Over the years I have found my career in the gaming industry a strange mix. On the one hand I’ve without a doubt devoted myself to my career having started back in 1997 as a lowly phone rep at Activision and clawing my way to design in 2000. From then to today I’ve worked on many AAA titles and have the respect of many of my peers. But on the other hand I’ve found a kind of emptiness in that I’ve only worked on what feels like other people’s ideas. Certainly I’ve had creative input to the content of Wolfenstein, Quake, Farcry, titles but none of them are what I would call “my game.” They weren’t my concept.
Do I have my own idea? Wow! Certainly! I’ve been documenting my design ideas since the early days and have many fresh takes and completely new concepts. Back in 2000 I and a small group of people from what was Gray Matter studios pitched one of my ideas to Activision. They loved the idea but we were really “green” and they wanted us to get a few more titles under our belt before they would be willing to fund us as an indie company. So we all drifted into our separate careers in Ubisoft, Infinity Ward, Treyarch, and others.
With the accessibility of game engines like Unity, Unreal, and others why haven’t I jumped in and started doing my own thing? Well that is a question that haunts me daily. First of all it’s often hard to work on games all day and then come home and work on games all night. I know it’s a very popular assumption that working on games isn’t work but it really is. Like the saying goes, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Also it’s one thing to work in a particular role and something very different to assume all roles. The stack of work gets rather high when you realize you have to do it all yourself. I can certainly handle the game design and level design. I have an art degree so I could fill the role of art and modeling. I have done scripting so I could handle some light code. But I am certainly NOT a programmer. Numbers and I have not been friends in the past and I’m not thrilled with the idea that I need to learn serious programming. My experience has been that if what you want to do is not something you’re engine can do then you’re on the right track. You’re not going to break new ground doing what everyone else is doing. But to bend the rules you need to program a way to do it. So in that lies the turmoil. The obvious solution is to get a programming partner but I am soooooo reluctant to involve someone else.
Another hurtle is that as a designer most studios don’t allow us to have side projects. You are in breach of your agreement if you are either designing for someone else or yourself while working for a studio. Luckily Ubisoft has an option. You can pitch your idea to them and if they are not interested they will sign a “Right of First Refusal” agreement that allows you to freely work on it. Of course there is a chance they would be interested which for me would be tragic. You could say I have trust issues and that would be pretty true. Like letting your child out into the world, really you can only hope for the best and I’m just not ready to do that yet.
So I should be able to sit back, proud of my career accomplishments thus far and the big AAA titles I’ve worked on. But I really envy the little indies that aren’t following the money making trends and are chasing their dreams. I might get there eventually fingers crossed.