It’s been more than two years since the first time I got paid to develop video games, and almost two months since I started working in the industry full-time. Sometime between then and now, I appear to have semi-officially transitioned from “hobbyist” to “professional”: a career dream I’ve had ever since I was prepubescent. Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about what that entails, and how this niggling detail has affected my work now and will continue to affect it in the future.
Initially, I’d thought — and sort of worried, to be frank — that once I started getting paid to develop games, I’d stop wanting to do freeware projects anymore. That has since come to wind up being far from true. Instead, I’m learning to see my job and my personal work as complimentary. The things I learn at my job — techniques of the trade, words of wisdom from those who have been there — helps inspire my personal projects, and in the meantime, what comes out of my own stuff — the willingness to try new things without the pressure of making sure it sells well — improves my craft and therefore makes me more useful to people who pay people like me to do stuff for them.
One of my biggest worries was that as a professional, I would stop loving game development, instead seeing it as yet another way to pay the bills. I figured there must be a reason why the word “amateur”, originally stemming from the Latin word for “love”, is now juxtaposed as the opposite of “professional”. Admittedly, I probably haven’t been in the industry long enough to become cynical and jaded about what I do, but I find that I’m extremely fortunate in not only being able to develop personal games that I believe in deeply, but also to be able to work on a highly innovative upcoming commercial title that I also happen to believe in deeply. Up until about four months ago, I wasn’t so sure that the latter was even possible, so consider me very pleasantly surprised on that front.
So, what did change when I “went pro”, so to speak? In a nutshell, I’ve become more and more of a stickler for professionalism, not only on the job, but also while developing freeware projects. See, in the amateur adventure game development community, there’s a frequent “it’ll be done when it’s done” attitude to finishing projects,  many of which take years to finish, if they finish at all. It’s quite all right for many amateur developers, because for them it really is just a hobby, but I’ve found that I myself can’t accept this attitude anymore. I already know I’m capable of finishing games in only a few months, so I tend to get upset with myself if I find that I’m being less productive than I know I can be. 
Where this seems to cause the most problems is when I work on pro bono projects in teams. I’ve been ranting about the disadvantages of doing so for years, and this means I’m very selective about who I decide to work with, if anyone. That said, I’ve never yet finished a freeware project in which I didn’t do all the grunt work myself. Though I’m hoping this will change with a certain thing I’m working on, I get the feeling that I hold myself to much different standards from my teammates.  I’ve come to expect more structure and organization, and more clarity as to who’s supposed to be doing what. I often tend to feel like I care more about the project than anyone else. I’m sure this doesn’t denote a lack of passion on the other party’s fault, so much as to them, it’s just another fun thing to engage in, whereas to me, it’s what I do.
My pattern so far appears to be to start working on solo projects instead when the going gets slow. (Chivalry while waiting on the team game that eventually morphed into the solo Pigeons, DREAMING while waiting on Stage!, the fate of which remains unclear.) It’s strange, because this makes me sound like such a workaholic. Still, the fact that I genuinely love my work is consolation enough. From what I’ve gathered about the world in my few short years here, it’s rare that people can actually feel this way.
- Either that, or people publicize highly detailed time estimates, complete with percentage bars and everything, then fail to follow through with them. ↩
- This could, of course, have more to do with having a neurotic personality than it does with professionalism, but shh! ↩
- Well… teammate singular, in this particular case. ↩
Perhaps you just need to get better at choosing team-mates!
If I then look at myself, who have no intentions of becoming anything but a hobbyist, I have to admit that I am slow in my game making and am correctly placed in the “when it’s done” crowd. In large part due to lack of time, but I can also find myself procrastinating when I do have the time. (Interestingly enough, that doesn’t seem to happen as much when doing game music, which is somewhat related to my professional work.)
But I don’t see myself in your description of lack of care of projects. Regarding time, I obviously have to prioritise work and other commitments that *have* to get done higher than my hobby work. But I don’t think any procrastination is due to lack of care or interest. I think there’s a link to lack of skill, though.
I have however been surprised in lack of care of their games in some other game makers. I wouldn’t release a game with things still needing to get done, and I continue to care about the games after they’re released. If someone told me about a bug in Rocket Duel, a game last updated five years ago (unless you count the Mac port I did last summer), I’d look into it. Ok, that may be a bit extreme behaviour on my part, but I care about my creation and want it to be as good as I can make it.
(This turned out to be a lengthy reply, didn’t it. I was just going to say, well, “interesting”. Then my fingers continued typing.)
Rikard, I didn’t mean to imply that hobbyists actually lacked care. I said that I often felt like that was the case. This means that it’s very likely that it’s not true.
That said, when we were working together, I lacked a lot of the experience I have now, so don’t take what I’m saying here as specific to that. I’d like to think that right now, I’d know better than to take on an unfamiliar 3D engine when I’ve also got paying gigs to deal with.
What is “Stage!”?
You’ll find out.
Ah yes, I’ve found that old post about Stage. What graphic style are you using?
Heya, thanks for the comment madame Kiai. I’ve actually been taking a look at a couple of the other games and I’m pleasingly impressed with some of the stuff in there. Might end up writing more on your work, if the gods have nothing against it (though it might take me a few weeks).
Keep up the good work.