A lot of youngsters want to become game developers these days. It's very possible since there are so many studies around the world helping you to get there. That's awesome, because seven years ago I had the same feeling. However, not many of the students will understand what it takes to actually participate in this business. In this article I would like to prepare students who are as 'insane' to take on this challenge as I am.
Why Would You Want This?
The first thing you should definitely ask yourself is; are you sure you really, really want this? Is this your life calling? Will nothing beat 'making games' even by a small bit? Do you definitely not want to be a surf instructor in Hawaii? Are you that devoted to deal with so much uncertainty? Are you ready to give up nearly everything you like? Great! Because when you start this adventure, there is no turning back, you have to go all the way.
It sounds like you've just signed a pact with the devil himself. Well, hold your horses, because the first contract you will have to sign is with yourself. Prove yourself that you will not give up when you decide that you are really going to do this. Even when you are so fed up and tired, you will have to promise yourself that you won’t give up. Only then will you acquire chances to success.
Making games is about failing constantly to improve. Lose the idea of creating a great game on the first try. You will not, it will definitely suck. (Don't ask your mother, she likes everything you've passionately worked on).
If you are ready to embrace failure, you are ready to become a developer.
Determine Your Cup of Tea
There are a few ways to become a developer.
You can start figuring out development tools yourself, although it always seems to take longer, since you have no exact direction.
You could also decide to get taught the basics by someone else, or even try to ‘intern’ your way into the business.
You could also choose the quicker route and which is through a University. The counter side would be that you are forced to take classes you do not want to follow. On the other hand it could also help you because you could not have been aware that these classes were essential to the development of your skill.
Like an RPG there are many 'professions' you can choose from: Game Programmer, Game Designer, Game Artist, Game Producer, Game Audio Engineer, etc. Find and combine the one closest to your talent and liking.
Master a First and Develop a Second Skill
I think it's very important to have a second skill on the side. Especially since 'Indie' is very popular these days. It could be possible you will end up making games yourself, or in a very small team. There are more 'developers' flooding the market than there are company positions to work at. Mostly because making games has a personal touch and you will want to work passionately on a project. Some companies do not exactly make that what suits your wishes.
I would say a programmer who is also a pretty good artist would be one of the most valuable combinations. You could work completely alone if you want to!
One of the most important things in this industry is taking initiative in my opinion. If opportunities arise; grab them with both hands.
"If you do not follow up on an opportunity you can be sure a 100% nothing will happen. If you give an opportunity a chance something might happen" - Alexander Bruce, Antichamber.
From the moment you decide to become a developer, you have to become aware of this. Even as a student while doing school projects it’s of great importance for you to take initiatives.
Game Conventions, Festivals and Jams
When talking about game conventions I do not only mean "Game Developers Conference" in San Francisco. Try going to different local Game Conventions, listen to motivational speakers, or participate in game jams. Volunteer at large gaming conventions.
These places are the perfect breeding ground to meet new people and make connections. It’s most of the local or worldwide industry all together at one place! Especially as a student it’s important for you to attend these events.
Doing an internship means proving that your 'skills' are worth something in the industry. I remember a lot of people at school who were talking about 'skipping an internship' because they had an 'exemption'. They had already done an internship in a different study before, so it wasn't obligatory for them to do it a second time.
Nonsense. What a waste of opportunity.
Internships are opportunities to become a better developer. You are doing hands-on work that is used in the game industry and have professionals around you helping out, why wouldn't you want to do that? Why did you once consider becoming a game developer and are now compromising this opportunity?
Internships build-up long relationships between industry professionals and students. You are actually creating different portals and recommendations around you. It could also mean a future job position if you really want to work at a specific game company.
Affinity With Game Company & Genre
Another thing I find important is that you carefully research the company you want to work for. As a developer you have certain genres or certain game types you prefer to work with. Some game companies may not offer these opportunities. This could lead to inefficient work and makes your job as game developer feel like a chore. Sometimes it means you do not 'match' with a company you apply for. Figuring out their wishes and compare them to your own is crucial to establish high levels of motivation and a nice environment to work.
My Road To A Professional Game Developer
In 2013 I gave a talk at the University of Applied Sciences in Amsterdam explaining my road as a student to game developer.
In this 50 minute talk I explained why I made certain choices and how my career developed. This talk has been recorded and I have added English subtitles to the video since the talk is in Dutch.
Featuring in this talk:
- Motives to become a game developer
- The struggle to find internships
- Games I have worked on
- Working/Studying outside your own country
- How I became aware of my 'core skill'
- The birth of my own Indie Game Studio
- Tips for starting a game studio
- Answering great questions from the student audience