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Dear Young Game Developer

A hopefully useful list of advice for younger game developers, from an old, or at least mid-life game developer. About the need for sanity in the very hectic world of game development.

Henrik Jonsson, Blogger

April 13, 2017

6 Min Read

18 years ago, a young man walked into the offices of a high profile game development studio in Texas. He walked in to face a studio in turmoil, to face a team full of stress. It was in general a very happy team, but it was a stressed team. And stressed teams aren't always the nicest to join. But the young man took this all in stride. This was his first job at a Real Game Studio, he joined the team as an intern, and he was adapting fast. 

The young man was Friendly. I believe that is the first adjective that would push itself into your mind if you met this young man at that time. Friendly. He pounced on any piece of work that was handed to him. He did whatever was needed, without complaining and always with a cheerful attitude.

I wish I could say this was me. If I wanted to make this blog post about myself, I could have said that this was me. I wish I could say that I was this friendly young man, but I would be lying. 

16 years pass. I have grown older. Greyer. I walk around the vast floors of GamesCom in Cologne, Germany, and I meet the same guy. I spot him, he spots me, and I see him light up, bounce toward me and give me one of the greatest man-hugs of my life. He's now the super-duper-lead of this awesome, high-profile game project, with a huge play-test area at the world's greatest consumer game expo. He's spent his entire adult life in the AAA games industry. He's managing people. He's got responsibilities up the wazoo. He speaks of publishers and the work the team is doing. He speaks of challenges and struggles.

And he is still friendly. Not just towards me, but he's gushing over the game, the team, over the company he works for, even the publisher. Extra-Special-Friendly.

Dear Young Game Developer. Be like this guy. The Games Industry is a small world. It might not seem small when you start out, it might seem vast, with development teams numbering in the thousands, but it is a small world. Believe me. And 5-10 years down the line, you'll want to be the person who's remembered as "friendly" or "nice to work with". (You'll want to be remembered as "Competent" too, definitely). Be like this guy. Be like Lucas. 

Alas, this comes with one big caveat: You don't have to be nice to everyone. If you see or experience something that is beyond the scope of what human decency allows, I want you to be the opposite of nice. I want you to be a ferocious hell-tiger of fire, lighting up the sky with your righteous fury, because no one should have to take abuse. But, in general, be kind. Be Friendly.

I want you to make games for half a century. 
In general, today is a wonderful time for the Game Development profession. The tools needed to make spectacular creations are readily available to most, and we live in a time where Game Development has gained some social acceptance as a "real" industry. This is likely to become even better in the near future.

Remember that you are young. While your current game might feel overwhelming, and you might struggle to make ends meet, I hope that you will persevere. I hope that you will enjoy the game industry, even though it can have some truly terrible downsides. I hope that I, in some tiny little way, can help make today better for you. I hope that you will keep going and that you will emerge through any current hardships and be able to thoroughly enjoy working in the games industry for the rest of your professional life.

To do this, you will have to be healthy. As much as we Old Game Developers might have to answer for, as to why the industry is like it is, why it can be so rough for many of you Young Game Developers, I want you to take care of yourself. Of your loved ones. Surround yourself with friends, and be healthy and smart. Not code-smart in a "I can optimize the balancing of this binary tree even further"-way, but career-smart. Life-smart

Since you are a Young Game Developer, you will encounter a lot of Old Game Developers. Like me. Don't let Old Game Developers fool you into believing that stress is good, that crunch is important, that only men can solve the hard programming problems, that gender is binary, that there are no good minority developers out there, that sleeping at the office is just the way things work. It isn't, and it shouldn't be. We Old Game Developers don't always know what we are doing. We are struggling too, we might just be more experienced at hiding it. Don't be fooled by us.

Be Life-Smart. Don't hurt yourself working. If you're anything like me, working on games is one of the best activities in the world, and therefore you might push yourself to work alot. But don't hurt yourself working.

If you want to, you can choose to be understanding towards the Old Game Developers. They will like it, but it's not necessary. They might be grumpy, like their hard candy, their asphalt-flavored coffee and their crazy work schedules, just like any other person set in their ways. But don't let them drag you down. You will be making games for half-a-century (if you want to) and you shouldn't hurt yourself working while you are in your twenties.

Work hard, this isn't a picnic. It's not going to be Ferris Wheels and Chocolate Cake all the time. It's hard work. But, Dear Young Game Developer, please don't hurt yourself.

Becasue, I want you to become an Old Game Developer.

I want you to be able to look back, in 20 years time, and say "Hey, look at that woman over there! I worked with her 20 ago. Oh, we had some great times." And I want your friend from the days of yore to remember you fondly. I want you to attend some game developer conference in 2057 and say "Yeah, that retro game? I worked on that. Let me tell you what we learned while doing that."

And, most of all, Young Game Developer, I want you to become an Old Game Developer, so you can feel the next generation of awesome, amazing Young Game Developers breathe down your neck.

With their fancy new tools, their fantastic morals to work for good, their delightful work-life balance, and their seemingly easy understanding of things your mind has been struggling to comprehend. Then you will truly know fear. ;) 

And with that, Young Game Developer, I will say goodbye, and thank you for lending me your ear.

If life treats us kindly, I hope to meet you, someday down the line, and play your new, magnificent game.

Until then: Be kind, work hard, be smart.

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