8 min read

What it Takes for Anyone to Become a Game Developer

I would like to share my story of Indie Development 'success' and encourage any who aspire to become a developer not to get discouraged with what they may read or hear about the 'Indie' industry.

Success is Measured in _______.

If you wish to be successful in any aspect of life you first have to fill in the blank. Your idea of success may not be the same as the next person who reads this, and I'm willing to wager it differs from my own idea as well. It is not important you have the right definition of success, but that you have one. 

I began my Indie Development journey 3 months ago, and have not even released my first game, but already I have reached a point of success.

"How could you have become successful so quickly?" 

"What awful standard have you set your 'success' at?"

"Here we go, another 'I'm living the dream' post."

I'm going to assume that at least one person out there will be thinking something along the lines of that, and that's perfectly fine. If I had been in any other situation besides the one that I am in now I may be right there along with you. However, the fact of the matter is that I am here, now, not living in a 'what if' situation. And I am successful. Let me tell you how I got here. (Yes, a story.) 

 It is not important you have the right definition of success, but that you have one. 


What do you Want to be When you Grow Up?

Like any hardcore gamer from the 90's there was only one answer: "I want to make videogames!" It was the easiest question to answer. It didn't matter if it was a teacher, a parent, or other kids at school, the answer was always the same. I want to make videogames. 

However, I started to notice something. There was no guidance. Teachers and parents would say (in that 'what a cute kid' voice) "Oh, that's so cool," and that would be it. No advice, no specific questions about what kind of games I was interested in, nothing. Before the age of 15 my family never had a working computer, let alone internet, so I had no idea about the Flash games ordinary people were capable of making. I was left under the impression that the videogame development world was better left to the computer science experts, so I did what seemed logical, I forgot about it.



I had momentarily thought about Game Design school. I had researched Full Sail and other Institutes offering Game Design courses, but it never struck that magical cord; the 'dream' was dead, and too far into decomposition to be revived. So I went to community college to get a degree in something that (even though I liked) I didn't really have a passion for. To no surprise I was very apathetic to college, and after two half-hearted semesters, I decided to drop out in order to work full time.


Indie!? Let me in on that!

In 2008 Indie hit the mainstream with Braid. It was all over Game Informer and people like me who had never heard the term 'Indie Game Developers' were now aware of this phenomenon. Out of nowhere came a spark. That dream that died all those years ago was starting to breathe again. I quickly did some research on what it takes to make indie games, and how seemingly regular people were uploading all of these amateur games onto Xbox Live's Indie Arcade. Unfortunately, all I was met with was the kind of articles I see posted all over Twitter and Facebook today:

"Indie Dev Will Cost Your Life"                                                           

"How Much We Spend on Dev."

"I Have BAs in Three Computer Sciences and I Still Can't Dev"

Being bombarded with all sorts of articles like this was highly discouraging. I was 19. I lived in a tiny studio apartment and all I had was a Toshiba Satellite laptop. If these experts with money and degrees are having trouble being successful there is no way I could even try. So guess what I did? I gave up, again. 


Five Years, Where Did You Go?

When you're 19 with no direction and spending money you've never had before you're bound to get into trouble. It started slow, but increased exponentially. Drugs lead to alcohol, which lead to more drugs. Mornings would come where I would wake up face down in vomit, not sure if it was mine, and even more confused about how I found my way back to my bed. Some nights I would go out, and have no recollection of driving home (sometimes up to 20 minutes away from my house). The abuse of drugs had turned my brain into a stew. I had lost all sense of stability and reason. It quite literally felt like living in a fog. I've seen a lot of people get trapped in that fog, however, I was a lucky one who was able to find my way out. When I finally had the chance to look around and see where I was, I was shocked. How had I gotten here? How do I get back to where I wanted to be?

Drugs lead to alcohol, which lead to more drugs.


Put the Pieces Back Together.

I began to get my shit together, slowly, with help from my brother, my best friend, and my girlfriend at the time. On Thanksgiving Day, my brother asked me a question that would help get me on track. 

"Joel, What do you want to do with your life?"

I want to make videogames.

The response was still there. It had been over 5 years since I had heard that question, and over a decade since I had made that decision, but it was still there. And for the first time the response I got wasn't "Oh, that's cool." I received actual guidance, information I could really use. He told me about interviews he had read with some successful developers and they suggested to anyone interested in videogame development to just do it. If you can afford schooling, that's great, but the most important thing is to just sink your teeth into it. There are countless free assets, engines, and coding help out there. For no reason what so ever should someone not make a game just because they feel they are not qualified


Success is Measured in Accomplishments

I spend an estimated 7 hours a day (6 after lunch :D) drawing, programming, animating, sketching, thinking, writing, and networking for my current (and future) indie game project. I am no expert, but I will get better. If I began developing when I was 19 and had 5 years of experience at this point in time, I can only imagine where I would be now. I am proud and grateful to have accomplished (with the help of those stated above) all that I have in order to get me here now. When I post an update, or a screen shot from a project I am working on and someone says "This looks cool! I'm excited to play it" that tells me that I have succeeded. Not everyone will like a game you make, just like how not everyone will like your best dish, or a song you wrote, but if one person does, then your creation is a success.

I don't worry about money because I know it will be there when the game is ready.

I'm sure the topic of money is bound to come up, and that is understandable. I don't worry about money because I know it will be there when the game is ready. There is plenty of money to go around. Look at how many videogames have been successfully funded on Kickstarter. Millions of dollars have been spent to see these games through to fruition. There is no shortage of money in the game development world. That is a lie spread to discourage people. Make a game for the joy of making a game, and money will come. Make a game for the sake of money, and money may still come, but don't blame bad sales on a poor market. 


So, What Does it Take for Anyone to Become an Indie Game Developer?

Simple, you just have to want to do it. The tools are already in hand and they are all free. The only real limit is your imagination. There will always be someone who is a better artist, or a better programmer. Your game will never be the best. It doesn't matter if you are Richard Garriott or Shigeru Miyamoto, there is someone who thinks your game is a piece of crap, but if you don't focus on that and only focus on the people that like your work, you will be successful. 

Now, go make a game or something. Jeez.












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