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Opportunistic Development

Sharing some of the development philosophy that I've found useful over the years for people who are looking to break into the industry or generally get more out of what they're doing.

Several times recently I've given people advice on how to get into the industry or how to stand out with what they're doing. Not because I'm an employer who knows what game studios are after, but because it's something I feel that I've been doing pretty well with so far. There are obviously a number of factors involved with this. You need a decent product, you need the right personality, you need the right skillset or talent, and you need motivation to actually get things done, but there's one other thing that a number of people I've spoken to recently were all missing - opportunism.

There's an old joke about a blonde who really needs to win the lottery because she's out of money and her business is going under. She prays that she wins one day, and when the draw comes around, she doesn't win. So she prays again the next day, and she doesn't win it again. One day she's praying again and is getting really desperate for the money, and hears the voice of God say "Work with me here. Buy a ticket".

I've seen this exact same situation with a number of students. One of my friends didn't have a job, despite being good at what he did, because he hadn't really put together his portfolio. He hadn't really put together his portfolio because he wasn't applying for jobs. And he wasn't applying for jobs because he hadn't really put together his portfolio. I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this. After talking with him one day about his work situation, I told him to just start applying places, but he didn't really want to do that. He didn't feel like he'd get anywhere if he did. So I then invited him along to one of the local IGDA meetings in Melbourne. He wasn't going to come, and hadn't come to several others when I'd invited him to those either, but after having a serious discussion with him about how his attitude wasn't helping him at all, he decided to come along.

He spent the night hanging out with me, and therefore ended up talking with a bunch of the people that I already knew. People in studios, people from the government, etc. The next day he was telling me about an internship opportunity he'd found out about on the night, so I told him to apply for it. Apparently the deadline was the next day, and he didn't think he'd have enough time, so he thought it probably wasn't worth it. I told him to take the day off to work on his submission and apply anyway. Closer to the deadline, he told me that other things were needed alongside his submission that he didn't have. I said they probably didn't matter, and that he should apply anyway. I said he should let them be the ones that could decide on whether or not he received the internship, and that there was a better chance that he'd have work if he submitted something than if he submitted nothing.

The deadline came around that Friday night, and he didn't apply. He said he'd just wait until the internships were run again in September. After shaking my head again upon hearing this, I took it upon myself to contact people who were involved with the internship, who I'd spoken with several times before, and they said he should just apply ASAP the following Monday. I said he was missing his academic transcript and that I thought it didn't matter, and they agreed. I then went back to my friend and told him all of this, and eventually convinced him to apply. After pushing him to really change his attitude, he's now had an interview, has been accepted by the studio, and it's all now waiting for approval by the government program that runs the internship.

The main point of that story is that it's not enough to be really talented or skilled or motivated if you're ultimately not doing what's necessary to get yourself out there. During university I was the cause of much frustration to people, because things always seemed to work out well for me. I was offered an internship before it was offered to anyone else, my work was always on display or being promoted by the teachers as examples of what students should be aiming for, and I'd spoken at conferences and on TV to represent myself and the course. Some other students couldn't understand it, and would go on about how their work was better, but no one seemed to notice. When I actually started explaining all of the reasons that things kept working out for me, people then started seeing the flaws in their argument.

I had to tell people many times that the only reason I was the one who always seemed to get things was because every time an opportunity came around, I was the first to put my hand up for it. If the teachers needed work to send overseas and it had to be done by the next day, I'd pull an all nighter and get it to them in the morning. If they had a TV crew coming around and needed interviews etc. for a story, I'd take time away from my day to do them. When a conference came around, no one else wanted to talk at it, so I did. The more that I did this, the more that I would stand out to people, and then later start standing out for standing out. Not because what I made was necessarily the best work, but because I was the one who kept saying yes to everything. When an internship then came around, I had already proven time and time again to people that I was reliable.

With development of my own game, this attitude has continued, and I strongly believe that it's this attitude that helps me the most. When I entered Sense of Wonder Night, it was free entry into a competition that seemed interesting, and a potential trip to Japan. I didn't have a passport, I had no idea how I was going to get there, but I ultimately didn't care. Those were all problems that could be dealt with once the results of the competition were out. The easiest choice would have been not entering because it all seemed too hard, but I wanted to see how my game would go in it. After attending the Tokyo Game Show, the benefits of being accepted to present at SOWN were far more reaching than just the fact that I did a presentation in Japan.

With Make Something Unreal, the situation was exactly the same. I felt that my game wasn't fit for the competition at all, I'd entered nothing else into the competition thus far, I hadn't contributed to the community at all, my game didn't really show off all of the fancy features that are in Unreal Engine 3, and no one knew who I was. But despite all of this, entry was free and I was eligible, so I figured I had nothing to lose. The worst that would come of it would be that no one noticed my game, but because I expected nothing in the first place, that was hardly a bad situation. I figured I would get nothing at all out of Make Something Unreal. As things stand today, this competition has given me the most benefit of everything I've done so far.

Attending the GDC was another situation like this. Before I was selected to speak at the GDC, I'd missed out on both the IGF Main and IGF Student competitions, and was waiting for the results from the Experimental Gameplay Workshop. But I was getting to the stage where I didn't want to continue waiting. Waiting was painful, and I'd already been considering what I would do if I missed out on the EGW as well. I decided to make a list of the positives and negatives that were associated with going to the GDC. The positives were - networking, more chance to talk with people from Epic as I'd won Make Something Unreal by this stage, a new experience as I'd never been to the GDC before (or to America), more motivation to work on my game after coming back from it, and potentially more exposure for my game. The negatives were - cost. After making this list, it seemed pretty trivial, and I bought a ticket regardless of the EGW results. Having now attended the GDC, I don't even think that cost is a negative factor. I spent several thousand dollars on flights to America and on accommodation, but not attending GDC would have been a bigger waste of money in my position, because I would have otherwise had to spend that money in some other way to find some other effective means of getting myself out there to more people.

After having discussions like this with people, I've seen two main counter arguments against this point. One was "Well what if you didn't have a home to live in?", "What if you had a wife and kids to support?", "What if you don't have the money to fly around to conferences?", but that's all part of my point. I don't have any of those issues, so with the circumstances that I'm in, these are the best things that I can do to help my situation. If I was in another situation, I'd have different factors to work with, so I'd be doing other things to help my situation. But the idea of being opportunistic and always trying to get the best out of any situation would remain the same. The other counter argument people have is luck - that maybe I've just been really lucky, because things haven't worked out so well for others - but that's the same argument that other students used to throw at me. Not everything that I've done has worked out for me either, but that's not a good reason to stop trying to succeed.

At the end of the day, it's expected that you won't get everything that you try to achieve in life, but that's extremely different to not trying for things because you don't think you'll get them in the first place. The best you can do in life is try to achieve something, and the worst you can do is not try at all.

Reposted from my blog: http://www.demruth.com/blog/

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