Would You Like to be a Game Developer?
27th June 2015
For many of us on the outside, the idea of creating our own games is a dream. The ability to work from home, invest love and care into our own projects and then reap the benefits from distribution channels such as Steam seems ideal – but what does it really take to be a developer? Working long evenings, alienating family members and struggling to pay off the costs seems like the more believable scenario. We get the answers straight from the
horses’ developers’ mouths…
1. What were you doing before you moved into a career in gaming, and what inspired you to make the leap?
Before I pursued a career in gaming, I was in high school, working at a grocery store. I spent two years there while I practiced my art, and found that after a while I wasn’t being paid enough for my work there, and it was far more draining than art. I eventually decided to quit my job and make the leap as a commissioner, doing pixel art for games while developing my own games on the side.
Before I started working in gaming, I worked in the IT department of a hospital writing code on an IBM AS/400 mainframe in the RPG and RPGLE programming languages. I worked there for six years. In the summer of 2009 I went to visit a friend in London, Ontario for a vacation. While I was there my friend’s girlfriend told me about a game company called Antic Entertainment in downtown London that was looking for game programmers. I emailed them while I was in London, and I told them that I was only going to be in town for two more days, and they asked me to come down for an interview the next day.
The interview went really well, and a week later they made me an offer. I took the job and moved out to London two months later, which is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made – I met a ton of great people at Antic, one of whom was Jake Macher, who is the other half of Bacon Bandit Games.
I decided to switch careers because I’d been developing games as a hobby for many years, but I didn’t know very many other people that were making games. Back then the indie scene wasn’t nearly as large as it is today, and it was non-existent in the small city I was living in. So I figured it was time for a change, and I took a shot on a new job in a new province. Several months after I left Antic I created Bacon Bandit Games.
I was programming mobile phone software. I found an opportunity when I got a job interview at a local game studio, but I had been wanting to make games for professionally for a while.
I used to work in the oil and gas industry, posted away from my hometown. The desire to have a career where I can work from home near my family was a huge inspiration when switching to game development.
2. Creating games can be expensive and time-intensive. Where did you get your funding and how did you find the time?
Outside from some gracious funding from Digerati, all of our projects are entirely unfunded, or lightly funded by me as the producer of the studio. Most of our funding is acquired from me continuing my part-time commission work.
So far Bacon Bandit Games has only created one game, Letter Quest: Grimm’s Journey. I funded the entire thing myself, out-of-pocket. I saved up for many years, and when I moved back to Manitoba I decided it was time to make my own company and try to make a game, full-time. It was scary, a ton of work, and expensive, especially with no money coming in. I ended up using up all of my savings and then some, and actually took some money out of my RRSPs to finish development of the game. I can’t say that I’d recommend that approach to everyone, but I felt very strongly about the game I was working on, and feel that it was worth it in the end. I ended up finishing the game, releasing it on a lot of platforms, and I learned a lot along the way.
As for finding time to make games – when I decided to go full-time with my own company, that gave me back the 40+ hours a week that I would normally spend working for someone else. I still ended up putting in a lot more than 40 hours a week though!
Since I started my career working for other studios, I was able to save up some money before leaving to do my own thing. I also left my job so I could have the time to work on my own games.
I mostly stuck to open source or free authoring software, and a lot of the expenses after that were self funded from the income of the games. My earliest games were posted on Kongregate, and the steady drip of advertising revenue adds up over the years! I used to have a lot more time on games before having a kid… now I split my time between taking care of her and working on new games, so I have a lot less free time these days.
3. What key piece of advice would you offer someone looking to get into video game development?
Try to hone a wide variety of skills, but don’t be afraid to specialize, either. Give yourselves breaks every once in a while do something not related to your game– it can be a great mental health exercise and you’ll probably find yourself becoming more in tune with your craft. Be willing to open your mind to outside help, but don’t feel like you need to beg for assistance either. Independent game development is all about balance between work and self.
For anyone looking to get into game development I would say: start making games! Any kind of game! Create a concept for a board game, or a card game, or a video game. You can come up with a ton of interesting ideas just by using things like a deck of cards, dice, a pen and paper, post-it notes, etc. Or just choose some game-making program and get started. Between RPG Maker, GameMaker, Construct 2, and many more, there are several awesome options for aspiring game developers these days! Make something! Try different programs. If you like coding, consider an engine like Unity, since there is a vast library of tutorials out there that you can learn from.
Also, choose a very, very small idea and try to finish it. Actually take the time to finish it and share it with the world. Put it on a website, share it on a site like itch.io. You will quickly find that it takes a lot of work and dedication to finish even a small game, and that’s an important lesson to learn.
Don’t start a family.
My advice would be to learn as much as you can about it before jumping in.. and not just “I play a lot of games, so I must know a lot about games!” Game development is a very different field from just being good at playing games… Playing a lot of games is a good start, but there’s a lot more to it.
4. Where did you find others with required skillsets (art, music etc) to work with you on your games?
I have met most of the people that I collaborate with through message boards years and years back. However, I have also found a huge network of fellow artists and developers on Twitter. Depending on where you live, you might be able to find some locals to help you out too. It seems like nowadays everyone wants to make games — it’s not very difficult to find like-minded people anymore!
I met a ton of interesting and talented people when I worked at Antic Entertainment. That job also introduced me to a lot of people from different companies, and got me to get out and network with others. I was able to attend GDC in 2012, and that was fantastic – I met a lot of great people while there. These days I try to stay somewhat active on twitter (when I can find time) with a great group of people. I also take part in #IndieDevHour on Wednesdays, which is a fantastic way to meet a bunch of cool game developers from all around the world.
Game developer meetups and conventions, social networking sites, forums and, of course, Kickstarter.
I do my own artwork, so I’m usually only looking for music composers. Sometimes people will send me private messages offering their services, and if the samples are interesting I give them a try. Other times I get music or sound effects from sites like audiojungle, or from browsing songs in newgrounds and contacting the author directly.