Is Bachelor’s Degree Necessary In Game Development

I got this question from one of you readers.

Question:

I would like info on making my first game. A hidden object game. I have the story board but no clue as to where to go from here. I have Bryce5.5 (thanks for the heads up on that) but I am wondering if there is a better product available for beginners that would be more specific for my project.

I have been considering going back to college for game design and development. Is a 4 yr course and a bachelors degree necessary for what I what to accomplish?

I have given the game a twist that I have yet to see out on the market and would really like to get it in motion before someone else comes up with the same idea. If you can direct me to affordable software or courses specific to my needs I would greatly appreciate it.

Answer:
Before going deeper to answering about the necessity of having a degree, I’d like to remind about the breaking in the industry interview that was conducted with several producers. There’s plenty of insight about what one needs in game production.

Secondly, I recommend checking out articles how to create your first game and recommended resources for game creation. Both of these article can help you out on creating your first game.

Now, in my opinion, getting a bachelor’s degree isn’t perhaps the most optimal solution for getting your game done. While schools can teach about game production, I think many courses aren’t very practical – or take very long to finish. There are most likely some good courses, but I think there are better alternatives.

What I would recommend is to think about your own skills. If you know how to use Bryce and are willing to start programming, then I see no reason why you couldn’t pick some low cost game engine and make a prototype of your game. If that prototype looks good, then proceed.

If on the other hand you don’t feel qualified to do programming (which can be a major problem if you want to do games by yourself) then you either need to find somebody to work with – or hire a coder.

Bottom line is: degrees are good, but I believe there are faster ways to get started – and the fastest way is to simply take some action.

How to Create Your Own Game Portal

One reader asked me how to create a game portal?.

Answer:

Starting a game portal is relatively easy to do from technological point-of-view. Business-wise I don’t comment if it’s profitable area to enter, but here I present a guide for those who want to create their own portal. For starters, you could simply use game portals that already sell games and become their affiliate. Here are two examples that I’ve used:

  • Reflexive affiliate page. Reflexive offers 40% commission on every qualified sale and they let you customize games (good for branding them). Reflexive’s system is quite easy to set up and doesn’t require much work. Reflexive has (at the time of writing) almost 800 games to choose from and more coming.
  • Big Fish Games partner program. BFG offers 25% for each directed customer, but they also give you credit if you refer friends who refer friends (6.25% for 2nd tier). BFG offers several different possibilities. You can use your own game page to sell their games or you can even set up a complete portal. BFG is adding one new game each day, so there’s plenty of games under their wings.

There are pros and cons for these systems. I’ve used both and ended up using Big Fish Games – which has been okay for me. Some people I know are using Reflexive and have been pretty happy with them, so I guess it’s a matter of your own interest. I recommend checking out both and choosing the one you like better. (Naturally there are other portals available, so you might also want to check out those. These are the 2 portals I’ve used and have had experience.)

Other option is that you start working hard by getting people to publish games through your site. Then you have to set up the ecommerce store, deal with developer contracts among many other things. Basically you would need to do everything that’s included in self-publishing games – and handle other people’s games in addition.

Tip: By using tools such as OsaKit or IGLoader you can create web-versions of your games and give yourself an unique advantage compared to these big portals.

What about Flash game portals?
The reader who asked the question also wanted to know how to create a Flash game portal. I haven’t created a Flash game portal by myself so besides “ask developers to give you games” I have only one tip: there are websites where you can purchase a pack of Flash games to be displayed on your website. Some Flash portals make it possible to show their games on your website, so you might consider that as well.

Setting up a portal can be quite trivial (in terms of technology) if you use ready-made system, but if you really want to make a successful portal then there’s much more into it. You have to deal with all the aspects of publishing: everything from developer contracts to customer service – and it isn’t easy place to compete when world’s biggest gaming companies are entering in the same marketplace.

How to Get a Job As a Game Designer

I got a question from one of you readers asking how to get a job as a game designer:

I am just a compliance tester, but i want to design and ONLY design. I dont want to code, or do any art just design. What can i do to get into this field?

Answer:

Since I do much different production tasks besides design I’m probably not the best person to answer to this question, but I have some ideas on this.

