266: Making Fun Ain't Always Fun

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Making Fun Ain't Always Fun

Many believe that creative endeavors are an easy job, with tons of perks. Wendy Despain tells the truth about designing games. Hint: It's not fun.

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This has probably been my favourite article, in what's now my favourite issue. This is the first time i've read every article one after the other with no pause!

I don't consider myself a game developer yet, other than my bi-annual programming phases i don't get enough done. But I still found that a lot of this article described me and a lot of my experience.

I have a bad habit of dissecting games and trying to find out how they work, and although i'm too lazy for it most of the time i'm plagued every day my the thought of making a game and end up jotting ideas on paper that get scrapped the next day.

Another thing i see A LOT is people talking to me about game development and game testing in particular as the most glamorous job imaginable, playing games all day with free beer. They do have their merits but fun is not one of them!

indeed, very much so.

many people do lack IT experience in the computer industry and therefore do not understand how complex and dull it can become at times regardless of your likings.

having to create a simple program out of C# and test it for my studies, I had many downtimes where I would give-up because the debugger was detecting a Syntax error which made me to review the code and look for any mistakes which took hours because it required another person point out that I spelt something incorrectly, needless to say I did get a cheap thrill at the end but the software side of things aren't really my thing, that just leaves me having to create/mod a game for my course in Sep which I'm excited and dreaded at the same time

in any case, people should try an achieve a career that they get thrills out of and have some extensive knowledge about...in the sense of professional careers.

This article explains the very thought processes that I went through, to end up in enterprise software development rather than games dev.
I remember people on my CS course who wanted to do games programming, and me explaining why I didn't want to go down that path. Main reasons for me not to go down the game dev road were potential work hours, wages, frustration (beyond the work itself) and job availability.

When I left uni, I got a job within a few weeks of looking for one, and after being made redundant not so long ago, I found another job pretty quickly, and there didn't seem to be a particular shortage in the type of job I was aiming at.
Yep, enterprise dev is working out for me so far :)

It's a well written article and all, but the first half of it...WITHOUT any inside knowledge of game design (kind of good knowledge regarding programming in general, but i don't think that counts)...felt sort of obvious to me.

Yes, working on a deadline isn't fun as is coming up with good ideas under pressure and working with others on one single aspect tends to often suck too. And yes, being able to critisize something does not make you good at that (although that's kinda sad, because if it were so, i could probably draw and compose music at least decently, wich would be cool).

But that's ALWAYS the case when a job requires at least a minimum of creativity.

But that said, i liked to read about what developer people had to say about the things that make up for it. I know how satisfying it is to solve a difficult problem or get something to work the way you want to (once again, thanks to programming experiences), and it must be amazing if these things are enjoyed by so many people.
(Even though it's probably even more shattering if the end product that you poured your heart into gets panned by some foul mouthed teenagers...but i guess that is the "risk")

Dear god even writing a story is a pain at times, I could only imagine what doing a whole video game would be like!

Before I started my current job, I was always very curious about making games. Not in any serious sense, more like, "Wow, I bet it took like twelve people just to make that guy's head explode when I pressed that button."

And then when I started talking with and getting feedback from developers, I realised, yeah, it IS a lot of work as I'd always suspected... actually, it's a lot MORE work than I suspected. If you're talking about even just a simple flash game, think of everything you have to take into consideration; various browsers, operating systems, and so forth, and working on making your game compatible with all of that. I can also tell you that the few times I have been talked into helping beta or bug-test something were NOT fun; it was my job to BREAK that game, and that basically involved doing everything over and over in every way I could think of, trying things on various computers and browsers to make sure everything was copacetic... no thank you, SIR. I'll stick to writing about it.

I think articles like this are great, though, because so many gamers either don't know or care just what is involved in making their favourite games. (Thinking back to the FF7 remake butthurt here.) You may be making a game, but it's still a job, and if you want to make something halfway decent it's a freaking HARD job. I'd really recommend anyone who thinks making games is fun and easy just crack open any toolset (RPGMaker, NWN, Dragon Age, etc) and try to make a compelling hour's worth of an experience. It really puts things in perspective.

I tend to dislike these articles, they end up saying that this particular industy is absolute hell and that only the crazy-ly determined people go through with them. Not just talking about the games industry here, in every industry there are misconceptions with how it works, but those types of articles almost always degenerate to "It's complete hell, only a select few enjoy it just because they can cope, so don't do it if you can't cope (which you most likely can't)."

Now I'm not saying that this article isn't true. The video games industry is just like any industry, and their jobs are just like any other. You have to work, you have to be dedicated, and you have to be passionate about what you do. I understand completely that depending on where you work in the games industry (Q+A, Animation Dept, Voice Acting, etc...) it has varying degrees of cruelty. It's a job like any other job out there, and sometimes it's a bit greuling at times.

