Your browser (Internet Explorer 6) is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites. Learn how to update your browser.

How Much Work Does It Take To Become A Great Game Developer?

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:


What Is My Game’s Sales Potential?

Make It Big In Games community member, JefferE, posted the following question in the MBG forums:

What I’ve always struggled with that I’d like to hear your slant on is how to judge if a game is worth producing. That is, you’ve got an idea, you think its a good one, but how do you go about judging the sales potential? There are very few resources that I’ve found that publish stats on game sales. For a very simple example, you’ve got a Match 3 or Hidden Object game (ala Big Fish Games style). How do you find out how much potential that has? What’s the ‘average” return on a game like that if it sells bad, good, or is a hit? Is it $1K – obviously no one would produce them, is it $10k, $50K, $100K? Basically, how do you go about figuring out if its worth even starting a project – beyond dreaming, right sizing, and just going for it?

How Much Money Your Successful Game Makes
How Much Money Your Successful Game Makes
This is a great and basic question that all Indie game developers struggle with. If you are a “professional” game developer working at a big publisher and thinking of making the leap to Indie or a student trying to decide whether to hire on at a publisher or try it on your own, this is a nagging question. Well, I’ll get it over with an tell you right now, there is no simple answer to this question. I have tackled this question before in a 2006 MBG post entitled How Much Money Can Indie Games Make, and even thought the market has changed a lot in the last three years the answer is basically the same. So, click back, brush up on that article, then read the rest of this post. More…


Hard To Believe: Three Years Of Blogging

Wow, where did the time go? On January 11, 2006, I started this Make It Big In Games blog. In case you can’t tell, the title is a tongue in cheek reference to the cheesy real estate and self help ads that try to sell you on getting rich by following their methods. In contrast, just making a living in the games business is anything but easy, and I have done my best to get that point across in this blog.

Sim City As Blog Metaphor
Sim City As Blog Metaphor

In spite of my focus on the difficulties of making a living making games, my most popular posts have been related to how much money you can make by making games. In fact, my most popular post, How Much Money Can Your XBox 360 Game Make, was one of my first posts, getting picked up by Major Nelson’s, Kotaku, etc. It was one of my first posts causing my traffic to go through the roof. I thought this blogging thing was gong to be easy.

Well, blogging is not easy. Even with a small blog like this, thinking of article ideas is always in the back of your mind, and getting around to writing the articles is hard work. Because of that, I have had long periods where I didn’t write articles, and my Alexa traffic rating went down to around 800,000. However, since the middle of 2008, I have tried to write at least one article per week, and my Alexa rating has dropped (which is good) to 282,050. In addition my Feedburner stats say that over 1,200 people read my articles through an RSS reader.

While it sometimes seems kind of like a waste of time, I always like to think what it would be like if all of those readers were in a room at one time. I’m not a great public speaker, and crowds make me nervous, so I know that I would be absolutely nervous speaking in front of the MBG crowd. That is very cool.

Having a blog reminds me a little bit of playing Sim City, i.e. you write a post, which is like zoning land, and see if you get comments and good feedback which is like the Sims moving in. Just like Sim City, when it works, it makes you feel good. For 2009 and beyond, I’ll continue “zoning and building” with new articles, additional features like my newly added community forums, hopefully bringing back the MBG Wiki, etc.

Lastly, make sure to visit the new forum section of MBG and let me know what you would like me to blog about in the future. Having the forum section is going to be a great community builder.

-Jeff Tunnell, Game Maker
Make It Big In Games
Follow me on Twitter


Odds and Ends

Before getting down to business here in 2009, I have a few small items to catch up on.

Congratulations to GarageGames’ Torque Game Engine Advanced for winning the 2008 Game Developer Magazine Frontline Award for Best Engine. Matt, JoshE, Ken, Deborah, in the TnT group have been working their butts off bringing Torque to a new level of professionalism, and it is great to see their efforts recognized.

Ryan Wiancko over at Industry Broadcast has been taking blog post from developers like myself, Dan Cook, and Troy Gilbert and turning them into podcasts. So, load up your iPod for your next road trip and catch up on your neglected reading. Maybe now that I have mentioned Ryan, he will spell my name right on my articles. :D

Jeremy Alessi, of Alessi Games, just put up a nice article on Gamasutra about his experiences creating a game for the iPhone. I have worked with Jeremy since the early days of GarageGames where I encouraged him to finish Aerial Antics so we could publish it. Nobody works harder at game development, and it is nice to see him getting some recognition and success.

