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If You Ever Wanted to Become a Game Developer, Now's the Time!

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Are you creating code or art for someone else, while dreaming of putting that effort into games of your own? James A. Henley, co-author of Learning 2D Game Development with Unity: A Hands-On Guide to Game Creation, knows what it takes to jump from dreaming to doing. Whether you're a hobbyist or you want to make a serious career change, he shows why there may never be a better time than now for you to take the leap.
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Somewhere in the back of your brain, an idea begins to form, shapeless at first, but slowly coalescing into the seed of a fantastic game idea. It could be the next Risk of Rain, Crypt of the NecroDancer, or maybe even the next Minecraft! If only you were a game developer, you could bring it to life—but you’re not, and you don’t know how you would become one. You lament this fact, before extinguishing your genius and returning to your daily routine.

Getting into the game development industry has traditionally been challenging. Entry-level jobs are scarce, qualifications are high, and physical relocation is almost a guaranteed requirement for employment. Even if you succeeded in getting in, you probably would end up bringing somebody else’s game to life rather than your own, one of many pairs of hands toiling in the name of another developer’s vision.

But now, to quote a famous song, “The times, they are a-changing.” Where once was a wall of impossibility, prospective game developers now face a sea of potential, thanks to the growth of the high-momentum independent game movement.

The Changing Environment: When Old Becomes New Again

The landscape of game development has shifted radically over the past decade, resulting in a degree of accessibility that hasn’t been seen since the early days of the “basement developer,” when a single programmer was able to churn out a game using the most rudimentary of tools. As time has passed, the visual, audio, and coding requirements to develop an acceptable game have steadily risen, resulting in a need for larger development teams and more specialized skill sets.

Large software studios tend to develop ambitious titles with high production values, often analogous to the “summer blockbuster” movie. Frequently driven by publisher needs and focus, these games can wind up rooted in very familiar content and stagnant approaches from one series/iteration to the next, rarely straying from an all-too-familiar script.

Conversely, independent studios operate on minimal budgets, with small teams, and are rarely bound by publisher directives. This freedom has often allowed indie games to pursue subject matter that would cause traditional publishers to balk (for example, This War of Mine), or uncommon themes (such as Gone Home) and gameplay approaches (as in Minecraft) that have no direct analog in the existing market space.

You may wonder how these changing circumstances have made development any more accessible. Games are still huge undertakings, regardless of whether or not they follow common themes, right?

As it happens, the lower development budget of indie games has had the interesting side-effect of sparking a sort of 2D artwork renaissance, with many games not only shirking the 3D aesthetic, but intentionally mimicking visual styles from much older gaming eras.

This “return to roots” has also triggered a resurgence of older, relatively simpler genres such as the side-scrolling platformer and 2D brawler. When we step back from 3D development, the overall requirements to develop a title are dramatically reduced, allowing the creation of fully realized games at a fraction of the cost and manpower needed for 3D versions.

By combining these classic styles with modern design philosophies, independent game developers have carved out their own unique market space that continues to grow and flourish. This market space is well suited to independent game developers who want to pursue their own ideas, express their individual creativity, and learn the craft of game development, whether as a hobby or as a serious pursuit.

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