20 January, 2006
I often get emails asking about breaking into the games industry. It has happened so often that I finally put up a page about breaking into games. Lots of people want to get into game development, it seems.
But, there is another option to consider. A new reader to my blog (Hi, Sheridan!) wrote to ask me more about getting into the industry, and I recommended he consider the possibility of making games while not getting a job in the industry.
The reasons for wanting to get into games are fairly easy to understand: some of us have a burning need to make games. We enjoy the process of creating mechanics, testing and evaluating these mechanics, and letting someone else have fun with our creation. This can include video/computer games, casual flash games, even board or paper RPG games. Even if no one cared about our games, most of us would probably still be making them.
However, when it comes to professional work, most game developers can sympathize with high school and college wrestlers. You can have a wonderful wrestling career in school, but your options for a career in wrestling are pretty grim. Game developers sometimes face equally grim options for their careers, it seems.
One option that is rarely mentioned is the possibility of doing games on the side instead of as the focus of your career. Get a job doing what you live, such as programming or art, then contribute to a game project on the side. Make a high-quality mod with other serious-minded people. Or, make a small shareware game during evenings and weekends. You can avoid selling our soul to a large corporation looking to churn out “product” instead of making quality games by doing game development on your own. Make something you truly feel passionate, perhaps even offer it for sale if you can. Or give it away and see how people react to your offering. You might be able to stumble across something new and exciting that revolutionizes gameplay.
Of course, there are some downsides to this. Many times your day job can be all-consuming. Although jobs with sane hours do exist, most programmers I know of, even in non-games industries, spend long hours at work. They get wrapped up in their work, and sometimes need to spend time at the office to be seen as a “team player” by the boss. Working at your game at the office is usually forbidden, or even a tragically bad idea if your employer can claim ownership of everything you do at work.
In addition, you probably won’t get the rock-star recognition for your efforts. Few shareware-level developers get the recognition of a Will Wright, John Carmack, or Sid Meyer. Of course, for most of us this is just fine as long as we get a chance to work on what we love. And, to be fair, few full-time game developers get this level of recognition, either, despite their ability and talent. But, it is interesting to note that some of the bigger names in the industry did get their start working alone or in a tiny team making superb products they really enjoyed.
Of course, being an independent developer is getting a bit easier. Casual games are on the rise, and a few of the companies that began that wave, such as PopCap and GameHouse have made considerable money. And, if Greg Costikyan gets his way it might be even easier to find an audience for your independent games.
So, for you aspiring game developers out there, take the time to consider an alternate path. Putting on a pair of tights and learning how to fake getting hit isn’t your only option.