Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
Making Games On The Side: Development In The Real World
arrowPress Releases
October 31, 2014
PR Newswire
View All

If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:

Making Games On The Side: Development In The Real World

July 15, 2010 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

Gaming might be a multi-billion dollar industry, but that doesn't mean that everyone can eke out a living by making games -- or even that everyone who makes games wants to.

With the rise in popularity and accessibility of smaller, downloadable games, a number of developers are able to make the games they want on the side, in addition to other work. Some do so with the intention of eventually turning development into a career; others simply do it for the love.

Somehow, however, they all manage to make the time to create games on top of other responsibilities, from hobbyist developers like Benjamin Rivers to those trying to turn what they love into a career like Jim McGinley and Andy Moore.

Developing Games As A Hobby

Toronto native Benjamin Rivers is a busy man. In addition to running his own web design company, he also does freelance illustration work, creates and sells independent comic books, and sometimes teaches at the Ontario College of Art & Design.

But despite his clearly busy schedule, Rivers was able to get into the world of game development thanks in large part to Toronto's active indie development community. Events like the Artsy Games Incubator and Toronto Game Jam (better known as TOJam), as well as social organizations like the Hand Eye Society, serve as both a learning opportunity and a source of inspiration.

"I would say (the sense of community) is extremely important and likely more so than if, say, I was working at an actual developer, because I would have support there," says Rivers, who recently created a game called Drunken Rampage as an experimental title.

"The Hand Eye Society socials are obviously great because you have the opportunity to show off a game, which is fantastic, being able to share that with other people. But also just to meet other people and find people who are smarter than you, which is what I found, and being able to ask questions and get technical help, and also just inspiration help, and just figure out what's going on, and what people are doing."

Of course, the obvious question is how exactly he is able to find the time to create games in addition to all of the other work he does. In Rivers' case, the fact that game development isn't his primary career has actually been beneficial -- it allows him to create at his own pace.

"I guess my main thing is I try never to force it, I don't try to stress myself out doing it," he says. "If I feel like I have something to say or a game that I really want to make, I'll take the steps to do it, but I'm not 20 anymore so I don't really feel like spending 24 hours of my weekend jamming on a game so much. I do have a wife, so she wouldn't be too happy with that.

"I try to give myself a whole bunch of limitations: say I can make a game that only uses one button, maybe it's a one-screen game, something that I can realistically do in one weekend and isn't going to require weeks of art production. And then I sort of work within my own time capabilities and produce something that way, rather than trying to shoehorn a year-long project into a couple of weekends."

And unlike a lot of developers who hope to one day be able to quit their fulltime jobs in order to dive straight into the world of game development, Rivers is happy where he is, creating games not for financial gain, but simply because its something he enjoys doing. When it comes to his games, Rivers has no business plan or any real expectations of earning any money.

"I sort of have reluctantly come to grips with the fact that I guess, to be fair, I should call myself a 'hobby developer', because I'm not like a lot of people who actually pour in 60 hours a week to this kind of thing," he says. "So that's probably where I'll stay."

Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

Related Jobs

Magic Leap, Inc.
Magic Leap, Inc. — Wellington, New Zealand

Level Designer
Amazon — Seattle, Washington, United States

Sr. Software Development Engineer - Game Publishing
Magic Leap, Inc.
Magic Leap, Inc. — Wellington, New Zealand

Lead Game Designer
Sega Networks Inc.
Sega Networks Inc. — San Francisco, California, United States

Mobile Game Engineer


Mark Venturelli
profile image
Inspiring read! Steambirds is a really, *really* good game.

Radek Koncewicz
profile image
Jim McGinley makes a very good point about the community being a double-edged sword.

In recent years, lots of hobbyist developers and small studios (like ourselves) have popped up around the Toronto area. As a result, TOJam, the Hand Eye Society, etc. have seen a significant increase in attendance. These events are great for getting feedback and socializing with other individuals who have a passion for games, but they aren't always conducive to making the games themselves.

Of course the socializing isn't a bad thing in of itself, but it can take focus away from making the actual games (which is already a pretty time consuming activity).

Matt Zeilinger
profile image
This was a great article. Good to see there are people from a variety of backgrounds making games out there, and they don't need a lot of money to do it. Inspiring to say the least, but now I want to move to Toronto! =)

David Glenn
profile image
I was lucky and got involved in Computer Graphics Development form the start. I tried to get into gaming, but fell into DOD work getting my first job as a developer at TI. All the time wanting to get into gaming but I got really wigged-out about how the studios did things.

