I always wanted to create games. I was a huge gamer, I loved to design and create and I’ve always dabbled in story writing as well. It seemed like the perfect career for me and I was delighted to finally be able to make the switch to the world of game creation. But since making that switch I have encountered issues that never crossed my young mind, issues that might have even stopped me from becoming a developer if I had known about them.
Everything is Considerably More Expensive and Time Consuming
In my naive youth, I believed that I could create a game on my own and maybe draft in a little assistance for the sound. I did this, to an extent, but it never resulted in a game that was really worth playing and as soon as I left school and moved into my own apartment, I realised that even those basic games were out of my reach.
When you’re a kid working in your bedroom in the school holidays, you have all the time in the world. When you’re an adult with bills to pay, time isn’t easy to come by. And if you want to create a bigger game, one that can actually get noticed on the big platforms, then the amount of time and money is beyond belief.
I’m a big fan of Kickstarter and I have been studying it to get a better idea for my own future projects. I’ve seen countless developers launch projects with goals of $50,000 to $100,000, only to be funded for over $300,000 and to look like they are all set to make the game. But even this is not enough.
The reason so many of these projects fail is because that money goes very quickly when you’re working on a big title. You can’t do all of the work yourself. You need designers, programmers, writers, and then you need testers. And that’s before you factor in the manufacturing and marketing.
If you have a team of 10 to 20 people, that’s 10 to 20 wages you need to pay, and because games take years to create, it’s very easy for those seemingly small targets to turn into 7 figure sums. A few years ago I came up with an idea for a project that I was pretty sure I could create for $20,000. But when I sat down and did the sums, realising I would need to cover my wage, a designer’s wage, licensing fees and other costs, this small preheat would take over 2 years and cost over $200,000.
It’s very easy for costs to mount in this business and that’s why even the biggest developers can go under even after just 1 release fails to hit sales targets.
Drug Addiction is a Big Problem with Gamers/Developers
This is a touchy subject, but bear with me on this.
Drug addiction and alcohol abuse often shows up in the last place you’d expect it. It’s often seen as something that is pervasive on the streets, yet it’s very common in suburbia. We like to think that only the jobless are abusing and that all abuse leads to homelessness and waste, but in actual fact chefs are some of the most at risk for such addictions and there are many functioning addicts in high-paid and high-power roles.
We still hold onto the old 80s/90s stereotype of the gamer and the developer being a geeky kid in glasses, a kid for whom a party means jelly and ice cream and not drugs and drink. But drugs are actually rife in this industry. Competitive gaming has an issue with stimulant use right now and this is something that developers have also witnessed firsthand for a number of years.
First it was caffeine in all its forms, but as soon as the internet made it easy to acquire prescription medication, the trade for drugs like Adderall and Modafinil became rife. I have tried to avoid it myself, but it’s easy to be tempted when you have a deadline to meet and every young developer you know seems to have a supply of prescription stimulants and nootropics. One young developer I know consumed dozens of energy drinks a day and took regular doses of Adderall, eventually succumbing to a mild heart attack aged just 22. Another has pretty much fried his brain at 33 following years of using amphetamines to stay awake and benzos to crash.
Pro gamers and developers are getting younger and when you combine the invulnerability and willingness to experiment associated with youth and the responsibility and demand applied by the industry, you have a recipe for disaster.
I’m a little late to the party and the only thing I have to worry about is how to detox from sugar, consume less caffeine, and be less reliant on takeout pizza. But I’m seeing developers younger than me burn out because of this issue.
Stress is a Killer
It doesn’t matter how much you love playing games, designing characters, creating worlds and/or writing stories, when you do that for a living, and you have deadlines to meet and responsibilities to bear, it stops being fun.
Every time I make a game I grow to hate the characters I’m creating, right before falling in love with them again when I’m finished and I see the final build. You see them in your sleep, you spend all day fine tuning them, and you know that if they fail to make an impact then you’ve just wasted a lot of time and money.
We make games for a living, which sounds like a dream job, yet we’re some of the most stressed people in the entertainment industry. We spend our lives sitting behind desks, hunched over screens, and this, along with the stress, leads to all kinds of health problems. Not to mention short fuses and relationship breakdowns, because no matter how much you love your friends, when you’re on top of each other designing and creating for years on end, you’ll fall out.
At the end of the development period you’ll have to fight criminal assault charges from the time you battered your BFF over a disagreement with frame rates, you’ll have a drug addiction that will kill you and you’ll be skint. But at least you’ll have achieved your childhood dream of making games for a living!