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I was a (social) Game Developer for 5 years, Ask Me Anything!

bgadrian profile image Adrian B.G. Updated on ใƒป1 min read

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I recently "ended" my professional career as a Game developer (as in will no longer work for game studios). Being a full stack web developer I ended up doing Social games, On Facebook platform, web and mobile (Unity 3D), mostly card games.

I am also a Unity(3D) Certified Programmer, I develop games as a hobby, I have a passion for Game design, I was a Gamer (MMO addicted, clan leader) and I love any kind of game, I even designed a few small Board Games in my free time. I played with many related gadgets at work (as a dev): Sphero, Leap Motion, VR headsets.

Before being a game dev I worked 5 years in e-commerce and now as a Cloud Engineer.

TTL: I will try to answer all questions for ~2 days (1-2 Dec)

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Adrian B.G.

@bgadrian

Striving to become a master Go/Cloud developer; Father ๐Ÿ‘จโ€๐Ÿ‘งโ€๐Ÿ‘ฆ; ๐Ÿค–/((Full Stack Web|Unity3D) + Developer)/g; Science supporter ๐Ÿ‘ฉโ€๐Ÿ”ฌ; https://coder.today

Discussion

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I made social games for a while as well. Free to play. The industry never talks about the whales.

99.99% of people wouldn't pay for our games.

A few payers were casual players and we made some money from them. But they weren't our bread and butter.

But we had a very very small amount of players that would spend thousands (with an s) of dollars every month.

They basically funded our whole company.

Was your experience similar? I'd love to hear about the monitizing of the games. And any stories about the whales if you had any.

Cheers!

 

Hello! Thanks for stopping by.

You are right, I only worked with freemium games (we tried other types of monetization but they did not work, the players are too used to this technique now days) and the Whales (and Dolphins) are the ones who keep the lights on. As it is a private matter under NDA I cannot talk specific stories.

For the readers who do not know, the gaming industry split the players in 4 major categories: non-payers, payers (regulars made at least 1 purchase), dolphins and whales. The exact amount and criteria to become one of these are different for each industry (eg: 25$ dolphin 100$ whale, or 250/1000 ).

You can compare the Whales with the VIP/corporate customers in a non-gaming industry (special features, premium support and so on).

I think that the most success story driven by dolphins and whales is StarCitizen, they raise over 200M USD neowin.net/news/star-citizen-fundi... , as a side not I am a big fan, contributor and made a fan site starcitizen.center

 

What are the biggest technical challenges you faced as a game dev? IOW, what are the hard parts of the implementation? Game dev is something that interests me as a gamer (with some game ideas I wish existed). But I haven't gotten into it as yet.

 

Hello! Thanks for stopping by.

What are the biggest technical challenges you faced as a game dev?

Unfortunately I only did social/web games so I didn't faced any hard-core challenges, like CIG is creating history. But in my limited expertise, as we did multiplayer games:

  • latency - it is important in a real time game, for these reasons we didn't used full fledged frameworks and we kept everything as simple and straightforward as possible. Of course the side effects were the opposite of Clean Code.
  • CCU - (concurrent online users) the industry is lead by events and we had days with large 500% spikes, again the resources consume and reducing costs were important.
  • Databases are the weakest (slowest) part, so every new query had to be triple considered and analyzed. All queries had to be backed up by a cache.

IOW, what are the hard parts of the implementation?

Nothing special, same as any other web app, but some were more special:

Monitoring and debugging , when we switched to New Relic we solved all of these issues and our products, technical decisions and optimization tasks improved by 10000%, I cannot say enough good words about these kind of platforms.

A/B Tests - we did so many tests that I wrote a bible for them coder.today/a-b-tests-developers-m... . Having at least 10 running tests has some nasty side effects:

  • the code has many conditionals, harder to predict, easy to make new bugs
  • harder to test - each test can affect others, or not
  • because of the latency, some queries we had to do them async
  • analytics - everything had to be triple measured, and coded, and tests. Each metric added more complexity to the code.

Being a highly competitive market lead us to deliver very fast (daily releases), as effect it multiplied the above issues.

Audience - when your customer base is spread around the globe, and have low-end devices, the technical challenges are greater, including having multiple active CDNs and a low-memory usage.

 
 

I've wanted to make games (and made a few crappy ones once upon a time), but I'm a very visual person and the biggest turn off is the unavailability of high-quality artwork or the very high prices thereof. I've almost given up on game creation unless I learn vector drawing myself and start creating my own art, which I don't see happening anytime soon. ๐Ÿ˜

 

Hello!

You can find good artwork, but as separate pieces, probably it will not make a strong well rounded experience.

