Playing Games
Nov 23, 2012
7 minute read

There’s this whole fad lately about “playing games”.

Right now, it might seem like a cool thing to do. If you’ve been developing games for a while, it might be tempting to go through the looking glass and see the other side of things. After all, you’ve been making these things for years, so you should be good at playing them, right?

Well, hold on. It might not be as fancy as you think.

First off, know that the first game you play might not be great. You might be swayed by some big studio, AAA game that you can actually finish in under 20 hours, has poor replayability, and will generally leave you disappointed and ashamed that you spent upwards of 40EUR on it.

But wait, there’s still hope: apparently there’s been a whole scene developing lately: the “indie” movement, games made by small teams, on a tight budget, and made out of love and nostalgia for the old-fashioned, SNES games that you might have dabbled with during your youth.

Be careful though, because the perils just keep piling on. Although some truly remarkable gems hide in the indie scene, you’re bound to experience Sturgeon’s Law the hard way. Trusting your friends’ recommendations is no good either: something that works very well for them might not work for you.

It gets worse. You know how when you’re doing a game, you have complete control over the storyline, you can integrate new gameplay elements at will, and fix everything that annoys you? Well truth is, most games are closed-source, and not updated often. They’re just released, and then - good luck! You’re on your own. If you want to do more than just customize the color of your hat, you’re not the target demographic.

In fact, playing games feels more like eating a cake than baking! If you play too much, you get full, and then there’s nothingt to do but wait until you can take some more.

It doesn’t stop there. If you’re in game development, you’re used to being able to automate actions. If a process feels repetitive, you’ll write some piece of code that does it for you. If you see opportunity for abstraction, you’ll come up with a framework that allows you to see things from a high-level perspective, and save yourself some time.

In actual games? Not so much. Be you playing RPGs, MMORPGs, strategy games, simulation games, or action games, you’ll quickly realize that most of the times, the game is designed such that it constrains yourself to re-use the same basic mechanisms over and over again, mindlessly.

You might be thinking playing games is a great way to get rid of all that extra money. Be advised though, that it may not be the case. Indie games are generally priced low, and sales season will simply ruin your spending plans, leaving you with too much money. If you’re thinking of using games as a primary way to spend your extra bucks, think again - you might not want to give up food at first.

So here is a heartfelt warning to everyone in the game industry who’s thinking about trying to get into the “playing games” fad: it’s not for everyone.



This post is a - slightly - disguised parody of a post that’s been making the rounds lately: What They Don’t Tell You About Being a Game Developer.

So, do I disagree completely with the article? Not really. But I would say that it is missing the point to some extent.

To me, becoming an indie game developer is turning a passion into a business. When you’re looking into business ideas, the first things that comes to mind is usually not: “Oh, I know! I’ll bake cakes and sell them! I’ve seen someone do it once and it didn’t look too hard. Plus, have you seen how many of those sell in stores?”

No. If you do make a living selling cakes you bake yourself, it’s because you’re damn good at it, and your cakes are unique. You’ve been doing it for a while before even thinking of selling them, and you enjoy the process of making a cake, even outside of the business/money-making part.

So that would be my first two pieces of advice: don’t do it for money, and make sure you find pleasure in the journey itself.

Here’s another important piece of advice: don’t sell your first game. Don’t be fooled and think the idea you have now is the greatest you will ever have and that it would be a pity to give it away. Creativity works in mysterious ways.

Instead, enter game jams to make your first few games. There are plenty of good, honest-to-god game creation events around: Ludum Dare is my favorite, but there’s also Global Game Jam, Fuck This Jam, and local events like the Dublin Gamecraft.

Give yourself some time to fool around with ideas, tools, and find a setup that’s comfortable for you. If you are to carry a full, sellable indie game to completion, you’ll be spending a lot of times with these. So it’s not a waste of time to spend a few week-ends experimenting with each.

Alex talks about negative feedback, and how it can wreck your world. He’s absolutely right. However, if you’ve been doing open-source for a while, and have had one of your projects end up on the HackerNews front page for example, you’ve been confronted to that.

The best way to deal with negative feedback is:

  • To breathe deeply
  • To acknowledge the fact that your project is unique and not everyone will like it.
  • To try and sort out if there is anything constructive to be taken from that piece of feedback.
  • To rely on the support from your close ones, and get your mind off of it for a while.

That last bullet item brings me to.. my last point. Who you work with is the most important thing. For me, I don’t like to work alone anymore. I find it much easier to stay motivated if I work with at least one or two other persons.

But working with people that aren’t as motivated as you, or that you don’t hold in high esteem (regardless of their actual skills), can only mean disaster. If you can’t find anyone, then maybe it’s best to start out alone. Who knows, you might find collaborators by entering game jams later!

There are many things to be said about team dynamics that won’t fit in this single blog post. If you have a tendency to impress people, you will have to be careful that the person in front of you just doesn’t answer “yes, amen” because they don’t feel like they have a choice, or because thye’re temporarily pumped up by your own motivation aura.

On the contrary, if you’re the underselling kind, you might have to learn and present yourself and your project in a more favorable light. It’s hard to strike a good balance, really.

Personally, I’ve found that the best dynamics is when every individual in the team values every other above themselves, and maintain a state of humility towards the project while being deeply committed to it. That situation fosters a sane emulation, bringing everybody up at the same time while avoiding the birth of self-proclaimed rockstars within the team.


There is truth in some of the horror stories you can read on the Internet about the game industry, and indie game making in particular. Yes, it’s not necessarily for everyone.

But there are steps you can take to make sure it is for you, just like every other occupation in the world. So don’t freak out, take your time, and don’t trust too much what you read on the internet.