The Perils of Joining the Games Industry


At least we don’t have to rely on this anymore.


Or, people are bad at understanding “work”.

Beginnings and Endings and Beginnings Again

I’ve wanted to make games since I was in elementary school. Not only did I want to “improve” the games that I loved, I also thought that I might have the capacity to make something truly extraordinary by myself. After all, I could vaguely imagine a really cool game in my head. Who’s to say I couldn’t make it?

Of course, the moment my father tried to show me how to make a pong-like game in Visual Basic, I decided games weren’t for me. After all, if I couldn’t understand how to make pong, how the hell was I supposed to make an epic RPG?

I know now that games are much more complicated than just programming. And even as my skills in programming improve, my main skills are probably more design-related than anything else. Though I have scaled back some of my ambitions, I’ve also completed games. I’ve made things that other people have enjoyed and talked about.

Am I a game-making master? Hardly. I’m just getting started. But, I’ll admit, the world I’m jumping into isn’t nearly as idyllic as I imagined in my youth.

Fears of a New Developer: Criticism

When I was young, I looked at the games I played and imagined things that could be better. “This section of the level is dumb.” “Why are bosses immune to status effects!? That’s the only time I would use them!” “This character could use a little more fleshing out. Maybe a sidequest or something?” All these thoughts would flood my brain, as I’m sure anyone who plays games and is even slightly critical of them is apt to do.

But the moment I started digging deep and making games was the moment I looked at my criticisms differently. “Wow. It’s amazing they got this into the game! How did they do that?” “Man, this section was poorly balanced, but I can imagine the work that went into it anyways.” “This kind of system is exactly what I was looking for! Whoever made this is brilliant.” It might seem like it’s a lot of praise, and it mostly is, because people who make games are amazing. I have a lot of respect for many people working in the industry, especially those who care about what they’re making. Even those who are just working to make money are still often doing good work, even when their heart isn’t into it. That’s the mark of a professional, in any case.

So it boggles my mind and saddens me the moment I read user reviews or the comments on any game-related article.

You don’t have to look far to find what I’m seeing.

bad review

Took me a minute to find.

I’m fine with criticism. People who say “this needs fixing” and “I’m not fond of x and y”. As a writer, I’ve learned to be better with how to interpret what people say. And, of course, understand that criticism often comes from a place of wanting something to be better because the criticizer sees the potential in it. Not always, but often enough the criticism helps make the writing or game or anything better.

good review.png

This is a great review. Negative, sure, but full of useful information. I’m not suggesting everyone write like this, but consider something like this to be ideal.

It’s not easy for many people to interpret criticism even when it’s constructive. A lot of writing and game-making comes from the heart, so criticism can feel like an attack on the person, when it’s more akin to a doctor describing a medical problem. She’s not stabbing you. She’s just telling you that there’s a problem.

But I’ve seen so much non-constructive criticism out there that it’s hard to avoid. Everyone who works in a creative field talks about the many emails they get that are positive, and the one negative one is the one that hurts them the most.

Do I want to get into a world where I’m sure to get messages of “kill yourself” and “you suck as a developer you fucking dickwad”? Who would want that?

Fears of a New Developer: Money

Then, there’s the practical bit of all this: I’m not sure I’ll be making much money from the games I make for the foreseeable future.

People say, “Good. Then get out now. We don’t need more games flooding Steam!” To which I think, “So you only want games made by rich people? Or they should only be passion projects by starving artists?” I understand that there is certainly a feeling among developers and customers alike that there are too many games out there. Developers feel like the customer’s dollar is spread too thin and the customers feel like they have to wade through muck to find anything good.

But is this a problem of too many games? Or just that the systems of finding those games aren’t as good as they could be? Or that while Americans are at their limit of how much they’ll spend on games, there are still huge swaths of people out there that simply don’t have the money or means or knowledge of video games? If Brazil or China got their piracy under control, or India became a more gaming country, might we see more small developers surviving?

As an aside, piracy. If you have money to buy a game, please buy it. Even if it’s short. Even if you only enjoyed the first hour. The fact that you’re partaking in an experience that cost someone time and effort to make should deem itself worthy of purchase. I mean, if it is really bad, refund it. But even if you’re only pirating because you can’t afford it, try to find some way to support developers. Stream it. Review it. Do some marketing for them. And maybe encourage other people to buy it. They’ll never get better if they quit for financial reasons before they make something good.

In any case, unless I manage to make a good game, manage to market my game well enough, and make the game long enough that people don’t feel like pirating it, I shouldn’t expect to make a living off of game-making alone in the near future. Perhaps it’s not so much a fear as it is a resignation.

Fears of a New Developer: Public Attacks

And finally, the biggest fear of them all is that my safety might be in jeopardy by entering the world of video games. You don’t need to travel far to hear stories of people getting death threats because they make or are related to video games. And the more well-known you become, the more that threat increases.

DOXing. Personal information made private because someone wants to get your information into the hands of people they don’t know.

Bank information being hacked. Stalking. Packages with unknown contents being sent directly to your house.

Maybe I’ll never achieve enough success for this to happen to me. But I’d like to be successful. I just wonder if success is something to be looked for when it comes with that much danger. Why not remain a teacher? Surely I’m doing good for the world without attracting too much danger from strangers.

Hate and Hope

I dunno. I’m still diving into the game-making world, come what may. And we’ll see how long this journey lasts. But if I have one hope, it’s this:

No more vitriolic hate.

If you don’t like something, ignore it. If it becomes well-liked and you don’t like it, who cares? If you want more of something in the world, make it. Don’t complain when others aren’t making it for you. Support people who do things you like. Give constructive criticism to things you don’t like.


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