Becoming A Game Developer (Part 2: Your Later Years)

Becoming A Game Developer (Part 2: Your Later Years)

Posted by Javid Shamloo | Posted on October 14th, 2015 at 1:37 am

Last week I gave some of my advice for becoming a game developer.  I gave my suggestions on what you should do in your middle and high school years to train yourself to make awesome games and have a great time doing it.  Today, I turn to the later years, college and beyond.  Again, these are only my opinions and advice.  I’m not saying that this is the only way to do things.  I’m just telling people the things I wish I had heard when I was young…instead of finding them out for myself the hard way later.  Let’s continue.


When you get to college, you should start ramping up your educational and life experiences even more.  If you haven’t done much yet in terms of learning programming, getting good at math and getting some life experiences under your belt, well now’s the time to do so!  You might think that you’re fine but in actuality you might be a little behind.  I know that people in college usually slack off and skip class and let their education slip a little by wasting time in bars or frat house parties, but my serious advice to you is to use your time wisely!  This doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy college and all the wonderful things it gives you to experience, but you also need to realize that shit is starting to get serious.  If you don’t begin to shape up now you’ll be in very bad shape later on when all of your preparation will start to matter.

Ok, so in keeping with my foundational pyramid structure that I’ve been pushing all along, if you haven’t done everything I’ve said in the last blog post, then for God’s sake get to work on that now!  Like I’ve said before, you’re starting to slip and fall behind.  Catch yourself now and don’t let things slip any further.  In addition to this you’re probably going to have to pick a major.  My honest suggestion is to go with Computer Science, since the course work here will give you the essential knowledge you need to make software.  Basically CS (Computer Science for short) teaches you how to communicate with and give orders to a computer.  After you graduate with a CS degree you can go on to do anything in the software industry: make financial software, do cybersecurity, database work, etc.  What you wanna do is create games/apps, and CS is great for that too because it gives you the skills in order to be able to do so, just in a more general sense.

Now, some CS programs are better than others.  I went to UCF, which is the best CS school in the state of Florida.  It still wasn’t that special and could certainly have been better but it was good enough for my purposes.  It boasted decent labs and some great teachers, as well as a moderately decent curriculum with some great classes.  Basically, try to get into the best CS school you can.  If you get accepted to MIT or Carnegie Mellon, then for God’s sake go there!  If you are currently in a CS program already and can’t really get out, just work with what you have to the maximum capacity.  Ask teachers tons of questions.  Do extra, interesting assignments.  Get together with other students and make some games of your own.  You can make a lot of connections in college, and meet a lot of great lifetime friends in the process.  Try to get some programmers together and go to the digital media part of your university and see if you can get some artists to join your fold.  Together, programmers and artists, you can make little games that will give you invaluable experience and can become great portfolio pieces for everyone involved.  My constant urging is that you learn the best by doing.  That’s why I told you to program starting in middle school, so you can do as much of it as possible.  Now, you can get a team together and make something bigger than you could make yourself.  This will also give you leadership experience as you manage your group and learn the skills to get them to do the best work they can possibly do, all while building something pretty amazing.  These people might work for you one day when you start a company of your own, so make these connections now.  But most of all have fun!  You’re starting to follow your dream now, so enjoy it!

In addition to taking CS classes, make sure you take different and interesting gen-ed classes that cover everything from art to film to nature.  Get a minor in something DIFFERENT than CS.  I got my minor in mathematics, and this was a big mistake.  I should’ve gotten it in something like astronomy, film history or music theory.  Balance the logical left-brain CS courses with the creative right-brain art or music courses you’ll be taking as part of your minor.  This keeps the balance in your life and you’ll need as much of it as possible if you’re to make the best games anyone has ever seen.

At this point you should be on easy street if you’ve listened to all my advice so far.  You should be an expert programmer who’s learned many different languages, you should kick ass at math which you can now use in your games to program physics, graphics, and AI, among other things, and you should have enough creative sparks and energy to think of the most innovative and exciting game design ideas, while knowing how the gaming industry works because you’ve been playing and thinking about games all along and reading what people think of them as well.  Until you graduate, just keep up the good work and try to make as many revolutionary games as possible with the little group you’ve put together.  By now you all should be a pretty tight knit team, and you should be starting to think about how you can hire the best of these people to work with you in making games for a living and getting a lot of money from it in the process.  You’re almost ready to go!

After College/Adulthood:

Now you’re in the real world.  You’ve graduated from college and are now tasked with the responsibility of working for the rest of your life.  Luckily, you won’t have to worry about working at a dead end job because you’ve followed all my advice from the previous sections and have the skills and creativity needed to make great games.  And let’s not forget that this was your dream in the first place, so you have passion to burn.  If you haven’t done all the things that I’ve gone over in the previous sections but still want to make games, then now’s the time to do them.  It’ll take a little while but you must acquire the skills and creativity necessary to do a good job.  If you’re passionate enough though, and simply weren’t given decent advice until now, your desire will get you through.

