You Can Make Games

A lot of people still think that the best way to make it in the game industry is to create a great demo, show it to a large company like EA or Microsoft, and get hired. People have dreams of working on MMORPGs or “teh best game ever!!!!1!” and getting paid for it. Even if they can’t work on the game they’ve been designing since grade school, they can still make a living by making games. What’s not to love?

Almost every article or book you’ll find about breaking into the industry will tell you the same thing. When the video game industry was born, it wasn’t out of the ordinary for a single person to be producer, designer, programmer, artist, and musician. Games were simpler back in the day, and one person could do it all. Today, you need teams of possibly hundreds of people to make a single game over the course of years. And the game might fail to make enough money to pay for itself. It’s a big business, with big money, and you can’t just hack out a small game and hope to compete.

Companies like EA will talk about how next-gen games are going to have to cost more to pay for the bigger budgets. Lots of people agree. The bar for production values just keeps going up, so more and more money is thrown at game development.

I’d like to point out that they’re right. If you want to make big-budget productions with little chance of doing well in the market with the latest technology and high quality graphics for long hours, then you will need to work with a big company in order to get funding for the large team to make your “game”. Good luck being a cog in that wheel.

On the other hand, if you want to make games, there is no law that says you can’t do it yourself. There is no principle of game development that says it is physically impossible to make a game today that is fun, innovative, and even profitable without a large team and millions of dollars. You can make games on your own.

I repeat: You can make games on your own.

Can you make the next Doom 3 or Half-Life 2 on your own? Maybe, if you had a LOT of time on your hands and wouldn’t mind working on it for decades. I refuse to answer no to this question; however, I will suggest that you should scale down the MMO that you have planned, especially if you want to finish it anytime soon.

Big, established companies want to convince you that going on your own is uncertain, scary, and risky. EA wants you to believe that games cost a whole lot more to make today than ever before. Microsoft wants you to believe that the bar for quality has been raised to the point that small developers can’t hope to compete. These big companies want to scare you into either working for them or avoiding the industry altogether. Either way, they get less potential competition for the cost of a PR statement. Good deal.

“Make my own game? How? I don’t even know where to start!” You start at the beginning. The first step is to become aware of the possibility of making games. You can make games. You have the skills, and even if you don’t have a needed skill, you can use the skills of another person to offset your lack. Maybe you won’t be working full-time and getting a steady paycheck. Most likely you won’t. Maybe you can make games all week long, or maybe you can only dedicate 15 minutes here and there. Maybe you can create a game in 24 hours, or maybe you’ll be working on a labor of love for years.

My point is that you don’t have to believe that only major game companies make games. You don’t have to believe that game development has gotten too complex for one person to tackle. You don’t have to believe that you need millions of dollars in venture capital or publisher funding. But you can make games.

Want proof? There is an entire section of the industry comprising indie game developers! Look at Check out Pretty Good Solitaire, made by Thomas Warfield. No, he didn’t write a Quake-killer, but he is doing quite well for himself based on that game alone. I know, it’s “just solitaire”, but people also like vanilla more than any other flavor of ice cream. Still not convinced that indie games are possible? Check out Democracy, “the ultimate political strategy game” by Positech Games. Or the high quality puzzle game Professor Fizzwizzle by Grubby Games. Or Darwinia, the hard-to-describe retro-styled offering from Introversion Software.

There’s even an awards show for indie games! The Independent Games Festival is a showcase of innovation and technical excellence. Clearly, you don’t need millions of dollars to make refreshing games. Examples of past finalists include the following games: Alien Hominid, Best Friends, I of the Enemy, Trash, Reiner Knizia’s Samurai, Bridge Constructor Set, Strange Adventures in Infinite Space and its sequel Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space, Savage: The Battle for Newerth, Oasis, Gish, Wik and the Fable of Souls, Dark Horizons: Lore, Lux, The Witch’s Yarn, Tribal Trouble, the MMORPG Dofus, Glow Worm, N, and Legion Arena.

Some of these games cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to make. Some cost no money at all. Some took a few weeks, while others took almost a decade. Some were made for business purposes. Some were made by students. Whatever the case, these games were independently made without a publisher. They were made by indies. And you can be an indie, too. You can make games. You, on your own or with support, with or without money. Once you believe it is possible, you have taken your first step to becoming an indie.

3 comments to You Can Make Games

  • barry

    Only just bumped into your blog — its a really great read, well done.

    I think ‘casual’ games really can make a big impact. There are more and more articles (something on BBC site I recall recently) saying that there is a huge market for games which dont require the latest geforce card, and dont require hours of playing (and often frustration) to get a buzz from. I think its an untapped market. So many unoriginal — and expensive — games filling the shelves these days. Everyone seems to have a PC or laptop — they *could* all be your customer. I am sure the majority of those people dont want the next 3rd person shooter, WWII shooter, or incarnation of Need for Speed.

    Since I now find myself with some time on my hands (dont ask), I am picking up an idea for a game I had last year, and am actually going to make it. Coincidentally, I use Kyra, and love it. Ok, the lack of sprite rotation is gonna be a pain, but the API is so nice, and the results fantastic.
    I have thought very carefully about the gameplay mechanics. As you say, no lone programmer can realistically make HL2 — you simply cant produce that quantity of content (art, levels, blah etc), even if you had a 3d engine to begin with. So, I must concentrate on some interesting game mechanic and original ideas. What graphics I will have I will make sure are good quality (possibly using Blender, or some other 3d app to make sprites). I think that what makes an indie game stand out are original touches in gameplay, and nice graphics. A lone programmer *can* do those things.

    And, with the internet, they can get their work directly to the public, bypass those shelves. My hope is make something cool, release a demo, and perhaps charge $5 for the game. Anyway, enough dreaming, back to coding…
    Good luck!

  • Barry, thanks for the compliment.

    As for the market, you’re right. Indies can fill needs beyond what the mainstream developers create. When you’re in high school, maybe you can dedicate hours per day to games, but when you’re out of college with a full-time job and a family, you can’t always grind away at a game. At the same time, maybe games like Bejeweled don’t appeal to you. You still want the games you used to play.

    So that’s where Oasis and Stange Adventures in Infinite Space come in. You can play these games very quickly compared to games such as Civilization. There is an untapped market for involving yet easy-to-play games that take minutes rather than days to play. For people with a life beyond video games, minutes might be all they have to offer.

    Being able to make and distribute these games has never been easier. There is no lack of shelf-space on the world wide web. Make something and get it out there! Give it away! Charge a fee! You can do these things without a publisher, without getting a distribution deal with Wal-mart or Best Buy, and without permission or approval.

    Good luck to you, too!

  • Great post! I find that playing these indie games is great motivation to me to keep working on my own game project. Darwinia is especially inspiring to me because it is both a fun game and a game with style. I find it’s very artistic, which is something that is rarely found in Big Budget games. Indie games have many opportunities to stand out against the main stream games.

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