Making games for a living is often seen as a dream job and, in my experience, it’s that and more! For almost five 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 social person and I have zero interest in going out 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 these valuable resources exactly how I want.
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!