When speaking to a player—a non-developer—recently I was told, “I don’t understand why anyone would get out of development. Making games for a living is a dream come true.” It was in that moment that I realized that being in development is not necessarily what players would expect. Although it is a dream come true, it is also far more difficult than the average player believes it to be.
There is plenty of tedious labor that goes into creating an entertaining experience for players. More than that, getting into the industry, and landing a stable position, takes some patience.
The following is a list of steps you’d be wise to implement when starting a career in game development:
Don’t Quit Your Day Job . . . Yet!
If you believe that you will land a stable job in development fresh out of college, you may be dreaming. And denile may be a river in Egypt. Unless you already have an amazing portfolio and some decent connections, you will need to get a day job. The first few projects will probably be indie—and unpaid. As time goes on, you will be paid, but it won’t be very much. It won’t be until a better-known studio, or at least a more established one, hires you that you will be able to leave your day job.
And yes, that means you will be essentially working two jobs for the first few years. Day and night. What most people do is focus on their day job as their primary career and game development as a hobby. When a stable company hires them, they complete a career change.
The Golden Ticket: A Portfolio
It is rather common knowledge that to get into game development you need a portfolio. Much like a graphic designer, illustrator, or writer, game developers need a collection of their completed works in order to land stable employment. Depending on your skill set and position applied for you will need five examples minimum, three of which should be launched games. Small indie games, sample animations, sample dialogue, published novels, sold artwork, etc. all counts.
Based on this, it should be no surprise that building a portfolio is going to take a few years. It’s roughly 3-6 years of accumulating proper experience and examples to showcase. That means when you get home from your day job, you should be working on a project, even small ones.
But Wait, There’s More!
If you show dedication and perseverance, and finally land a stable position at a studio, do not for one second believe the journey is over. It’s only just begun. Once you get into the industry legitimately, and earn a living working on games, you will find yourself surrounded by industry leaders, players, coworkers and directors who all demand something or another. Often contradicting demands, no less.
This means your days will be filled with whatever your assigned workload is, plus everything that comes up, like unexpected issues, and coworkers asking for help. There will be many interactions with marketing teams, many meetings, and many brainstorming sessions.
When crunch time comes around, and deadlines are looming, hours might be a little longer. Everyone will be stressed out trying to complete everything in time. In essence, game development isn’t so much a career, as it is a lifestyle.
Chin Up, Lads and Lasses
It may seem difficult, and it definitely is, but becoming a game developer is nothing if not rewarding. The amount of work that it takes to survive in the industry makes you feel proud of yourself when you finally meet your goals. The field isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s not for people who love playing games but don’t want to put in extraordinary amounts of effort into career-building. It’s for the artist who wants to work on a visual medium and always strive toward improvement.
If it seems like the industry might make it very difficult to enter for very little reward, though, you are mistaken! Making video games for a living is one of the most entertaining—and team-work oriented—careers out there. Every single day is different and exciting. People tend to be nice despite being busy, and are willing to teach you something new. Developers grow together and within their company. It is a sense of camaraderie you get very limited amounts of in a lifetime, and game development doles it out in spades.