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November, 2005

Actually, this article isn't about how to succeed in only the games biz. It's about how to succeed in any biz.

If you were thinking, "the games biz is totally different from other industries because it's special and creative and wonderful and fun," guess what. You were thinking wrong. But rather than dwell on that, let's just get into it. Here is how to succeed in the games biz.

(Note: if some of these sound totally obvious to you, that's great! Just skip that part and move on. The obvious parts weren't meant for you.)

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Peer pressure is not your friend. It is a potential enemy. Your budz want you to slough off your work (whatever kind of work it is, and whatever source your work comes from), and go hang out with them to do some mindless pleasurable activity. It's fine to hang out with your budz engaging in some mindless pleasurable activity once in a while, but a steady diet of mindless anything is bad for you. You have a purpose in life, and you can not just hang out with your budz twenty-four/seven. They aren't evil - they're probably mostly nice guyz - but you have your own life, and it's not your job to live it for their benefit. Success is not a popularity contest.


It's hard to acknowledge the hard realities and consequences of life. I met a kid once who'd come to Los Angeles to strike it big. I think I was trying out to get on a TV game show or something. Anyway, this kid may have gotten a lot of support back home (wherever that was), everybody telling him he was funny and talented. Or maybe he was just delusional. He was constantly saying one-liners that came outta nowhere, saying something outta the blue like "It's a rilly rilly big shew. Hey, I sound just like Ed Sullivan, don't I? Smoke'em if ya got'em, Pilgrim. John Wayne. Pretty good, huh?" He was like a stand-up comic wannabe who was totally clueless how clueless he sounded. It's really easy to fool yourself into thinking you're smarter, funnier, or better-looking than you really are. Some of us prefer illusion to despair - but those aren't our only two options.

It's attractive to imagine that our actions will all turn out okay. But that isn't the way reality works, and if you think to yourself one day, "it won't kill me if I skip studying for this final exam," well, you should think again. Because if you're in school, you need to...


Maybe nobody will check your grades later in life. If they never do, I don't care. If you're one of those guys who thinks he can get through life by skating, then guess what - you're one of those guys who won't succeed in the games biz. Trying matters. Doing your best will do wonders for you - wonders that you can't imagine. Your budz might make fun of the nerdy guys who get good grades. But that's because they want the easy way through life. The easy path does not lead to a job in the games biz.


You want to get into the games biz, right? Then this one should be easy. Just don't forget that what you want in your life is a job making great games. Stuff that sends you far off that goal is stuff you should avoid.

The good news is that there isn't much that's far off that goal.

Love music, want to get better at playing an instrument? No problem. Games got music.

Love movies, want to see all the latest movies the day they're shown in the theaters? Great! Pop culture is intricately woven into the games biz.

Really into sports, either watching them or participating in them? Go for it! Sports is an important genre in games.

Everybody has hobbies and side interests, and that's fine. Your passions are not detrimental to focusing on your goal - just the opposite. So what's not on the goal-included list? Drugs, crime, addictions of any kind. Stuff that hurts someone else in any way. Lazy habits are also not inducive to achieving goals. This is just common sense.


Maybe your budz make fun of guys who show respect for elders, who say "please" and "thank you." Depending on what kind of jerks you regard as your budz, that is. Let's play a little thought experiment for a moment. Let's imagine that at some point in the future you have a world-altering concept for a revolutionary new type of game. All you need is a business loan or venture capital to fund it. So you go into a bank or a VC's office and you give'em attitude. Think that's gonna get you the money you need? Get real.

The money people are always on the lookout for profitable ventures, but if you come in sneering at them and thumbing your nose at their receding hairlines and/or potbellies, they're not likely to share the wealth with you. Can you for just a moment put yourself in their shoes, and see how they might regard an ill-mannered punk as a bad monetary risk?


You will encounter people you don't get along with. Most likely you already have. But if you can recognize that these people do have positive qualities, and manage to establish some level of mutual respect with them, then if you ever run into those folks again later in life, you'll be in a better position for success.

Even if you never run into those exact same people again, the chances are good that you'll run into someone with similar traits.


Professionalism is doing the job at hand, even if you find it distasteful. Your parents tried to drill that into you by making you wash the dishes, vacuum the house, take the garbage out, wash the car... We all have jobs to do that we don't want to do. But we have to do them.

In the games biz, we often have to work on games that aren't our favorite genre, or that we think aren't up to our standards... That's exactly the same thing. Take the trash out before Garbage Day, every week. Fold the laundry, and do it well. Cut the grass cheerfully and without missing any spots. Because it's your job. And your job is worth doing well, no matter what your job is. That's how you earn respect.


You are not above scrubbing the toilet. Nobody is. You are not omniscient. You can't be everywhere at one time. You aren't all-knowing. There are lots of things you don't know. You don't have superpowers -- you cannot do everything all by yourself. You have limitations -- and other people can do stuff that you can't.

You need other people. To make something as complex as a video game, a team of talented people is needed.


You can't expect a team to just form and do your bidding just because you want them to. Life is about give and take. You can't expect everybody to just give, give, give. You have to give, too. And the word "give" has a dual meaning here. You have to give generously of your support, attention, time, and work. And you have to give "in" as well, when others don't accept your ideas or desires.

