My name is Anthony, I’m an Art Director in the Games Industry, 16 years served and still learning and improving daily.
I’ve observed a lot of discourse on social media over the years regarding Game Development, the industry, how it treats the developers, how hard it is to get in and the high expectations on aspiring developers to highlight just a few of the common topics.
After seeing some discussion online this weekend I’ve decided to put together some thoughts covering a few topics to help clarify some items and question others. Have a read and discuss!
Yes all these topics are in need of full on conversations to adequately cover the nuance involved with each issue. What I’m trying to do is add some thoughts on each point to help provide a balanced view or share the reality of some in the hope it helps people out there understand some of the items better.
It’s primarily from a Game Art POV but can be applied to Game Developers generally.
Since writing this I've edited a resource which provides artists with a framework to build their portfolio.
To aspiring Game Developers
It requires effort: Getting into Game Development will be hard and require effort, no doubt. As games fidelity and complexity raises so does the bar to meet. It’s on YOU to meet the required level. A course can introduce you to a topic and teach you the basics; a Mentor can guide your path and structure your learning and an online course can show you some cool techniques. No one else can produce your portfolio. No one else can do the work for you. No one else can make you understand and apply things you need to learn.
Crunch and Grind: You should not have to crunch as an employee nor should you have to put in all your free time to break in. This does not mean you can also put in little to no effort. To break into the industry you need to be able to show a capability to do a job at a required entry level. After this point it only gets more challenging not easier.
Be Consistent: A good approach is to dedicate 1-2 hours a day towards achieving your goal. To maximise the potential of this you need to be focused in your efforts, see below.
Nina Klos a Technical Artist shares a good blog post about this
Focused Effort: You can put in 100 hours a week on your art and make no progress. You need to be working on the right things. I know this as I’ve been there, producing model after model and drawing after drawing with minimal jumps forward in knowledge and skill. Why was this? It was because I was doing and not learning. I was focused on generating content over really understanding what I was trying to achieve. When I realised this I sought out all the resources I could online and in bookstores (it was the early 2000’s) that covered art creation and 3D art creation. In time I learned about “What is good modelling”, “Art Fundamentals” etc. Being aware of what tools, workflows and knowledge afforded me the ability to structure my learning and have clearer targets as to what I was trying to achieve.
Portfolio: Without a doubt this is the number one item that will get you a job and open that door into the industry. The portfolio shows your current technical knowledge, creative flair and capability to work in a role. Show your process and focus on quality over content.
Resources: There has never been a better time than today when it comes to the wealth of resources, knowledge, mentorship, online communities and training available online. There is no excuse to not being able to structure some learning for yourself and making progress.
Attitude: I cannot overstate how important it is to have an open mind, a willingness to always be learning and the ability to take feedback and listen to others when it comes to the games industry. This all comes down to your attitude and how you engage and if it’s not in a positive manner don’t expect a long term career.
Software and Tools: Over the years Software has improved removing a lot of the laborious effort out of wrangling UV’s or modelling or pixel matching seams on different UV shells in Photoshop. For the real Veterans out there, no longer having to plot out vertex co-ordinates in 3D space on paper (this one still amazes me). With the improvements in these areas the job has also gotten more technically complex. It will always continue to shift and change. Don’t get hung up on learning all the software. Stick to the few you need for your desired role and focus on producing quality content.
You’re still an artist: Despite all the tools advancement it means nothing if you cannot use it to create something with artistic merit and value. Always be seeking to be a better Artist.
It is a job: The reality is that game development is a job with expectations of the game developer to meet these and justify being paid a salary for the effort. It’s a trade of skills, knowledge and your time for money. That’s it. Don’t mix up a job with your personal creative goals.
It is a great job: When I started my journey in Game Development I just wanted to make content as a commercial artist and be part of a team. That was my ultimate goal. The last 16 years for me have been an unexpected world wind of experiences and bettering myself by learning from all the great Developers I have crossed paths with. It is an immensely rewarding job beyond just money.
It’s also a tough job: Yes we just play games all day! This could not be further from the truth. Being a game dev is a technically and creatively challenging job in all roles and levels. It requires you to show up every day, collaborate with a team and put in the effort.