-Jeff Tunnell, Game Maker
Make It Big In Games


Grand Theft Share Price, Corporate Doublespeak, pt. 2

As further evidence of my MBG post Why I Don’t Own Stock In Game Publishers, I present Take Two.

Where Your Investment Is Going
Where Your Investment Is Going

After fending off Electronic Arts’ hostile take over bid earlier this year, Take Two just announced a fourth quarter loss of $15MM, and their projected 2009 estimates have gone from a profit of $1.21 per share to $0 per share. Remember, 2008 was a GTA year, and they still lost money. What was Strauss Zelnick’s take?

“The Take-Two Chairman expressed marked concern about the economic climate, but urged investors that the company is well-positioned”

Sound familiar?

As an exercise in futility I did a few calculations to see if Zelnick was right in fending off EA’s hostile bid. Let’s see, EA offered $2 Billion in cash in March of 2008. Take Two’s ($ttwo) stock was roughly $15.85 per share before the bid, and the day of the bid, the stock shot up to $26.89, roughly the value of the offer. Zelnick, in classic Jerry Yang of Yahoo’s amazingly greedy style, said the company was worth much more. After several months of haggling, EA pulled out. Today $ttwos share price was $8.43 for a market cap of $654MM, which, for those without a calculator, is over $1.3 Billion less than the earlier ALL CASH offer.

There is no GTA coming out next year, and probably not the year after. If the $ttwo share price is worth a couple of Starbuck cappuccinos at the end of a GTA year, what will it be worth next year? Not $2BB. Good job, guys.

On the other hand, I bet EA is happy they didn’t shell out the $2BB in cash. They just announced more layoffs of up to 1,000 people and the closure of Black Box studio (plus seven others). They are going to need the money to get things turned around.

-Jeff Tunnell, Game Maker
Make It Big In Games
Photo by Jarlhelm.


Fishing Girl Is Fun

Normally I don’t refer to specific games on this blog, but I can’t help it on this one because it is fun and it is a great example of how to make money on Flash games. A few months ago Dan Cook, of Lost Garden blog fame, created all of the art and a loose design frame work for the game, and is holding a contest to see what the development community can do with the assets and idea.

Well, Andre, from developer Luna Drift, took up Dan’s challenge and made a fun game that I have spent a lot of time on. I first ran into the game on the Flash Game License site (also a 2008 Biggie Award winner for Best New Business Idea), and watched the sponsorship bids go up to $4,000. Between Mochi Ads, site ads, and sponsorships, a real Flash game monetization process is starting to emerge.

Click on the icon below to go to the Jay Is games review and play the game.
Click to play Fishing Girl

Update: I wrote this post on Friday, and now it is early Sunday morning. Dan posted the contest results last night, and Andre won the Gold Medal! Congratulations!

-Jeff Tunnell, Game Maker
Make It Big In Games


Instant Action Reaches 1MM Players

Winner of my 2008 Biggie Award for Best Future Way To Play Games, Instant Action is really starting to take off.
Check out the story here on Techcrunch: Gaming Site InstantAction On A Roll.

“For instance, InstantAction, a gaming site from IAC-owned GarageGames, has managed to cross the 1 million members mark only 9 months after we covered their launch.”

That is great news! Congratulations to the InstantAction team. Of course I have inside information that I can’t disclose, but 2009 will be a big year for this service. IA will increasingly become a great place for Indies to make money.

-Jeff Tunnell, Game Maker
Make It Big In Games


Big Ass Design Documents

Marek Bronstring, a game developer that I met on Twitter, writes a blog called gamslol where he recently penned a post entitled “Game Design 101 Rant: Over-Reliance On Documentation“.
Big Ass Design Document
Many people have asked me what a design document should be, and while I am not going to write that article today, you can read about what they should NOT be in his post. Here are some quotes:

If you already knew that game design isn’t all about writing design documents, then that’s great. I like you. We should do the secret handshake. As for everyone else, I’m sorry that you have been misled, and hopefully I can help make some amends.

But sadly there’s a myth that writing giant Game Design Documents (GDDs) is what designing a game ultimately boils down to. This myth needs a thorough pummeling.

