Game development is a fun field, filled with video games (obviously), and talented creatives. Conferences make ideal places to network. The long hours are spent playing or designing, writing or programming. And you go home knowing you’re making art.
If it sounds too good to be true, it’s because it’s only half the story. No one mentions the tunnel vision that comes with QA enough. The fact that you’re overworked seems to escape those just starting out.
Speaking of which, if you’re starting out, it’s high time you opened your eyes. There’s lots to learn about this exciting, tedious career path, before you can commit. This is our list of the five things you absolutely must know before diving in.
Keep Your Day Job
At least until you get a stable hire, or you find that landing contracts has become steady. Think of yourself as a business, because, well, you are! As a game developer, you’re on your own until a studio makes you an official employee. And these days, that’s a rarity. It’s an exception to the rule. For the most part, developers are contractors, or freelancers, running their own business. They sell their services, so they jump on a project before finding another one for another studio.
Like any business, it’s never recommended that you quit your day job until you have a steady, ongoing, surefire stream of clients/customers. Keep that cash flow coming in, your bills won’t stop for anything!
Improve Your People Skills
You’re going to be working with a group day in and day out, and not everyone will agree on everything. There will be days when all of your ideas will be rejected. Other days, they’ll all be praised. There’s give and take for everyone on the team. Being able to socialize and stop taking things to heart is invaluable in this field. It’s not about you, or anyone in particular, for that matter. It’s about what’s best for the game you’re working on.
The best course of action is to be friendly, be responsible, and be funny. Just make sure to do your work, and listen to what they have to say. Learn from each experience, make connections, and seek work long before you’re done with a project. Your goal is to make each team happy, and make friends that can help find you work somewhere down the line. The more people know you, the more they’ll think of you when an opportunity arises.
Never start a meeting without a notepad and pen. And never fear: no one will think of you as that weird, geeky team member that carries pens around. In fact, you won’t be the only one taking notes.
You’ll be working with some talented, knowledgeable people who know more than you do. Let them talk, lend them an ear, and take notes on information they give you that you think might come in handy. Things like how to more efficiently do what you already do on a daily basis, or how to use a new system that you’ve never been exposed to. People learn from each other, and that’s what leads them to not only connect, but grow. You can’t improve without listening to those wiser and smarter than you.
Keep Track of Finances
Even if you go through a few months, or years, with steady work, it doesn’t mean that will always be the case. That’s the risk of contract/freelance work. Some months or years will be fruitful, and others you’ll have to dip into savings while searching for more work.
Save up as much as you can, live within your means, and always start looking for new contracts before your current one ends. If you’re always looking for work, you’ll always have something in the pipeline, even if it’s just a potential lead. Living within your means means choosing not to spend $4,000 on rent every month, when you only make half of that. It’s better to be realistic about your budget, rather than face completely avoidable problems.
Saving money is probably the most important thing you can do in any field. Job security is quickly fading, and most people find themselves in jobs that don’t lead them to success, or they work for themselves. And in doing so, they forgo things like health insurance and retirement funds. These are things you’re expected to save up for on your own!
Seek Constant Improvement
So you can draw. Draw better! You can write, now write better! Designing? Design better. Always look for ways you can improve, because that will ensure you have a portfolio that showcases the progression. Studios love someone who is never happy with their level of work, and who will produce something magical for them.
In doing so, you secure yourself a nice client base, with project after project, and little to no idle time in between. Being in high demand is the goal, because it will ensure you have a hefty portfolio to show potential employers when the time is right.
Being a developer is a bit like being a mercenary. You’re hired for a select amount of time, during which you’re expected to deliver good results. Your individual goal is to not only improve, but to use that momentum to land other contracts. The more contracts you close, the more people know you. It’s like it used to be in MMO’s, when people used to PVP and fear the person that was known throughout the whole game. You want to be that person that other developers admire, befriend, and secretly envy.