Expectations: You need to be realistic in your expectations of the industry. You will not walk into a £50,000 a year Lead role or other and have full creative control straight after graduating. You will more likely be earning less and contributing to a portion of a games development alongside others.
I'm adding this additional note, everyone develops and learn things at different rates. A game dev career is a marathon not a sprint. You do not need to be the best in all things ASAP. Give yourself time and space to grow and learn, focus on a smaller subset of skills to attain a job when you can. It's not an issue if you need to work other jobs to pay your way until you break in, in fact that work ethic is amazing. Go easy on yourself if it takes time. It took me almost 3 years after graduating to get myself to a position I could break in. During that time I had work in a bar and a bank call centre. Two experiences I've really enjoyed and thought me the value of serving others, soft skills and working hard. All skills which today help me working in Game Development.
Some thoughts for Game Developers
Be part of the solution A lot of aspiring game developers need mentors and guidance on how to get into the industry. Give back and help in any way you can whether it be replying to online questions, doing a portfolio review, joining a Discord / Forum and sharing knowledge, making resources on topics you’re confident on and sharing with others. There are many ways to get active in the support of others. The UK has organisations like Limit Break and Grads in Games that do great work in this area. Get involved!
Better practices: A lot of the waste I’ve seen in my 16 years in terms of game budgets has been rough or patchy at best production practices. Yes making games is hard but so many projects don’t even setup proper pipelines or best practices early on to best support the team on the harder creative journey of building a game. We can all improve on this area. Getting more efficient will mean less crunch, likely lower budget spends and a happier team. What’s not to like here?
Sustainability: Tied to the previous point, better production practices in theory reduces budget spend which should also improve revenue and in turn also make the industry more sustainable. Company heads also need a reality check on revenue expectations, NO your game will not be a billion dollar title because you wish it to be so.
Be self-critical: If you’re on a team developing a game, always take a step back together to see if your team wide efforts are trending towards the aspirational production goals. If not get communicating and work it out. Set some clear goals and targets to focus the team.
Play testing: This is a BIG one, always be play testing your game. Everyone on the team should be doing so. I will die on this hill, if your game is not enjoyable enough that you want to do the play test then you already have major project issues and should put the tools down and step back to reconsider what you’re all doing.
Hire Juniors/Associates: It's a simple one, as an industry if we do not hire new talent, mentor, guide and develop them we collectively will not have the workforce we need to continue to build games as we are. The current setup is short sighted and relies on the tenacity and drive of aspiring developers to not give up and work for years before breaking in to "get good enough". This will not last forever.
Some thoughts for others
For Players: Not one Developer turns up to work to make a bad game EVER. We all have put so much effort and passion into being able to ply our craft that many go above and beyond to make the best game possible as they NEED to. It’s a personal drive for each Developer.
For Executives: This is aimed at all those wanting to profit off the work of Game Developers and generate revenue. We get it’s a business, it pays our bills too. If 2023’s set of high selling and highly critically acclaimed releases has thought us anything it is that projects should be driven by the Dev teams and not by trends or what Execs think are the next hot ideas or technologies. Trust the teams, there will be no one more invested than them.
For Education and Studios: You both need to work together and invest in the future of developers to ensure the quantity and quality is there. Let’s cut to the point, both Game Studios and Universities are a business. Neither wants to invest on improving training, course or content. Yet both need aspiring developers and both would benefit from an investment on each side. Get talking, get collaborating and improve the situation.
Gaming means so much to many people the world over, it brings humanity together with a shared interest regardless of variables such as creed, gender, skin colour or location. I love working on something that then brings joy to another human. That’s literally the best perk of this job! Right up there with working with so many talented and creative people daily.
To me it’s an industry that has allowed me to work hard and create experiences I’m extremely proud of alongside Developers I’m honoured to know while providing for my family. I’ve learned more about being a good human being than I have about Art Production (it’s close though :P)
Let’s all make an effort to improve the industry by making the path smoother for those wanting to join us, by improving working conditions across the industry for us all there now and improving how we do things to make it all more sustainable and break the cycle of boom and bust projects.
We can all make a small effort at our own level that will accumulate to improve the industry as a whole. Since 2007 I’ve seen a lot of change across many of the topics discussed here, there has been a lot of improvement already.
We never stop learning and can always improve so put the work in and let’s do it together.