A Day In The Life – Professional Game Developer

A Day In The Life – Professional Game Developer

Making games for a living is often seen as a dream job and, in my experience, it’s that and more! For the past 5+ years, I have been designing, developing, and distributing video games from the comfort of my home in Brisbane, Australia. I love my work and I’m acutely aware of how fortunate I am to be in such an enviable position. I know that I’m the one-in-a-million developer that had everything go right.

But not everything is as it seems. I don’t just get to make games 24/7 – so much work is required to maintain a business like mine. I want to share a day in the life of a professional game developer and offer some insights into the realities of making games for a living. Of course, there is more to my life than I could cover in a blog post, but I hope this offers a few up-and-coming developers some food for thought.

Let’s get straight into it, starting bright and early.

5:00 AM

I’m definitely a morning person, but while I regularly challenge myself to wake up this early, the reality is that I’m usually still asleep.

6:00 AM

That’s more like it – I’m awake! The sun is rising over the city, and I always take a moment to appreciate the amazing view from my high-rise apartment. I’m much more productive when I start my workday at 6:00 AM so this is a habit I try to maintain, even though I have the flexibility to wake up whenever I want. Maintaining a productive routine is important to me.

I usually make a strong coffee (or warm lemon water if I’m feeling masochistic) then head straight to my desk to check my email. With an online business like mine, it’s always possible that my server has crashed overnight or another critical issue requires my immediate attention, so I need to get in front of a screen as quickly as possible. This is one part of my routine that I despise…but it’s a necessity.

Assuming that everything is in order, I’ll begin answering my most important emails immediately. I try to respond to all client emails (especially new leads) within 12 hours so there is very little downtime for me. Business email makes up a huge portion of my workload, and while it can be tedious, I feel like I have my biggest “edge” when negotiating with clients and making sales. It’s one of my strengths.

7:00 AM

By now, I have answered my most important emails and can start thinking about how the rest of my day will look. This is when I ramp up my caffeine consumption significantly. A few years ago, I invested in a high-end coffee machine and it has been invaluable. The difference between instant coffee and real coffee, in terms of the productivity boost it gives you, is not to be underestimated.

I often take a nootropic supplement called L-Theanine which, when combined with caffeine, has “synergistic effects that promote alertness, attention, and task switching”.

Basically, it promotes alpha wave production in the brain and takes the edge off caffeine, resulting in extremely clear focus (for a while). That’s great to have early in the morning. If you’re not familiar with nootropics, this might sound bizarre or even dangerous! But it’s not. L-Theanine is simply an amino acid found primarily in black and green tea, which stacks well with caffeine when concentrated.

Next, I skim news sites, forums, and answer questions from my 20,000+ social media followers. I really enjoy engaging with my audience, and it helps me to connect with new customers, clients, and talented individuals. Forums and social media keep me up to date with new trends and developments, so this could even be considered market research.

8:00 AM

After about 2 hours of light work, it’s time for breakfast. I’ll usually have organic muesli, soy milk, fruit, and more coffee. I don’t like working when I eat, but I also don’t have space for a dining table in my apartment, so I often have breakfast at my desk while playing a few rounds of Hearthstone or browsing Reddit/YouTube.

I aim to maintain a mostly vegan diet, for both health and animal welfare reasons, although I’m not interested in the label and I don’t stress out when I make contradictory choices. My only goal is to be conscious of my purchasing decisions and reduce harm.

9:00 AM

Twice a week, I have an online meeting with my team at 9:00 AM. During this meeting I get updates regarding our active projects, I test the latest builds of new games, and I provide feedback and design direction as needed.

There are at least half a dozen active projects in the pipeline at any given time, so these meetings are crucial for ensuring that everyone is on the same page. My team does fantastic work and reduces my personal workload, which allows me to focus on the big picture and plan for the future.

If it’s a day without a team meeting, I usually try to find the motivation to exercise or go for a walk around the city. In the likely event that I can’t find that motivation, I’ll dedicate this time to organization and planning, and get ready for the day ahead.

10:00 AM

This is when the real work starts. I’m fully awake and in my best mental state. Most of my work from now until 1:00 PM involves designing, coding, and testing new games, doing maintenance on my existing portfolio of games, or packaging games for clients. I might also talk with clients/partners on Skype, or spend time learning new tools and advanced concepts.

1:00 PM

Time for a lunch break. I’ll usually have a salad wrap and fries while catching up on a TV series. Sometimes, I’ll finish my day here if I feel like I have been productive enough. This is roughly 7 hours of time spent at the computer, after all, even if not all of it was productive. I take plenty of small breaks and aim to keep my workday casual and stress-free. Usually, that is indeed the case.

2:00 PM

I like to wind down the latter half of my day with light work. Tasks like blogging, research, organisation and planning, and more tedious work is best done now. If I have any real-life errands to run, they can be a convenient distraction at this point in the day. I might have one last coffee or something stronger.

5:00 PM

I tend to finish work at 5:00 PM if it’s a normal day, having spent about 11 hours working. Whether I actually got any significant amount of work done depends on how distracted I let myself become. It’s so easy to spend all day at a computer and not truly be productive, and that’s something I had to train myself to avoid.

