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Before You Decide to Be a Game Developer [Community Post]

May 9, 2012 Written by Community

Editor’s Note: The following is a community post by PSLS reader Oversun, who talks about what you should take into consideration before you dedicate your life to the awesome profession of game development.

Disclaimer: I’m going to write about what kind of mindset you should have if you want to be a game developer, even though I’m not a developer myself. Despite that, I am a freshman game programming student and I read articles and blog posts by professional developers, so, at the very least, I’m not utterly clueless.

I’m sure many gamers have played a game when they were kids and thought something along the lines of, “I wish I could make a game like that! I wanna make games when I grow up!”

Generally, anyone who wants to make games falls into one of two categories. First, there are people who daydream about their own game concepts, outlining every main game mechanic in their head and perhaps writing stories and drawing characters. This type of person thinks about the abstract, high-level side of games, and usually aims to become a game designer, artist, or writer.

Other people spend their time learning programming languages like C++ and perhaps making programs using Adobe Flash or the Windows API. This type of person thinks about the technical, low-level side of games, and usually aims to be a game programmer.

Of course, some people may fit a little in both categories, but a majority of the people who hope to be a game developer belong in the first, high-level thinker category. After all, it’s the high-level side of games that makes us excited. When we play video games, we don’t think about how the game engine loads objects into the level, bounces a ball off a wall, or draws everything onto a back buffer before switching that buffer with the one that’s displayed on the screen. We just think about what we see, what we hear, and how to play the game.

Unfortunately, being creative is not enough to make a game or get you hired. Simply put, ideas are cheap and no one will hire you to make ideas all day. So if you want to be a high-level game designer, you need to know a skill that is related to games. The question is, what kind of skill?

First of all, there is no easy way to quickly become a game designer. There are schools where you can attend a game design program and graduate in less than four years, but few companies want to hire a game designer straight out of college. The way most people become a designer is they first work as a programmer or artist and gain experience until they get an opportunity to be a designer. That, or they form their own development team.

With that out of the way, if you want to be a game developer and you can program, draw, or write, and you enjoy doing it, then that’s clearly the best way to start working your way into game design.

But what if you don’t have any these skills? What if you love making game concepts in your head, but you’re not good at doing anything but playing games?

If that’s the case, then just give up any hopes you have of making a game. Game development is a painful process that is nothing like playing games (I’m sure there’s some people who don’t know that already). Even game artists need not only artistic talent, but they need to know how to use software to create 2D and 3D animations, among other things.

And don’t even think about learning programming from scratch. Game programmers need to know how to program all of the nitty-gritty details in games, like loading objects into a level, bouncing a ball off a wall, and double buffering (look six paragraphs back). Just forget about making your dream game and stick to your controller, punk.

However, if you earnestly, sincerely want to make games, and the last several sentences haven’t dissuaded you, then go for it. Is it possible to be a game developer without any technical knowledge? Well, I never wrote a single line of code until a year ago, and I’m currently in the second semester of my freshman year as a game programming major, so it might be possible (If you ask me again in three or four years, I might have a more definite answer).

I won’t talk about the subjects you need to study to be able to program, since I would need a whole new article for that, but once you have the passion and determination, you should search for a school with a game-related major near you and start studying ahead of time. Becoming a game developer is definitely a long, painful process, but if you’re convinced the end result will be worth it, then buckle up and bring your A-game.

If you enjoyed Oversun’s post, be sure to vote for it to win the community writer award once all the entrants are published.