You have to give in on little things (like where lunch is ordered from, or what color is used for the team T-shirt)... and you'll also have to give in on big things (like which genre the team game will be, like how the user interface will work). It's fine to fight for your views, but be smart about which hill you choose to die on.

Being part of a team means going along with the team.


It's easy to get discouraged by your efforts to break into the industry, to become cynical when you discover how hard it is to get your own projects green-lighted. Some of the Adult Swim anime on the Cartoon Network, like Ghost In The Shell and Samurai Champloo, and some video games, like Resident Evil and Silent Hill, are very cool but also very dark. Be entertained by them but don't let them depress you. #2 above says "don't be all rose-colored glasses," and #10 says "don't go the opposite way either." Don't be an unrealistic dreamer, but also don't be negative, cynical, depressed. Find the middle ground - therein lies your best hope for happiness and success.


I think I already covered this in other discussions above, but it deserves having its own listing. It should be obvious that people who seek the lazy way aren't going to succeed in any business.


A lot of "artiste" types think the world owes them a soapbox from which they can show everybody the brilliance of their artistic vision. Well, the game industry is a business, where risks have to be managed, and everybody is a cog in a machine. Be a team player, and be a positive influence on those around you. Yes, it's a business, but it's a business that makes cool games. Once in a while a game you worked on has flaws, but guess what - you'll forget about those after you've released a few more games. Work on enough games and eventually you may get that soapbox. Gotta pay your dues if you wanna sing the blues.


Your résumé absolutely must be truthful, without distortions or exaggerations. You must never lie to a prospective employer, to your boss, or to a client.

This general rule does not mean that "white lies" are unforgivable, nor that you always have to say everything that comes into your mind. There is an imaginary faucet handle in our heads, that serves as a valve that either lets thoughts come out our mouths aloud or stay silent in our heads. Know where this faucet handle is, and be good at using it.


And when I say moderation in all things, I mean it. Absolutely everything you do must be done in moderation. You must moderate the heck out of everything you do!

Those last three sentences were a joke. I took the concept "moderation in all things" and stretched it into a hard and fast rule, out of all moderation. You have to moderate the concept "moderation in all things" - like, you know, "moderation in a moderate percentage of things." Or maybe that, too, takes the concept too far. The point is, know where to draw the line between too much and too little of anything. That line probably varies depending on what the thing is, whether you're at work or on your own time, etc.


Nobody cares if you want to wear blue jeans with holes in the knees and T-shirts every day - but for gosh sakes, they have to be laundered every once in a while. You can't go around stinking up the joint. Bathe, brush your teeth, and remove the squirrels from your hair once in a while. I'm not sayin' you have to be a model for soap commercials and Men's Wearhouse.


If you're a programmer, do it well (write solid reliable well-commented code). If you're an artist, do it artistically. If you're a game tester, write good bug reports, don't rewrite bugs reported by others, don't write frivolous bugs... Are you getting the idea? You need to sparkle at whatever it is that you do.


If what you do is chip fossils out of solid rock, that's fine for museum work or for paleontological research - but it won't get you hired at a video game company. So it doesn't matter how well you do it, if what you want to do is work in games. You have to have a game biz marketable skill -- like programming or graphics or writing or project management or marketing... Point made? (You were probably expecting this to be item #1, not item #17, and you were probably hoping I could give you a one-size-fits-all skill to learn. Well, Hah!)


I remember once when I was a kid, my mom made me wash the dishes together with my sisters. I remember that chore lasting all... evening... long. There were other times we washed dishes too, of course, but that one time sticks out in my memory. And one time as a young adult I was doing odd jobs for my landlord - he had me painting some stairs. I was bored with it, and was going about it like I was bored. My attitude was, "I hate this job, but I get paid by the hour anyway, so what the heck." My mind was on other things - things I wished I was doing instead. The landlord saw what I was doing, and said something to me that changed my attitude... and my life. He told me, "I understand it's boring work, and you're getting paid by the hour and all that. But really, if you look at it differently, as a job to be done well and efficiently, the time will pass quicker and you can take pride in having done a good job."

I was a little chastened by the fact that he'd seen through my attitude, and that he wasn't angry. The nice way he said it impressed me, so I tried his advice. And he was so right. I applied myself to the job at hand rather than wishing I was doing something else. I made sure to get paint thoroughly on every inch of each step. Soon I was looking for more paint so the job could be finished, then before I knew it the job was done. And yes, as I looked at what I'd done I saw that it was a good job. He gave me another job to do and before I knew it the day was over. Not only had I truly earned my pay, but the work passed quickly, exactly as he'd said.

When you work efficiently and well, everybody wins. Not only does your employer or client or boss get a good end result out of you, but you can take pride in having done a good job. You gain experience you can point to later, and you build karma.

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There's probably a lot more I can say about this topic. Wiser people than I have probably already said it - see article 47, the "Wise Sayings" FAQ. And if you've got a suggestion for pointers I can add to this article, email it to me at to - we'll talk about it on the Sloperama Game Design bulletin board.

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© 2005 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved. May not be re-published without written permission of the author.