Last month, I was connected with a person thinking about getting into game development. They asked me some great questions, and I realized my answers might be useful to share with others! Below are their questions and my answers.
Is creating games just a hobby for you?
Yes, right now game development is something I do for fun. I’ve kept it that way on purpose. I like making interactive things of all forms, and games are one of them! This is a career choice that has kept me feeling happy about my work.
Let’s talk about why I decided to go this route. A few years ago, I was at a pivotal career point. I’d been working in tech for several years and had enough connections to get offers for roles with indie game development teams. I needed to decide between sticking to digital Product Design or moving into game design full-time.
After deep consideration, I chose to stay employed in the broader tech community. I’d previously tried adding monetization features to a game and it made me feel like capitalist garbage. No offense to anyone who works in games for money and focuses on capitalizing on players, but I couldn’t force myself to do it. It’s the same reason I can’t work in advertising.
In addition to the above concerns, I learned that there are many culture issues in the industry. Game development is passion-driven work, which leads to senior leaders taking advantage of younger, more junior folks. Crunch is a serious issue, and people are often expected to work an unhealthy number of weekly hours to ship games.
But wait, there’s more! Since games workers are in a passion-driven industry, some fall prey to power-grabbing. I’ve experienced folks name dropping to show clout and intimidate. And I understood why they did it! Getting your games funded means staying in the good graces of those who have remained relatively unscathed.
If all this wasn’t enough, The Gamer Harassment Campaign that Shall Not be Named happened. You’ve got a resounding “hell no” from me. I’d prefer to be a hobbyist indie game developer! I can still make games that positively impact people’s lives, and I may earn some money from it — but it’s not my primary concern.
For some, that’s not enough. I respect everyone who works in gaming full-time. I would never stop someone from jumping headfirst into an industry they are passionate about. But I do recommend treading with caution and knowledge in hand. Here’s a great talk by Shana T Bryant about crunch and the way the industry hurts its people. I have a lot of hope that the games industry will improve through the efforts of its workers, and maybe Game Devs of Color can help too!
Can you share your process from game idea to execution?
Game development starts with an inkling but usually blossoms from spreadsheets and docs. I usually do a brain dump on paper first. I then transfer the sensible parts of that braindump into a doc where I can break down the content by rules, mechanics, characters, narratives, and goals. It’s important to for me to have some documentation, even if it’s just a list of the buttons you’ll press.
I then usually move into a research and discovery phase where I play other games that might inspire me. Sometimes I watch TV shows and read relevant articles of books. I might read old diary entries. It all depends on my subject matter!
After I pick an engine, I get to work building! This is the fun and scary part that can take days, weeks, or years to complete. There’s lots of different stuff to do: illustration, UI scaffolding, scene creation, finding placeholder sounds, and more! I mostly tinker around until I can get the basics going, then I’ll try to do a playtest once it’s in a somewhat functional state. Playtesters will give me feedback about what they need for the game to become engaging and memorable.
Feedback about the player experience inspires me to get more experimental. I’ll start tweaking existing areas of the game or adding in new gameplay — sometimes I remove parts that aren’t working at all. The goal is to hone the game into its truest form and cut out the cruft. Again, I’m not doing this for money, but the same principles would apply if I was.
Eventually the game gets to a point where it feels good enough. Maybe it’s not perfect, but playtesters love it and their feedback is focused minor scope creep rather than fundamental problems with the mechanic or narrative. That’s when I decide to release the game. I’ll be honest: I’m not the greatest at releasing games. So far, SweetXheart has been my best launch but it’s still not on Steam because the barrier to entry has thoroughly discouraged me.
If you’re lazy like me, you’ll upload the game to Itch.io, tweet about the launch, and then log off. But if you want to go beyond that, I’d recommend you mentally prepare for the challenges of releasing your game. You’ll probably have to jump through hoops to get a Steam page up, and releasing to consoles involve more effort. But it’s not impossible! I see that as my next goal: get onto Steam and consoles.
Do you have any examples of your game development process in real life?
I sure do! I’m not always the best at documentation for external purposes, but I did well with two of my games. You can see the full development process for SenseU, my Master’s thesis game, on the devlog — just scroll to the bottom. I also spoke about my design and development process for one of my games, SweetXheart, at the event I organize. You can see that talk on YouTube!
Do you organize and/or participate in any communities for game devs?
The only event I currently organize is the Game Devs of Color Expo, but you should definitely also check out The Sheep’s Meow and IndieCade. Drop by Wonderville and Babycastles if you’re ever in NYC! There are lots of other indie dev communities and events across the USA and world like PixelPop Festival, Fantastic Arcade, A MAZE., and Train Jam! I’m most well-versed in the NYC/SF/LA ones since that’s where I usually participate. If you’re serious about game development, I’d recommend checking out GDC—even if you just fly out (when that’s a possibility) to meet other cool people.
Obviously online is different, but there are many comnmunities to participate in! For example, you can meet other game creators on itch.io via their game jams. Ludum Dare might also be a good place to meet other creators.
And that’s all I’ve got for now! Thanks for reading, and I wish you luck on your game creation journey!
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A digital product designer's story of failure, self-empowerment, and redemption. Over the span of two years, Catt Small experienced the highs and lows of product development—all on the same team. She will share ways to improve your persuasion skills, create a better working relationship with your peers, conduct more holistic research, and ultimately create and release a better product.
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