In the time I’ve spent trying to be an independent game developer, I’ve taken a number of projects from conception to either one of two stages: the “this will never work as a game” stage or the “there’s no way on Earth I’d be able to do this” stage. If it wasn’t clear from my previous post, I am a hobbyist. I do what I can when I have the time, and most of the time, I’d rather play games than try to figure out how to make them. I still have a lot to learn. This is an ongoing experience that I intend to share as I go.
If I am to pursue game development at all, doing it as a hobby is pretty much the only avenue I have at this point. That’s okay, because the Internet is full of resources, and I’ll talk about those in future posts.
Making games as a hobby, though, is not the only route available. Here’s three examples of ways to get into making games (this list is far from exhaustive):
- The Hobbyist: This is the path my posts will focus on. These days, making games isn’t prohibitively difficult, but you’ll need an idea, a plan, and plenty of time to conceptualize, develop, and test your creation before putting it up for sale (or releasing it for free). The hobbyist does all of this while working around school or a job or other obligations. You may be working alone, or you might have a small team working with you. And if you’ve got any cash to throw at your venture, it may not be very much. I’ll get a little more in-depth about getting started in part three of this series.
- The Start-Up: Maybe you’ve got some business savvy or a lot of money and just want to start a company that makes games. Or maybe you start off as a hobbyist, and your project’s getting so much attention that you want to take it to the next level, which means finding investors and going full-time with development (or close to full-time). Or maybe you’ve worked in development for years and want to break out on your own. However it happens, starting a small company is one way game development becomes a ‘job’ instead of a ‘hobby’. This is a tough one; game development can take a while, and you won’t see a dime from your customers until your game’s done and on shelves or in app stores. If you don’t already have cash in reserve from being independently wealthy or selling organs and plasma, how are you going to pay for equipment and software? You’ve got to be able pay salaries as well, especially your own (remember, this is your job now). I would suggest checking out a book called “Business and Legal Primer for Game Development” by S. Gregory Boyd and Brian Green for more information, but if you’re serious about starting a company, consult an actual lawyer. I’m not planning on making it this far in my own journey, but anything’s possible.
- The Graduate: So you’re in high school and you think you want a career making games? Already got a bachelor’s degree in <insert mundane subject> but would rather do something creative? In your thirties and stuck in a rut with your career (or lack thereof)? You’re in luck. There’s schools that will teach you everything you need to know about making games. At least, that’s what the websites say. The schools offer bachelor’s and master’s degrees in subjects like Game Design and Computer Art and Animation. Remember: getting an education, in spite of what your teachers, your guidance counselor, or you parents have told you, does NOT guarantee employment (or happiness), so do your research and be absolutely sure you want to shell out the dough for such a specialized degree. As for the schools themselves, I’ve heard good things from graduates of Full Sail in Florida, and there’s also DigiPen in Washington (near Seattle and dozens of game studios). My brother Chris, a veteran of the game industry and holder of an Associates Degree in something-or-other, has this to say: “I kinda think facilities provided are more important than the curriculum. And meeting people who are dedicated.” In other words, find a school that will give you the tools you need to sharpen your skills, and isn’t using outdated software and equipment. For the record, he went to the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. If you’re looking at going to school, you’re probably looking to get hired at a major studio. Having a degree isn’t necessary to get hired, but it probably helps.
Like I said, those are just three very general examples. I did briefly entertain the notion of going to school, but that’s not as appealing now as it was fifteen years ago. And I certainly don’t have an excess of cash or any business savvy. If I had a sufficiently interesting idea and an adequate plan of execution, I might consider turning to Kickstarter for funding. I’d have to quit my job to work on the project though. It would almost be like crowd-funded unemployment.
Although with taxes and what-not, I guess all unemployment benefits are crowd-funded. Moving on.
So I’ll be developing games as a hobby. Even though it’s a hobby, that’s no reason to jump in without a plan. I could probably cobble something together fairly quickly using one of the freely-available game engines and put the thing on the Internet, but it would likely be terrible. And as much as love video games, I have to recognize that there’s a ton of crap games out there.There’s no reason I should settle for crap, and neither should any other hobby game developer. So starting with a plan is essential. Winging it will only make your whole venture end in tears.
So. What’s first?