I’m active on many game developer boards and I hear this question all the time: How can I break into the game business? I hear it from aspiring programmers, artists and game designers. Other people offer other suggestions but my answer is always the same: Design a game and then go make it. Do whatever it takes to make a complete bug-free product.
Just by having a completed bug-free product that you can show to people and get excited about while demoing it, distinguishes you from the 95-99% of the “idea people”. It makes you a doer and not just a talker. It needs to be completed and bug-free…otherwise you’re labeling yourself as someone who doesn’t really finish things. It might be a really horrible game idea, but if it’s bug-free and it actually can be played without you explaining it (that’s part of being a “complete” product) then it will open doors.
In late 1989, I decided that the future for me was not Cobol programming. I had my first taste of Unix and Awk and decided that I wanted to learn C. I have loved Puzzles since I first learned to talk, so I decided to create a puzzle game. My original idea was to cross the Pipe-Dream mechanism with four-colored tiles (a puzzle I had since 3’rd grade that was similar to the frogs/snakes puzzles you’ll find in nature stores).
Over then next few years, the game grew and grew. I added variations, a navigation screen, a help system, many other games, etc. etc. I had one partner, Malcolm Michael who wrote all the low-level graphic routines that let my game run fast on a 286. The game design was all mine and it still runs today. The thing I was proudest of, was that it ran the same on the 286 as it did on the much faster 486’s and higher. It was called “Modern Problems” and it made me about $50 in shareware over then next couple of years.
Yep, $50 ain’t much…but it was responsible for at least 4 job offers. Here’s a short list of things I got to say and be excited about in interviews that were obviously true because of Modern Problems.
- I learned the C programming language on my own.
- I understand computer graphics.
- I’ve done a little assembler level programming.
- I’ve done Mouse programming tricks.
- My color sense is horrible.
- I can handle difficult algorithms.
- I can model real-world puzzles.
- I do whatever it takes to get the job done and actually complete things.
One of those jobs was for a company called Interactive Network and I did tools and games that ran on a black/white 300×100 (I think…it was small) screen for two years. After that, I got stuck in tools-only for a company called Imagination Network which became Worldplay which got bought out by AOL. I didn’t do much game-design there, but the AOL money let me create Puzzles By Joe and I went back to creating Puzzle Games that made very little money for a while (But I did create 9 games that were all “complete an bug free”).
Because of Puzzles By Joe, I was offered the job of creating the Mah Jong Quest game for iWin. (It helped that I had worked with the guy who created Jewel Quest during my time with Worldplay…but creating nine Windows games helped sell me to the CEO).
At iWin, I learned a lot about marketing BS and that some places value Talking over Doing.
After doing Mah Jong Quest I, II and III for iWin, I left again to create my own very own Puzzles By Joe games again, but this time targeted at the Casual Download space, and knowing that I’d have a distribution channel.
And now my transition to being a Profitable Game Designer/Developer is complete and once again having a completed product (Clutter and Clutter II: He Said, She Said) is opening more doors.
Success is relative, but the only thing better than having a Completed Bug-Free Product to help open doors…is to have a Completed Bug-Free Product that is actually making money.
One last thing, getting “respect” from a Completed Bug-Free Product doesn’t come from everyone you’ll show the game to…but part of the Magic…is that it will let you know right away that you don’t want to work for them anyway.
Completing a Bug-Free Product is very unique and special…and if a potential employer doesn’t realize that, that’s because they think employees are all interchangeable and that’s not a place that I’d want to work at.
So, what are you going to create today?