Personally I do want to get into the entertainment industry, specifically films but maybe video games. I understand that those respective industries are cutthroat and brutal, sometimes it's not going to be fair, and there will always be some lucky bastard who got ahead of you. But articles like these tend to spell out "DOOM TO YOU!!" for whatever industry it's talking about and basically dig a deep trench between "Lolipop Goodness!" and "13th Circle of Hell" with no middle ground.

Then again, I could be some doe-eyed optimistic idealist, so hell if I know what lies beyond the facade of awesomeness that appears before me.

Overall, I'm not saying that I disliked this specific article, in fact it was a very good read, just saying that these types of articles are always heavied on the extreme side of things, at least to me. Feel free to disagree (in fact I hope you do), just what I think on the matter.

Even though I'm not a game developer, a lot of the stuff talked about in this article relates to what i do as well. A lot of people think my job is fun because I make cartoons but they don't see the endless hours I spend in front of the computer going frame by frame to make sure Neeb's lip sync looks good. I can completely see how game design must be that same sort of grind.

Well I've worked in the industry for 10 years, for 4 different companies.

Before that I worked for about 4 years outside the games industry.

Maybe I'm just lucky, but I've loved working in the games industry and can't imagine doing anything else.

Relative to the games industry the 4 years outside were hell.

Other than sitting at a computer, what you wrote describes what it's like to book a wrestling angle. Really it does sort of play out the same way; you start with the ending you want to get to (X wins belt from Z), then you plan backwards from there so you can get the fans interested in if X wins and hopefully they'll spend the dollars to come out to the shows. But then inevetably things go wrong, X will no show the event or Z will refuse to put someone over but instead of having months to get a certain idea to fit in the game, you have an hour to figure out who to put in X's place and have it still make sense in term of the angle.

Not only does it have to make sense, you also have to try and do things that won't be too obvious to the audience- for instance, if you have Z attack X during his match, the fans expect X to attack during Z's match, but since X is a face (good guy) it's not in his nature to do that- so you either go against his character and have X do what the audience expects or you can go a different route and advertise Z as wrestling a masked man, Y and during the course of the match you let the fans see that Y is X under the mask by having another Y show up outside the ring (or let X be the guy outside the ring) but either way it isn't something that the people expect and also puts another character into the story, whichs adds another part to the booking process that just adds to the amount of time it takes to set things up just right.

Honestly on most of the shows I've worked, I've never seen a booking meeting end without at least one person saying they quit (only once did they ever really quit, though).

Basically what I'm saying is that most people only think about the end product, be it a game or a wrestling show, but hardly give any thought into the workings that make the end result possible. Great article.

(And for those who follow wrestling, yes, Vince Russo's booking would equate him to the shovelware manufacturers such that put out the " ****** Party" games for the Wii)

"Being creative on a deadline can be hell."
That's why Valve is so awesome. I have yet to see a Valve game being released within it's designated deadline, and none of their games has ever disappointed me.

All of those points make the industry sound like a living hell.

All of those points make me want to work there more.

That was a fascinating article. I especially liked how you pointed out that after the long hours of frustration, there's that euphoric 'high' when things go right, and how you connected the development process to painting. Very interesting how creativity is mostly chasing those few moments where it all falls into place, regardless of whether it's making music, writing, directing, painting, or developing games (I myself have had those torture moments trying to put down even a few words to write, and wanting to bang my head against my desk, only to have it suddenly seem so 'obvious' and go on a manic typing spree. Possible lunatic giggling would ensue afterwards.).

Articles like this are why I love the Escapist so much.

So what you're actually saying is that making games is *work*? As in waking up early each day and spending most of it doing things you don't really enjoy that much? They really don't pay you money to have fun all day? Enlightening.

I also really enjoyed this latest Escapist issue and loved every other article, but this one sir is just over-10k-characters stating the obvious to the people who apparently never had a job in their lives.

I wrote a comment yesterday night on an article in the previous issue on this topic, unaware that this must have gone up around at the same time. Had I known I could have skipped writing it, because this article really sums up my experience and attitude towards the industry far more accurately than I could have described it.

I tend to dislike these articles, they end up saying that this particular industy is absolute hell and that only the crazy-ly determined people go through with them.

To be fair, this can be very true in a lot of companies. As mentioned in the article most of us grunts in the industry could use our skills outside of it for more money and respect(convincing you in-laws that making art for videogames is a real job isn't easy) and usually a lot better working conditions. So it's not like we're stuck. As a result only the die-hards tend to hang around for long in the harsher enviroments. That being said there's a screening process already during school that beats a lot of the "making games is like one big party" out of people(ea_spouse really should be required reading), so the truly disillusioned seldom ever get out into the industry.

I'm a level designed for a mod team i can relate to this so much

motivations a bit different with total conversion moddng your building the game you've always wanted as oposed to what the market wants but the same thing aplies most of the time its not fun especial testing that really really sucks.

