a game developer!” 15-year-old Timmy proclaimed triumphantly, planting a foot down and standing proudly to let the world know that he’d be the greatest dev there ever was.
A game developer you say? You wish to make games for a living? I should warn you, Timmy, that development at any level, from the little league modders to the world champ triple-A’s, is a notoriously grueling process; it is oftentimes a fight on multiple fronts.
“I don’t care!” shouts Timmy stubbornly. “I have been playing video games all my life. I love them more than anything and want to make them for a living.”
Well Timmy, that’s admirable, but know that many a Timmy before you have worn this path down beyond reason with the weathering of their own gruesome treks.
If you still want to be a game dev, Timmy, then here are some things to consider:
- Nobody cares about your unique idea.
Do not expect to get into a dev studio simply because you have an interesting idea for a game. As is often said, there is no room for a specialized “idea guy” in the video game industry. Everyone in a game development studio is an idea guy in their own right. They just have skills which allow them to make those ideas into a reality through some kind of creative medium. Which leads to our next point…
2. You need to have an actual skill.
There are a lot of disciplines to choose from, but you need to be good at one of them. Can you write a gripping story with few words that won’t be made into a victim of the game’s mechanics? Figure your way around a string of code? Model and animate cool characters, items, and worlds? Write a complete GDD with a feasible scope and make it into something with an engine like Unity or Game Maker Studio 2? If not, now’s the time to start learning. You don’t have to be the greatest, but you should be able to make yourself marketable.
“But I could be a playtester, couldn’t I? I could be someone who plays the games and gives feedback to the designers! It’d be just like what I did in my childhood.” Timmy said, giddy as ever.
Well, you can be a playtester, Timmy. Just know that you’ll be playing the same level over and over again until your eyes grow red and watery, and that you’ll only be searching for bugs; generally speaking, no feedback will be given to the designers. Oh, and the programmers will hate you.
3. You have to be good in teams.
Get ready to work with people you love and people you hate. Get ready to watch your precious ideas get shot down in broad daylight and left to bleed out by your cheery-faced team lead or project director. There are always people like Toby Fox, but it’s rare that anything quality ever gets made if it’s not a part of a collaborative effort. Professionalism, good character, and cooperation is paramount–just like in other fields.
4. Hurry up and wait.
It took over 100 developers roughly 4 years to make Skyrim. Development takes time–a LOT of time–and not just on the programmers’ ends. Get ready to stare at a screen for 12 hours straight and work well into the night–toiling away on a computer in some dark corner in the back of the room.
“I thought it was only the playtesters that had to worry about their eyes,” Timmy said, distraught.
If only that were true, Timmy. If only that were true.
5. It helps to know about game design.
There’s a reason why aspiring developers can take college courses on this stuff. While a sound engineer or a concept artist doesn’t need to know as much about a game narrative as the head designer, a knowledge of psychology behind games will do wonders for you as a dev. Whether it’s about keeping players glued to their screens like Valve has done for years with Team Fortress 2, or forcing out a ragequit like in Cat Mario, being able to dissect a game for its finer components helps–no matter what area you work in on a development team.
6. You need to be able to speak English.
This isn’t a problem for all, but a grasp of the English language will serve you well here. As time progresses, English grows increasingly mandatory in many fields in the mysterious realms of not-game development. If your career as a dev doesn’t work out, then be happy knowing that you’ll still have this universally marketable skill.
“I still want to be a game developer though!” Timmy cried, a fire in his eyes. “Games are my passion!”
Well, Timmy–stubborn or determined–know that I’m not here to (entirely) crush your dreams, because…
7. If you really want to develop video games, then you should totally go for it.
Just make sure you’re realistic. Don’t expect to make a living off of it and don’t expect all your plans to succeed. Start small, look to those of experience, and practice, practice, practice. Whether you’re a modder, a fan dev, or a blockbuster triple-A, you’re bound to have your ups and downs, just like you would at any other job. A life of game development is as equally rewarding as it is a life of hardship. If this is really what you want to do and you feel you’ve got the skills for it, then get out there and make it happen.
As a wise friend of mine liked to say: “Don’t wait for opportunity to come to you. Kick opportunity’s door down and fucking kidnap him.”
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