I suggest looking for a graphic designer, I bet they are some in exactly your position. They drawed stuff but they do not know programming to make it work.

The biggest issue I found are the sounds, they are rare, expensive and harder to make.

 

Yes, well said. Sound will be even more problematic. :'(

 

I know it's a little after your two day window, but I had a few questions that I hope don't come off as offensive, I'm just interested. What are your thoughts on video game addiction (specifically as it relates to the whales and spending tons of money)? Or what about paid loot boxes in full price games, etc? I understand that freemium games need income, I have no real problem with that, and I know the price of producing games is crazy... But sometimes, to the consumer, things look shady/immoral. Thoughts?

 

Hey! Welcome to the party.

What are your thoughts on video game addiction (specifically as it relates to the whales and spending tons of money)?

It is a weakness. I think I was an addicted too (on more hard-core games), but I reached a stage where I keep it under control and avoid playing. I think is better than other drugs that are hurting them, and I think the sum of addictions is always the same, if they quit one game or all games they will find something else.

The downside is that I don't see the gaming industry supporting any kind of prevention and support for these rare cases. I never saw an alert "it's been 1h please take a break for your own health" (in social games) or donations to the rehab clinics. I think overall is a tabu topic.

Other problem is that core gamers do not even consider the Social players gamers, even if the whales play and spend more money than the hard-core WoW players. And because the play sessions are usually short (a few minutes) makes it harder to realize that you have an issue.

Or what about paid loot boxes in full price games, etc?

Like any other form of gambling ... pumps your adrenaline, they hide the real chances of winning, and is worst than in a casino because the items are virtual, is a lose-lose situation for the players. With the new regulations across the globe I think the situation got better, but I don't know much about these, my studios did not used this technique, is more popular in Asia.

Some countries decided that they are not gambling, I think is worse, but hey, I'm noone :D

pcgamer.com/uk-gambling-commission...
gamespot.com/articles/loot-boxes-a...
lawofthelevel.com/2018/04/articles...

But sometimes, to the consumer, things look shady/immoral.

Sometime they really are, and is the consumer right and moral obligation to report them to the authorities. This is how regulations appear, companies want to make more money and they step over some boundary.

 

Can u share your journey means what you motivate towards game development and you tackle and came over when you stuck at a point??? And also some tips for upcoming developer.

 

Hello! Thanks for stopping by.

Can u share your journey means what you motivate towards game development and you tackle and came over when you stuck at a point???

I started playing games on a computer before I learned addition, so was part of my life. My first encounter with a programming language (basic) was with HC cassette games. My first software was a PacMan game (as learning Pascal in 9th grade).

I joined the gaming industry while searching for a new job, the bigger studios here rejected me based on arbitrary reasons, but I found another gamer, that wanted to build a web game and was looking for a dev. I already had 5y experience in e-commerce stuff so I applied and got the job. After 2y the studio closed and joined another small studio, so nothing special. If you want to be a game dev just apply to jobs!

The motivation ... the gaming industry is tough but fun. You affect millions of people in an entertainment way, you have very smart and passionate coworkers and very cool offices.

I was stuck but did not realized for a few years. I thought that my main language was the best and can solve any problem, and the way we did things works so it must be the universal truth.

Getting my ostrich head out of the sand was the best thing that happened to me and my career and was achieved by watching youtube, meeting peers (meetup.com) and being part of communities like dev.to.

And also some tips for upcoming developer.

Keep reading dev.to and you will be fine!

Contact me on private if you need a personalized set of advices, I try to mentor upcoming devs (currently helping 3+ people coming from non-tech backgrounds).

 

When we see your game making career during creation a game from where you get the about to make new games ?? Is by survey like you see the review and then start thinking "yeah this could make my game more better and efficient" ?? Or by any other methods.

Is by survey like you see the review

If you want to make any software or SASS better you never listen to the reviews and surveys. You monitor everything (analytics) and take data-event-driven decisions. The actions of ALL your users are more important than what a hand of people says.

Humans do now take the time to send good reviews, in any industry, you will only see the bad ones and concentrate on the wrong things.

Reviews have many pitfalls, but the biggest one is that combining passion (which is irrational) with free stuff will get complaints from 1% of the user base that are highly irrelevant.

And for new games and ideas you will have to test, read about Lean Development!

 

So I have a million and one questions. As I am wanting to go the route of getting into game dev as a career. But I will keep it short. I first wanted to ask what made you want to leave the industry and move over to web? Secondly what tips do you have for getting your foot in the door as a game dev? And overall what was it like did you enjoy it or did you just eventually get burnt out? Also thanks for taking the time to answer questions!