Finally I became a game programmer at playnet, it was allot of fun. It was also fiscally challenging, because the company had money problems and I had to take a big pay-cut to keep my job, but I would not trade it for anything else in the world. I look back upon it as the time in my life that I got to play games for a living! Don't get me wrong, it was also one of the most rewarding programming jobs I ever had where I made some fun unique friends that I hope to remain in contact with from here on. It was a Hoot!!

As a Graphics Programmer it is hard to get motivated if you want to write games as a hobby. You feeling is that "Gee I already build worlds for a living, just not the worlds I would like to make". Then you try to get down to it, and after a week or two of staring at basically the same pixels as you do for work, it gets harder to stay motivated. It go's to "Gee, why I'm I doing this? I need to get a life".

Basically Game hacking is fun! Keeping it in the prospective of a hobby is the best way to go! however, if you already make a living hacking pixels, It gets a little harder to get the motivation. It helps to keep it simple and do something that you would love!

FYI: I'm back hacking pixels for the DOD - For Nav-Air (US Navy) in fact. I do display simulation software that is used by the Top Gun training program. I help train the best of the best! – Hay, it kinda like a Game! Right?

I Feel the Need! The Need for Speed….!

Good Huntting!

D Glenn

Vijay sharma
profile image
Great Article. I faced a lot of problems in developing and publishing independently. So we came up with Gamecot Idea to support everyone in the industry.Due to real life problems generally most developers give up and cant go on for so long but its beautiful how Jim kept working on it. Its very inspiring.

George Kotsiofides
profile image
A great article, very inspiring! The amount of freedom these people have to make what they want to is awesome, and the passion for gaming really shines through.

What I find amazing is that, in the UK at least, joining an actual game dev studio means you are effectively signing away the rights to any ideas you have while employed with them.

The wording in contracts is nebulous, sure, and can vary. But you can never really feel secure with it...

I've always hated this. There is no incentive to give your best ideas to a company you work for, outside of the remit you're given for the project you're on.

And so many people *do* want to make their own games because so much game development is about as creatively fulfilling as pulling your teeth out.

So now there are games companies with a wealth of talented staff that want to make their own games in their spare time together, and would probably love to include their 'day job' company in the process for marketing and support but are scared to do or say anything in case they give away their best work for nothing.

There's no guarantee anyone will hear you or even like what you suggest. And regardless of the intererst or disinterest the company you work for may have in regard to your personal projects, you have no rights anymore to the game concept you may have worked towards for years.

Being a fully paid up member of the game dev community *and* making and selling your own games seem to not go hand in hand (but people secretly do it anyway!).

Which is bizarre. And a real shame.

David Glenn
profile image
Lesson 1 that I learned about the anything in the entertainment industry is that:

Good Creativity does not (usually) equal Good Business sense!

Time and again, I've seen some beautiful stuff die in flames because of really bad business practices. That’s why I say that I get really wigged-out about how the studios do things at times. It can get down right stupid!

But I have to remember that we are talking about artists here, and I have to think out the other side of my brain and it almost makes sense to me! Kind of Weird how my brain works, right?

D Glenn

Christiaan Moleman
profile image
@George: It is my understanding that (though this may not be true everywhere) clauses claiming employer ownership of ideas or projects produced at home outside of working hours are entirely un-enforcable.

The very idea is absurd. You are paid for your time, not for your soul.

George Kotsiofides
profile image

Sir, I completely agree with you that it's absurd!

The thing is though that this has happened to me. It has happened to pretty much all my colleagues/friends from previous employers. And it's *still* happening right now!

The rule is used to protect a company - I understand that. They don't want you using company time and tools or ideas to create something yourself, for yourself, that might compete with them. But it's a pretty open clause, and is interpreted by many companies as 'We OWN you'.

I've been told point blank that while employed somewhere, I wasn't allowed to continue my iPhone game development in my spare time as it would compete with the company.

Even though the company had no interest in doing iPhone games at all.

It's a clause I've found at every company I've worked for. And it's meant that employees that *do* want to make their own games (the whole point of this article!) have to do so, literally, in secret.

It also means, as I think I mentioned, that employees are reticent to offer their best original ideas to their employers. Which in turn could lead to a dearth of new and original stuff in the market.

Absurd, yes. Happening right now? Yes.

I'd love to do a piece on it, if I had the time... perhaps I will ;)


Christiaan Moleman
profile image

I guess this applies only to California but similar laws may exist elsewhere.

George Kotsiofides
profile image
That law seems a bit more reasonable doesn't it?

I've just done a straw poll round the office, and yes, everyone has at some point signed a contract with a rubbish ownership clause in it... :(