There have been a lot of article lately by people in the industry telling other people not to go into the industry. Call my suspicious is you want, but I have a lawyer friend who tries to discourage others from becoming lawyers. This feels similar.

Also, someone from almost any occupation could write an article about why it is hell.

Hehe, very emotional article that puts some things in perspective :).

I especially liked the end note of "1337 words" :D.

And don't worry, we don't just hate devs... we also hate the publishers, the stores, other gamers... etc.

I actually quite admire some of you guys for being able to stick at it - since I tried my hand at modding with a team before :P. It ain't a pretty sight I can tell you that ;).

This has probably been my favourite article, in what's now my favourite issue.

I agree. What a brilliant article and what an amazing issue.

The biggest problem is making sure that whatever creative/inspiring idea that made the game worth making in the first place survives through the development process.

Great article. You don't get ones like this on other sites, that's why I started frequenting this place.

Being in the Game Design major myself, I kind of knew what I was getting into, but I think it's more than worth it because I can't see myself doing anything else.

Some fabulous insight here.

THough i can't say I am surpirsed that a job - even one making videogames is just a job.

As somebody who has been trying to come up with original game concepts over the past couple years, I can totally relate to just how hard it is to generate magic out of nothing. Part of the reason you see so many clones on the market isn't because its' all investors will take a chance on, but rather because it's a whole Hell of a lot easier to base a concept on an existing model than pull one out of a hat.

Great article.

I took a game design class my first semester at college, and it was definitely not all fun and games. Specifically, I remember the crunch during the last week of the semester. Our final project was (unsurprisingly) to fully design and create a board game. The game we were making was a board game with a computer program supplement: the pitch was Carcassonne meets Sim City. We had been working for weeks, but always had more to do. The project was due on a Thursday afternoon; Tuesday night, I got barely any sleep working on the project. Then Wednesday came. We met after classes were done for the day at 4pm, and worked straight until 9, when we moved to another building which was open later. We were there all night; I remember texting my girlfriend good night and good morning while working.

There were three of us: one person ironing out the final mechanics, one working on the art for the game, and I was writing the program for the computer supplement. It was miserable. I kept finding bugs that needed fixing, the girl working on the mechanics kept asking me to add features, and I was so sick of programming that I wanted to vomit. We continued work straight through the morning; I missed my final English class of the semester, and we worked right until it was time to present. I had never slept so little and gone so crazy over one project... but even though the work was miserable, I ended up really enjoying it. It was a shame that I actually had to turn in the game and could not keep it. (Man, I should really be a game designer...)

Anyway, anecdote aside, I only have one comment on the article itself.

Game devs think back wistfully to those days before they became a creator and could dive headlong into truly just playing a videogame. They talk about games that came out before they took their first computer class like those days are gone forever. They know, even if they change careers, that they will still know how the magic tricks are done. They've seen things they can't unsee.

While this is true, I think it's worth adding that there's an upside to this. Sure, you become more critical of games once you see how they work and learn the tricks, and it becomes more difficult to enjoy some games, but when you happen across a game you can truly love and enjoy even after all the game design experience.... it's a wonderful feeling. Your appreciation of the game is so much richer since you can enjoy the game and appreciate its design merits. I would happily trade my naivete and enjoyment of perhaps lesser games in exchange for a fuller enjoyment of my favorites again, and encourage anyone with the opportunity to do the same.


I tend to dislike these articles, they end up saying that this particular industy is absolute hell and that only the crazy-ly determined people go through with them.

To be fair, this can be very true in a lot of companies. As mentioned in the article most of us grunts in the industry could use our skills outside of it for more money and respect(convincing you in-laws that making art for videogames is a real job isn't easy) and usually a lot better working conditions. So it's not like we're stuck. As a result only the die-hards tend to hang around for long in the harsher enviroments. That being said there's a screening process already during school that beats a lot of the "making games is like one big party" out of people(ea_spouse really should be required reading), so the truly disillusioned seldom ever get out into the industry.

The thing is, you can say the same about any industry. I'm sure the marketing industry isn't entirely as sweet compared to the video games industry (though I don't know marketing, so I could be talking bullshit).

To be perfectly frank, though, if you think that video games is all just "fun and games" (har har) then you deserve a wakeup call like this. Developing video games is just like any other industry, it takes hard work, determination, and passion to really pull through with it. Like you said, only a few dellusional people really think that it's just all play and no work, but they are the few.

For the "sane" people, we know that the industry is tough. We know that it's hardwork and we know that it's not always going to have a pretty light at the end of a tunnel. But really, what I got from this article was "It's PURE HELL for ANYONE who goes through with it, only the EXTREME of people live for that SMALL SATISFACTION and they are NEVER THE [email protected]#[email protected]"

Again, I'm not trying to downplay the article, just saying what I got from it. Overall it was a good read, but I just find it a bit too overly negative in tone.

