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Twenty Things I've Learned About Game Development
Thinking about what it means to be over fifty in game development prompted me to make a list of what I consider the twenty most important things I've learned over the years. All of these lessons came from making mistakes and learning from them.
January 9, 2017
4 Min Read
Every year when it's released, there's a variety of commentary around Forbes' 30 Under 30 list for games. I think lists in general are fine and that list in particular is also fine, but I'd love to see a greater variety of folks of all ages highlighted in lists and articles. It prompted me to think about what a "50 over 50" list might look like, and how many of folks like me are still left in the industry, actively making games.
I'm looking ahead at turning 52 this year, and all things considered, I'm glad to still be here--both here in games, and here on earth. Thinking about what it means to be over fifty in game development prompted me to tweet a list of what I consider the twenty most important things I've learned over the years.
All of these lessons came from making mistakes and learning from them--sometimes more than once. They are in no particular order.
Ship what you start, and at least one game with a company. Never leave without shipping a game unless the situation is absolutely unbearable.
Stay current on the market--constantly. Yes, it’s a lot of work. Play all kinds of games, not just your favorite kind. Watch videos and read game news so you’re familiar with games you haven’t had a chance to play.
Stay current on tools and technology, even if it’s at home and as a hobby. Don’t let your building skills get rusty even if you get into management.
The game industry feels fun and informal. It focuses on passion. Never forget that this is a business. Don’t let your bosses convince you that it’s not.
Don’t let higher salaries or famous projects be your only driver. Life is too short. If you have an opportunity to be happy, seize it and never let go.
Don’t be seduced by the siren call of going indie unless you’re certain you’ll ship something, or you'll gain valuable experience in a tool or technology. It’s hard to come back from a failed indie endeavor if you have nothing to show for it.
A project you love will get cancelled. It will break your heart. Fight to try to save it but when push comes to shove, let it go. You’ll love the next game too.
Make the shift from “I make games I’m interested in” to “I’m interested in making games.” Love your craft. It makes you more flexible, more open to unusual games and opportunities.
Be very aware of your own strengths and weakness and, when given the choice, take the task you can knock out of the park even if it’s less interesting. Always give tasks to the person who’s best at them, and you'll end up with a better game.
The game industry discourages individual pride in your work in favor of team recognition. Don’t undervalue your own contributions and worth.
Make your own games at least once a year. Try a game jam or Ludum Dare. There’s no substitute for going hands on, solo, on a time limit.
Celebrate your game dev anniversary every year by playing a game in your top 10 list. Remind yourself why you’re here and why you love games.
Find or develop a community of like-minded developers. If you’re introverted, it can be a shared Skype chat, a forum, or on Slack. Don't go it alone.
Speak out with your ideas and plans. Stick to your guns when those ideas come under fire--but be logical and objective about ALL ideas and back the best, not just your own.
Don’t hesitate to own your mistakes. Talk about them openly, even in interviews. Mistakes are how we learn. Dodge or deny them, and you’ll stagnate.
Don’t ever take away someone else’s ownership in their work just to increase your own sense of ownership--especially if you’re a manager. You’ll disenfranchise that person and probably drop the ball anyway. You'll both end up frustrated.
You’ll never feel like the expert in the room, even when you are. Our work involves too much innovation to get comfortable even in your own experience. Remind yourself sometimes that you really DO know what you’re talking about.
Get a hobby, even if it’s solo game dev. When things get tense over the direction for your project, dive into that hobby. Embrace it as something you can control 100%, and let go of that urge to control everything for the project.
Use all of your PTO, every year. Insist on it even in busy years, and plan ahead. Take it in big enough chunks that it gives you a break, so you can come back and view your project and work more objectively.
Identify problems but focus on solutions. If you become more about problems than solutions, that negativity infects your work, your team, and how you think about your career.
Paring this down to just twenty items was challenging, because I've made a lot of mistakes over the years. Yes, I learned from them, but the honest truth is that I simply moved on to all sorts of new mistakes. My biggest piece of advice not on this list: don't be afraid to take chances. Keep your mind and heart open, and you'll never stop learning and growing.
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