A week ago I wrote an article titled 7 Plans for Getting Further With Your Game Idea. While most of these ideas are applicable only if you do also programming (or have budget to hire somebody), I think the last tip about making pen & paper RPGs might be quite interesting for some people. If all they want to do is design – then why not choose pen & paper (or board game) industry where it’s easier for designers to get their work done?

I googled for “game design” and “game designer” and found an article titled: Design Job Info. While that article is from year 2002 I still think there’s lessons to learn also today. I’m sure you can find many more simply by using search engines.

The first Round Table session about breaking in the industry was targeted for producer, but the tips are applicable for designers as well. I recommend taking a look at that blog post also.

Last but not least I would start gathering names of video game designers and would approach them. I would ask how these guys got their jobs and would there be any tips they could share. If you can provide them something in exchange, the better chances you have to get in touch with them.

Besides directly contacting designers you could google for more designer articles and read books by designers. You could find out how these people got in the industry and follow their footsteps. Check out job offers from company websites and send your resumes to companies, just to let them know what you’ve done.

You could consider launching a video game design website and start writing your design ideas and tips there. You might simply start designing games for free, and put these designs online. Make your goal to get a job as a designer, and start going towards it. Sooner or later you’ll get it. It will take some time depending on your skills, your determination and your willingness to work on getting that job – but if you are willing to pursue that goal, I’m sure you can achieve it.

In summary:

  • Make your goal to become a video game designer
  • Read everything you can about design and designers
  • Find out how some professional designers got their jobs and model their actions
  • Check out job offerings and send your resume to these companies
  • Consider launching your own video game design website and get publicity

And the most important reminder: Work on your goal every day. Do something to go towards your goal. Take baby steps and be patient.

How to Create Your First Game If You Are an Artist

Some days ago I wrote a post about How to create your first game, and continued by presenting additional recommended resources.

Question:
One of you readers – Swirley – asked what to do if you cannot code:

thank’s for the help but in more of a art person and i dont know any1 who knows how 2 code or anything im just starting from skrach.

Answer:
Well, I believe there’s some routes you can take. First, you could simply hire somebody to code for you. The second option would be to partnership somebody who can code. Third option could be “learn to code”, although I personally don’t think it’s a good option to do everything by yourself. I’d recommend finding some reliable long-term business partner with whom you could make the games you want.

Okay, those choices was pretty obvious – and won’t help much if you don’t know where to find programmers. Art people probably know lots of art forums, and spend their time asking programmers in those graphics forums. A better option is to go there where the programmers hang out.

Here’s three places where you can find programmers

  • Indiegamer – lots of casual game makers and programmers. Just go there and tell people that you are an “art dude looking to partner with a coder” and you’ll get plenty of responses.
  • GameDev – Another place filled with coders. Just go there and tell you’d like to get into making games. I’m sure you’ll find people to help you out.
  • Rent a Coder – If you already have a clear idea and need to hire somebody, you might consider throwing a project proposal to this site. There’s plenty of takers out there.

Naturally I recommend to check out people’s background and past projects before getting into bigger partnership with them. That will save everybody’s time and effort.

Remember to do a proper proposal
I wrote in the past on How to find an artist for your game project. While that post was meant for programmers, it still contains useful information for those who want to find programmers for their projects.

I believe there’s couple of essential you need to do:

  • An (online) portfolio: Make sure you have a some kind of portfolio that you can show to people. It doesn’t matter to make a fancy looking website. What’s important is that you need to put your fancy looking work online so people can easily check what kind of artist you are.
  • Past experience: If you have made games (or some related projects) before, it would be good to mention those projects and tell how you contributed to them.

Start spending time on where programmers are. I’m sure you’ll find somebody to help you out.

How to Create Your First Game

I received an email from one of you readers, telling about a situation that must be familiar for many players. There’s people who simply love playing games, and would like to know how to actually make them. I got the following post from a player asking where to start.

Question:

I dont know how you can help me but all my life i have loved playing games but now i feel like i would like to start to make games but i dont realy UNDERSTAND how to make them i read your e-book it was intresting but i dont know if i need a certen program but i dont realy understad the websights to much but i just would like to make a game with my mates but we dont know were to start pleas help.

