The games industry, by its very nature, is competitive – a fact that students are constantly reminded of. It has never been easier to make games, with more and more young people like myself wanting to get involved; because of this, the competition is becoming increasingly daunting. With many junior positions requiring a degree, at least one published game and industry experience, how can you even compete? How can you not only start making your way into this industry, but begin cultivating success before you even finish your degree? As group of students who are currently experiencing these challenges I would like to share our experiences with you.
A brief introduction
My team and I have started up a studio called Itsfine Games and we are currently working on our first title called Split. Our game started as a rapid prototype that was given a very limited timeframe, only one week in fact! We really liked the concept and aesthetic so decided to take it along to our local IGDA chapter. The response we received was overwhelmingly positive; people wanted to play our game, asking about its release date and whether or not we were on social media. It was a surreal experience – people actually liked the silly little game we made about cubes? That was just three months ago. Now, we are being sponsored by our university and working full time over the summer holiday on “the silly little game about cubes”. We have already had the opportunity to meet incredible industry veterans and even been contacted by publishers. So, how did we get here?
Find the right team
Game development is all about teamwork and communication – very few people ever do it alone and finding the right team of people is essential. The people you choose to work with will be your best friends and your worst enemies, therefore communication is key. Do not pick the most talented artist or the best programmer, pick the people you can scream at, cry in front of, hug and have a beer with at the end of the day. You will spend an enormous amount of time with them, so above all else make sure that you can communicate openly, honestly and without reservation.
Above: The full Itsfine Games team.
Care about your assignments
Another thing to consider when choosing your team is, again, not picking the most talented people. I have known incredible artists whom I couldn’t stand to work with. I would rather work with someone who gives everything they have into an assignment only achieve half the result of an enormously talented person with a terrible attitude. These are the people that will show up, they will be there at 2AM working with you over Skype to meet the deadline. Give yourself a standard and stick to it, regardless of how long it takes you. This is the reason why our team was chosen, as the only group of second years, to participate in an accelerator program designed for third years. You shouldn’t just want to pass, you should want to excel and stop sleeping in until 10am. I cannot express my ire for the expression I have heard too many times: “C’s get degrees”. C’s may get degrees, but no one wants to work with them and studios sure as hell don’t want to hire them.
Finding a good mentor is like finding a unicorn (with added sparkles)
If you are lucky enough to find someone genuinely interested in helping you succeed with no thought or regard for personal gain, never let them go. People like this are extraordinarily rare, especially in an industry with such specialist skills and a tendency for burning out those who genuinely care about their work . Constantly ask them for advice and allow yourself to learn from their experience. We have been extraordinarily fortunate with our mentors and without them we likely never would have had the confidence to put ourselves and our work out there. Look for the people that stand behind you, push you further and catch you before you make a mistake too big to come back from. Great mentors like this will give you the strength to face other lectures, developers or critics who tell you that you cannot do this.
Make clear and concise goals
I have been working as my team’s production manager, which basically means I am everyone’s mom. We are all creative people with incredible ideas and a million things we want to do. It is my job to think about all of these things, listen to them and figure out if they are feasible, then I need to plan everything out and allocate time and tasks. A huge part of this is communicating between the artists and programmers; needing to reign in the excited artists who tend to come up with grand ideas that aren’t feasible, and redirecting the programmers who can get too lost in their own math. In the short term this includes meticulously creating tasks for each day and tracking them for every member of the group. Doing this will allow you to plan out medium term goals and gain an important perspective of how long things take. In the meantime, you need to be measuring this progress against long term goals, success factors and milestones.
Overall, you need to know what you want to achieve from your game, know what you want to learn. Our intention has never been to make an indie hit or to make money, we simply want Split to be another lesson. We want to put our work out there, see what people have to say and do better for our next project. This is a time in your life where you have the most opportunity to do whatever it is you want to do without risking too much – remember, good games come first, success comes later.
Make people care
After we brought our game to our first IGDA meeting things kind of snowballed from there. We made a Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, the works and people started following us. This was not simply because we just existed, but because we engaged, we asked questions, posted pictures of our work regularly and actively looked for community feedback. You need to go beyond just sparking people’s initial interest, you need to give them a connection, a reason to play your game. Our lead programmer spent weeks designing the cubes movement and behaviour and when I got the opportunity to test the new mechanics I began to care about the fate of my cubes. I felt a sense of responsibility watching the little ones trail behind the big cubes, and cringing when one fell off the map or was lost. Inspire your players to care about what they are doing in your game – make players choices feel meaningful.