Train2Game News: Games Industry Lessons – Guest Blog by Chris Ledger

Chris LedgerWow, I must say its been a busy year! A lot of events both good and bad have gone down.

However many lessons have been learned and you know what? I’m going to list off a few of these lessons, as I’ve had to find out the hard way!

1: Don’t aim too high

It may sound simple but it really isn’t. Even the most simplest of ideas can spiral into something a lot bigger.

As a start-up you want to aim small, create some stepping stones that can lead you onto bigger things. Even create some tech demo’s!!

If you create massive projects, you risk never finishing or having to cut them short (depending on your team structure, finances and time in general).

Whilst big projects are achievable, it usually means you’re developing one big title instead of several small ones. This isn’t to say that you should reskin everything, it’s being creative inside boundaries and restrictions. I swear it’s companies that reskin everything which crash the video games industry!!

I find that doing game jams are a great way to make a quick qwerky title that you can blast out in no time. Slap on some ad support and post it on any store you can!

2: Log your finances!

Always keep track of what goes in and out of your company financially. Know your profit, know your overheads because you can make a decent amount by selling a game and because you haven’t been logging your companies income and expenditure properly, you realise you’ve made a loss.

So my advice is that you log everything when it happens and don’t rely on bank statements and PayPal to record everything!

Always work out a cash flow forecast as well. It’s very important to show publishers, the government and other important people who could help you out.

3: Dont work for free!!!

Okay if it’s a self funded project then there are exceptions, however if a company wants to utilise your skill sets, make sure you whack a price tag on them.

When doing this, make sure you aren’t pricing yourself out of the market. You want to be affordable and reliable. Always draw up contracts of terms and conditions and ALWAYS GET A BRIEF.

Always stick to the brief and deliver, if clients want anything else they will have to draw up a new brief and pay extra. Don’t let people push you around.

If you work for free, people will take advantage of you and make you work to ridiculous extremes.

Not everyone is like that though, there are some genuinely fair people out there but they are far and few between when it comes to working for free.

So put a price tag on those skills and make sure you have a decent portfolio to back up your price tag!

4: You’re already in the games industry.

That’s right, as soon as you start making a game, you’re pretty much in the industry. So man people work on their own projects and say they want to be in the games industry, however what they don’t realise is that they already are.

Just because you’re not in a AAA studio and are coding in your bedroom does not make you any less professional and legitimate than someone with a £30,000+ a year salary at Square-Enix.

5: DOCUMENT EVERYTHING

This should of been number one as its my pet hate in this line of work.

No matter what role you have in a team DOCUMENT EVERYTHING. That’s right, I can’t stress that enough.

If you’re ill and can’t work and someone has to pick up the slack, they will need guidance. They will need to look at what you’ve done and what needs to be done.

As your projects grow you will need to log everything because your idea may not be communicated properly and your Elephant Gun weapon, for example, may end up being an Elephant with a gun as the player character.

Designers, make sure you have concepts, high concepts, pitches, game design docs, story bibles and level design docs as your raw minimum.

Coders, make sure you comment your code appropriately and professionally, comments really help others out especially if a designer needs to adjust a variable or two for some balancing.

Get a Technical design document sorted out so you have a clear blueprint of how your code works so that whoever picks up the slack during illness or your departure to can carry on. It also means that people with the clearance to alter bits of code can do so with ease.

Artists, remember that your first attempt probably won’t be your best and don’t expect to get it right first time. Always iterate and try different things. Create a concept diary and aid the designers and coders the best you can. Create character sheets, bestiary’s and make sure you log down the poly and vert count of a model and document what maps and textures models require in their own specific documents.

It sounds like a lot of work and it is. Not everything in the games industry is fun and glamorous. You’ll have your good and bad days like any other job. Trust me, I love my job, but there are some days I would rather just stay in bed instead of modifying the game design doc or using UDK.

6: Prepare to be let down

People will let you down no matter what, it’s in our nature. Staff will come and go so always be prepared to call in a replacement.

It’s not the end of the world, even though it is fairly gutting and stressful. I had 3 staff leave in the space of a week but in the end I found some replacements. As harsh as it sounds, everyone can be replaced.

People will also tear apart your ideas, especially clients. You will also find yourself tearing other people’s ideas apart in order to get something working and to make the project feasible, even as the boss my ideas are torn to shreds as well!

It’s tough out there but don’t give in. No one is doing it to personally spite you and if they are then they aren’t worth working for.

So keep it pro and be a bro about it. As a team you’re there to support each other and make great titles with whatever resources you have!

I hope this helps you guys and girls out. Obviously these aren’t set in stone rules, just my experiences that I thought I’d share with everyone and I hope they are of benefit to people.

Season Greetings,
Chris Ledger
 CEO/Lead Designer
Derp Studios