12 September, 2016
It’s a common refrain. People grow older and they get busier. Between jobs, friends, kids, and other responsibilities, games sometimes get left by the wayside. People just don’t have the time to dedicate in order to sit down and immerse themselves in a game like they did before.
But, what happens when that busy person is a game developer? If you work in the game industry, does it make sense that you should be a gamer, too?
Let’s take a look at game development in each of the disciplines.
As a programmer or artist
Seems a bit strange to lump these together, but I think they’re related. Playing games is important as a programmer or artist because it lets you get a feel for the state of the art. Knowing how quick a UI needs to react, or the styles of art in current games is important. Having your finger on the pulse of the industry is important because that will let you anticipate the direction the market is moving
Of course, you can get a lot of this information from watching videos of gameplay and not necessarily playing the games yourself. In this way, “Let’s Play” videos have been a great boon to the busy game developer in addition to acting as publicity for their games. You can spot trends in programming techniques and art almost as easily from a video as from playing the game directly. Of course, playing a game lets you have finer control in order to test or really get a close look at some feature.
And, this is probably more important for leads than for your typical programmer or artist. It’s usually the leads who set the direction in terms of programming tasks or art style. So, the leads (in addition to probably being older and having more responsibilities and having to lead the team) are the ones who probably need this knowledge more. But, if you’re aspiring to a lead position, having this knowledge might be a good thing.
As a designer
As a designer, the need is a bit more pressing. Understanding other games in the genre are important for two reasons. First, there might be some clever solution to a design problem you’ll encounter. Why re-invent the wheel when someone else has a good solution? Second, because you’ll want to know how different you have to make your game to stand out from the others.
I think this is a standard qualifier for many creative fields, though. One common piece of advice for aspiring writes is to read, A LOT. Reading other books helps you figure out what is popular, what is commercially successful, and develops your craft as a writer. I think you can see a lot of the same benefits about playing games as a designer.
While “Let’s Play” videos can help here, you generally want to actually play a game to get a better feel for it. Being in the moment and making the decisions (and being able to analyze the decision-making process) helps to understand the game. Plus, you might want to play more obscure games (or make less popular decisions) when playing the game than someone doing a Let’s Play video. After all, that streamer is mostly looking to entertain people, not explore the nuances in a game.
So, as a designer, you probably do want to be an active gamer, even if you also have demands on your time as an adult.
As a business person
So, here’s where we get pretty solidly into the realm of opinion. I read a recent article on networking that brought up this topic. One of the types of people to avoid is the “super gamer”. And to be fair, avoiding the “developer wannabe” who thinks their biggest qualifier is they “play a lot of games” is usually less helpful than they think they in development work. The author relies on that bit I discussed at the beginning of this post, where someone who is busy won’t have time to be a super gamer. The author is a super-busy business person!
On one hand, business people don’t necessarily need to be deeply involved with the businesses they work with. Does the person running a paper factory have to have a strong passion for paper products? Does the person marketing dish soap have to live the dish soap life to be effective at marketing? Does the leader motivating people to design and sell widgets have to fill their life with widgets? In most situations, no. the basic principles of managing, marketing, and leading can be applied across many disciplines. Games aren’t necessarily some special flower.
On the other hand, despite being a major industry, games aren’t known for being a great way to accumulate wealth. As the joke goes, “the best way to end up with a small pile of money in the game industry is to start with a large pile of money.” If you’re a savvy businessperson, why would you work in games if you didn’t care about them? There are plenty of other industries where you could make better money with a lot less risk. As a creative person with a strong foundation in business, I’ve heard some real stories about people who aren’t into gaming but who run game businesses, and it usually ends poorly. The game industry is a strange place, and sometimes understanding that strangeness is important to success.
And the conclusion is…
If I had to summarize, I’d probably say “you don’t have to be a gamer, but it certainly helps”. Knowing the state of the art and the market as almost any discipline in the game industry is helpful, and being a gamer is one of the sure ways to get that information-first hand.
What do you think? If you’re a game developer, has being a gamer helped you? Or has not being a gamer hurt you? As a consumer, do you trust a gamer game developer more? Or does it not matter?