I'm a professional Game Designer working full-time for a big German games company called Gameforge. I spend (more or less) 8 hours a day making games.
Why on earth would I want to continue doing that in my free-time without getting paid?
My newest game: a Tamagotchi-esque simulator with our favourite Old God.
There goes my motivation
Because I want to. And that's the main difference to making games for a living. I'm not saying I'm not having fun at work, quite the opposite - I love what I'm doing. But it's just not the same when I make games just for me as when I create them for a market.
I consider making a game a game by itself. As Jane McGonigal wrote in her book "Reality is Broken" games have four defining traits: a specific goal, clear rules, a good feedback system and voluntary participation.
The goal is obviously the game itself. You want to succeed and actually create your own game. If you have clear vision of what your game should be you define the goal by yourself. The rules might seem a little unclear at first but they exist. From the coding language you use, to legal questions or even the definition of a game itself you have quite some rules to follow to achieve your goal. The feedback is maybe one of the strongest points in my opinion. When you are designing "stuff" for big budget titles or massively mulitplayer experiences you have to wait for what feels like an eternity to see your vision become reality. And even after release you only have so many metrics and feedback from the users to be sure that you succeeded. If you are creating the game just for fun and set your goals accordingly you are changing the scope of the feedback. You can fiddle around with your game and with tools like Unity you will see the results almost instantly. If you have set a goal that you can evaluate on your own you almost have an instantaneous feedback system at hand. And about the voluntary participation... yeah well you chose the game, so we obviously got this one going.
When you challenge yourself to play a game it's also very important that you have control over the outcome. Everyone knows how frustrating bad controls can be to a game or bad team-mates. In everyday work this can mean that you just don't have the means to create the game you want or you have to compromise while working in a team or for a specific audience. If you are making a game for fun you are a god... man it can feel good to listen to other people's feedback and then simply ignore it because it's just not what you want to do.
I guess many colleagues can relate to that. But how do you pull it off? Can I really make my own game just like that?
The Cthulhu project seen in the Unity Editor.
Making the game
Yes and no. But it's never been easier than today. I whole-heartedly recommend Unity when you have no fear of learning to code or already know some basics. Download the engine, install it, look at the basic tutorials, play around and make stupid stuff. The learning itself can actually be quite entertaining and you don't have to care about technicalities at that point at all. And don't get scared by the term "coding", you could just replace it with "scripting"... as long as you don't want to produce perfectly clean code but just create some small neat games it's not much more effort than for example using the World Editor of Warcraft3. And the community is really helpful and awesome.
Another great thing of our modern times is how easy you can share your game with other people. If you're doing your game with unity you can simply upload it to Kongregate with just a few clicks (or of course any other webspace) and even distributing on the Play Store is not much more than a one-time payment and some web forms to fill out.
I've started making my own games about a year ago and I just can't stop. Yes it's eating away big chunks of my free-time, ironically mostly time I had spent on other video-games. But it's so much more satisfying than any other hobby I have encountered so far. I feel like it's actually quite productive as a hobby and I'm really proud of my games, even of the bad ones. (I've actually created a horrible game on purpose... it was a blast making it!)
I'm learning lots of useful stuff for my day job and I became more humble after experiencing what it means to make a polished game from every angle. I can relate more to my colleagues and have an easier time to produce really focused and practical designs and communicate them more clearly.
A last word of advice
My biggest success up to date was the "World Peace Simulator" (app. 4k downloads and 2k plays on Kongregate), most of the other games almost weren't played at all. Be honest to yourself: don't make games to be successful or you might end up being very depressed about the results. Show them to your friends, be grateful for any feedback.
Settle for small games... at least at the beginning. Don't steal assets if you want to make the game public. Ask other people to help you if they can contribute. (I have to thank my friend Wolfgang Tröstler here again for making the awesome art for Little Cthulhu!)
And last but not least: Don't forget to ask your employer for permission to make games.
Screenshot from the World Peace Simulator 2015.
I'm sure many of you are making their own games. I would love to here from your personal experiences in the comments. Are you satisfied with making games for fun or do they need to have at least some extent of success?
With your allowance just let me leave this link at the bottom:
I'm always happy to hear what others think of my "work".