EDIT: Oh, I almost forgot, this has also made me wonder this particular question;

Do video games have a set development cycle? Like you know how with movies there are certain stages, Pre-production, production, and Post-production, with certain things going on in each stage so it's (hopefully) organized. Do video games have a similar thing? Because I've read different developers takes on how to develop a game and most of them are actually pretty different.

This article is certainly interesting, and it's a good read for those who want to go into gaming development.

I don't like that it constantly contradicts itself. "Game development isn't fun, except when it is!". Then it /can/ be fun. I'd phrase it like, "Game development is tedious; if you enjoy the work you need to put into it, solving problems and working with others, then it can be enjoyable. There are even parts of it, albeit rare, that are genuinely fun".

What a great article! I can relate only in the film industry rather then the video game industry. It's not fun, but we can't do anything else! I need a day job until this other stuff that I can't stop doing makes some money on it's own!


Do video games have a set development cycle?

nope, but the sensible types would design the concept, prototype the gameplay/renderer/art, play test the hundreds of idea they came up with in concept and work out which ones not to dump, make an alpha with whatever assets and renderer is working. playtest the alpha's remaining gameplay ideas and preliminary level designs. keep re-iterating that until it's "fun" (a moving target if your constantly redoing something) once you gave all the features you plan to keep and the art has further caught up move into beta's and polish the remnant feature set, finalise the art, tune the renderer. get QA's to test the game doesn't break. release a demo/open beta to catch any bugs using freebie QA testers. release the final product.

that's the "start with loads of idea's cull it down to what works" path, the opposite path would be a nightmare, "start with a few idea's and keep adding more til you find what works, then cut those back to what still works" i'm pretty sure games like alan wake, borderlands, anything valve makes and nukem forever went down that path and paid for it in dev time.

while some people are claiming most jobs are like that, hell if you actually do them, most of those jobs see an income. game studio's don't make alot of cash until the game launches. so if your game is taking 6 years to make stress is building up that this thing could bankrupt your employer. the more people involved over a longer period of time...the higher the minimum sales figure to keep your job. if your an indie it's a case of bankrupting you.

i am only a hobbyist 3d artist but the personal cost to learn the tools i'll need to join the games industry as an artist is high. all my free time, thousands of dollars in software, even my monitor is about 2000 usd. it's not helped by autodesks pricing system

You're wrong.

Well, you're right, but departing from a strange point of view. Are there really people who think that making games is just sitting around popping headshots and drinking beer? If so, I am certain that those people have never seen a computer code. Not even html. Anyone who's tried writing those knows that computers are fickle and strange creatures, and anyone who didn't probably thinks they could make a great porn star as well.

Part of it is probably the industry. No way the reliance on dreary crunch times is inherent to gaming, it's something big companies have invented to release games in time for Christmas, for example. And like any creative field, you can truly enjoy the act of creation even if it's objectively work.

Regarding that, I think gamers should be encouraged to create games. You can't wander into a library without bumping into a wannabe novelist, you can barely walk out of a record store without being given a flyer for someone's garage band[1], and just being in the same college building as any movie-related course is taught will land you in someone's experimental movie (yeah!) but few gamers have a desire for creating a thing of their own. Creating a game is for one person as easy as shooting a movie (that is, not at all, but not impossible if you skirt around your weaknesses). I plan to try my hand at creating a roguelike as soon as I figure out what language to use and emerge from that hideous failure considering myself even more superior to others.

[1] And can't walk into one without traveling back to the 90's, I reckon.

I think this quote really fits in with what's been said, which I have taken the liberty of digging up from my blog-like apparatus:

"The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: a human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive. To him, a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death. Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create - so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating." ~Pearl S. Buck

This is how I feel as a (highly amateur) novelist, this is how I feel as a (pathetic) composer, and this is how I feel as a (wannabe) game designer. This sort of article reminds me how much I want to do all three. (Someday, I may have to pick one. But hopefully it won't come to that.) There's an almost inexpressable joy when it all comes together to make something great.

"Being creative on a deadline can be hell."

Truer words have never been spoken involving such topics.

I've heard this argument before, but mostly in reference to writing. Definitely all true, though.

Usually goes something kind of like this:

Really, this is hard. It'll take years of hard, hard work, and even if you manage to get it published, everyone else will probably think it sucks. So you do the only thing you can do-- try again, because you can't help it, you'll write on a napkin or something when you should be doing the thing that you actually get paid decent amounts for.

Oh, and I particularly liked the 1337 words bit. I wonder how many characters I have?

I LOVE making games. Yeah, it's really F***ing hard sometimes, but so enjoyable for me (as a hobby anyway, I haven't marketed any of mine)

If you're not having fun, you're doing it wrong.

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