How do I break into the games business?
How do I create successful games?
How do I succeed in games?
How do I make my own games (the ones I want to make)?
How do I succeed as an artist/creator/designer?
How do I get better at anything?
So, there’s practical, specific advice I could offer to each question, but I thought I’d cut to the chase and offer a more global, less specific answer. And I’ll start off with some new age sounding wisdom in this area before giving some down to earth (practical) advice.
The first step is to understand that we (humans) are Self-Fulfilling Prophecy Machines. What we believe, especially about our own limitations and our world-view, becomes reality. Now, I’m not saying there isn’t an external reality, but I am saying that it’s much less limiting than we give it credit for. Before I achieve any goal, there is the belief that I can achieve that goal. Then, if I believe it, I can attempt it. And if I fail to achieve it, I can go practice and work harder to strengthen my belief that I can do it. And then, I can try again. Without the belief, there is no preparation and most likely no attempt either.
And the first belief is not that you can achieve the goal, but that it’s a worthy goal. Is it worth it to become a master programmer? A master game designer? A creator of popular games? A competent programmer? A business programmer? A programmer? A self-sufficient adult? A college student? An honors student? An Eagle Scout? A varsity basketball player? A member of a team? A solo indie developer?
If it’s a worthy goal, what are you willing to sacrifice in order to achieve it? Time, energy, friendships, money, effort…
Ok, so we have a goal and we’ve decided it’s a worthy, achievable goal. What’s next?
Step 1. Read, read, read…everything you can about your goal and especially about people who have already achieved that goal. I’ve read at least 5 bookshelves full of books to perfect my craft. When I read “Software Engineering in C” by Darnell and Margolis, it opened up my eyes to being more than “just a programmer”. “The AWK Programming Language” by Aho, Kernighan and Weinberger made me realize that “I’d rather write a program to write a program than write a program”. “The Artist’s Way” by Cameron taught me the necessity of daily rituals. “The Art of Game Design” by Schell made me realize how many things I didn’t think about when designing a game. And those are just a drop in the ocean.
Step 2. Pick something you can achieve (actually believe in)…and start working in that direction. When I decided I didn’t want to be “just a business programmer” anymore, I learned C on my own by writing my first shareware-game in my spare time over a 4 year period. It made very little money, but that shareware-game got me 3 job offers, one of which was actually programming games for a living.
Step 3. Time spent learning new techniques and/or new tools is never wasted. Just about everyday, I would think about something I wanted to do in the game…and then I would try to make the game do it.
Step 4. Every time you learn something new. Stop and think about how you could have done it better and in shorter time (with what you know now that you didn’t know then).
Step 5. Re-read. For really kewl big new stuff that I’ve tried to learn, I usually would read the best book on the subject 3 times. Once to learn it originally. A second time (in about 3-6 months) after I’ve had some context to really lock in the knowledge. And finally a third time looking for gems I missed the first couple of times that still could make me better at whatever I was learning.
Step 6. Apply the techniques you’ve learned to other areas, including the process of learning itself. I’m constantly trying to be a better Software Engineer by applying the techniques of Software Engineering to the way I “write code”, “learn new stuff”, “organize my business/personal life”, “design games”, etc…
Step 7. At one point I learned about the concepts of Rapid Prototyping, Fast-Failure and Stepwise-Refinement and hit a new plateau. I started thinking of myself as a Software Engineer but then what? I began to re-engineer my own career and read a lot more books about successful entrepeneurs and other business oriented books and two things stuck out there. In “The Daily Drucker” by Peter Drucker, I learned what a “knowledge worker” was (you’ll have to look that one up). Another thing about success I picked up was the VIP notion. VIP: Vision, Initiative, Perspective. Three sides of a triangle that are all needed to succeed at anything.
Step 8: Stop being a hired gun. If you’re making something creatively for someone else and they benefit from it more than you, then figure out how to do it for yourself. That’s what I did after making the Mah Jong Quest trilogy for iWin. Figured I’d rather do it on my own.
Step 9: Understand the difference between Luck/Timing and Skill/Hard Work. Some of just about every success is a little Luck/Timing thrown in with the Skill/Hard Work. If you don’t realize that, you’ll succeed for a while…and then fail spectacularly. Although I’ve worked hard, I’ve been a little lucky with my Clutter game and the franchise effect. As the PC Download Market shrinks I need to find other channels to succeed in. (And at least, the biggest channel (mobile) is the hardest one to guarantee getting seen in). So…I’m back to step 1…Read, read, read…etc…and apply it to the big open question…
How do I succeed in the Mobile/Tablet/Apps market?
Am I really back to step 1?
No, first there’s step 0…
…Do I believe I can do it?
What do you think?