Let’s say that you’ve done everything I’ve discussed (or most of it) and are now ready to take the next step, making real games to be sold for real money.  You have one of two options: working for an established game studio or working for yourself.  For the first option, you’ll be dealing with a variety of companies; some good, but most bad.  You then have the big task of getting one of these good companies to notice and hire you.  This will be difficult because even though you’re good, so are a lot of other people. The openings for jobs at these great game studios are usually closed because they have all the people they need.  If a job does open up it will be for a very specific position and a lot of people will apply for it because the company is so good.  The chances that you’ll be taken for that specific job are very slim and even if you do manage to land it, you probably won’t be helping to create the game design or the art direction.  You’ll get stuck in some code monkey job programming things that people tell you, with no creative input into the process.  It will take you a long time working at this company for you to be promoted high enough for just a fraction of that responsibility.  This could be a valid option if all you care about is getting experience and working at a great studio.  There’s nothing wrong with that at all.  It’s my opinion, however, that since you’ve worked this hard already and have so many different talents and ideas, it’s a shame to see them go to waste when they could be used to make the creative gems that you wanna make.  You have something to contribute, so contribute it.  The way to do this is to get your own team together, make your own games, and self-publish them with your own business.

Now I can’t give you all the advice on how to start your own business here.  That would take too long and be too much to digest all at once.  I’ll blog about the specific things that you should do for your business (and I’ve been blogging a little about this already), but I’ll give you a brief overview of what you should do plus provide some links to some great books that I’ve read about entrepreneurship.  Ok, so the first thing you wanna do is get a team together.  The first people you must look for are your business partner(s).  You have to be careful here.  If you’re going into business with anyone make sure that it’s someone you trust.  I recently got fucked because the business partner that I had just couldn’t handle the work load of working in his own company.  He didn’t have the life skills, mental capacity, or emotional stability to handle it, so he left me and now I’m trying to pick up the pieces and start again, which has been hard and will most likely take me some years to do.  What I’m basically trying to say is to make sure you know exactly where your potential business partner(s) stand.  If you choose to go into business yourself, that’s fine too.  Just make sure that you have enough capital to back it up and be prepared for the onslaught of work ahead of you.  The amount of work it takes to start a game company is tremendous.  Doing all this yourself will mean that you have to put your life on hold.  Your business and your work will be your life for a very long time and you’ll have to work extremely hard just to get things off the ground.  I believe that it’s better to share this load with someone you trust who has your same interests and goals.  This way you’ll also have someone to talk to, confide in, and get help from for any difficulty you may have.  If you’re just one person you’ll be banging your head against the wall.

Next you’re going to want to build the rest of your team.  You need to do this very carefully.  Grow your company too big, too fast, and the overhead becomes too much.  Plus you need to pay and manage all these people.  You have a responsibility to them.  So make sure you get only the amount of people you need for the project you’re working on.  Next, make sure you hire top quality people.  It may take some time to convince someone of high quality to work for you and there are some tips in the books I’ll suggest later that you can use…but the topic is too large to be covered in depth here.  Just remember, it’s better to pay more for a great employee than it is to pay less for a bad employee who does unusable work.  You’re just throwing money away in the second case.  It’s also very important to self-publish your games.  I’ll repeat that: self-publish your games!  This is extremely important because then you are in charge of how it’s released, the advertising, and all the profits come back to you.  If you gave it to another publisher they may pay you less than what you deserve, hold up your game from being released for no reason, or just copy your game and release it themselves.  All of these things have happened, believe it or not.  Add that to the fact that it’s so easy to self-publish your game nowadays that it’s a wonder not every developer does it.  Remember, the more control you have over your game, the better it will be, the more it will conform to your creative vision, and the more likely it is to be released properly so that everyone can enjoy it and you can make the most money possible with it.  This is a business after all, and making money certainly matters.  However, you must remember that money isn’t everything.  It’s only a vehicle with which to pay yourself, the awesome people you work with, and to take care of your living expenses so you can live comfortably and keep those creative juices flowing to make as many great games as you can.  The position you wanna get yourself into is one in which you and your company have complete control, you make awesome stuff, and everyone praises it and pays you a lot of money for it.  All this will give your company a good reputation, and you sharing your experiences and giving interviews and press attention to yourself, your games and your company will only serve to heighten that reputation.

You’ve finally done it…you’ve reached the top!

Again, I can’t give you all the advice needed to run a successful company here, and your path will be different from everyone else’s path anyways.  Just remember all the advice I’ve told you and you’ll stand in good stead.  In the future I’ll be writing more on how to develop a business and take a company forward, so stay tuned for that.  Here are the books I’ve read and recommend: 6 Secrets To Startup Success, The Ultralight Startup, It’s Your Business, and Creativity, Inc.

If anyone has any questions for me regarding these last two blog posts, please feel free to e-mail.

Till next time my friends, take care and stay safe!

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