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  • Student Illusions About Being a Game Designer

    [05.07.09]
    - Lewis Pulsipher
  •  Here is a list of illusions and delusions of beginning game development (especially game design) students, with a brief description of why it isn't so.

    Briefly, what this list amounts to is, "Grow up and recognize what life is like, kid."

    Wildly unrealistic expectations are usually a characteristic of immature people. Yes, you can dream, but dreams require a lot of work to fulfill.

    They'll design a game and someone else will do all the work.
    It's all creativity instead of work.

    Game design can be fun, it can be creative, but it's also work. Thinking is work. Writing clear descriptions of what you've thought is work, figuring out the results of testing and how to improve the game is work. The great inventor Thomas Edison is supposed to have said that success is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration, a statement that certainly applies here.

    Ideas will just come to them, floating in out of the ether -- and that one idea is all they need

    Quality of ideas -- of the best ones -- tends to be proportional to quantity. You need lots of ideas to get some decent ones. And in the end, it's the execution of an idea that is most important.

    AAA list games can be produced easily

    These games are the results of many man-years of work, and of budgets running to $20 million and beyond. A student group of any size, even if they have as much talent as successful professional game developers, would take thousands of semesters to produce a AAA list game.

    They'll play games all day in the job.
    It matters that they're expert game players.


    Even game magazine editors cannot play all day. Playing games is important, but that's not something you'll do much on the job. Game playing expertise is virtually irrelevant.

    They'll be able to design what they want.

    This is not the way it works in the industry, where design is very collaborative, even on smaller "casual" games. Even the most successful designers, such as Sid Meier, sometimes must satisfy publishers who are funding their efforts. Typically, you'll be told to work on a particular design problem, and won't be able to do your own thing.

    They're going to have a big effect on a AAA game soon after getting a job.

    One industry veteran who works on small games said he isn't excited at the thought of working on a huge game, such as Madden football, and then being able to say he had something to do with how the football flies! The bigger the game, the smaller your part in it. When the game involves more than a hundred man-years of effort, your work for even a year amounts to less than one percent of the whole.

    Getting a degree is going to get them a job.

    They can do just what's in the curriculum, and without any additional effort, they will have 100% of what it takes to succeed.

    A degree differentiates you from the thousands who want to work in the industry but haven't taken the time to do much about it. Still, students have to show what they can do, the degree alone doesn't count for much yet. That means students need to be as fanatical about preparing themselves for a game industry job as they're fanatical about playing video games. There are dozens of times as many industry wannabes as there are jobs available. Only those who prepare themselves fully will get the jobs.

    If they just make a game that includes all the currently-popular elements (a market-driven game), theirs will be instantly popular.

    No, this usually leads to a soul-less, unsuccessful game.

    They're going to be able to assemble a development team without salaries and get things done on schedule with the promise of royalties once the game goes commercial. (Though at least this happens every once in a while.)

    Even where developers are well-paid full-time employees, games usually fall behind schedule. Start-up companies with good funding often fail. These folks are as dedicated and fanatical as you. What makes you different? You may succeed if you do the right things, but this is rarely an avenue into the game industry.

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