You don’t need to spend tens of thousands of dollars in a games course to become a game developer anymore than you need to have a shipped AAA title on your resume. Anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to sell you something, invalidate you or validate themselves. Probably all three.
You become a game developer by developing games.
Build something playable, get it in the hands of a player for playtesting, and you’re a game developer.
But start Googling game development and you get all these SEO magicked listings for games courses and a whole bunch of forum threads asking about getting internships (why so quick to work for free?!?).
In some cases you come across interviews and articles by brilliant game designers telling you exactly what you need to do to be a better game developer: You make, build and playtest another game. And another one after that. Then another one after that.
[Hell, I’ll save you the google-fu time, here’s Derek Yu’s post on it and another one by Edmund McMillen. These guys made Spelunky and Super Meat Boy respectively – two of the best games I’ve played in years, indie or otherwise. Notice how they both say the same things – make and finish your games. Funny, they neglected to say anything about games colleges or internships. Did they not Google?!?]
You know what’s NOT getting into game development?
- Trading however many years of your life for a 40k debt, a shiny piece of paper and EXACTLY the same portfolio as every other graduate coming out of every other games course.
- Getting an underpaid internship at the local studio staffing up for crunch because their project managers forgot to scope for polish and bug fixing.
Sending bug reports, making coffee and not getting paid because you’re getting “such great experience” is not going to make you a better game developer.
And if you’re already stuck in that trap – share your funniest stories with the guys behind Penny Arcade’s The Trenches and then GET THE HELL OUT! Life is too short to work for free on someone’s badly scoped project.
The Myth of “You Need a Degree”
“So, you’ve always wanted to work on games – why aren’t you?” I ask a stunning woman wearing a perfect replica of Michelle Pfeiffer costume from Tim Burton’s second Batman flick. This after learning that she had spend nearly 2 years, thousands of dollars and had taught herself WELDING to create it.
“Oh I couldn’t do that, I don’t have a degree or anything” she says. Apologetically. Dudes. People. SHE TAUGHT HERSELF WELDING! And she sourced the ORIGINAL PATTERNS from the very same costume designers who created Michelle Pfeiffer catsuit.
Here’s this crazy resourceful, intelligent and amazingly dedicated woman who genuinely believes that the closest she can get to being involved in the games industry is Cosplay.
Just imagine how awesome it would be if folks with this much creativity and ingenuity were making games? They certainly wouldn’t be any games we’ve already seen – we would get something totally new! We’d have new speakers and new innovations to show at GDC – oh and we’d have more women making games too. Funny that.
But we don’t get them. Because it’s very lucrative to keep perpetuating the myth that you need to spend lots of money on a degree to start making games. And you need to be a computer scientist. And you need to have been born in the 70’s. And you need to be American…oh the list goes on. It’s a silly list.
What do successful game developers say when they get on stage and someone asks the question “How did YOU get into games”? What’s the most common answer? Come on, you’ve heard this one before:
They say “I made games”. On the Commodore 64. On an Apple 2. Modding Neverwinter Nights and Half Life. Writing and running Dungeons and Dragons sessions – they just started making games in whatever was most accessible to them. Eventually that lead to…you guessed it…making more games and getting PAID to make games.
The Myth of “you need X years experience”.
Hey, you know the easiest most straight forward way to get experience making games?
YOU MAKE GAMES!
And you know the best way to get really good at something is to do LOTS of it right? You have to do it all the time. We’ve got all kinds of cliché quotes for that: Practice makes perfect. The 10,000 hour rule. 95% sweat to 5% brilliance. Etc. etc.
How many games do you think you’re going to work on as a junior intern for a large studio?
Well, if you look at the production timeline of most major AAA projects – you can probably expect to work on MAYBE one game every three years. If you’re lucky and the other THOUSAND something people applying for the same job EVERY DAY don’t get it first.
Or you could start making small games right now – there’s lots of tools to help you do that. Try making a new one every week (we did that every week for a month with Test Tube Games 2012 – it was awesome and the games we’re making now are SO much better!)
It took Rovio something like 50 games to get to Angry Birds.
Edmund McMillen made SO MANY FLASH GAMES on Newgrounds before Super Meat Boy.
You’ve got a lot of games to make before you get to your good ones. Why waste years working on just one or two?
Just Make, Finish and Playtest Games
Every game you get playable gets you closer to being a better game developer. Because you’re skilling up on new things every time and each game will have its own unique challenges.
Every time you playtest you’ll get new problems to solve and questions to answer and THAT is how you learn how to be a better game developer. Test your assumptions, make mistakes, learn from them and then go make new ones.
Game developers develop games. Good game developers develop playable games. Great game developers have done this so many times that they’ve made and learned from all the mistakes you’re about to make and are well on their way to inventing new ones.
Disagree with me? Awesome! Tell me about it in the comments.
Agree with me but don’t know where to start? Check out Pixel Prospector’s really Big List of Game Making Tools and go through the tutorials of each until you find one you like.
Then make a game. Get someone to play it. Learn from the experience and do it again.