What the Tech?!

John Hall

John Hall

Software Engineer/Game Developer at Whatever's Right Studios

Interviewer: Lucas Wong

Q. In your opinion, what are the most important qualities for a successful independent game developer?

I would say the three most important qualities needed to be a successful game developer are: Creativity, Time Management, and Discipline/Passion. Creativity is needed to create fun and new experiences. Advancements in hardware and software have opened the door to new possibilities in games and made game development more accessible than ever before, but ultimately, it’s up to your creativity to use those tools and come up with ideas.

Time management may sound opposed to creativity, but it’s become a huge part of my job and something I’ve had to work a lot on. As an independent developer I’m doing everything for my game: programming, art, writing, design, managing a small business, marketing. As a result, I’ve found time management and project management to be hugely important in continuing to make consistent progress on my game. 

Following that, discipline and passion are needed to keep yourself going. Unfortunately, in my experience, everything takes longer than you think it will and it can be very disheartening at times. Even for game developers who want to work at larger companies, it can take years to break into the industry and once you’re there, there’s a lot of long nights trying to meet deadlines. That’s where discipline and passion are both necessary.

Q. What is something you enjoy about being an independent game developer?

The two things I most enjoy about being a game developer are that every day is different and being able to create your own world for people to enjoy. As mentioned above with so many responsibilities, each day looks unique depending on what needs to get done. I like that variety– before this I worked in the software industry working nine to five and I found it got monotonous and often I ran out of work to do. I also find it liberating to be able to create my own project and game. I think being able to create art (which I consider video games to be) is a really beautiful thing. And I love that I’m able to do that with my game so that someday people can enjoy it and it will hopefully bring them happiness.

Q. What are some examples of day-to-day tasks one might do as a game developer?

Like I mentioned my days vary a lot, but some examples of some tasks would be programming the game (anything from graphics to gameplay to AI), creating 3D models or 2D art, balancing gameplay to try to make the game as fun as possible, working on writing the story for the game, and planning on marketing strategies.

 

Q. What is a common misconception of being an independent game developer, or even working in the video game industry in general?

I think the biggest misconception about being a game developer or just being in the games industry is that it’s all fun and games and that if you love video games you should get a job in the industry. No matter what part of development you’re involved in, it's a lot of work and it takes people a long time to develop their skills. As well I’d caution anybody who’s thinking about making their hobby their job to think it through. If video games are an escape for you or something that brings you happiness, then working in that industry could affect your enjoyment of your pastime.

 

Q. What's some of the biggest challenges of being a game developer/starting out as a game developer?

 

The biggest challenges I face as an independent game developer are mostly around strain and scope. It’s hard to maintain a good work-life balance when the only way progress is made on your game is by you working on it. The pandemic has exacerbated this, making it more difficult to have a separation between your work life and your personal life. Additionally, finances are a challenge for developers no matter the size of the company. Historically, development studios only made money once they released a finished game. This has changed a bit in the last decade but is still mostly true. So, maintaining the finances to be able to fund the development of your first game can be quite difficult. I teach programming classes part-time in the game development program at my local college to afford to develop my game.