 

So I have a million and one questions. As I am wanting to go the route of getting into game dev as a career.

Nice! I don't know if I should wish you GoodLuck, as a dev who is getting out, I would say "be careful what you wish for" :D

I first wanted to ask what made you want to leave the industry and move over to web?

I was already on the web, before and after but I made a big switch: I moved exclusively to back-end, highly distributed huge systems, on a new language and new technologies. Some of the reasons I stated them in other comment dev.to/gmartigny/comment/791n

TLTR: I wanted more tech challenges and a new-age career

Secondly what tips do you have for getting your foot in the door as a game dev?

Read the top 2-3 Game design books to get familiar with the business side, learn optimization tricks in your technologies and just apply like any other positions.
I see you are into C++ and 3D, learn Unreal Engine and play with CryEngine.

And overall what was it like did you enjoy it or did you just eventually get burnt out?

I had a blast! I learned a lot and met wonderful smart passionate people. I learned how to build big things, fast and good, deliver a good user experience and think at all the effects each line of code has, from business to users and tech debt.

I just "grew" up, changed my age prefix, made 2 kids and my priorities changed.

I never burnout, see this topic for more info

Wow nicely written. I can guarantee that these advice work because I am applying them for years, but never realized that I can summarize and share them.

  • Time - I have the luxury to choose only jobs with low commute duration, and I apply many Team-management skills to my personal life. The family is a team and can be managed. My colleagues that are living in Rent apartments are always moving near the offices (we moved the office twice). I did 45 min commutes and at my new job I cut it down to 5.

  • Exercise - I did some A/B testing and a few hours a week are great for me.

  • Focus - It is all about priorities. Many years ago I realized that I cannot have more then 3 main focus areas at a time, in my life. The first two are family, and as a side effect providing money. The third and secondary targets are switched each year: learning, a hobby or other extra stuff.

The downside is that I had to let go to many other things, so I do better at the main activities.

  • Brick by brick - I use all the free time I have, but the long projects (that takes more than 4-5 hours) are sometimes finished in a span of weeks. You can accomplish many things if you persevere.

  • Social activities are a priority for the peers I always keep hearing "I do not have time ...". They do not realize this of course. I cut off from my life many "mandatory events and gatherings", that did not bring awesome in my life. I was wasting time just because of social pressure.

  • Marathon. I often speak to people that want to become developers, and I am portraying this "IT" industry as a long and hard core marathon. You have to think on the long run. It takes at least a year to get your first job, and many more to build great stuff.

  • Monitoring - I keep a close eye on everything that is a time Sink. When I realized I was checking social networks every 10 minutes I removed them from my phone and some from my life. I keep away from games (being almost an addict).

I know that it sounds lame and "robotic" but if you think about it, if you measure and improve the mandatory activities you spend time, you will have more time to do fun stuff.

Context: I am doing side projects for at least 7 years, I learn a lot, I have a family, I never had a burnout.

I do not wake up early, I work full time at an office, I always work at projects I like and for free. I take entire days and holidays time off with no computer and apps.

 

What made you want to stop? If tired of your current studio, why don't you want to find a new one?

 

Hello!

These are some hard questions, and I want to remind that the reasons are a mix of :

  • my own vision of the life
  • my own history and experience
  • the current events on my family timeline
  • basically very subjective personal opinion
  • I was a DEVELOPER, other departments have very different experiences

The gaming industry is very tough, the effects are that you work a lot (more than a SASS corporate) and earn less. It is comparable with the marketing digital agencies, except I didn't do extra time.

After my 2nd mini avatar was created (we have 2 kids now), my priorities changed. I needed a more stable environment and I had a lot more bills to pay.

The gaming industry in Bucharest is pretty small, I know the other studios and I consider I already was in the coolest one. If I wanted something better I would have to move abroad or work remote (which takes all the fun of working in a gaming studio). Also the social game industry peak was a few years ago, the glory days are pretty over.

I will continue to make games as a hobby, but for now, seeing how commercial games are done pretty much destroyed the fun out of gaming for me. I can look at a game and analyze each element (UI or logical) on why it exists, and most likely because they want to make more money.

Others said to start my own studio, but I know how hard it is and how much money the marketing cost, so there is no way in hell to go on that road.

 

Ah and I forgot to add, the change and decision was done in a long period, basically I had a 2 year parental leave, during which I choose a different career path (I learned a ton of stuff, met new people, I will write more on this next month on my blog).

When the leave ended I didn't want to return to my old position. From my view, I pretty much solved all the tech challenges there and I wanted new ones.