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How To Be An Unhappy Game Developer
by Jamie Fristrom on 12/20/13 12:46:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


I sat down to write another post about how to be a happy game developer and got hit with blank page syndrome. What should I write about first? I'm moving into Act III of working on Energy Hook, so I could write about what a drag it can be to actually finish a game and how to get past that. But wait - maybe I could start from the beginning, the things that bug when we first get started, and do things in chronological order. Or maybe I should stay at a high-level view for a bit, talk about automatic negative thoughts and other general sources of unhappiness and what to do about that. Or...

Nevermind all that. I should talk about whatever it is that's bothering most of the devs out there. So I thought I'd ask you:

Are you a happy game developer?

Why not?

Let me know in the comments, or, if you'd rather keep it private, you can e-mail me at

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Nathan Wangler
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Games are such a difficult art form in this respect. I feel your pain, because that next new feature feels miles away. Always remember to fail forward, and remember these funks will come and go. =)

Tiago Lr
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Haha, tough one!

Ppl like your game, set a daily schedule (2 - 4 hour?) and work no more on it than that.

Anyone is happy if making progress (what is progress varies from person to person).

Luis Guimaraes
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Making games is easy and happy. Handling business, raising funding, selling the games, integrating social networks and ad providers, and coming to understanding with team-members on matters of design vision and what target-audience to pursue if any and whether or not to follow the herd on trendy shady business practices is the soul-crushing part.

If you work by yourself, there's no reason to be unhappy.

Ian Richard
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How to be an unhappy developer.

1. Work too much.
When your working hours start cutting into your sleeping schedule, family responsibilities or simply not relaxing it'll wear you out quickly and can eventually affect your health.

2. Set Unrealistic goals.
Whether it's making a game that is too big for your time/skills/resources or expecting to get rich when you finally ship your title.
Failing to reach a goal is painful even if it was impossible.

3. Compare yourself to AAA.
Even experienced developers sometimes forget how many people work on those fancy games like COD. A team of 30 or fewer people will NEVER match the quality and scale of a 300-man project.
Do the best you can and always improve your own work... never worry about what others could do.

4. Be a salary-man.
People in this industry tend to be creative. Creative people are often driven by new challenges/experiences/expressions and don't function well doing the same thing each-and-every day.
Even if your job is the same day-to-day... pick up a book or experiment in your free time. Challenge yourself and keep those brain-juices flowing.

I could probably think of plenty more... but I think this is a solid start.

chongtao chang
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I can't agree more.

Kayne Ruse
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I'm an amateur designer, an experienced programmer and design theorist, but to date I don't have substantial games out in the wild. My current project is my first real game of any note, but it's only in "early development".

My personal life really gets in the way, because I usually work two days a week, and I volunteer two others. So that cuts down on my available time, as well as my available energy. I'm OK with working on the game during nights and weekends, but then I don't have any time to myself for actually *playing* games.

The game itself is complex, even in this early stage, being what is essentially a small scale MMO (that was not my intent). It has client-server networking, and server-side multithreading. Getting everything to play nice together is a challenge in itself, but I have no real way of knowing if I'm doing things the right way. Multithreading is new to me, and I'm not even sure if I need it for a game of this size (and expected popularity :/).

Currently, the game is open source (on github), because I can't really afford to pay for closed source hosting. Plus, if I were to ever actually sell this game, I don't know how to go about it: connecting my bank account to a download link. I guess steam has these things available, but I'm not sure steam is ideal for me (I'd like to allow a LOT of modding).

I'm working on this alone. I don't have any teachers or mentors, or any sort of support that I can fall back on for advice. I don't even have a partner that I can argue with on design. I don't know any composers, and the art I'm using is CC0. Being a perfectionist also doesn't help, often times it gets in the way of moving forward. If I encounter even a minor bug, I can spend hours hunting it down.

This game has gone through a lot of revisions, originally being a pirate game inspired by Wind Waker's sailing system. I've cut it down to it's bare bones, but even that is a lot. The battle system is a major focus, because it's something that, as far as I know, hasn't been done before. The random generation of the world is a worry too (this isn't part of the bare bones, though).

Overall, I just want a playable prototype, to show that I *can* do it. After that, I'll build whatever comes next. Thanks for letting me dump like that. I guess I might as well plug the game itself:

Nick Harris
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I had a quick look at your design document and felt that your energies were being directed into the technicalities of making it into an MMO for which you couldn't necessarily guarantee that you would gain a sufficient player population to make it a strong PvE community. I have been working on my own MMO for a some years and was forced to make the hard realisation that without any players I would have no game and whilst I would very much like my game to be social and have a strong modding community, it did need to stand up as a single-player experience initially to be in a position to attract a critical mass of hardcore players from which it could grow out of alpha. As a result my grandiose plans for PvP have been all but shelved and my focus redirected to making better NPC companions for the player. Given that I'm better at programming AI than Networks it is lucky that I realised this when I did before I burnt myself out building infrastructure. I recommend that you leave the MMO aspects until a later date and make the game feel as if you are playing with real people as much as possible, even though they are AI driven NPCs.

Feel free to ignore my advice, it was merely intended as constructive.

Peter Eisenmann
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- Believe that lots of people will automatically like your game if you just work hard enough on it.
- Believe that most people liking your game will pay for it, even if there is a way around it.
- Pull your hair out trying to fight against piracy.

Luis Guimaraes
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Thinking a game will sell based on how hard you worked on it is a very flawed logic that seems to be very common among indie developers.