I totally agree him. What he calls GDD’s, I like to call Big Ass Design Documents, or BADD for short. I have seen design documents that look like the old ancient bibles that sit on top of family pianos. While the developers think they are really solving a problem, in actuality they are causing bigger problems.

Nobody reads those tombs, and they are so large that, like a government legislative proposal, entire developers are sucked up just keeping the document up to date. Worse, designers get pissed at the programmers because they still ask questions about the design even though the designer thinks the answer is in the document. “Didn’t you read the f***in’ document?”, is the common phrase.

Just like “Agile Development” is kind of the new phrase for doing what you want just about any time you want, I think Agile Design is a much better way to go. Of course, you need a certain amount of design documents, but having a designer that can communicate his vision and a producer that can carry it out is much more important than the bureaucratic process of creating and maintaining a BADD.

-Jeff Tunnell, Game Maker
Make It Big In Games


2008 Biggie Awards, Surprisingly Good Products

I am proud to present the first annual Biggie Awards (BA for short), a list of products, in categories that I made up, that I think were the best of 2008. The methodology behind the awards was very scientific, if I got excited about a product, it was nominated. Now, the envelope please…
2009 Biggies Award Banner
Best Indie Game: Tie- World of Goo, Castle Crashers
Congratulations to 2D Boy and The Behemoth for sticking to their guns and making the games they wanted to make and being financially rewarded for it. In case you haven’t been paying attention to my blog, this is the future of game development. Small, focused, creative teams making fun, inventive games. The key word is fun, not pandering to Marketing, not selling out, not shaders, Direct X 11, or HDR.

Best Product to Hide Massive Complexity: Wii Fit
There is more engineering in the Wii fit than in most consoles, yet it comes off polished, fun, and useful. I love the way it “talks” to you when you step on it or when you gain a little weight. Nintendo keeps hitting home runs. They know what is fun and they are not afraid to break out of the box to find it.

Best Editor: Spore
Contrary to many people I enjoyed the game, but what impressed me most was the editors and technology behind the game. I think the future of game development for big titles was shown in Spore. Editors and procedurally generated content are the only way we will be able to make large content games due to cost constraints. This kind of procedural content creation is what will allow the small “rock band sized” teams I advocate to make big games.

Best Single Button Game: Tower Blocks
Digital Chocolate made this fun tower stacking game that can be played anywhere, i.e. on a cell phone, in Facebook, etc. Integration with your true friends is an extremely important feature and is what drives you to keep playing.

Best Distillation of an old Game Mechanic: Eleven Blood
This Facebook game has many old game developers crying fowl. Why would people want to play a game that has so little interaction? Well, I think games like EB, Mafia Wars, etc. are really bringing a fun new approachability to role playing games.

Best Graphics: Little Big Planet
This is my idea of of how to use powerful shaders and high end graphics. No uncanny valley, no crap lip synching. Just cool little characters running around in a world that looks real, yet you know it can’t be. Honorable mention for the awesome UI on the level editor. There are so many interface breakthroughs on that editor that a book could be written about it.

Best Flash Game Site: Kongregate
These guys have risen from start up to the best Flash game site in less than two years. Clean, developer friendly site that has really brought Flash games to a new level of respectability. I could do without the chat window next to all of the games, so the game window itself had the option of being bigger, but other than that, these guys are on fire. Impressive!

Best Future Way to Play Games: Instant Action
Even though I was involved in the early days of IA, I have to mention this service. The more I get used to web based “cloud computing”, the more I refuse to download and install a game to play it. Too much hassle, and most of the time, it requires updates to drivers and other things I don’t have the patience to do. Instant Action is not getting the attention it deserves.


    Best Developer to Change the World: Harmonix
    Best New Business Idea: Flash Game License
    Best Business I Wish I Had Started: Mochi Ads
    Favorite Game Review Site: Jay Is Games
    Best Facebook Publisher: Playfish
    Top Big Games I Don’t Care About Left4Dead, Fallout 3, Farcry 2, GoW 2 – shows how out of touch I am with the core gamer market.
    Best New gaming Platform iPhone
    Best Video Site That I Thought Was Going to be Crappy HULU
    Best Old Internet Service That I Never Used Until Now Pandora
    Best Web App FriendFeed

-Jeff Tunnell, Game Maker
Make It Big In Games