Malcolm Gladwell, the author of best selling books such as Blink and The Tipping Point, recently released a book entitled Outliers. Gladwell’s books sell incredibly well, and I own two of them, but I have found that the premise and promise of his books is always better than the writing and delivery, which I find kind of dry and long winded. My personal opinion aside, a meme that came out of the Outliers book is the proposition that to get truly great at something takes 10,000 hours of hard work and practice, which at the full time rate of 2,080 working hours per year is five years.
I agree with Gladwell’s take on this. What? You mean it is going to take me FIVE YEARS to get good at making games? No, I’m saying it is going to take you five years to get good at what you do, but it may take much longer to really make it.
Of course, you can point to some products like iShoot, where the developer had never made a game before and is now quitting his day job due to his game’s success on the iPhone. Sure, there will be some lucky developers that break out and get a hit before they have put in their time, but those will not be the norm. Seth Godin has a good take on this, and argues that the 10,000 hours can vary depending upon the market, and smaller, newer markets are more likely to have lucky break out hits. He puts it really well with this statement:
But, ready for this? The Dip is much closer in niche areas, new areas, unexplored areas. You can get through the Dip in an online network or with a new kind of music because being seen as the best in that area is easier (at least for now). You can get through the Dip as a real estate broker in a new, growing town a lot quicker than someone in midtown Manhattan. The competition is thinner and probably less motivated.
So, even though there may be some niches in games that you can break into because they are over looked or just emerging, my take is that you don’t want to count on luck. Just buckle down and become really great at what you do. If you don’t want to work hard, there is somebody out there that is working hard at becoming great, and they will take your place. I have written a basic outline of how to spend those fives year in my Five Realistic Steps To Becoming A Game Developer article. If you love what you are doing, the time will fly by.