A big part of being a game design student (you know, other than making games) is getting out there to get a job or show off your game. It means marketing your skills and projects. It means putting yourself out there for everyone to judge. It means disappointment.
Because the odds say that you've got a near 1/600 chance (I am making this number up, but you get the point) of getting that job, winning that contract, or getting that award. To make it a little more stressful those odds get worse the bigger you go or the more unique you are.
Good news is: you keep improving and you are going to succeed eventually. But in the meantime you are going to face disappointment. A lot. Learning how to deal and grow from disappointment will in the long run make you not only a better game designer, but a better person too.
Looking at That Feeling
Disappointment comes in a lot of flavors. From a mild: meh, to a powerful: I will destroy Steve and everything he stands for. Big thing to know is that your level of disappointment is directly proportional to how much importance you've put on the outcome.
So if, say, you did a chill game jam with no prizes, but with an announced group favorite and your game didn't win; you probably just felt a little twinge of "it would have been nice, but no big." However, say, you finish three rounds of interviews for a job you were really excited about at a company with an awesome work culture and you get that email saying you lost out to one other person because of (insert one thing slightly better than you); I am going to wager you would have felt disappointment so sharp it physically hurt you.
That's why how you react to disappointment is crucial. It's one thing to not worry about disappointment when it doesn't really affect you, but what about those times where it starts to affect your rationality? Pain makes us do stupid, knee-jerk, things and this is especially true when you are young and not use to these stakes. That is what makes managing your reaction to disappointment so important; to avoid doing something we regret or is career damaging.
The Games Industry is a Small, Gossipy World
One of the hardest things I've found about being a student in the games industry is that almost everyone I know is going for the same jobs, contracts and awards. I've been told this doesn't change much once you stop being a student. So consider that probably for the entirety of your job hunting career you're not just competing against strangers, you are mostly competing against people you know including friends.
And there's something uniquely awful about competing against someone you know and losing. It's like the disappointment is tenfold. If you didn't know them you could just talk about how much it sucks and be over it. But now it's like everyone is congratulating them and you just can't get away from the reminder that you failed. The disappointment can get overwhelming, but trust me when I say, in less than a week it will be gone. (However, if after a month it's not, then best get yourself to a counselor because that level of sadness or anger is beyond healthy)
But there's something else you need to consider about the games industry, because despite what it seems like, it's small. And *really* gossipy. Everyone knows someone and everyone talks. So you have to consider that your words and actions can have some far reaching consequences. If you decide to harass someone because they got a job/award/thing that you wanted, be prepared to have whole chunks of the industry blacklist you. Worse, you'll never know because no one is going to sit you down and tell you why this is happening.
Now consider. What would you rather people talk about? Your weird but interesting game or the fact that you wrote a five page rant about a company that didn't give you a prize?
Speaking of prizes. One thing you should really know as a developer is that...
Awards are Stupid
This is a kinda a damned if you don't and damned if you do statement. If you don't have an award people say you're jealous; if you do have awards people say you're conceited. I think this is because like any drug getting an award, especially a really public one, is a huge rush. Your disappointment levels have the potential to skyrocket in these situations and that can be damaging to you and your mental health. Throw being a young student into that mix and you got a whole lot of emotions to sort through. Worse still, entering all those student competitions and showcases means most of your classmates are also entering (see previous point about it being small).
Knowing the competition ahead of time does not make your expectations any more manageable, in fact I would say that it can make things worse. You've seen them build their game for a while now. You know its flaws, probably even think your game is better. But be wary. You are not the judges and you don't know what they like. I've had the same game praised in one competition only to be totally ignored in another.
Did the game change? Nope. So then what went wrong? Well. Nothing.
It's been made pretty clear in the last few years that award shows are stupid. By which I mean, they are very subjective and are dominated by judges who have a very narrow criteria for what makes a great game.
Sometimes this can be good for you, other times not. It all depends on your game and the competition. To keep from being too disappointed you need to consider: is this the right game for this competition? But more importantly, I would argue, you should consider: what is this award going to do for my game really?
