Re: The Industry

A viewer on our youtube channel sent me an interesting question:

Hey guys, first off, I really appreciate the videos for the insight they give about professional game development.

I have been wondering however, how did you guys get into developing videogames?

Not necessarily into the industry (although I’d find that interesting as well, I just figure you are asked that every few hours) but what made you want to start to develop games?
What were the first games that inspired you? How did you start out? Did you even plan to become professional developers and would you recommend trying to become a professional game developer these days?

I hear alot of bad things about how things work in the industry today, but of course I have no first hand information. I just find it worrying that alot of publishers seem to basically despise any kind of genuinely new gameplay and immo that’s a shame. There are the far and few exceptions but that seems to be the general trend to me. And I am not sure if I should try to become involved in professional game development when I’ll just sit in a small cubicle and code and can’t really do any creative stuff. That seems to be different at Insomniac games and possibly some other studios like Double Fine.

Do you have any good advice for a young programmer, who’d like to work in game development?

Best regards

I sent a response that I’d like to share here:

Tony and I were interested in making games for a long time. We worked on some game projects together in College (over the internet) and we both made games for a computer science class in high school. I always regarded it as a long shot, but Tony was the one who held onto it and kept telling me “No, we can do this.”

After college, I applied to a ton of game studios as a programmer and got shot down. Then I got super lucky and it turned out my mom knew someone who knew one of the owners at Insomniac. That got me an interview for a testing position and BAM, I was in. Then, when Tony came back from Boston, I recommended him for another test position that had opened up and that got us started.

As far as recommending it, being a game developer is something you do because you’re really passionate about it and love it. So if someone told me that all they ever wanted to do was make games, I’d say go for it. If they wanted to make a ton of money, or have a social life, or things like that I’d say go program application software for Microsoft or make Satellites as Boeing or something like that.

Being a game developer in the industry (like being in the movie industry) is a very demanding and sometimes brutal job. In general you don’t get to make YOUR games, you’re always working on someone else’s games. You get to leave your stamp on them, and it’s fulfilling if you love what you do, but besides that it’s just hard.

As for the publishers despising new gameplay, it definitely feels that way, but that’s not usually how it is. Most publishers would KILL for something new and amazing that they could make a ton of money off of, but it has to be something they can be confident they won’t lose a ton of money on. With budgets running routinely up to and above 30 million dollars (Grand Theft Auto 4 cost 300 million), they have a legal responsibility to their shareholders to validate their decisions, so often their hands are tied when it comes to niche products or things that are risky and unproven.

Where you often see innovation in the industry is from proven studios like Bungee, or Blizzard, or Valve and so forth. Since those companies have a proven track record of making games that are very high quality, it’s easier for publishers to validate their decisions to work on their games to their stockholders, but even then it can be difficult. For a developer, often you have hundreds of people working for you and if you do something really risky you put those peoples’ jobs at stake, so even then you tend to see very cautious advancement.

Double Fine (which is actually where Tony works now) is a very good example of a studio that manages that risk pretty well. They have an intentionally small staff, they make games that excite them creatively, and they know how to make money off of developing the games (they’re not dependent on the games selling really well).

So anyway, advice-wise, I’d say be introspective. Figure out your priorities and go with that. If making games is what you want to do, it’ll probably make you happy. If it doesn’t make you happy, then almost any other kind of programming will likely make you more money and give you more free time to pursue other things (like indie game programming or whatnot).

Hope that helps,

~ Mike

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One Comment

  1. Good feedback!

    It’s really hard to explain the amount of passion you need to get into and *stay* in the game industry.

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