You worked your way up at college. You produced an awesome portfolio. You befriended with people in industries meetings. You totally ignore the number of hours that flew by when polishing your resume. One thing leading to another, you find yourself in a job interview and BAM! : you’re in! Congratulations pal, you made it inside an industry which is not the most easy to access, trust me …you don’t trust me? I know a dozen of stories about people still seeking for an art job, 3 years (and there are probably worse case out there) after their graduation…. ouch.
So you might think “Ah, you made it through! Now you can at last relax and take time to do some other stuff with your free time!” and the answer is absolutely yes. Balance is essential to last long and it’s the same for other stuff than Game Development. And for artists, practicing other passions and experimenting life in new ways inspire them. Because, to be fair, there are important stuffs out there : you can’t only live for one matter, it would be insane and drive you to become the most single-minded person out there.
But becoming professional is not only about doing nothing outside your basic (OT-free talk) 40 hours/a week. In fact, I recommend to develop yourself personally at home. Learn about new technics, write a blog, read articles, watch conferences, participate in a community of developers, be a part of an indie project…! I try myself to do game-related stuff 8-10 hours / a week, outside the studio. And there are reasons why I think it’s crucial to spend time away from job (even if we all agree that doing 40 hours/ a week bring already a load of knowledge and experience.) So… let me pinpoint them! :
- Deepen your knowledge about your field: It’s not because you’re a professional designer that you will touch at one point every aspect of the game, for example. AAA games teams are enormous and the chance is really high that you will only manage a single specific part of the mandate. You will probably become an expert on this particular task, but it’s important to get in touch with others developers specialties and create links that inspire and help your daily work. I tend to read a lot of professional articles/blogs/comments on the web and to listen GDC talks about design stuff. I am thinking for this one of psychology theory applied to game, finding the public audience, theirs goals… something that I had never been asked for to this date! So we watched Jason Vandenberghe‘s second conference on the 5 Domains of Play (link to the only accessible first part) and it really blew my mind how there is extremely different players and reasons to play… and it shown to be very useful on my job for taking the right decisions!
- Gather knowledge from other fields: To be multidisciplinary is the key of success in our industry. To be able to discuss and work efficiently with everyone on the team (producers, programmers, artists, designers, etc.) is essential, even more for designers. If you’re going to pitch an idea, you’ll understand better the weight of your decisions for your teammates. If you are a level designer, you will probably integrate every assets into your level and ask for precise element : you want to be able to talk the same language. And there is even a possibility that your next assignation will need more artistic or technical skills that what you’re used to do. For example, I try to prototype a lot at home and all those programming skills are really helping me at job.
- Be informed on news games: Self-explanatory. Press releases, previews, reviews, fan receptions, forums, online streams, etc. Embrace new trends, ask questions to people why they like those new games. Try them as well. After all, it’s hard to be good at doing something without knowing anything about it…! And be sure that those references will become useful in future brainstorms or when the time comes to explain an idea spontaneously.
- Develop personal skills: Let’s face it: it takes a lot of motivation and even stubbornness to weekly take time to develop at home. But it really enhances your creativity, problem-solving skills and sense of ownership. And since it’s the industry of “The infinite loop of learning-all-over-again!”, constantly learning on your own will increase your speed of assimilating new knowledge. Faster learners become reference on the team and then become irreplaceable members.
- Design for yourself: Professionally, you are probably not making games for an audience that has the same interest as you when it comes to what they want and expect from their game. It’s one of the most common trap for designers: “I find it to be fun, so it is right.” Everyone on the team has ideas and feel the need to express them. But they are mostly hardcore gamers who appreciate mostly hardcore games and the mechanics in them. The need to take a step back and take a rational decision for the audience is capital and one of the best methods to forget your “own ideal game” ideas is to write them down on paper, prototyping them, etc. Maybe you will realize that there are not so great, that there are inappropriate… or maybe it will kickoff a new personal project that will get you hooked and encourage the pursuit of your personal development!
So! What is you take : how much you involve yourself in home projects? What is your routine?