(He was referring to my free game production cookbook)

Answer:
I believe there are some fundamental elements one needs, in order to create games. While passion is necessary, there’s lots of more than having a great idea. Which brings me to my first point:

Game idea alone won’t help you
I’ve had lots of great game ideas (at least I thought they were great). I’ve had game ideas about RPGs where players would develop their character in a massive free world, bases on the choices they would make. I’ve had ideas about ants digging complex caves while preparing for flood. While these ideas were really fun to come up with, that’s as far as I got with them. Just to the idea level.

Ideas alone won’t get you very far. You need to do something to get to the next level.

You need to start doing
Okay, the next level is to realize that planning alone won’t do much good. There’s many people who would like to get started, if only they would know how. I’ve mentioned in the past, and I say again that you need to learn to program (or join with somebody who knows to program if you are more into art). There are lots of books and online resources about programming, so it might be a good idea to google for a programming resource or buy a book about programming games.

I’ve used Blitz3D, and it’s really easy & simple tool for beginners. If you don’t know much about programming, reading the manual and asking in the forums will help you far in getting your game done. There are lots of other tools, so just google for “simple 2D engine” or “3D engine” and find some suitable tool for you. Remember to check out DevMaster: it’s a website that contains lots of nice resources.

Besides DevMaster, don’t forget to check out tools & game engines listed on this blog – you’ll might find some pointers that could help you to get started.

The basic idea is to find some suitable tool for you, and simply get moving.

Prototype or create a mini-game
When you’ve picked your engine, learned a bit about programming you can start making your own mini game or a game prototype. I really recommend starting with a simple Pong project or something “easy” in the beginning – that will get you idea on how much work making games really is. My box stacking mini game was in production for about 21 hours, and it sure was fun break. I recommend doing something similar.

For prototyping, check out blogs such as Kloonigames (Petri does a great job making small free games monthly). Other resource to take a look at is: ExperimentalGamePlay.

Bottom line
To summarize everything: learn to program, get the right tools, prototype. That’s perhaps one of the fastest ways to get started.

Update: After getting thousands of visitors into this one post, I wrote an another one which gives a list of game making resources.

Ask Game Producer: Are Movies Just Not Meant to be Made Into Video Games?

I got a tricky question via email.

Question:

Generally when a motion picture movie gets picked up by publishers to be made into a video game or vice versa, the overall gameplay or quality is just poor excluding some movie games out there. Gamers just already get the notion that when a movie game comes out it is going to be bad. Maybe it’s the gameplay or the storyline that just destroys the game. Are there any ways that this can change? Are movies just not meant to be made into video games?

Answer:
First I would like to argue if games using movie brands (or vice versa) are really that bad – in general. In fact… as I start to think about this, it seems that there’s lots of rubbish games and movies transitions. But, I think there’s actually many games using movie brands that are really good.

I like how they’ve done several Marvel games (well, they are originally based on comics… and then movies and games, but still) that are fun to play. Hulk and Spider Man for PC were good. In Hulk you can smash pretty much everything and Spider Man can use fancy moves and move on ceilings – these really fit well in the theme.

I also like Battle for Middle Earth (not the sequel 2, but the good ol’ number 1). The feeling of orcs attacking, Gandalf doing fancy stuff and Gimli using axe is there. Although… that movie is again based on literature. There’s also poor games using LOTR brand, but you can find good ones as well.

Maybe movies and games that are based on some existing world have more background material which have more potential to make the games interesting. I really want to see established brands as games, and I’m sure there’s room for that.

Ruining the gameplay
It’s true that developers can “ruin” the gameplay. I hated the camera in Spider Man game (and it really affected the gaming experience) and in some games they make things really easy (which also can ruin the gameplay). Some games are very simple hack’n’slash skinned with some brand, which might be not so interesting to everybody.

I don’t know if there’s magic potion that would solve this problem. When game developers are allowed to “take chances” and make things little different, we can see new shining stars. Meanwhile, we just have to hope for the best and make sure we indies produce innovative games.

