Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
With that in mind, I present to you seven habits that game developers should adopt if they wish to succeed.
1. DELIVER GREAT GAMES, NOT EMPTY PROMISES.
Great game developers will work hard to make their game successful. This means developing, polishing and (most importantly) shipping a finished product. A good game developer should worry about making and selling games, rather worrying about whether they appear to be successful or not.
Mediocre developers lack the patience to develop and market their games. They spend most of their time looking for shortcuts and prefer to spend their time making other people think they’ve made a great game, when in fact, they haven’t even started! One only has to look at the myriad husks of empty projects littering Kickstarter to understand just how far a developer can get talking about his or her great idea.
2. MAXIMIZE THEIR POTENTIAL.
Great game developers don’t wait for funding or additional resources to start making games. They proactively seek ways to raise capital, whether through investors, crowdfunding or even stocking shelves at Wal-Mart if they have to. If money or resources are tight, they will know reduce the scope and content of their games. Many highly successful games, such as Flappy Bird, did not take much in the way of resources to make, so if some guy in Vietnam working on his own can ship a game, you can too.
A less dedicated developer will frequently use funding or resources as an excuse not to proceed with development. They delay and make excuses, refusing to proceed until everything is “just right”. Goldilocks wanted everything “just right” and ended up getting savaged mauled by a family of bears for her troubles. Don’t be like Goldilocks. Make do with what you have.
3. BRING THEIR IDEAS TO LIFE.
Great game developers don’t sit around waiting for the “perfect” idea to come to mind. A good game developer, even if he or she has no idea what to make, will draw up concepts, make smaller games, design levels, write stories, play with new technologies or learn new programming languages. That proverbial apple isn’t just going to fall from the tree and hit you on the head when you need it the most and in any case, Isaac Newton invented calculus while he was sitting under that tree. What have you done with your life while waiting for the perfect concept or idea to happen to you?
4. ALWAYS FIND WAYS TO GET GAMES SHIPPED.
Great game developers make things happen and start working on their games no matter how small a step forward it is. Not-so-great game developers will always give an excuse as to why their game hasn’t panned out and most of the time will blame the engine that they chose or some other external factor instead of their own limitations.
A good developer will move forward and will not make excuses for a lack of progress. Funding gets pulled? That’s fine, reduce your scope. Engine sucks? Switch engines. Too much sunk time? Might as well finish the game. It really doesn’t matter what happens and so long as you want to make a game, there will be a solution to your problems.
To conclude, this point reminds me of a poem by Charles Bukowski, a portion of which I will quote here:
“baby, air and light and time and space
have nothing to do with it
and don’t create anything
except maybe a longer life to find
If a drunken, poverty stricken sex addict like Bukowski can write novels and poems while hung over after 3 bottles of Thunderbird the night before, you can make a game even if you run out of Ramen or Mountain Dew or something.
5. NEVER, EVER QUIT.
Thomas Edison knew 10,000 ways to not make a lightbulb and he knew 10,000 ways to steal intellectual property. The man was a bully, a charlatan and a shameless thief, and that’s what made him absolutely brilliant.
So what do Thomas Edison’s ways mean for an aspiring game developer? That’s easy, a good game developer must be absolutely persistent, even when the 10,000th error pops up in the game’s source code, even if your computer suddenly explodes, even if your team members go on an 8 year “life affirming” trip to a place with no internet, even if your game files and all the backups you made get deleted (you make backups right?). Don’t give up on your game!
In the same vein, look out for good ideas and steal any ones that you happen to like. And by steal, I don’t mean copy. Copying for example, would mean taking a character like Master Chief and just sticking him into your game. Copying is making a Legend of Zelda clone down to that annoying floating fairy thing and trying to sell it as an original game. Stealing would mean looking at everything that makes Halo awesome, such as a well developed setting, smooth gameplay mechanics and excellent multiplayer and putting those elements into your game, stealing is capturing the Legend of Zelda’s sense of whimsy and innovative aesthetics and putting it into your own work.
Another good example of theft would be the entire career of Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs never had a single original idea during his time on Earth; he didn’t invent the personal computer, the MP3 player, the cell phone, the touchscreen or the tablet computer. And yet he made those things his own, he put his own touch on them and turned previously obscure technology into things people wanted to own and use.
Ideas for games can be just like that. Even if they’re not original, they can still work to your advantage. Sure the iPod wasn’t the first MP3 player to be made but it was the best. And maybe your MMO or FPS isn’t the first one to come out but you can make it the best.
6. PUT PEOPLE ABOVE PROFITS.
Business psychologist Peter Shallard once wrote a financial guide for people in creative fields titled: “How to Make Money Despite Being Creative.” While some developers might consider Mr. Shallard’s guide to be an insult, most of us realize that being in a creative field isn’t the most lucrative use of our time.
And as a game developer, what this means is that game development should not be an industry where profit is the sole or primary reason for being in the field. Some studios which put profit over passion do things like sue hapless indie developers for doing things like including a common food product in their game. Other companies do things like release half-finished games that require users to pay for Day 1 DLC just so the game can run with most of its intended content. While I’m not saying money is an unimportant, I am saying that putting profits above people will end turning your studio into a parasitic drain on the gaming ecosystem.
Always remember that what brought you to games is love for games and gaming, not for making a quick buck.
7. TAKE PRIDE IN THEIR CREATIVITY.
I’m going to quote Bukowski again, because it’s apt. “Unless it comes unasked out of your heart and your mind and your mouth and your gut, don’t do it.”
Do you find yourself daydreaming frequently? Do you doodle in your notebooks at school? Do you surf the web for gaming news at work? Have you ever had intrusive thoughts about gameplay mechanics? Do you have an entire hard drive filled with stories, novels and scripts? Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night to write code? Do you compulsively worldbuild? If you have done any of these things, then you have what it takes to become a game developer. Always, always, always create, whether inside your head, on paper, or on a screen, in the end, that is the most important thing about any creative endeavor.
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Thank you so much for reading my article! I’m Daniel Doan, the Co-Founder of Black Shell Media. We're a publishing and marketing firm dedicated to helping indie developers succeed.