There are general competitions which ask for all kinds of games, but these tend to favor AAA playing or looking games. Sometimes there will be an underdog non-AAA game that breaks through and wins something (and sometimes all the things) but like casting for a movie that game just grabbed the judges somehow and that's not something you can count on.
There are a lot more niche competitions starting up, but even then your game might not be what they think is a good game. So does that mean that your game sucks?
No. Absolutely not. Nor does it mean your game was great if it did win a bunch of awards *cough*Destiny*cough*.
What tells me, and everyone else in the industry, that your game is good is what your players think. If you have a sizable group of people who want to play your game and want to play it multiple times; well I can't think of a better statement of your game's worth.
But let's get back to that second question: what is this award going to do for my game really? It's one I don't think a lot of new developers, even professionally, consider seriously.
Is the prize something you can use like money or a 3-game deal? Or is it something you don't really need like a lot of advice or a video card? A lot of prizes that come with awards for students are more designed for gamers (game packs and swag) then for new developers (seed money and studio space). Sometimes just being able to show off your game to more people can give your game a huge boost.
What about marketing? Can you use the award to market your game? Honestly, you'd probably get more out of a Let's Play on Youtube or having a game blogger like your game. In fact there's a lot better ways to market your first game than through award shows.
I'm a part of a pretty cool group of people who are constantly making and publishing their own games and they don't rely on awards to get them to that point. For them the awards come after and that's how as a student you should think of them: as a nice cherry on top, not half the cake.
But if you really feel like you need to win those competitions I would recommend, if you can, talking to previous years winners. Especially if they managed to publish their game. Was it the prize that helped them get to that point or was getting the award what convinced them to stay together and make this game happen? Because at least one of those things you could do right now without an award show.
Healing From the Pain
So disappointment has happened and now you got feelings to deal with. I've talked a lot about how you should present yourself outwards but what about you? How do you make these bad feelings go away? I am not a supporter of the "act like nothing happened" mentality. I feel that repression often hurts you more in the long run, but I also think that acting like you don't care can make others think you weren't serious about it in the first place.
It's a fine dance we dance with social interactions. Don't be too upset or people think you're unreasonable. Don't act like you don't care or people will think you don't have any integrity.
It can start to feel really unfair.
So what do you do when you're disappointment level is really high and painful?
When the pain is freshest, do nothing. Get off social media (even if you don't know who got the thing you wanted) and depending on your closeness to the person shut off notifications.
If you feel like you want to, especially if it's a friend, send a nice little congrats message and then get off social media again, because the next few days you're going to need to yourself.
For the first 12 hrs the pain is going to be the rawest so do the following:
- Be with non-industry friends
- Work (if it helps)
- Play a soothing game
- Repeat as Necessary
This is especially true if you have any mood disorders. But mostly, just stay away from reminders of your disappointment for at least a day or two. You'll be surprised how much you find you don't really care after a day or two of avoidance, but after two days you need to go face it again.
It is at this point I say "suck it up buttercup."
Avoidance is healthy in small doses, but after a few days it can become another reminder of your disappointment. You have to keep interfering with your regular routine which itself becomes it's own reminder. So now you're getting back into your routine, but you keep thinking about how you failed.
I call this wasted mental energy, because staying in a negative loop keeps you from progressing. Instead, take that list of deficiency's: not enough experience in Z, pitch not good enough, game too bland, etc. and turn it into a to-do list.
Not enough experience? Go get some: start your own project, do a game jam, take a course.
Pitch is terrible? Work on it: apply to different competitions (they make you write it out), go to networking events, take acting lessons (seriously).
Game is boring? Do a remake, make a new paper prototype, find a mentor, .
In short: Do Something!
Ultimately, this is what will improve your odds of getting that job/prize/speaking engagement. This is what separates those who are serious about their craft from those who do this as a hobby. Disappointment is a part of life and avoiding it means giving up on being a part of something amazing. So instead, take that pain and make it work for you, but only after you've taken time to heal.
In The End
Pain sucks, I don't think anyone is denying that, but I do think it's something that's not talked about publicly enough and that can lead a lot of students feeling like they're doing it wrong.
My thinking is: if you're not hurting yourself or others then there's no wrong way to be disappointed. And I hope that means that after all that pain, you can get back up and keep making awesome games!