Stop Telling New Game Designers (and Devs) to “Climb The Ladder”

Any social site where people talk about game design or game development will always have this one question frequently asked:

“I have a lot of ideas for games but I don’t know how to program and I’m not good at art. How do I get into game design? My favorite game designers are X, Y, and Z.”

And the answer to this question is, without fail, always:

“Learn to program or get good at art, start working for a company, work your way up. That’s how your favorite game designers did it.”

I absolutely can not stand this answer.

Here’s A Better Answer

There’s a pretty solid possibility that your favorite game designers did, in fact, do it that way. When the video games industry was just getting started, and growing to the mainstream level we see now, this was pretty much the way to do it, because the resources needed to make video games were held tightly by companies with with money.

If you didn’t have money, you either needed to go get some, or go work for a company until you were able to get the position you wanted.

We don’t have that problem anymore. Game design and development are able to be done in affordable ways. It’s often free, to a point. Unity doesn’t require you to pay until you’ve made $100,000 in a year on games. For 3D modeling and animation, Blender is completely free.

Start your Own Studio. Design Your Own Games.

  1. Learn what goes into designing video games
  2. Learn how to design great video games.
  3. Design great video games.
  4. Learn to code in pre-made engines like Unity (3D/2D) or GameMaker (2D). Alternatively, hire or partner with someone who does.
  5. Learn to do basic art required in free software like Blender (3D) or Inkscape (2D). Alternatively, hire or partner with someone who does.
  6. Be a game designer.

You Can Still Go The Triple A Route

You might be thinking, “What if they/I don’t want to be an indie developer? What if they/I want to work on AAA titles like Halo or World of Warcraft?”

No problem. I still don’t recommend working your way up from the bottom.

Design your own games. Ship them. Make a name for yourself. Get the job you want at whatever studio.

There are three ways to get to the top of the AAA gaming industry:

  1. Start from the bottom and work your way up the corporate ladder of a company that was never yours and most likely wouldn’t ever be yours. Even if you stuck with them for 50 years, they’re probably already owned by another company who most likely won’t give it up, ever.
  2. Start as independent, build up your own indie studio, then get a job as a game designer at a big AAA company.
  3. Start as independent, build up your own indie studio, become AAA yourself.

#3 is the option I prefer.

I’m Going To Help You Do This

I’m building out a site and collection of courses on how to

  • Design games well and
  • Start a game design business once they’ve got that down so they can go on to make games with their ideas

No one should have to spend 3 years “getting experience” as a QA tester and then spend 10 or more years slowly working their way up the corporate ladder.

Consistency is the most important part of your career.

People are going to forget about you. They’re going to forget about your games, your art, your programming, and you.

Pretty terrifying right? No one wants to hear that. Sorry for being so harsh, but you’re not doing anything to remind them who you are.

That’s why you need to be consistent. Consistency is the key to being successful in anything.

Let’s start at the top.

Note: there are a couple of affiliate links in this post. For more about that and how they work, check out the Resources page.

You need to be consistently making games.

My friend Sean McCabe says “show up every day.” Every day you should do at least one thing that works towards your game design and development.

That doesn’t mean you have to code every day, or draw every day.

Just one thing is all it takes. Show up every day and do at least one thing that’s going to get you closer to completion.

One thing every day that’s going to get you closer to your goals.

He says that doing this for two years will get you where you want to be. That’s such a short period of time if you really think about it.

Plus, you’ll be getting better at your game design and development each day as you work on it.

While you’re getting closer to completion, you’ll need to be working on marketing. Building your audience is what you should do, which is why the next three parts need to be consistent.

You need to be consistently showing your games.

Show people what you’re working on. Show your works in progress.

It doesn’t have to be anything crazy or intense. Maybe it’s a gif of an animation you made this week. Or you added in a cool game mechanic that you can show.

Heck, even just share a teaser of the story.

There’s so much in the process of gamedev that can be shared, and it drums up interest in your game.

Of course you can and should be sharing this stuff on your social media like Facebook, Twitter, etc, but you should also be sharing on your blog.

You need to be consistently posting on your blog.

If you don’t have a blog, make sure you’re signed up for the newsletter right now. Next week I’ll be posting a comprehensive guide (for free!) that will teach you step by step how to set up a blog for your gamedev.

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You need to be posting to your blog because it’s the one platform you control.

Remember MySpace? Who uses that anymore?

Don’t think it’s impossible that Twitter or Facebook could be next. I don’t even know anyone who really uses Tumblr anymore (of course I still post there but that’s another story).

But your blog, your website, that is something you can control. It will exist as long as you want it to. I use A2 hosting and their quick and easy 1 click WordPress installer.

There’s also a simple little thing you can do to keep people coming back to your blog for more. Aside from posting consistently, you need to be collecting emails from your visitors, and sending them a newsletter.

You need to be consistently sending out email newsletters.

My biggest regret is not starting collecting emails sooner.

I would have made way more sales on my previous games by now had I started collecting emails from the very beginning.

It’s just the best marketing you can do on a video game. Tell people about it.

