Over the past couple of months I have immersed myself in the game development world because that is one of the very few environments that combine all my interests:
– 3D computer graphics (zbrush, procedural modelling)
– Software engineering
– AI (specifically ML and DL)
– Story telling (in both games and cinema)
– Play as the driver of innovation (as Steven Johnson brilliant argues in Wonderland: HowHow Play Made the Modern World)
Being a digital omnivore that is curious about all these fields I figured it would be interesting to see whether I would fit in. But also to see if the game developer world is interested in someone like me. Coming from more standard software engineering environments one of the most refreshing experiences was that creativity is a core part of the daily routine of game developer professionals. Discussions at the watering hole easily switch from parallelism in Rust to texturing in Substance Painter, and from the gameplay of the latest GTA to the merits of Unity for game developers. Besides the game developers that I met were all without exception extremely nice, funny, considerate, creative and ambitious. You're probably not surprised that I felt right at home.
But I also noted that the gaming industry is really tough. It reminded me a bit of the early days where software professionals had to compete with the cousin of a customer despite "he being only 12, but he is really handy with tablets and can make a website in Word in his basement for almost nothing". Especially the indy game industry is littered with young enthusiasts willing to put in insane hours just because they love games so much. For every position at a professional game studio there are tons of applicants willing to accept a meager compensation for quite a demanding job in terms of complexity, creativity and effort.
The other fundamental reason the game developer industry is tough is that most studios are as successful as their latest game. This is common in the creative industry, where it is really hard to create continuity. The only way to do so is to create a certain name in a certain market, but that requires you to have been successful a number of times before in a certain niche. Only a very few studios succeed therein. This is part of the deal of being in the gaming industry and makes that life is pretty tough for most game developers.
Yet another reason making it tough is that it takes a considerable investment to make a game. It is not easy, it takes both technical and creative skills, and a lot of time to make a great game. Indy game developers have to do everything from coming up with the idea, the story, the visuals, the game play, the multi-player mechanics, the promotion, the bugfixes, etc. The broad set of required skills also make it unlikely that a game is created by an individual, adding the complexities of team building and cooperation to the mix.
To be honest I find this regrettable. I would love to see all these nice, creative, skilled and ambitious game enthusiasts succeed with their dream but the odds are sadly pretty low for the vast majority of them. Some might get lucky or are so exceptionally talented that they end up at a triple A studio anyway, but most won't. Fortunately many of the skills they develop are valuable for other industries as well, so they'll be fine if they're open for that. And I think they should be. Although I am all for following your passion, I can attest from experience that you can live quite a fulfilling life while not all your passions are part of your daily job.