It Can Be Daunting . . .
Let’s be honest for a second: being a game developer weeds out the weak. It’s a weeding process like no other. It’s long hours, tons of work, and handling harsh judgement from players. And yet, it’s the most amazing experience you’ll ever submit yourself to. It’s rewarding, thrilling, and chaotic in the best of ways.
It seems rough, and it certainly can be, but it’s also a great time. There’s nothing like being a player who wants to make games. Someone who lives and breathes QA for the time being. Someone who does indie work because it brings them joy.
Earning Your Stripes
One of the best things about starting from the bottom in the game industry is how you get to earn your stripes. Think about other professions: cooks often have to be dishwashers first, while IT professionals have to start doing small 2-3 month contracts for low wages. Meanwhile, game developers start out doing things like QA and game jams.
The hours are long, and QA is very much the act of playing the same parts of a game over and over until it’s no longer play. But compared to how others have to start out, you’re living the dream. You get to do something interesting, something video game related Something entertaining.
The best part of it all, however, is how you’ll eventually move onto other things. QA, indie work, contracts for AAA, solo projects, games journalism, reviews, etc.. Most established developers have done it all.
Learning Everything You Need To Know
Because you’ll be hard at work, trying out all sorts of projects in the industry, you’ll pick up on many skills. You might begin as a dreamer, progress to an addicted player, an aspiring reviewer, and start working on small indie projects, where you learn things you never thought you would. Someone might teach you Unity, or you might tinker around with it on your own. You might collaborate on a project with a writer and learn a few technical terms or help out with plot ideas.
When I began my journey, I began as an assistant writer. Now, I’ve learned Unity, became lead writer, and expanded my network, hence become a games journalist and marketing blogger for indie developers. My dream wasn’t so much to make the games, as it was to learn the process so I could better help developers and report on gaming news. Even still, I have a long way to go, but in the last three years, I’ve learned more about development, and the industry as a whole, than I ever thought I would. I even picked up some minor graphic design skills.
Something most people don’t seem to describe enough is how awesome the gaming community actually is. There’s a fair share of quiet, shy types, but there are also vibrant and entertaining developers. Old and young, tall and short, male and female, nerdy and edgy. The gaming industry is filled with all sorts of people, which is what makes it all so fun and creative.
As if that’s not enough, the vast majority are smart, talented people. Just think of the games being put out today. That’s not just artwork, that’s skill. And you get to hone yours right alongside all these great people. When you make connections and befriend developers, you find yourself making quality friends with extraordinary people that inspire you to seek constant improvement.
Having Enough Time to Build a Portfolio
Finally, if you’re just starting a gaming career, chances are you’re fairly young. Most established developers are in their mid-thirties to late 40’s. That means you have plenty of time to build a portfolio. Even if you began building one at the age of 25, you could have a hefty-sized portfolio by the age of 30!
That means your days can be filled with a decent day job to make ends meet, time for loved ones, and errands, while your nights can be dedicated to making games with friends. If you stick your nose to the grindstone for five years, imagine the kinds of games you can launch into the world with newfound connections.
It might seem like the impatient time, waiting five years to have something presentable to show potential employers, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Those five years are yours to explore, learn, build, create, and most importantly, to play. They are yours to hone your skills and find a niche. Build an audience and make new friends. It’s a time you’ll look back on with great happiness once you’re established.
So Don’t Fret So Much
Starting from the bottom isn’t so bad. It’s a magical time you’ll never really get back. You’ll look back on the steps taken and wonder just how you managed to do it all. And you’ll feel like you’ve earned your stripes. Careers in games are difficult, but they’re creative. The industry is filled with some of the best people you’ll ever meet and have the opportunity to befriend.
So, next time you’re feeling disheartened about your career pursuits, remember: this is your time to become the developer you want to be. Cherish it.
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