Hi, I’m Sutorcen of Hotgates and today I will share lessons learned in game development. Lessons that made me a better game developer, designer, person. Things that you should take into consideration if you plan to make games professionally or as a hobby. Accumulating knowledge is all fine and well, sharing it though is even better. Quoting Baz Luhrmannn, my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. So let’s get started.
Lesson #1 – Game development is not easy
As a gamer I have been in many discussions about good and as you know everyone has an opinion. How a given game should have been, especially if they didn’t like it. How easy it would be to simply patch a game’s bugs. Let’s get something out of the way. When you make games you are actually talking to a machine telling it what to do in another language. We have issues talking to each other and we are sentient beings speaking the same language, not a soulless thing like a computer. So imagine telling a computer and make it understand the following “commands”:
“Computer when I hit this monster that has X life, I want it to die after it is hit by my sword that does Y damage”.
“Subtract Y from X until it reaches 0 and when that happens kill the monster”.
“If I don’t die in the process, grant me XP and generate some loot”.
“Make sure to spawn the loot on the floor and not beneath it”.
“Lastly check to see if I the XP I have gained is enough to Level Up …”.
All that just to kill a monster in a game, once, without factoring in concepts like armour, elemental resistances etc. You also have to make it bug free, look and sound good and fun too. Most people in the industry work 40+ hours per week, for years and they still don’t get it right. You might say, now that we have the internet, we can just copy/paste a code, a blueprint or just watch a tutorial on YouTube and make a game. Well it doesn’t work this way, you have to know what you are doing, else you will spent too much time trying to figure out what is wrong with your code. The internet and the community can only help you that much. Making games is easy is a misconception. Game development is a constant compromise between good content, features, time, resources, your ego, your friends and family.
Lesson #2 – Making good games is not that hard
Game developers back in the 80’s and even the 90’s, were like alchemists. They were exploring the elements and trying to create gold out of nothing. With no reference, no guidelines and noone to turn to for advice. As the years passed and the gaming industry evolved, people started to observe and study video games. What makes them tick, what is considered a good gameplay experience, why is a game fun? People soon discovered what those elements were and and how they should be used to produce a good game.
Fast forward a few decades and there are rules and guidelines to follow now, recipes if you like. We are fortunate to have those guidelines, to be able to study games at University or College. Nowadays we can find a course online and learn about video games. Better yet we can watch lectures given by some of the industry’s leading people, telling us how they did it. So when we set out to make our own games, we don’t look like a crazy alchemist fumbling around with a dark science, hoping not to get blown up in the process.
Another thing that has made game development easier over the years are the latest game engines. Engines like Unity, Unreal Engine, CryEngine are available for everyone to play with. They have introduced a more user friendly approach to writing code, Visual Scripting. The driving force behind those engines and development tools, beside their user friendly approach, is their communities. Without them game development wouldn’t be what it is now. There is always someone to lend a helping hand.
Last but not least, another great source of information are books. There are tons of books about video games, covering everything from game design, gameplay mechanics, flow, business aspects, whatever you need is out there, all you have to do is dedicate yourself to it. Let’s not forget strategy guides, the best way to learn and study a game and its mechanics.
We now have tools at our disposal that previous generations of game developers didn’t have and didn’t even dream of and yet they created masterpieces. Imagine what you can achieve.
Lesson #3 – Analyse the games you play
Most people involved in game development are people that love games in general. If the idea of becoming a game developer is starting to tickle your brain, try the following. Analyse the games you play. Begin to understand how mechanics work at a deeper level, understand why you like a game or not. Research why a certain design was implemented. Play the games considered the archetypes of gameplay and design, PacMan, Tetris, Mario, Zelda and others. Do something even harder, play games you don’t like, try to find out why others like them and you don’t. Play games that are utter rubbish, you can learn a great deal from them, especially what not to do. Play or watch other forms of games, table top, sports etc. Don’t just breeze through your games, explore them, feel them, they are the best teachers you will ever have.
Lesson #4 – Having rules and guidelines does not guarantee success
How many times have you tried to cook something and failed? Just because you have a recipe and a video showing you how it’s done, doesn’t mean you will get it right. Same rule applies to video games. There is a 90% chance that your first game and mine, will not succeed, it will probably fail. Not because you suck. There is one thing education and training can not replace, experience. There are things that you will learn only when you develop, finish and publish your games. Even then there are still things you simply can not control, namely the gamers. Most self conscious developers will try to guide you towards the correct path, teaching you from their mistakes.
