Game development’s become one of the most popular careers in the world of late. It makes sense, if you think about it: if you love something enough, naturally you’re going to want a job where you’re involved in creating it. It’s pretty basic stuff, really. Unfortunately, what a lot of people don’t understand is that, while development might be a dream job for some, it’s still a job.
All too often, it seems, people romanticize what it is to be a game developer – and they forget about the reality. Unless you’re working for an independent developer, or an employer like Valve, most of these sad truths are something you’re going to have to confront at some point in your career.
It’s a lot of work:
Developing a game isn't as simple as just plugging in a few lines of code, making some graphics, and slamming down a few tunes. It’s a lot of grueling, oft-repetitive work. While it certainly depends on what development group you end up working for, you’re probably not going to be doing anything particularly entertaining, exciting, or enjoyable – you’re going to be working. Sure, the end result might be satisfying to look at, but at the same time, you’re not likely to start off as the ‘idea’ person on staff. That brings us to our next point…
You’ll be starting out small:
Development is like any other career. If you’re going into it with zero experience, you’ll be treated as though you have zero experience. You’re probably going to have to climb up the ‘development ladder’ in order to actually make something of yourself, and prove that you’re a worthwhile employee. You’ll need to work to earn the best positions, even after getting hired. Again, this depends on who you start out working for.
Game testing isn’t as fun as you’d think:
A lot of folks want to become game testers and QA staff because they feel like they’ll be able to play video games all day, every day. While it’s certainly true that you’ll be doing a lot of gaming, it’s probably not going to be that fun. Likelier than not, you’ll be given a segment of the game to play through over and over again, and you’ll need to do everything you possibly can to break it – then write up what you did on each occasion. It’s not exactly a walk in the park, nor is it a particularly heart-pounding experience.
Couple that with the fact that many QA testers are treated as expendable or temporary employees, and…yeah. You get the idea.
Most people can’t do it alone:
Unless you’re some sort of prodigy or simply have a lot of time on your hands, there’s a very good chance you’re going to be working as part of a team. You’re not going to be able to jump into the field as a lone developer. You’ll need to work with a wide array of people who are very unlike you – programmers, artists, composers, writers, testers, voice actors, motion capture experts, executives…people skills are important if you’re to succeed.
There are plenty of bad apples:
Again, the job won’t be perfect. There’s going to be plenty of bad co-workers. Maybe you’ll have the misfortune of sharing a workspace with someone who doesn’t know how to properly communicate. Maybe you’ll be talked down to, or treated like you’re worthless. Maybe you’ll have to deal with executives who don’t understand the development process, and simply breathe down your neck in an effort to force you to work faster. Maybe you’ll end up working for a developer that simply doesn’t give a damn about its employees, and treats them like garbage, forcing them to work long hours for not enough pay(Rockstar’s one organization that’s been accused of this in the past).
While there are certainly a number of amazing, fascinating, and incredible individuals and organizations in the development industry, there’ll always be a few bad eggs seeking to take advantage of their fellows.
Not every game is going to be good:
Even if you pour your heart and soul into putting together a game, there’s no guarantee it’s going to sell –or even end up being that good. The problem here brings us back around to the ‘team effort’ thing: if even a few people don’t pull their weight on a project, if even a few staff start to cut corners or get lazy, an entire game could go up in smoke. A lot of people don’t realize how much blood, sweat, and tears go into making a good game: they just see the finished product. And if that product is incomplete, wrought with coding errors, or just plain sloppy, it doesn’t often matter how intricate the plot is, or how amazing the music – it’ll probably flop.
It can be an unstable career:
Unless you join one of those developers or publishers that’s “too big to fail,” game development doesn’t exactly have a great deal of job security. There’s often a chance that the studio you’ve joined might crash and burn, and you’ll be left jobless, with little to show for your time. Unfortunate? Yeah. Unavoidable? Inarguably so.
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