What advice would you give someone wanting to get into the games business?
I get asked this question a lot. My first thought is, don’t bother. But that’s just my evil, English sense of humor talking. I recently did an interview where this question was asked again. This pretty much boils down everything I think about the subject ..
I’m a programmer and have always been a programmer, but I’ve worn many different hats over the years. There are a number of really important things you need, in order to succeed in the games business. First and foremost, you need to be good at something, be it programming, design, art, whatever. Obvious right? You’d be surprised. You need to be smart and be able to problem solve and talk intelligently to other people. You need to be flexible and adaptive and be able to turn your hand to things outside your skill set or comfort zone. You need to be resilient and able to cope with stress and long work hours. But most of all, you really, genuinely have to love making games, and really want to do it. In fact, I’d say, unless you live and breath making games, and carry around a notebook where you sketch design or art ideas, or write programs, while on the bus or sitting waiting for your latte, don’t bother.
There’s a BIG difference between playing games and making games. People often get that mixed up. Playing games is fun, and if it’s a well made game, you don’t see the complexity or pain that went into making it. Making games is also fun, but it’s not all fun. It’s hard and there’s a ton of BS you have to deal with and there’s a massive amount of really tedious stuff to do, especially towards the end. It’s not glamorous at all, despite what you see in the indie dev documentaries, and a lot of people don’t realize that or understand that until they give it a go. That’s why most people who try and make a game, never finish one, or eventually make something that’s kind of crap. You have to have a genuine—and I hate to use this word, but it’s appropriate—passion, to make a game from start to finish. It’s the only thing that will get you through the process when things look bleak or get too difficult.
Beyond that, if you’re looking at this as a career, then start with a computer science degree. It will give you a solid, academic foundation to build on. Then go to vocational school, or college that has a games program, and learn the basics. Experience what it’s like to build something from start to finish in a team. Make friends and network. Get involved with the local game dev community. This all ties back into my first point about living and breathing game dev. It really is a lifestyle.
Finally, be good at something. The games industry is a meritocracy. You have to be good to succeed (unless you’re a manager I kid, I kid), and if you’re not good, it will be apparent very quickly. Specialization adds value. As a coder, if you’re a 3D guru, a math whiz, an AI savant, or a physics genius, you’ll always be in demand. Don’t get me wrong, good, solid gameplay programmers are equally important, but there’s more competition for those roles. As an artist, you better be good. No other discipline wears it’s skill on its arm than art. If you can’t draw or code, most likely you want to be a designer. You better be a damn good designer if you want to succeed, because it’s highly competitive, and the game dev schools spit out hundreds of designers each year. If you want an edge as a designer, understand the other disciplines, and learn how to talk to programmers and artists. Learn to code or script. Be good at communicating your ideas verbally, and through drawings. Good, technical designers are worth their weight in gold. If you can’t do anything, but you’re good at communication, organization and making other people do you bidding, become a producer or manager. Do a business management course and learn about project structure.