Then there are the people in forums or social media groups the “know it all”. People who haven’t released a game in their lives and if they did it was sub-par. They will insist that you should be doing things a certain way or fail. Filter what they say, soon enough you will understand why they have failed. It usually is their wrong attitude towards game development and people in general. Lastly, since they have failed repeatedly, who are you to succeed. Avoid or ignore, they have nothing to offer, If I had listened to those voices I wouldn’t be here. As most things in life, making video games takes a long time to master and you’ll be learning things, everyday. Reading all of this you might wonder, well if we are bound to fail why should we even bother to make video games?
Knowing you have a much higher chance to fail doesn’t constitute a “looser attitude” nor should you quit. No, it means you are wise enough to realize and accept that making video games is a gamble and it keeps you on guard. You can always decrease your chances of failure by doing things right and efficiently, but that takes skill, research and experience. Skills you either have them or not, if not you can study. Many people don’t bother doing research, most common reason of failure. Experience, you get that from mistakes, finishing and publishing games, even simple ones.
Why should we bother? Because that 90% failure rate doesn’t mean much actually. At the end of the day you can release a game and that game can become the next big thing, because people who buy and play games, are unpredictable. Case in point, Flappy Bird, Angry Birds, Final Fantasy, Minecraft to name a few. Sure, big names now but when they were released back then they had the same 90% failure probability. Angry Birds and Final Fantasy, were the last attempt from developers at the brink of bankruptcy. You’ll never know if your game will be a success unless it is out there. That’s one of the reasons why we should bother making video games, that and because we love making them. Of course success has a different meaning for everyone, one man’s failure is another one’s success story. Which brings us to another lesson learned.
Lesson #5 – Making games might make you poor, rich, or neither
Let me start by saying that if you are in it for the money please pick another profession. Making games is a calling, something you love, it is art. Of course you can make some money along the way, the numbers are there to support that. Most game developers earn something in return for investing so much time and effort making games. Not everyone succeeds or survives though. Most big names in the industry started out making games they loved, not to make money. Success has changed them and while some companies became better, others didn’t. The gaming industry is at an all time high with no signs of slowing down despite global recession. Success and making money in that industry seems to be not that hard, right?. Well not exactly. You see success may well be another failure in disguise. Let me explain what I mean.
Let’s say you have released ten games in your life as a game developer.
Each game costs €150.000 to make.
- Game 1 makes €40.000 in sales – failure
- Game 2 makes €30.000 in sales – failure
- Game 3 makes €50.000 in sales – failure
- Game 4 makes €100.000 in sales – broke even
- Game 5 makes €60.000 in sales – failure
- Game 6 makes €50.000 in sales – failure
- Game 7 makes €80.000 in sales – failure
- Game 8 makes €110.000 in sales – broke even
- Game 9 makes €60.000 in sales – failure
- Game 10 makes €1.000.000 in sales – huge success. Is it though?
Let’s take a closer look.
Up to that point you have spent (10 games x dev costs) = total costs
so that makes…
10 x €150.000 = €1.500.000
and you have earned… (adding up the sales from all games)
Earnings – costs = profit (we deliberately ignore taxes and other costs just to keep it simple)
€1.580.000 – €1.500.000 = €80.000
This means you have earned a total of €80.000 making ten games. That “Game 10” sure doesn’t look like a success now, does it?
The “big” successes should be able to cover your past and future failures, that’s the most important thing to remember. Otherwise you’re going to run out of funds very fast. Having a publisher financing you might keep you afloat, but for an indie developer it’s bad. Running out of money may be a sacrifice you are willing to make. People that work with you though, might jump ship if they find something else that can pay their bills. Grand plans and overreaching ambitious designs make game developers forget about the most logical thing. You should earn more than you spent or when you spent do so inside your budget’s limit. Not a good thing to do, you must learn to adapt and downscale your projects if needed.
There have been many cases where people actually lost a lot of money developing games. In most of those cases it was poor resource management and planning. You have to consider your capabilities, both technical and financial. Then you must be able and willing to scale your plans (mostly downscale) accordingly. We all would like to create games like Uncharted or Skyrim but the truth is we can’t. At least not from the get go. So take it slow until you have a sense of what you can achieve without going bankrupt in the process. After a few games, if you play your cards right, you might create a game like Skyrim. Who knows?
The other thing to keep in mind is that if one of your games succeeds big, and chances are it will, it will generate a lot of profit for you. So don’t give up, design, develop and finish your game. One never knows what will drive people crazy and become the next hit.
That is it for now. Cheer up it is not all doom and gloom when you develop games. Be sure to read the second part of “Lessons learned in game development”, which I hope I will post sometime next week. Until then, never give up, never surrender and always remember that making video games is a beautiful thing. If you liked this article why not follow us on facebook, Instagram and twitter? Take care.