So You Want to Make Games: Motivation and Goals

Image by Flickr user: jeroen_bennink (cc)

Creating something – no matter what it may be – is a noble endeavor. It takes no small amount of passion, dedication and perseverance to see a project to completion, and games are no exception. I’ve been at the process of making my own games for a while now, and I can truly say that it has been some of the most rewarding work of my life. But it hasn’t come without its fair share of missteps and trials, and I’ve learned an enormous amount along the way. This is what I hope to share with you through this column.

I can’t teach you to make the next Minecraft. I can’t tell you the secret to making a game sell. I can’t guide you to a job in the AAA games industry(because I’ve never had one). But what I can do is share my thoughts and experience with the hope of helping you – even a little – with the process of designing and making your own games.

So where does it all begin? Well, for each of us, that is extremely personal. It begins with what motivates you as a person, and what your goals are from this creative process. I encourage everyone to have a good, long pondering of those questions before you even touch a computer, because these will be constants that you carry with you throughout your journey.

“What are your goals?” is the far more tangible of the two questions. It can be quantified, measured and very easily described. Where do you see yourself in five, ten or fifteen years with your game development? What do you, personally, want to get out of this experience?

The nice thing is, there is no wrong answer to this question. Do you want to make it as an indie developer? Great! There have never been more opportunities in the world of indie development. Is game design more of a hobby for you? Not a problem! Designing your own games can be a wonderfully rewarding way to spend your free time, and the game development community is remarkably supportive. Maybe you’re looking to build your portfolio to make a run for a AAA job? Also admirable, and definitely a goal you can achieve.

I believe it’s important to define it early. This is going to help guide you on your path, and will influence your decisions from here on out. Think hard about what you want to achieve, and where you want to go with this. Me? I’d like to make it as an indie developer. Nothing would make me happier than being able to wake up in the morning and work on my own games.

The topic of motivation can be a much trickier and more ambiguous beast to tackle. Having a goal is wonderful, but the factor that keeps you pursuing your goal is what will determine your success. Your motivation depends highly on what your goal is, and it’s something you need to consider before you take your first tentative steps into game development.

“Love of Creating” is probably the motivation I hear echoed most often, and it is the most universally true. I don’t think I’ve met a person who creates games – either professionally or as a hobby – who doesn’t simply love the act of crafting their game. If you don’t love creating games, I have to ask you, why do you want to do it in the first place? Notch created Minecraft because he loved making games, not because he was after a ludicrous amount of money.

Loving the craft is essential, and if game design is a hobby for you, it’s going to be more than enough to carry you through and keep you motivated. However, if you want more out of your game development path, it may not be enough. If you’re looking to make a career out of it, then loving the creative process isn’t going to carry you through the hard times. It’s not going to make bad review scores and lack of sales any more palatable. It’s not going to keep you going if the path seems hopeless. Sometimes there just needs to be a little bit more.

For me, it comes down to identity. The notion of becoming an independent developer, to have that as part of my identity, is extremely alluring to me. I want that, and it’s what I strive for every day. I want to be one of those guys, and I don’t care how long it takes. This can be a very powerful motivator, since it can’t be taken away from me. No amount of disappointment or lack of success will change that goal. It’s this internal form of motivation that you need to find, first and foremost.

Money always becomes a bit of a touchy subject when we talk about motivation and indies. We still have this vision of an indie developer as this kind of bohemian painter – someone in it for the love of their work, who isn’t interested in monetizing and “selling out”. In my opinion, this is an admirable and romantic notion, and wildly unrealistic.

I think it’s perfectly natural to want to make money from your games. Who wouldn’t want to make money doing what they love? But I think the key is keeping your dreams reasonable. Most aspiring indies that I talk to – the ones I most believe are going to make it – are the ones who keep their ideas realistic. The goal is not to become a millionaire, but to support their work through their craft. If I could make enough money that I can wake up every morning and do the work I’m passionate about, I would be over the moon.

The trouble comes when you see kind of money like Minecraft or Super Meat Boy generate and you say “Yeah, I want THAT”. This is a dangerous road. Those kind of hits are like finding a needle in a haystack while the haystack is also on fire. If this kind of money is your goal, I strongly suggest you re-evaluate your path. The are far easier, far less risky ways to make money than game development. But if you keep your goals reasonable, money is certainly achievable.

When it comes right down to it, I can’t tell you what your motivation needs to be. It’s something that you need to find within yourself, find what will keep the hope and the passion for your work burning. If you think about what your goals and your motivations are early, you will find the work more enjoyable, less stressful, and altogether more rewarding.

So if you’re just starting down your game development path, take a hard look at the following questions: where do you want to with this, and what is going to motivate you to get there?

To see more from Rob, check out his blog at Zero to Indie. There you’ll find more of his insight into the development process as well as other musings about games and their design!