Perhaps upcoming Halo will be successful as a movie – if they solve contract problems. Who knows.

So You Want to Be an Indie Developer?

I get now and then questions where people ask me to “help them to become a game producer or developer”. These who have asked might have studied some subject like math and started to take programming courses and are interested to do games, but don’t know where to start.

What to do to be an indie game producer
The simplest – and perhaps the most efficient – answer I can give for those who want to be indie game developers is: Start making a game. That’s extremely simple answer, but you cannot be a game maker unless you make games. I’ve seen people dreaming about making games, planning about making games, talking about making games – but sometimes these guys don’t get any further than that. They have big plans and dreams, but for some reason they don’t like to get their hands dirty – and actually start writing code. We everybody have ideas, but unless one starts to put them in action ideas are worth nothing.

Alright, so let’s suppose you agree at least about the part that you need to start doing something to get anything finished. Then the next questions pops up: But how?

How you become an indie game producer
Luckily there’s plenty of resources available. When I first asked “How can I get 3D head moving on the screen?” I got guided that “you should pick C++ and then create a rendering engine, that shouldn’t take too long” and I thought “oh dear, that will take ages…”. Luckily there are alternatives for starting your game development. You can pick a ready made engines and use them. You don’t need to do everything by yourself. If full games seems difficult, you can always mod games.

Couple of quick recommendations for engines (at least to check out) are: Garage Games and Blitz. Torque game engine by GG is recommended by many developers, and so is Blitz3D/BlitzMax.

Who can help you become an indie game producer
Being “indie” doesn’t mean doing everything by yourself or talking to nobody. One of the best (and free) sites for indie (and especially casual game development) is Indiegamer.com which has a huge collection of threads and an established community to help you out. Besides Indiegamer, you should also check out GameDev.net. Association of Shareware Professionals has a good reputation and is a valuable source for all indies to consider – and their newsgroups and ASPect newsletter is filled with valuable information. They have yearly membership fee. GameProducer.net Insiders – set up by me – is a new community of game producer who want to succeed together. There’s a fee for those who want to join the Insiders.

There are plenty of other forums available as well and I recommend googling for more information. Engine specific forums are good places to learn and get help.

How much indies make money?
Most of the indies make nothing. Many indies are just doing games for fun, without ever profiting from them. There’s a big list of games and sales statistics available which can help you how much some indie games can sell, but you have to remember that these are games by other developers. Whatever others make doesn’t guarantee that you could make as much as they do, but it also doesn’t mean you couldn’t do better. If you want to find out how much indie games can sell, I don’t recommend taking debt and quitting your day job. I recommend (for most people – especially for those who are asking “How much indies make money”) making a small game part time and start selling it.

Was that all? Anything else I need to know?
I don’t think there’s a single indie who would know everything. The indies I’ve met seem to keep their eyes and mind open for opportunities and are learning something new every day. I recommend watching television, playing games, reading books. Books about programming are okay, but I recommend reading also books from different areas outside game development and programming like psychology, fiction (Terry Pratchett is naturally a must read), religions, philosophy, marketing, sales, business, project management, productivity, customer service, ecommerce and so on. There’s also audio tapes, blogs and – of course – actual game development that will help indies to learn new things.

Where to go next?
If you want to get more insight on being an indie game developer, check out these entries. These posts are all part of the ‘So you want to be an Indie Developer?’ blog project.

Enjoy.

Ask Game Producer: Is Bad Support Better Than No Support at All?

Question:

Is buggy support of a feature or even an entire application better than no support at all?

I’d argue that the minute you release your software to anyone other than the developers that actually have a hand in it’s development, you have an obligation to your target audience to provide bug-free functionality. Barring only perhaps, an Open source project that anyone could bugfix.

Answer:
If I understood correctly, this was a question whether little (or poor) support is better than no support at all.

I think one of the key strengths of indies is the fact that we are “close to players”. That’s why I think the application should be provided bug free, and the customer support should be handled properly, rather than “doing something sometimes”. If you give an image about yourself as a game producer who listens to customers, fixes bugs and deals with problem it shows.

