Want to Make a Living Making Games? So do I!

Cardboard Edison has posted a video on the “Top 10 need to know about game design” and it has inspired me to post my thoughts about one particular subject.

Early in the video the subject for being rich and making a living as a game designer comes up. The video promptly shoots down the idea of getting rich or making a living (or says that it is rare). Since I started on this game design journey I have done a fair amount of research about the hows and the whats of game design and this is the common theme of what people tell you about being a game designer “DO NOT do it for the money!” and frankly I am really ef-ing tired of hearing that message and not for the reasons you are thinking.

Just like the game universes you are creating, Do not be afraid to think big and do not place limits on yourself or the places you can go with your design and creative goals. This is a creative process after all and there is no such thing as a limit in the mind of a creative, other than fear and unwillingness to try.

Here is an alternate method to preparing designers that this is a competitive environment and making a living is really difficult.

If you are a designer and you want to make a living, be prepared to work really hard. If you have dreams of making game design your day job, dream them freely and work on it everyday. Forget the idea of becoming rich because the first step to becoming rich in game design is to make a living at game design and once you are at that level, then you can think about the becoming rich part.

While I have yet to make the game industry my day job (so I am shooting from the hip here), I think there is a path to doing so and I am not going to let the difficulty of the process stop me from trying. Of the many things I have learned about the game industry, the people you have around you are very important. These are the people that will help you promote your games and your ideas and you yourself. There are very few people out there that can design a game and make the art work and cover the logistics of shipping and fulfillment. To make the game industry, it is clear that you will need to build a team around you to make your dreams come true. In order to build a team, that means you need to be willing to put in the time to meet people, prove to them you are worth the time and effort and be willing to help others along the way as well all make our way through the jungle that is making a creative living.

Hold up!

I need to stop for a second and make an observation on myself. I am shifting the focus from making a living as a designer, to making a living in the game industry. Not to say that making it purely as a designer is impossible, it is just really hard and while that was my dream when I started this, I have since shifted to a more diversified approach, so that is the perspective I use. However, that doesn’t meant that the same principles don’t apply to those who want to be pure designers.

Back to the regularly scheduled rant…..

A common reason I hear as to why it is hard to make a living in the game industry is that the market is small. I think that frame of mind should be changed to “the market is small right now”. How long have the shelves at Target and Barnes & Noble had the games we enjoy on them? Not very long. How long has the general public had a chance to be exposed to hobby games? Probably just about as long as these games have been on store shelves and how often does the general public walk into a B&N or  past the game shelves at Target? The presence of the games we enjoy is growing, no doubt, but there is a lot of room for growth there.

If you want to make the game industry your career, you need to think about ways to expand your gaming footprint as large as possible. The good news is that there are a lot of people out there who are gamers and they don’t even know it. When I talk about being a game designer to friends at parties and get togethers, I always pull in a few people who think the games I talk about “sound like fun.” I abuse this example, but Nate from board game hour shared a story about introducing Love Letter on the train with some ladies who where playing a different mass market game….that is called expanding market possibilities. The point is, LOTS of gamers are out there, they just need to made aware of the fact that they are gamers.

How big has Gen Con become and listening to all the post Gen Con you tube reports, how many of the people there were families making their first trip? I am not saying there was a tidal wave of new gamer families there but the point is that enough note was made in various reports that it was noticeable (high quality sentence).  In a world where being “too plugged in” is an increasing problem, board and card games that are high in player interaction are primed for a popularity explosion. What about the gamer cafes that are starting to spring up here there and everywhere…..what goes better with a board game other than a beverage (adult or otherwise) and a muffin?

I touched on this idea earlier, but building your team is really important. The biggest reason is that you can’t do it all. You can try but the requirements for for making a living in the game industry are too many. Meet people on BGG, twitter and at conventions. Meet people at your local game store, there are lots of places to meet the people you need to know to make your game ideas come to life. The point is that, meeting people and sharing ideas is free. If you are good at one thing and the people you meet and add to your network is good at another and you both believe in your game ideas, work together to make those ideas happen. Keep growing your network because the returns on time invested are enormous in the long run.

Making a living in the game industry is hard work and where lots of people have tried, a lucky few have succeeded. If you get into game design because you want to make a living at it, good, go for it, but be prepared to work at it. Be prepared to have to do things you never thought would be part of game design e.g. marketing, networking and con travel. Bring your passion for games and design and you will have the best chance for success. At worst, you will have a productive hobby that rewards you with a game that you can play. At best, you end up with a career in an industry that is filled with great people and great times. Never limit your dreams but be aware of the waters in which you travel.



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