Like I mentioned above, controlling your own platform is important. If Twitter disappears it will be very difficult to retain that audience and move them to whatever new platform you’re on.

I use ConvertKit because it’s easy and they have great functions for automation.

If you have their email, you’ll be able to take them wherever you go very easily.

Plus, people will see you all the time. You’ll be in their thoughts because you regularly send them valuable and interesting content.

That way, when you launch a game, they won’t see it as spam.

You ever sign up for an email list and forget about it? Then weeks or months later you get an email that’s like “Hey I just released my new game!”

Of course I usually check it out but it’s just like “ugh who is this person and why are they trying to get money from me?”

You need to share at least once a week.

They won’t forget about you this way. We think in weekly cycles. That’s why most TV shows put out new episodes at least weekly (during their season).

Of course, you can share more than just once a week if you want, but don’t overwhelm yourself.

Trust me, people will start to notice.

I’ve been inconsistent in the past and people have commented on it. I was totally embarrassed.

Consistency is totally hard but there are lots of ways you can prepare, like setting up an editorial calendar or automating your social media posting with a tool like CoSchedule (that’s a referral link, btw. If you sign up, they cut me a discount on my subscription at no extra cost to you).

An example of what not to do:

This is tricky and I need to preface this by saying that I am not trying to call out this gamedev publicly or anything. He’s wildly successful and I am confident that he will continue to be successful for various reasons, despite the things he’s doing “wrong” that I’m about to show you.

I do believe he would make a lot more money if he were to put more into marketing in the ways that I have suggested here (and will more in the future), but I also don’t get the impression he’s too worried about that. Please know that while I am saying what he’s doing here is “wrong”, I highly admire him and he’s one of the reasons I got into game design and development in the first place. It’s only “wrong” from a marketing standpoint.

But, as no-name indie dev, you don’t want to repeat what he’s doing here, because you need all the help you can get.

That said…look at this tweet:

Take a second to think about what you just learned and see if you can figure out what’s right and what’s wrong here.

Okay now that you’ve thought about it, I’ll list out a few things that were done right:

  • Really well written posts.
  • Lots of images in the posts.
  • Definitely content that will build up hype.
  • Pinned tweet…I wouldn’t have seen this otherwise.

But here’s what’s done wrong:

  • Not hosted on its own platform.
  • Telling people to bookmark and come back on their own accord.
  • No email list?
  • Posts aren’t really consistently posted. Definitely not weekly.

Again, at this point in his career I’m sure he’ll be fine and continue to be successful, and he absolutely deserves it.

But for an indie dev who’s not at that point, you need all the help you can get. That’s what I’m here for!

Make sure you’re signed up for the email list so that you can continue to learn more about video game design, development, marketing, and business.

I was supposed to launch a book last week.

I was lost.

I was supposed to launch a book last week.

It was called Gaming for Fun and Profit, and it was about how to make money streaming video games on websites like Twitch.tv and YouTube. It was originally going to be supported by a website, CharityStreams.com, which was going to empower people to use the knowledge they gained from the book as a way to raise awareness for causes they believe in.

I’ve been working very hard on these things for the past year, and I’ve decided to shelve them both for now.

Yet again, I lost sight of what I truly want to be doing: making video games. I saw dollar signs in this idea and was chasing money, not happiness.

That’s not a way to live.

90% done w/ writing it and I was miserable. I knew that after writing came all of the promotion. A week before launch, I had a conversation with an entrepreneur colleague of mine that went something like this:

  • Them: “What have you been working on?”
  • Me: My GfFaP book and CharityStreams.com.
  • Them: “What happened to making video games?”
  • Me: I’ve been working on this and then I’ll switch to making video games.
  • Them: “Between writing the book, promoting it, building out and managing CharityStreams.com, on top of having a day job and spending time with friends and family, when will you have time to make video games?”
  • Me: Well…uh…
  • Them: “Do you want to make video games or do you want that book and website to be your business?”
  • Me: I…want to make video games.
  • Them: “Then why are you spending so much time working on this other stuff when that’s not what you want to do?”

Of course my first reaction was “I’ve already put so much time into it, it would be a waste to not keep working on it,” but that’s the sunk cost fallacy. The worst thing I could do right now is keep working on it. I need to stop and shift focus to what I really want to do: make video games.

  1. I want to build a company I can operate from my laptop from anywhere in the world.
  2. I want the freedom to wake up and go to bed whenever I want.
  3. I want the freedom to go wherever I want, whenever I want.
  4. I don’t want to be held down by an 8-5 job.
  5. I want to make video games that make people happy.
  6. I want to help people learn how to make video games in a better way than I learned.

Which is why I’m shifting my focus to work on GarrettMickley.com and game development. The future of this blog+newsletter will be focused on discussing the design, development, business and marketing of video games.

For those who made it here from IndieGameDev.Club, that site is going on hold until later this year. GarrettMickley.com and this blog+newsletter will handle everything that site was originally supposed to be, and later on in the year I’ll be building a community for game designers and developers at IndieGameDev.Club.

If you would like to join me on this journey: awesome! I’m excited to have you here.

Starting next week you will be receiving emails about my journey in game design and development.