New Year's Resolutions for Game Industry Newbies

There is a new article on GameCareerGuide.com, also reprinted on Gamasutra.com, titled, Ask the Experts: 10 New Year's Resolutions. Here's the intro:

Here are 10 things all you soon-to-be game developers might try to accomplish in 2008 to help get you closer to that first video game job.

Here is the list:

  1. Attend a conference.
  2. Join the IGDA.
  3. Read the news on Gamasutra.com every day.
  4. Read job ads.
  5. Talk to developers.
  6. Wise up about your future paycheck.
  7. Play games outside your preferences.
  8. Write, publish, speak.
  9. Sketch something.
  10. Read a game-related book.

The actual post goes into more detail motivating each choice, but they're pretty self-explanatory I think.

I'm sorry, and no offense intended to the good folks at CMP who I love like family, but this list is misguided at best, and slightly harmful to people who want to get into the industry at worst.[1]

I mean, hello? How about make a game?

The problem is the list above focuses on all the "meta" stuff about being in the game industry. Some of that stuff has its place, but it is not central to getting into the industry, or excelling at making games once you're doing it for a living.

So, in the spirit of the new year, while we were waiting for our chocolate chip cookies to bake, Jonathan Blow and I came up with our own list.

Here is our list of New Year's Resolutions for Game Industry Newbies (or people who want to eventually be one):

  1. Make things! By far, the easiest and most effective way to get a good job in the game industry[2] is to make a cool game. Or even a half-decent game. Heck, even a bad game that's got some cool stuff in it. It doesn't have to be a giant epic, it can be a little Flash game, or probably even a text adventure, but just make something that you can show to people and they can play and that is interesting and shows off what you have to contribute to games. If you can't make a full game yourself, then either teach yourself (see below), team up with people who can (also see below), or make the stuff that's the currency of the discipline in which you want to work. So, if you want to be a programmer, make cool graphics or physics or UI or AI or whatever demos. Make sure the demos are showing that you "get it" and that games are about interactivity, not batch processing. If you're an artist, make art. Make sure the art you make shows you "get it", and that game art assets have to hit budgets, look good, have the right hooks for gameplay, etc. If you want to be a designer, make levels and mods. Just make stuff, all the time.

  2. Play games, and think critically about them. To be fair, the GameCareerGuide list mentions this one, but the emphasis doesn't need to be on "games outside your preferences", it needs to be on "think critically about the play experience". You could play only First Person Shooters if that's all you like and all you want to work on, but just make damned sure you're thinking about what separates them, what works, what doesn't, why, what's missing, what's necessary, what's fluff, etc. Discuss them with your friends (see below). Start a blog and record your thoughts for the world to see and discuss with you.[3] Comment on other people's blogs. Write up how you'd change the game, and then find a way to test your theory by making something (see above).

  3. Learn new things; push yourself in your discipline. The internet is such an amazing resource, you could spend all day learning new stuff in the most focused of disciplines and still never catch up given the rate people are putting cool new information out there. But you should give it a try. Websites, blogs, technical papers, forums, mailing lists, the list goes on and on. Just make sure you don't spend all your time learning and none of your time doing...it's easy to fall into that. Learn something new, then go put it to use. Then learn another thing. Usually, in putting the first thing you learned to use, you'll find a bunch of problems that will give you directions for further learning and research. This is true of making art, design, code, or even managing people.

  4. Find a peer group and exchange information with them. Here is where some of the stuff from the GameCareerGuide comes in. But again, the focus should be on finding the peer group quickly, and then you spend your time interacting with them. There are tons of forums for beginning game developers and indies out there now for every discipline. It's not hard to meet up with people if you're polite, humble, and have something to contribute. Just make sure you spend your time making stuff and honestly critiquing it, not just talking and networking.

This next one is more controversial. Jon's not sure he agrees with its inclusion in the list, so I'm separating it out.

  1. Learn to program. Yes, I mean even if you don't want to be a programmer. The heart of games is interactivity, and interactivity is about algorithms and systems, and code is how you teach the computer to do these things. I'll have more to say on this one in another article, but I will just say that being able to program, whether it's Flash, Python, C++, Basic, MEL, or whatever, will make you more powerful (and valuable) at whatever you do.[4]

That's it. If you do these things, and do them well,[5] I can almost guarantee you will be able to get a job in the game industry in 2008.

  1. Plus, there's the added fact that it looks like an advertisement for the CMP game properties, which is not a good thing, and I believe not what the CMP folks intended.
  2. ...and it really is actually pretty easy, since the industry is completely and utterly starved for talent...
  3. Although do be slightly careful how you write up negative reviews, trust me.
  4. There is some small risk that this added value can knock you off your chosen career path if you let it. For example, if you're an artist and it gets out that you can program, the management might try to vector you into an "art tech" position, or a shader and effects programmer, or the like. The solution to that problem, if it's indeed a problem given your career goals (there are plenty of awesome art techs out there, and designing shaders is incredibly creative and cool too), is simply to rock incredibly hard at your chosen domain.
  5. How to define well actually brings up an important point: you need to be brutally honest with yourself about how you're doing. Look at the work others are doing, including professional developers, and then judge your work relative to it. Ask others you respect and beg them to be honest with you. If—in that harsh light—you suck, admit it, and then work to get better. It's the only way to really get to greatness.
This page was last modified on 3 January 2008, at 21:53. 

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