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Should Gamers Become Developers?

Fobula Games founder Berke Erem explores the advantages and disadvantages of becoming a full-time game developer as a gamer. The article is meant for indie studio founders and professionals as well as hobbyists considering a career switch.

I am a heavy gamer and have recently switched my career to games. Working in the tech industry for many years, I asked myself the exact same question. Should I become a developer? As a gamer what would be the benefits? But also, what biases would I have because of the same reason?

In this article I will try to explain how being a gamer affects becoming a professional. I’ll try to explain what I believe to be advantages and disadvantages of being a gamer.

 

Loving the Art

 

Video games are a medium of art. This is not an opinion, but a legal fact, established by The Supreme Court. In my opinion, gamers are people identifying themselves as enthusiasts of this art medium. Well that’s great because almost all job posts have this requirement of “has a passion for playing games”.

Gamers spend hours at a time in front of a game. That’s the first asset for the job. Get ready to spend much more. You will be playing the same level repeatedly, iterating until it feels cohesive and shippable.

The second great asset of being a gamer is an inherent wisdom of knowing what works and what doesn’t work. Learning from conference videos is one thing but experiencing the annoyance of poor design is much more powerful. Gamers know which inventory system is dreadful and the buzzkill of non-existent fast-travel systems in a huge world. They also know what not to do to artificially prolonging the gameplay, fooling the art lovers.

 

Experience Design Is Different From Mechanics Design

 

A gamer should consider some aspects of becoming a developer carefully.

First and foremost, developing a game is not about mashing up your favorite mechanics together. It’s about creating an experience for others to enjoy and carefully crafting mechanics around it. Experience design is a complicated discipline and it covers much more than games. Designing the experience of a brand, designing the walking routes of Disney World and even proposing to your significant other in a special way are all examples of experience design.

Cool mechanics are enjoyable in a sandbox but when put in to the context of the core experience, much of the original mechanics don’t make sense. It’s not uncommon to completely abandon a mechanic that took so much resources to develop. Check out how Charlie Cleveland shares such experiences about Subnautica.

 

You Will Be Designing Experience For Other People

 

Proposing to your sweetheart is great, but what if I wanted you to design several proposals for other people and their lovers. Would you feel as comfortable? After all you know your future spouse better than anyone.

In the game industry, you rarely design for yourself. You will target a specific segment of the player market and design for those people. Your proposal design should aim this segment. That involves understanding them, their backgrounds, desires and significant others.

I enjoy single player experiences because I like journeying into beautiful game worlds, in social isolation. Before I was married I even had my gaming man-cave. However, you can’t design in isolation. You need to be in touch with other players.

 

The Confirmation Bias For Gamers

 

Gamers are skilled. Probably too skilled. Therefore, it’s easy to associate lack of engagement with the level of difficulty.

When a game is developed with reference to the gamer’s skill level, the average player finds it way too hard. This was even the case for experienced development team behind the illustrious Horizon Zero Dawn, as Eric Boltjes presents. It’s hard to get it right without communicating with prospect players of your game. So, in this respect, sometimes being a gamer brings some disadvantage to the table.

 

Get Ready To Analyze Your Favorite Games

 

After becoming a developer, I started playing games in a very different way.

I now own several sandglasses and try not to spend too much time on a single title. I also have a systematic way to analyze a game, especially as an experience. While playing the game I often pause to take notes.

Any game is an opportunity to analyze what works and more often, what doesn’t.

Not surprisingly, AAA games are tough to analyze. Don’t get fooled by the shear amount of reviews because most of these are about how the player feels about certain gameplay elements. Most of the poor, annoying design choices are buried under layers of highly engaging mechanics, cutting edge graphics and breath-taking moments. Many players feel something is off but can’t quite put it in words. As a developer you will need to put these flaws in words. Otherwise it’s hard to communicate these to a team of people, trying to improve the game.

This practice might ruin some of your favorite games as you understand how repetitive or unimpressive they really are. But it’s an excellent way to learn from other team’s mistakes. Extra Credits offers wealth of insight on various aspects of this problem. What I love is that although the content is supposed to address professionals, gamers can enjoy the topics as well.

 

The Simple Answer

 

Should gamers become developers? The answer isn’t as simple as yes or no. Professionally almost all advantages bring certain disadvantages as well. So, you need to be aware of your biases and take precautions not to fall victim to those. I believe carefully caring for your strengths and weaknesses would bring success. I hope I was able to help you and made you ask some unusual questions.

What is your take on this? Did you also identify yourself as a gamer prior to joining the industry? What do you think some other pros and cons are?

I believe there is a lot more people that can benefit from community articles and guidance. Let’s help each other. Please consider liking and sharing this article.

 

Attribution: The beautiful cover artwork is "Sakura Garden" by Merl1ncz, available on Deviantart

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