Some of my best friends are game developers. Some of my worst friends, too. And some of my middling friends.
I’ve been in the business of writing about their exploits for half a decade or so, give or take some months, and in the process of playing the games, writing about the games and covering the creation, publishing and success or failure of the games, I’ve gotten to know a great deal about the many people who make them. Although they are legion, and as different from each other as tiny snowflakes, I can say with some authority that they all have one thing in common: They’re a lot more like you than you think.
No matter what your mental image of the world of game development, game developers themselves are human. Some drive sports cars, date supermodels, are fabulously wealthy and complete jerks. Others drive many-year-old American sedans, have been in stable relationships for decades, live lives of understated charm and are genuinely honest, pleasant people. Still others share a mix of these traits, or other traits entirely. Yet by and large they are all human with wants, needs and problems just like yours.
The trap of the entertainment industry is that it’s based, first and foremost, on making people happy. This is the biggest difference between game developers and you. Whatever you do for your job, it’s probably not “make people happy.” You might have a boss you have to make happy, but you generally know who he is, what he wants and how to give it to him. In the entertainment industry, these factors are generally unknowns.
Who are gamers? What do they want? How do you give it to them? These are the questions that churn away the lining from developers’ stomachs, and although their jobs may be different from yours, their lives are generally not. They have bosses, too, and wives and dogs and car payments. And if they fail to please the hard-to-define audience of “gamers,” then those things could all go topsy-turvy. Many game developers get fired for no other reason than that they finished their game and are no longer needed. Imagine living with that sword poised over your head.
Judging from the photo spreads and videos of game studios, you may think making games is all fun and games, and to some degree it is. After all, these guys are not curing cancer or sending men to war. They’re not even installing septic tanks or bagging groceries. Making games can be an incredibly fun pursuit. It’s a job that requires intelligence, skill and a sense of humor. It requires being able to have fun and knowing it when you see it. It requires passion. Most people in the industry make games because they love making games, and to them, the high chance of failure is worth the risk to do a job they care about.
In this issue of The Escapist, Issue 232, “Everyday Developer,” we asked a handful of game developers to describe their lives. Not the glory, thrill and shame of making a game and selling it, but the everyday, down-and-dirty details of what encompasses a life lived making the products you enjoy. Bradley Campbell delves deep into the seamy world of independent game development forums; Brenda Brathwaite shares a sliver of the world-shattering tumult almost every developer has faced: relocation; Ian Schreiber reveals some of the “guilty pleasure” games hidden in the closets of the industry’s heroes and Ryan Winterhalter interviews a few Western developers who decided to go it on their own – in Japan. Enjoy!