How to Get Started in Game Development: 5 Devs Tell Their Story

Some time back, I was fortunate enough to chat with Garry Newman about how he got his start in the industry. After kickstarting his career with Garry’s Mod, the founder of Facepunch Studios told me the key to becoming a developer is to stop talking about it and start doing it. “If you’re interested in being a chef, you don’t have to ask how to be a chef – you start cooking,” Garry told me. “So start cooking, learn everything there is about cooking, become the best cook.”

I’ve rounded up a bunch of successful independent developers and asked them how they got their start. Each of them have a unique story to tell and all of them have some advice for those of you looking to get into game development.

HOW TO GET STARTED

It’s day one of your new career as an unknown independent game developer – now what? Well, as the experts will tell you, make something small. It doesn’t have to be a full game yet, just get an idea out of your head and into the computer.

hs_shazShaz Greenwood, Producer at Free Lives

Start making small prototypes. Just start. Make small little games to test out bigger ideas you might have. Do it in your spare time, enter game jams to challenge yourself, scrap ideas, try new ideas, but keep on making little prototypes.

bf_dev1 copyBroforce by Free Lives

hs_chrisChris Wynn, Executive Producer of H1Z1: King of the Kill

First thing I always say is download Unity or the Unreal Engine and just start playing around with it and see what you can do. Start to learn the tools and see if you can create something. I don’t care if it’s a simple mobile game, a simple web-based game, you just make an environment. Maybe it’s even just modding an existing game. That’s always going to give that person the edge over someone who didn’t do that.

hs_garryGarry Newman, Founder of Facepunch Studios

Make something, share it, show people. Games are meant to be played. Unity can compile to WebGL [for playing] your game on a website – so it becomes really easy to share it that way. Getting other people playing your stuff will let you know what you’re doing well, what you can improve on and help you make friends in the community.

Bruce Slater, Game Developer at Rucehs_bruce

Making games can go both ways, but you should never have the full idea of the game you’re working on. You need to leave room for iteration on your ideas/design. The best way to start is to just jump in and go all out and make something. Talking about ideas is always fun but making them a reality is what counts. There are places you can go to start learning and anyone can download an engine.

GET TO A GAME JAM

A good way to meet people and learn by doing is at a game jam. Generally, game jams take place over one or two days and task you with making a complete game from scratch. It’s as hard as it sounds, but with a team, it can be a great learning experience.

hs_james James Brown, Co-founder of Boneloaf

Doing game jams, we had some interesting experiences that weren’t necessarily fun experiences, but we learned quite a lot through doing them. It wasn’t that our ideas were terrible, it’s just that they’re difficult to implement in a short time. But you can meet people who might be able to help you in development.

gb_dev1Gang Beasts by Boneloaf

hs_shaz

Shaz Greenwood, Producer at Free Lives

Get in touch with the local game development scene in your area. Find out if there are meetups, and go to them. Get on the forums and start participating. Test other people’s prototypes, give feedback, listen to discussions, show your own work early and often, and be prepared to accept criticism and advice to improve your skills.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW

You’re going to get discouraged. It’s inevitable. Anyone who has tried to create anything artistic already knows this. But you’re also not alone, and as our experts will tell you, it’s all about pushing through the self-doubt and persevering to the end.

hs_garry

Garry Newman, Founder of Facepunch Studios

Put things in perspective. Your game is four days old, it’s never going to be as good as overwatch. Concentrate on the basics, don’t spend all your time creating editor tools or browsing the asset store. Use cubes for placeholders. Gameplay gameplay gameplay.

hs_james

James Brown, Co-founder of Boneloaf

We have a friend who did a game jam and now has set up a company with some of the people from the game jam. They made a game that’s now on multiple platforms called Sublevel Zero. It’s doing quite well. They just came together and made a game in 48 hours … then they assembled a company after that. That’s kind of what we did, though we existed as an entity first.

hs_chris

Chris Wynn, Executive Producer of H1Z1: King of the Kill

We review tons and tons of resumes for every single open position, and the ones that stick out to me are from [people] that really spent personal time to learn tools and engines, to learn how it all works and figure it out; actually going through the process of trying to create something. Because when you start you find it’s actually way harder than you thought it would be from the outset, you learn so much.

rust_dev1Rust by Facepunch Studios

hs_bruce

Bruce Slater, Game Developer at Ruce

The truth is, making games is incredibly hard and the hours are long and money’s always tight, especially in indie development. If you go into games, you go into games because you’re passionate about it. There is not really a conventional way to start a career. By that, I mean that everyone’s route in is different. It also depends on what you want to do.

So if you want to work in AAA games, know that it’s all about your portfolio and how your personality fits the studio. If you want to go down the independent route, know that you will need a wider collection of skills. You end up doing all sorts of things, you are forever wearing different hats.

NOW IT’S UP TO YOU

Getting into game development isn’t easy. If it was, every gamer with a passing interest in making their own game would do it. But it’s not an insurmountable task for those with the right amount of dedication. In fact, starting a project and seeing it through to completion is more than half the battle.

The first step is to take the advice given here, get yourself some free game making tools, and start playing around with them. Even the experts agree – you don’t have to make an amazing game, you just have to make something.


Words: Andrew Whitehead (Twitter: @andrew20xx)


RESOURCES

Four free game engines to try
https://seananners.com/articles/make-your-own-game-four-free-game-engines-to-try/

Game development forums
http://polycount.com/
https://www.artstation.com/
https://www.reddit.com/r/gamedev/

Lists of game jams
https://itch.io/jams/
http://www.indiegamejams.com/

Free expert advice
http://www.gdcvault.com/free/

Portfolio advice
http://www.gdcvault.com/play/1015850/Killer-Portfolio-or-Portfolio-Killer/

Online tutorials
http://eat3d.com/
http://3dmotive.com/
http://www.digitaltutors.com/

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Andrew Whitehead

Andrew Whitehead

Andrew Whitehead is a journalist and writer with over thirteen years of experience in the media. He has written for Game Informer, Hyper Magazine, PC & Tech Authority, PC PowerPlay and worked for over a decade at APN News & Media, one of Australia’s largest media outlets. He moved from Australia to Los Angeles in 2015 and is currently the Content & Community Manager at SeaNanners Gaming Channel.

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