Break Into the Games Industry: Top Tips

Break Into the Games Industry: Top Tips

Playing a video game is easy and fun. Breaking into the industry and setting up a studio in order to develop a game–well, that’s a bit trickier. Even industries dedicated to the most lighthearted pursuits can be deadly serious and cut-throat at times, and needless to say, there is a dark side to Mario.

That doesn’t mean you should abandon your dream of game development. Far from it. You should, however, square your shoulders, put on your Kevlar vest, and prepare for a fight.

Here are five basic tips that will help you get your start in the games industry. For a more complete list of tips and must-dos, you can check out Get Rich Playing Games or this article on CNN, both written by Game Theory’s own Scott Steinberg, and available as free online.

Gather Up All Your Passion — If you regard video game development as a quick, easy way to make a few bucks, you may as well abandon the idea of starting up your own studio. That’s not to say it’s impossible to enter the games industry entirely from the business side of the pastime, but at some point down the road, you’re going to wind up giving orders to some resentful employees who secretly believe you have no idea what it takes to make a fun game. While it’s true that former Nintendo President Hiroshi Yamauchi brought Nintendo to the top of its game without ever playing a game himself, he was also a fantastic businessman and had the good sense to give lots of slack to visionaries like Shigeru Miyamoto.

If you’re going to throw yourself into the games industry, act on a dream. Think about how you dreamed about making games from the first day you picked up a controller, and (if you were a youngster when it first happened) remember all the old game levels you designed on graph paper with a pencil. Even if you don’t have time to play games anymore, you should have passion for the pastime and some interest in how the industry works.

Foster Ideas Around Good Timing — You should be aware of ongoing trends in the games industry. With any luck, you’ll develop the necessary intuition to pick out lasting ideas from flashes-in-the-pan. Who was first in line when the first-person shooter genre took off? Or the role-playing genre? Or social games, or rhythm games?

“[K]nowing when it pays to be first (or second, if it means letting an adversary get there first and thereby experience initial headaches or growing pains for you) to market is also crucial,” writes Steinberg in Get Rich Playing Games. “As is, for that matter, realizing when it’s best to hold a game back, or postpone production until the social climate or political atmosphere best supports your new virtual venture.”

Similarly, you ought to know when to drop an idea if the “fad” falls out of favor. First-person shooters and role-playing games are still hanging around, but now’s not a good time to develop an instrument-based rhythm game.

Grow a Thick Skin — Sounds like the easiest thing to do, but it’s actually the hardest. Between negotiations with publishers, employee drama, and critics and consumers alike telling you that the game you put months of your life into “sucks hard”…well, you’re going to see some bad days. You’re also going to dread looking at critiques and reviews, but once you get over that initial sinking feeling, you’ll learn how to pick out helpful criticisms from the general insults.

Get Ready To Work Hard. No, Harder — Game development is not a nine-to-five job. You’ll be up at all hours, Monday through Sunday, sweating over art, music, and lines of code. And that’s before crunch time, when the fun really starts.

“Focus your energies on the most important tasks (those that deliver the fastest payout, the most headlines and the biggest long-term gains),” writes Steinberg, “and do them till it hurts.”

Never Give Up. Trust Your Instincts — Intuition, passion, hard work, and a rhino-hide will help you get where you want to be in the games industry, but none of it is an absolute talisman against bad days, mistakes, or even complete failure. As cheesy as it sounds, even from the mouth of a rapping cartoon dog named PaRappa, sometimes you gotta believe–because that’s what will carry you when life has seemingly dumped you by the curbside.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

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