When we were launching Geom I remember one delighted customer who told us (after receiving an email reply from us) how impressed he was about how fast he got the reply. He actually was amazed that he even got a reply. Big companies never bothered answering him.

Naturally answering emails can take time, so some form of automatic replies, FAQ lists and such are recommended. I’ve chosen to reply “ask game producer emails” using the blog. I read every email I get, and handle every single one in some way and found this blog to be quite efficient way to deal with emails. Rather than dealing with just one person at time, I can write my answers here on the blog where several people can see them.

Bottom line: I think bad support and no support at all are both poor options and I really think support is one key areas that need to be taken care of. It’s great feeling to heard good words from satisfied players, and that alone is a reason to provide not just good but great customer and software support. From marketing point-of-view, good support gets people to recommend your product to other people.

Ask Producer: How Much It Costs to Produce a Console Video Game

Question:

I am doing a school project and I was wondering if you could answer a few questions for me. Would it be possible to get statistics on how much it cost to produce a console video game, and how much the expected profit would be? Also, do you know the average length it takes to produce a console game? If you are unable to answer these questions I understand. Thank you for your time.

Answer:
First I’d like to point out couple of resources:

How to produce a Playstation 3 game?
Mike Acton recently gave couple of links for people interested in PS3 development:
Tapping the Power of Cell: Interview with Mike Acton on Cell development
Tapping the Power of Cell: Slides from the Austin Game Conference
CellPerformance: The unofficial stopping place for performance related articles and discussions on the Cell Broadband Engineâ„¢ (CBE) processor.

How to produce a Xbox 360 game?
XNA Game Studio Express is a new offering, targeted at students and hobbyists for game development. XNA Game Studio Express is based on Visual C# Express 2005 and lets developers target both Windows and Xbox 360. XNA Game Studio Express contains the following:

* The XNA Framework, a set of managed code development libraries that make it possible for game developers to be more productive when creating games for Windows and the Xbox 360.
* The XNA Framework Content Pipeline, which is a set of tools that allow developers to more easily incorporate 3D content into their games.
* XNA Game Studio Express also contains a full set of documentation, how-tos, and starter kits that demonstrate how best to use the content pipeline and XNA Framework.

The beta of XNA Game Studio Express has now been released, and can be found here. It currently supports Windows game development only.

The costs of a console game production
I haven’t produced or participated in production of a single console game, so I cannot tell what the reality is, but I would expect the costs of a console game production to be similar to those of PC game production. Basically you have a number of tasks that take X man hours. Your crew members have hourly salary of Y dollars. Estimating the game project duration and then calculating X*Y should give you a rough estimate on how many hours and how many dollars it would take.

I believe there are differences in console worlds (for example, these might be some differences when dealing with the console licenses), but generally speaking I believe the costs of a console game won’t differ much. Scott Miller said in the interview that the console version of their Prey game very little impact on the production.

Ask Producer: How Difficult Levels?

Question:

I am an indie game developer (on my own) and i an just hoping to release my first independent game. I have finished all the programming and I am just making the levels. My question is, to get good appeal, how hard should i make it and how should the difficulty progress?

Answer:
I think designing should take into account at least 2 or 3 modes from easy to difficult (or from normal to difficult). In Hightailed game there’s total of 4 difficulty modes in the latest version. One is extremely easy, two others are bit harder and the last one is made as difficult as possible.

Making game progressively more and more challenging is a good approach – the same that you can use for player to learn the rules . There’s excellent article that points out Ten ways not to make a casual game and gives lots of excellent insight on how to design your game. I really recommend checking it out.

Summary: You could make the game progressively more difficult. Or you could have 2 or 3 difficulty modes (if possible). Don’t make it too difficult in the beginning.

Edit: Excellent information in the comments:
Casual game designer says he disagrees (and also agrees if you read the whole entry) with me, and I must say that he has a point in his approach. Difficulty modes should not be the automatic answer. In Hightailed it works okay because the difficulty levels change how intelligently AI makes his moves. I’d say the same approach will work in games like chess very well.

Thomas added: “The best way to tune the difficulty I think is to get all sorts of different people to play it and tell you how they found it :)”

Ken points out the importance of testing, testing and testing. He also gave a link to usability testing.