Sometimes I will work late (7:00 PM) or very late (9:00 PM) if I’m doing interesting work or trying to finish up a blog post (like today). A fifteen-hour workday is rare but not unusual to me.

6:00 PM

From this point onwards, I just want to relax and avoid work for the rest of the night.

I’ll have dinner, watch TV or a good movie, and maybe play some Xbox with friends. I’m not an especially outgoing person (although I love travelling) and I have zero interest in spending my nights clubbing or whatever people my age do. I’m much more interested in using my time/energy/money to expand my business.

I’m an individualistic person in every aspect of my life and, fortunately, by making games for a living I can allocate my most valuable resources exactly how I see fit.

10:00 PM

Due to a difference in timezones, it’s shockingly common that I’ll end up writing emails or talking with clients/partners on Skype late into the evening. Occasionally, if I’m bored, I’ll work late but I try to avoid that whenever possible. Then…it’s time to get 8 hours of sleep, and do it all again!

So, that is a day in the life of a game developer. I’m sure there was less of the “making games” part than you expected.

When running a business like this, there is so much work that goes on behind the scenes, and not all of that work is necessarily going to be creative or even directly related to your passion. Sometimes I have to answer a dozen emails before I can write a single line of code…this just comes with the territory.

My advice to aspiring developers: commit to the business of games if you want to make them your life’s work.

Thanks for reading!

Matthew

Making Money With HTML5 »

Comments(51)

  1. Mitchell

    Reply

    Wow Matthew! Thank you so much for the post! I always wondered what a typical day was like in your life, especially after running such a successful business for so many years! This is definitely more than just food for thought, but accurately describes how such a strong mentality combined with a productive workflow is key when running a successful business. Something I’ll definitely be favoring and keeping in mind for the future! Thanks again Matthew! This is really inspiring :D

    • Thanks Mitchell. I really enjoyed writing this post, and I hope that I can find the time to publish more content along these lines in the future. I appreciate your ongoing support!
      Matthew recently posted Tools & Programs I Use To Run My BusinessMy Profile

      • Mitchell

        Reply

        Always a pleasure Matthew and thank you for publishing such inspiring content! It would be great if you would be willing to publish more like this in the future, it’s extremely inspiring and really helps keep me motivated during projects development :) I look forward to the rest of your blog posts Matthew! Thank you.

  2. Michael Bateman

    Reply

    Really interesting Matthew, thanks for sharing. I think it highlights how you’re obviously a good business man who’s managed to successfully combine this with your hobbie – games!

    Being self employed it’s very important to keep a routine and not get distracted, sounds like you’ve got this down. And yes, like everyone else I’m sure – that’s one hell of a beautiful view to motivate you each morning :)

    • The view keeps me sane, I think :) Thanks for your comments!

  3. Kenneth

    Reply

    At the beginning how many games did you have before you started you own company? Right now I’m working but my dream is to jump to self employment.

  4. Tabea

    Reply

    Hey Matthew, awesome post! I’m currently a senior in high school and my dream is to be a self-employed game developer as well. I was planning to study at a game design specific university, however I’m worried about the importance of business skills that you mention; how did you learn to manage this? Did you study business, or did you focus on games and then gain business skills through experience? Thanks so much :)

    • Hi Tabea – good question. I couldn’t pinpoint any specific moment when I significantly improved my business skills, as I’m entirely self-taught and I didn’t study business (or even game design for that matter, but that’s another topic). It’s been more of a process of trial and error over the past 5 years…figuring out which strategies work, and which don’t. Certain traits have been crucial, such as intuition and empathy, and having an eye for detail helps.

  5. c kirby

    Reply

    Very interesting read, i too am a professional games developer who works full time freelancing.. Been doing it for the last 6 years with over 26 years in games development..

    My hours are a bit different to your because i work around my children..So my day works out as:

    7am – 7:45am catch up with emails.

    9:15am back from dropping off kids at school.

    9:-15am – 2pm Work , few skype calls plus a light at desk lunch.

    2-pm -2:40pm nap time, then goto pick up kids.

    7pm-11pm kids in bed, so work , i can talk to my american colleges during this time (in in UK).

    i work on console games, mobile games, vr dev online wbgl development & design.

    • Nice – it sounds like you work great hours and prioritise all the right things (including napping!)

  6. devMidgard

    Reply

    I’m glad you’ve got that sort of solid mentality with organization and working hours. Definitely shows why your business is successful.

    Beautiful views by the way, I’d love to have an apartment like that. But it’d be so expensive.. Barcelona rents are above the sky!

