Later this month will be the first anniversary of me being a full time game dev. Although I realised I wanted to go full time game dev around Christmas 2014, I didn’t actually start until May 2015 when I left my full time job and found myself knee deep in a world I knew nothing about.
Back then I felt that I entered full time game development knowing everything I needed to know to get started, what to do and when to do it, who to approach, how to make money. I had plenty of ideas. I started with and still have so much support. Unfortunately no matter how prepared I thought I was, over the last year I have learned so many valuable lessons.
So to celebrate my first year of being a game dev and to perhaps open the eyes of those considering going up this route, here is a list of the most important things I learned. Of course this list is only my opinion and I can only assume that every game dev journey is different.
1| Lower your expectations
Why not start with putting a mega dampener on things! I entered game dev with quite high expectations. I figured with my huge increase in time I could devote towards game development and with the help of the other devs, we would have games out in no time. That would then turn into cash and before you know it we would have a studio. The reality is so much different.
I feel like I have spent most of the last year filling in applications and attending meetings which in most cases don’t actually help towards the games, but more towards the business aspect of things. On top of all the extra time you now have, you also have a ton of extra responsibilities, both to yourself and anyone who is working with you.
2| Game Development is a marathon, not a sprint
This ties very much in with my first point about my expectations. I honestly thought that within the first 6 months we would be well on the way to releasing our first game. Although in the first 6 months we did get so much done, the truth is I was very naive to how much time it would actually take.
I think maybe if I didn’t sleep, eat, shower or take any sort of breaks in the first 6 months, Castaways may have been finished in that time, but I am really unsure of what the finished product would look like.
So in reflection, pace yourself. I 100% agree with setting targets but do not expect everything to be smooth sailing within your first 12 months, never within 6 months like I did.
3| Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket
We started with one idea – Castaways. As much as I am still 110% behind this idea, it is far too big a project for us to get out in the time frame that I wanted / anticipated. So a hard lesson I had to learn from one of the more experienced developers was to put your dream game somewhat on hold and constantly chase up alternate projects and ideas. Work on these in tandem with your big project and see what takes off.
It does sound like you’re making more work for yourself but it’s an eye opener when you finally start having ideas that seem way better than your original. Also on top of all this, if you are able to take on some paid work, take it. This could be your source of income for the next few years. This brings me onto…
4| Get something finished!
One thing where we somewhat failed for a long time was getting something finished and out into the world. We spent the first maybe six months working on nothing but Castaways. I don’t regret any of it, but as a result we still don’t have ‘that much’ to show for our first year. The only games we have finished to date are contracted, and although designed and developed by us, they are not actually ‘ours’.
So my recommendation is, the first project you should be working on should be simple. Aim to get it out as soon as possible. Doesn’t matter if you make any money off it at all, as long as it is out as a portfolio piece and you can produce it at a moment’s notice to show it off. This will aid when it comes to potential clients who will see that you’re already producing work that is out on the market.
5| Ask for help
There are so many services available to people in our position. Personally I have found the Prince’s Trust and Business Gateway has been extremely helpful for me, but it obviously depends on a ton of variables such as your age, position and even location.
Your old universities or colleges will also be a font of information, ranging from the marketing departments, your IT / Game Design departments and even the careers advisers.
6| 30 Minutes a day
At first, your motivation will be through the roof. But as times go on you will without fail go through times when you really can’t be bothered with developing. This is perfectly normal and expected.
I personally combat this trough by ensuring that each day I spend at least 30 minutes trying to do work. Actual work. Not staring at a screen or talking on Facebook. I find that if I spend 30 minutes proactively trying to do work, that 30 minutes will turn into an hour or even two.
If after 30 minutes you really can’t get anything done or your mind is elsewhere, then go have a break. It’s unlikely you will get any work done through forcing yourself and any that you do won’t be your best. You can try this two or three times a day, and it will definitely help you work through times of low motivation.
7| Set your own deadlines
One way in which I am personally able to push myself, is to set myself deadlines. It doesn’t matter so much if you meet the deadline, but it is important to at least try. You’ll find yourself getting more work done over a shorter course of time.
If you work with a team, it is also good to keep your team on the same deadlines. For instance, aiming to get a certain part of a game done before the end of the week. If everyone is working to that deadline, whether you meet it or not, you’re still making more progress than if you didn’t have the deadline in place.
8| Track your progress
At the end of each week or month, there will be times that you will think “I’ve done nothing this week, what a waste”. I found this to be extremely demotivating. To counter this I began keeping a list of everything that I have completed, regardless of how small or big. Whether it is changes to a part of a game, a whole new feature implemented, a blog post written or even meeting attended.
You can do this any way you like but I personally keep it as Sticky Notes on my desktop. It allows me to update it easily and it is always in my face as a reminder of what I have done. It’s a real good motivational boost to look back at the month and see what you’ve done so far. It also acts a reminder that you are getting things done, even if it doesn’t feel that way.
9| Hope for the best – plan for the worst
One of the last bits of advice I can give is to hope for the best but always plan for the worst. Regardless of how big or small the decision, ensure that you always have a backup plan for that decision going wrong.
Of course at times it is necessary to take risks, but hope that these risks pay off, plan for if they don’t. By doing this you ensure that even if you don’t get the gigs you want or need, you’ll still be able to continue doing what you love until another opportunity comes along.
10| Decide what success means to you and chase it
A year into full time game dev and I am not filthy rich. I don’t have an office so I work from home. Most people in the game developer communities don’t know my name or what I do. Even less gamers know who I am.
I am a successful game developer.
I am doing what I love. I have the support of my girlfriend, family and friends. My bills are paid and I have enough work to get me through the rest of the year. We are on the verge of releasing multiple games and we’re in a position to be developing and releasing even more later in the year. I am in a really good position and I couldn’t be happier.
So what do you class as successful? Aim for that, work towards it and enjoy every minute. You might only have one chance in your life to do this, so make it worth every minute and don’t let anything hold you back.
I hope this has been some sort of benefit to you. If you have enjoyed reading or found it beneficial, please share this post as there will most certainly be others who will enjoy the read or benefit from it too.
I am more than happy to answer any questions you might have so free to post them below or find me on twitter.