What it takes to stay in the game industry
Video games have become more and more mainstream as a form of entertainment over the last decade. We have also seen the rise and fall of some of our fellow game developers.
This industry is unique by itself. It is not entirely dominated by listed game companies, and time after time, it has been proven that indie games can be successful and recognised. However, in order to stay in this gruelling industry, there are several essential qualities that one should possess.
I hope that this article can give some guidance to aspiring individuals who are passionate about this industry and want to understand more.
1. Burning passion for games
Regardless of what industry you are planning to go into, working without passion and not loving what you do everyday will be emotionally draining. It will be like being a body without a soul, mindlessly doing what you are tasked everyday just to receive a pay check at the end of every month.
A burning passion for developing games and the mindset of a gamer are core essentials. You not only have to immerse yourself into your role as a developer but also think from a player’s perspective. For example, on top of having to wear several hats when integrating the game mechanics, art, music and sound effects, the programmer has to think about players’ expectations and present the right feedback to the player at the right time. Being a gamer, you can visualise that perspective while structuring your code.
When a team shares these burning passions for games, everyone can motivate one another and bring more creativity into the development. Everyone, including new hires and interns, has their own unique experiences, so they can contribute their opinions on how to make a game better.
Our imagination has no boundaries and endless possibilities. The only limit is how much you can innovate and push beyond the limits. No matter what role you play in the team, there will always be areas that you can be creative and experiment with.
Every year, there will always be that one game that blows people’s minds, making us ask ourselves, “Why didn’t I think of that?!”. Go out for a walk, observe your surroundings for inspiration, think out of the box. One of the games I played recently is “Untitled Goose Game”, which was inspired by a picture of a goose shared by one of the members of the team. I loved the combination of simple gameplay and simple visuals, as well as the whimsical classical music played in sync with the player’s actions. Research into your favourite games and find out where the developers found their inspiration.
You may also come across interviews or articles mentioning how some developers have used other games as inspiration. Almost every game is a combination of mechanics, design or art style “borrowed” from other games. Creativity can also come from mixing and matching existing proven game mechanics and art styles innovatively.
There are no “right” or “wrong” answers when it comes to creativity. The sky’s the limit.
Internal and external communications play vital roles, especially during the development process.
Good internal communication facilitates the understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of your team members, learning how to complement one another and working as a team. Maintaining constant communication and feedback helps to grow everyone in a team.
External communication refers to interaction with players, reviewers or publishers. Positive feedback helps to give motivation to the team and even negative feedback can push you to work harder or do things differently. Some of these feedback can be an opportunity to further improve on the game as they can have valuable insights that your team may have overlooked. A fresh pair of eyes is always helpful to get a different perspective and opinion.
Ultimately, no two gamers in this world will have played the same list of games in their lifetime, thus exchanging ideas and maintaining good communication can spark unlimited possibilities.
4. Growth mindset
One of the toughest challenges is keeping up with the current trends. Today, game development is vastly different compared to 9 years ago when I had first started my game company. Anyone can learn to develop a game on an engine like Unity3D, GameMaker or RPG Maker online and publish their game on their desired platform.
There is no limit to how much an individual can learn within a lifetime and the best way to overcome this challenge is to maintain a growth mindset. The game development journey is going to be rocky with numerous hurdles. How you embrace and overcome adversities, setbacks and challenges will determine how far you can go. My company started off developing freemium games for feature phones and early smartphone models, then moved on to premium games for different platforms like Steam, Playstation and Nintendo Switch. Up to today, we are still learning and constantly innovating the way we develop our games.
You cannot expect the school to teach you everything; you have to learn new skills by yourself along the way. During game development, there are tasks like preparing the game for localisation, considering whether a game to be single or multi-platform, understanding how save files and syncing work for different platforms, game balancing, database management, art asset optimisation and much more. Some of these tasks have to be done right in the early stage of development with plans to cater for scalability, game design changes, achievement systems or new content updates etc. The ability to perform these tasks comes from experience and experimentation rather than book learning. Therefore it is good to keep an open mind and learn on the job.
Be curious, never stop learning and keep growing your knowledge base.
5. Be multi-faceted
Once you are proficient and confident in your core competency, like programming, designing or drawing, keep levelling yourself up and adding complementing skills.
Aim to allocate a few hours every week to any of the following tasks:
- Learn to develop games alone or with a close friend
- Learn fundamental programming if you are not a programmer
- Read development diaries of other games to learn about their development process
- Try out games of different genres, paying more attention to elements out of your core competency
- Analyse games and ask yourself what you would have done differently
- Check out game reviews sites/ videos and get different perspective on the games you have analysed
- (Advanced) Participate in game jams when available
Doing the above will help you learn different aspects of game development, so that you can understand more about what your other team members are doing. For example, if the programmer understands user experience design, and the UX designer has basic programming knowledge, it makes communication much easier as both of them can discuss about UI/UX on the same wavelength. Having knowledge of other parts of the game development process can help to further boost your creativity and communicate better as a team.
If you are still schooling, do not be over reliant on just your certificate or school portfolio to get a job. Apply for internships, or do any of the above mentioned during your free time. Do mention if you have done any of the above in your cover letter too (I will be covering this in another article). Everyone in your class is going to graduate with the same certification and a similar portfolio as you. Think about how you can differentiate yourself from the rest.
6. Have end goals in mind
Whether you are planning to work for a game company or starting your own, set clear end goals that you want to achieve and think about the legacy you want to leave behind. Write down the steps to reach your end goals and take baby steps every day.
If you plan to make your own game, allocate a fixed amount of time every week to work on the game. If you plan to work in a game company, think about what is the highest role that you want to be in.
Goals should not be set in stone and can still be changed along the way, but most importantly they have to be challenging and keep you motivated to work towards them everyday. Review your progress monthly and reflect whether you are closer to or further from your end goals.
7. Maintain a healthy lifestyle
This is the most important point of all. Keep a healthy lifestyle by exercising regularly, having a balanced diet and maintaining consistent sleeping habits. Avoid a sedentary lifestyle at all costs. You need the energy in order to keep yourself productive and creative. Sometimes, good ideas come by while you are dreaming or taking a break.
There have been articles about how working in the game industry can be stressful, demanding, with long working hours and without much work life balance. If you do not sleep enough, eat well or exercise, it will have a negative impact on your productivity. If crunch time is inevitable, remember to give yourself a few days to recharge and recover fully. Do not compromise your own health.
You are, after all, the only one in control of your well-being, and you need to stay healthy in order to keep making games.
Life is similar to a video game, the biggest difference being that we only have one life and there is no save point to go back in time. There will always be puzzles to solve, “bosses” to defeat and endless challenges to overcome along the way. Whether we win or lose, we gain valuable experience and wisdom, level up, and sometimes learn a new skill. Whenever we are low on health, we should take a break and grab a bite to “heal” ourselves.
Always keep in mind what your final objectives are and continue working towards them everyday.