Five Foundational Steps to Surviving as a Game Developer

Surviving in the game development industry is akin to navigating a vast, unpredictable ocean. The journey is filled with both exhilarating discoveries and daunting challenges. As someone who's been in the trenches, developing games and learning from the myriad ups and downs, I've distilled my experiences into five foundational steps to help fellow game developers survive and thrive.

1. Adjust Your Lifestyle Accordingly

The journey into game development often begins with a passion project, a dream that ignites a fire within. However, the path may be fraught with financial uncertainty. One of the first steps to ensuring longevity in this field is to adjust your lifestyle to match what you're trying to do. This can mean changing your personal finances and lifestyle expectations to align with the unpredictable nature of game development income. Many game devs will make significant sacrifices, such as moving to smaller apartments or cutting down on luxuries to reduce their burn rate. It isn't about living minimally forever but giving yourself enough runway to pursue your passion without the constant stress of financial ruin looming over you.

2. Keep Your Day Job

It's a common dream to dive headfirst into game development, leaving behind the 9-5 grind. Yet, maintaining a stable income source while building your game is a strategy you should consider. The stability of a day job or a consulting business will provide financial security and the freedom to experiment and innovate in your game development endeavors without the immediate pressure of turning a profit. Finding the time and balance can be challenging, but it's a vital strategy for long-term sustainability in the industry.

3. Build a Team with Similar Visions

The creative process in game development often thrives in collaboration. Finding a team of like-minded individuals can significantly amplify your creativity and productivity. The collective skill set of a well-rounded team can tackle complex problems more efficiently than any individual could alone. However, building such a team has its challenges. Differences in vision, commitment levels, and work styles can lead to friction. Despite these challenges, the synergy of a cohesive team can propel a game project to new heights.

4. Balance Creativity with Pragmatism

Innovation is the lifeblood of the game industry. There's a fine line between innovation and impractical risk-taking - striving to create something unique is crucial, but it's equally important to ground your ambitions in feasibility. Every successful game has a hook that makes it stand out, but these innovations are often built on a foundation of established game mechanics. Balancing creativity with practicality can help avoid the pitfalls of overambition, ensuring your game can reach and resonate with its intended audience.

5. Build a Diverse Game Portfolio

Diversification is a principle that applies to many industries, and game development is no exception. Rather than putting all your hopes and resources into a single project, creating a portfolio of games can help stabilize your income. Each game becomes an asset, potentially generating ongoing revenue long after release. This approach mitigates financial risk and allows you to explore a variety of creative avenues, learning and growing with each new project.

In conclusion, surviving and thriving as a game developer requires passion, pragmatism, and persistence. By right-sizing your life, balancing income sources, fostering teamwork, innovating wisely, and diversifying your portfolio, you can confidently navigate the tumultuous waters of game development. The journey is challenging, but it's undoubtedly worth every moment for those driven by the love of creating games.

First published February 7, 2006 and last updated at February 15, 2024