    • Thanks! The apartment is my single biggest expense but the view makes me happy, and that keeps me motivated and productive. If I was staring at a blank wall, instead, I’d definitely spend less time working at my desk. Luckily, I have the flexibility to work from anywhere I can take a laptop.
      Matthew recently posted Tools & Programs I Use To Run My BusinessMy Profile

  7. James F

    Reply

    Cool post, it’s really encouraging to hear when people are having good experiences working in games and it seems to be the case quite often even if I do read enough bad experiences (although not many). Kickass apartment by the way, also h*ck yeah veganism

    • It’s tough to get started (and remain) in this industry, and that leads to a lot of negative experiences and stories unfortunately. But there are plenty of successful and happy developers out there too :)

  8. Liam

    Reply

    Thanks for the insight Mathew! It was a fascinating read, it’s interesting to get a quick view of the realities of the dream work/lifestyle that alot of us strive for. You picked a great location for your office too, I’m Brisbane born and raised (now living in Vancouver), and would often look at those buildings in town and imagine a lifestyle such that your leading.

    I look forward to more posts that explore the lifestyle aspect of your work.

    • Thanks Liam! I’m really enjoying living in Brisbane. Hopefully I’ll get a couple more years here before I move onto new pastures. I want to travel more, and that’s difficult to do with an expensive apartment to pay for.

  9. Brian

    Reply

    This article, as well as your story in general, are incredibly inspiring. I just released my first game and I loved every minute of developing it. But I feel like GML has this stigma around it and as a result, other developers don’t take it seriously. Because of this, I considered learning a different language or engine. But after seeing how much success you’ve had with GameMaker, I no longer feel held back or self-conscious about using it. I just wanted to say thank you for writing such amazing articles and for inspiring me. Looking forward to the next one!

    • It’s all about results, not which tools you use to get them. GM does still have a negative stigma (although that is slowly changing) but I wouldn’t be where I am without it. GM dominates plenty of other engines/frameworks in core areas that I value the most, and it has a great team behind it. Good luck!
      Matthew recently posted Tools & Programs I Use To Run My BusinessMy Profile

  10. James

    Reply

    Thanks for the post Matthew. I like that you have a good handle on your biorhythms and structure your day around them. It’s something that the 9-5 convention has pulled us away from, to our detriment I think.

    I did some reading on L-Theanine after you mentioned it. Where can you buy it in Brisvegas, or do you buy online?

    • Hi James – I totally agree. I love the freedom of self-employment: I can structure my days however I see fit, based on my own personal wants & needs. As for your question about L-Theanine: I buy it online from the most reputable site I could find. Thanks for reading!

  11. le hau

    Reply

    Thanks Matthew for this post

  12. Kayleigh

    Reply

    Your home office is what I aspire mine to be but maybe with a larger glass of rose wine ;)

    • Nothing wrong with that! Thanks for reading.

  13. Logo Brasol

    Reply

    Good article. I like articles like that

  14. scheffgames

    Reply

    Regarding the fact that waking up early boosts up productivity at very high levels I totally agree. Awesome inspiration may come at 3 AM (for night owls) but constant quality work will always follow after waking up at 7 AM.

    • I wish I was more of a night owl, but I struggle to do any good work past midnight.

  15. kengi

    Reply

    awesome bro! you are the best! this keep me motivated to been game developer, thanks a lot!

  16. Faraz Jafari

    Reply

    Your schedule and sleep routine makes me want to fix mine. A lot of high performance people seem to go for the 6am rise.

  17. wayne hom

    Reply

    Thank you for sharing. Quite interesting.

  18. Maximilian

    Reply

    Seems I’m not the only one who struggles against distractions, and I even used to feel guilt when being distracted. I feel a bit better knowing a couple of good, focused work is what matters for a day to be productive. Good read

    • I work on my games for at least 5 minutes every day. If you invest 5 minutes, you’ve made an effort – that’s all it takes to build a habit.

  19. Andres

    Reply

    oh wait, so you are like… an actual person?

    Excellent post Matthew, really enjoyed it.

  20. Yumeito

    Reply

    Wow…I envy you..

    • I don’t want to be envied, I just want to inspire other developers.

  21. ArtistArcher

    Reply

    This is an amazing insight into what it takes to be a productive independent game designer. Something I would love to be able to become some day.

    Thank you for sharing.

  22. Anonymous

    Reply

    Your schedule is clear and specific. It is difficult to build a plan for yourself and to do it in a timely manner. I admire those who adhere to that.

  23. Karolina

    Reply

    Nice pillows! ;)

  24. Leah

    Reply

    I like posts like this, it reminds me it’s possible to make a living off games. I kind of lost my way the past year with Flash sponsors disappearing and not understanding other markets but the year before I made thousands while working full time. It was fulfilling work and I miss it so I’m going full speed at game development again targeting mobile first.

    • Good luck. Making games really is fulfilling work, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

  25. Aaron

    Reply

    Your apartment is so compact, but the view is really good. I am sure it is a very cozy place. I always think Australia is a good place to live, but not a good place to work as a programmer, because there are not so many big companies or fast growing startups there. I am glad you make a very good income by doing your own game business in Brisbane. I might someday move to Brisbane too.

    • I definitely agree (although that is not a popular opinion among Australian game developers). The local game development industry is extremely limited when compared internationally, and personally I would not want to be hunting for a game development job in Australia.
      Matthew recently posted List of HTML5 Game Publishers & SponsorsMy Profile

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