Making Games is Searching for Bigfoot
The search for Bigfoot is like the search for the Holy Grail, everyone wants to find the big score. To be famous overnight, to sleep on a pile of gold, to command an army, or to be immortal, there is a goal…. Looking for it, searching for it, and hoping that it will be found, even hunting for it are the subject of countless television and internet “shows”. Tens of millions of dollars have gone into the seemingly endless search for the elusive creature. Where is it? What does it eat? How does it hide? Does it have a family? The raw number of questions boggles the mind of even the best of field researchers.
Cave paintings and native totems are hundreds if not thousands of years old and can be found across North America. Generational stories told in song and in folklore passed down from father to son and from mother to daughter tell of the hairy man, the tall hunter, or the long strider have been told and retold. Books have been written and blogs have been built to assist both the average enthusiast and the hardened professional in achieving the goal of taking even a blurry still photo of the critter. If being an active searcher is a quest for nothing, then how does the encounter occur? Almost all the encounters with the beast have occurred by accident.
So about ten years ago (time flies when full), a friend called me and helped me catch the glimpse of the creature that opened my eyes. It was not the quick glimpse, but a prolonged stare. It was the start of an ongoing involvement with something that I had heard about in the past. It was not just submitting levels to TSR Hobbies, or creating maps and adventures, but being involved creating consumer products. It was not just seeing a set of tracks in the woods; it was actually making the tracks in the woods. So, it happened that I was in the “right place” at the “right time” for the opportunity to present itself. I had the opportunity to walk in the footsteps, to eat the food, and to make the tree knocks in the dark forest.
After this experience, I am a believer… Outside of the game development industry proper, there isn’t a heap of acceptance, or even recognition about the idea of game development being a craft that is demanding and mainstream acceptable. That idea is changing, evolving with the times. Companies are moving into the serious games’ world, to teach topics with interactive and new approaches, it isn’t all about the mighty profit for everyone. Yet, the mysteries persist still. The industry is one that is very good at keeping its secrets, holding onto the idea that their craft is specialized and for the privileged few that are “in”. The indie scene will pimp itself in any way possible to be seen, because it still needs to, to get that quick snapshot of itself on the foggy trail-cam. It comes down to the nearly invisible but growing creature trying it’s butt off to be seen, being masked by the giant dollar signs of the established (yet completely explosive) critter trying desperately to hold onto their market share. This industry is in fact a multi-billion plus dollar experience in uncontrolled growth and experimentation.
In my current gig, I talk to and coach countless people in their quest to see and be part of the elusive success of the game development industry. This comes in so many shapes and sizes that it creates shifting walls and moving mirrors not easy to see past. Like the search for the epic Sasquatch, they may have seen footprints in the mud, or broken tree limbs, or hear the echo of a wood knock blown from the wind. The number of eager applicants looking to be part of the search is seemingly endless. Large companies get thousands of resumes from people that think that their quest will be fun and games. Yet rarely will those companies allow even the seasoned trail guide into their “house” for a peek behind the scenes.
As the industry expands at a breakneck pace, on par with the expansion of the human species into the remote parts of the world, it is just a matter of time before the two worlds collide. With the growth of the indie scene, the AAA monster will undoubtedly be forced to yield more of its secrets, and the Bigfoot will be pushed into such a tiny area of habitation that is will be exposed for all to see. I suppose this is the way of business, of copyright trolls, and trademarking wars.
Well, when I was a kid, starting about nine if memory serves me right, I had the opportunity to spend almost every weekend in the woods. I would spend the day and evening walking, observing, hunting, just being part of the environment. There were different sounds, smells, and encounters that didn’t happen to someone who wasn’t there. I had the opportunity to observe baby badgers grow up and eventually leave the mommy, a young buck grows up to be the prize a hunter could only dream of, a ghost white owl that would glide through the trees, squirrels of all colors of the rainbow, and some of the largest turkeys in the state. But there was no Bigfoot, despite knocks, howls, tracking, and many hours of walking and sitting quietly, hoping, and waiting. Not until later in my life, when I was not looking, or ready with the camera or the video recorder, did that encounter happen. Now I try to surround myself with people that believe that making games is a real thing, rewarding, and enriching. Not just insanity for profit.
To try and tie this rant together, my initial goal was to compare the rarity of getting into the game development industry to finding Bigfoot. In the long run, I honestly think that having some quality and applicable technical skills is necessary. But maybe even more importantly the determining factor is being at the right place at the right time and making the best of that opportunity when it is in front of you. I have seen and been part of the “best intent”. The bottom line is; if you are not out in the woods, and at home on the couch, the chance of being at the right place is zero.
I am just glad that my kids believe in the same weird and crazy ideas that I do, or at least do a good job pretending to. It makes everything more fun.