Writing Your Next Game
Fame, glory, money, caffeine, caffeine, caffeine.
Okay, let's assume you have finished your first game. Congratulations!
You are well on your way. The question is, what do you do next?
The time has come to make some decisions about your career. Do you
want to be a full-time game developer, or do you want to do this as
an income supplement or a hobby? Do you want a secure job where you
get regular paychecks, or do you want to experience the risks and
benefits of being self-employed? The answers to these questions will
affect the types of games you will write in the future.
Let's examine some of the strategies you may want to consider as your
career advances. Again, I am going to focus on the career of the lone
wolf, because let's face it -- being an employee is a no-brainer. You
do what you're told and you get paid for it. Not much room for
strategic choices there. The lone wolf, on the other hand, has to be
smart to survive, and that means weighing your options and making
Career Strategies of the Lone Wolf Developer
Remember how I told you to make your first game a simple game? You
can make your second game an easy game, too, but you don't want to keep
doing simple games forever. Now is time to flex your muscles.
Every game you make from now on should teach you something. If you were
a BASIC programmer before, it is time to learn C. If you were a DOS
programmer, it is time to learn Windows. Don't take on too much all at
once. Learning should be an incremental activity. But it should be a
lifetime activity. All game programmers must learn new skills all the
time. It is the only way to keep up with technology.
Every game programmer begins their career far behind the "cutting
edge" of technology. Every game programmer's goal should be to catch
up with technology. It is an unreachable goal. Technology is a moving
target. As soon as you get close to it, it changes again. But that
is what makes this industry so dynamic, and so full of opportunities.
Choose some aspect of technology that interests you, and aim for it.
Choosing a Genre
What kind of games do you like? Do you like multi-player games?
How about 3D games? Strategy games? Let your personal interests guide
your career. If you are a sports game fan, don't try to write an RPG.
It will only result in an inferior game.
Think about time constraints. Do you want to spend two years
writing your next game? What if it meant you could write two games
in three years?
Try to guess where technology will be next year. Will a Windows 3.1
program sell in a Windows 95 world? Is mode X too primitive? Are
hardware-accelerator cards too non-standard?
These are hard questions. But think about what you are doing.
Writing a game is a huge investment. Don't just clone your favorite game.
Try to write something that will provide you with some long-term benefit.
Finding a Niche
The really successful lone-wolf developers are the ones who have
recognized a niche and exploited it. A good niche will have a large
audience, and little competition. It will have avenues of communication
available so you can reach your audience. It will lend itself to addicting
(or educational) games, and it will allow plenty of add-ons.
My most successful niche is gambling games. Millions of people love
to gamble, and there are lots of way to write new slot machines and
card games. I can sell new software to the same people over and over.
I can also sell software in non-traditional markets -- gambling magazines,
for example. Instead of being the 500th shareware game in a collection
of shareware games, my game will stand out as the only gambling software
in a collection of books and videos. This niche works well for me.
I know authors who have been successful in the educational market,
in fonts, in fortune telling and the occult, and in jigsaw puzzles. If
you can spot a niche and fill it, you are in good shape. You can make
money for years that way.
The computer game market is so flooded, just getting a new game
noticed is a challenge. But with cleverness, you can put your game
where there are no games. I have games running on seat-back computers
on America West Airlines airplanes. This is an interesting market.
Consider that it is a captive audience, relatively bored, that is
staring at my games (and my name) for the duration of a flight.
As technology advances, look for opportunities. They don't always
pay off, but consider them anyway. I have seen games sold in vending
machines, on television, in books, in bookstores, in gift shops, and
in non-software magazines.
If you write bowling games, advertise in bowling magazines. You
might be surprised at how cheap such advertising can be, and how well
it can pay off. If you write a sports simulation, try to get your
software in a sports memorabilia/cards store.
Look around you, and try to come up with an idea nobody else has
thought of yet.
Think in terms of your current game evolving into your next
game. While very few game engines are actually reuseable, a great
deal of game code is used over and over. You can write a "new" game
engine incorporating a lot of functions of your last game engine.
Always, always always keep your code clean. Indent
carefully, pay attention to comments, organize your functions thoughtfully
in source code files and libraries. Think of it in terms of being kind
to your future self. The future you will be grateful to the past you for
leaving such a clean, useful legacy.
As you gain a reputation for being a hot-shot game developer, you
may find yourself presented with opportunities to work on other people's
projects. Again, choose carefully which ones you will accept. If the
money is good, the genre is one you are familiar with, and the title will
look good in your portfolio, then by all means take the job. If, on the
other hand, the work is in an area that is completely unfamiliar to you,
the only compensation is a promise of future royalties, and it looks like
you could get bogged down in the project for months or years, then walk
away. You will be better off starting and completing your own game than
to get sucked into a loser project like this.
As mentioned before, programmers need artists, and artists need
programmers. Publishers need developers and developers need publishers.
The whole game development industry is an interconnected fabric. It is
absolutely essential to have positive, professional relationships
with others in the industry.
Always be ethical in your dealings with others. Do not make promises
you can not keep. Do not give away secrets. Be reliable in financial
Do not flame people you don't know in a public forum. Only
amateurs do that. Professionals in the industry know they will run
into each other over and over. The person you flame this year may
the person you want to do business with next year. Don't burn your
Look for new ways to work together with the people you already
know. This may be something as simple as a web page link or as
sophisticated as a marketing co-op. If you happen upon an excellent
opportunity, share it with your friends. They, in turn, will share
valuable information with you.
Encourage your peers in their careers. The threat of competition
is not nearly as damaging as the threat of isolation. You want the
industry five years from now to be filled with people you know well.
Form long-term relationships.
Lone wolf developers generally don't have resumes. They have
portfolios. A portfolio is a collection of titles that you have worked
on and completed.
Pay attention to your portfolio. Try to choose projects that will
look good on your record. Having one best-seller, or half a dozen
completed and released titles, will earn you respect in the game
developer community. This translates to better projects and job offers.
Distractions are a trap. You may find yourself offered work that
has nothing to do with game development. Maybe for some quick cash you
agree to write the database program for an auto repair company. Be
careful. You will be expected to support and maintain this program for
years. Meanwhile, your portfolio is not growing, technology is advancing
without you, and the new skills you are learning have nothing to do
with game development.
Distractions trade a short-term gain (quick cash) for a long-term
asset (career advancement). Be careful.
Being a game developer is hard. It is a long-term commitment
involving considerable risks. It means working long hours and making
hard choices. Sometimes it means throwing out months (or years) of
work and starting over from scratch. Game development is not for the
Have you finished your second game yet? You have? Great! Email me
and tell me about it. But don't just tell me -- the world deserves
to know. In Chapter 7 we will talk about
some ways to promote your game, and more importantly, yourself.
This site created and maintained by
Copyright © 1997, 2000 Ted Gruber Software, Inc. All Rights Reserved.