Andy Moore was able to make just that transition, moving from being a software developer to a fulltime game developer in late 2008. Up until then, Moore worked fulltime developing web-based productivity software. However, he later picked up a part-time job as community manager for the successful Flash game Fantastic Contraption, which spurred his eventual decision to tackle game development as a career.
Moore made what he describes as a "gradual" transition, from his day job to part-time community manager, before finally landing in game development. He also made some "minimal" contributions to the development of Fantastic Contraption and he says that the key to making the shift a successful one was the ability to sacrifice.
"Despite living in the very-expensive Victoria, British Columbia, I've managed to keep my expenses very low," Moore explains. "I didn't own a vehicle and rarely went out to eat or to see movies or anything like that. I really just hunkered down and eliminated all the expenses I could from my life. I sold off most of my possessions; I even got rid of my phone.
"I guess it was pretty easy for me because I enjoy simplicity and keeping things minimal. I guess if someone out there wants to be an indie dev striking out on their own, and driving their Hummer to Taco Bell every day, they might end up having a harder time than I did.
"I guess it amazes me how many people are willing to shell out over $100/month for their cellphone bill, then turn around and say how they can't afford to make games. What's more important?"
As it turns out, this sacrifice wasn't quite enough, and, like McGinley, Moore ended up taking on several contract jobs in order to help subsidize his burgeoning career as an independent game developer. Surprisingly, despite the fact that these jobs had little to do with creating games, they ended up being more than just financially beneficial for Moore.
"I did two major contract jobs: one was making more productivity software, and one making a YouTube-like application for the U.S. Military. So no, not related to gaming at all... But they were very educational. I look at contract work as being 'paid to go to school.' I could have taken courses or bought some books on how to make a streaming video application, but being paid to sit down and actually make one? I have way more knowledge now on how to do that kind of thing.
"I'm actually thinking about how to roll those features into new games; have embedded tutorial or walkthrough video clips, things like that. Same thing with the productivity software. I learned a bunch about optimizing SQL queries, and I can use that to help drive multiplayer games in the future. I made sure each contract wouldn't last me much longer than a month though, I always had my goal in mind: games."
Moore also views these breaks from game development as positive because he believes "it's healthy to take the occasional break... to clear your mind a bit."
The work also essentially helped fund what would turn out to be Moore's biggest success: Steambirds, a turn-based aerial combat game. He managed to sell the licensing rights to Armor Games -- a process documented in a recent Gamasutra article.
He is hoping to continue to build off of the success he's already achieved with the game, with an iPhone port already in the works and plans to possibly bring Steambirds to the Xbox 360, Nintendo DS, and WiiWare.
As of this writing, Moore was currently close to completing a cross-Canada road trip, a vacation funded by his deal with Armor Games. But his hope is that he'll be able to continue making games for a living, though he is conscious of the fact that his success might not last forever.
"It's definitely my goal to make games for the rest of my life. I'll do what it takes to make that happen! If I have to go back to a desk job, so be it, but I'm going to try to get my feet solidly under me to continue as I am now.
"I think Steambirds is really going to pull through for me. It was designed from the outset as a market test -- to see what people might think, to see if the market was accepting. Turns out they are, which means I can continue work on 'the big version' of Steambirds!
"Of course, there's a chance it can flop. And maybe it won't keep paying the bills for me, and I'll have to start something new. But that's what us indie devs are best at: agility."
Clearly, there are many different routes available to someone with the desire to become a game developer outside of the traditional studio model, and these are just a few examples.
Not every developer will have the patience of a Jim McGinley and be able to save a nest egg for over a decade, just as not everyone can juggle month-long contract jobs alongside developing games, like Andy Moore. But the takeaway from these three examples is clear: if you want to make games, you'll find a way to do it. Sacrifices will need to be made, but it is possible.
"It's all about priorities," says Moore. "I wanted to make games bad enough, that I did what was necessary to make it happen."