Many of my programming friends are moving to areas outside of game design, citing issues with time and money, as well as the taxing demands of working solo rather than in groups.
I can sympathize with most of this. Designing video games solo requires you to be skilled in multiple areas, programming, graphics, music, or even more specialized work like 3d modeling. This can be difficult if you’re a musician like me struggling to create graphics, or vice versa.
For me, the time and money issues go hand in hand. If I spend a lot of time working on something, I want to be sure I invested my time well. With the constantly shifting trends in gaming, anything feels like a gamble. What is popular now may be outdated 6 months from now. Creating a good game has become a matter of knowing what will always be popular, not just what is trendy.
Here’s an example. A friend who is designing a video game visits me. I ask him what kind of game he’s making. He says a first person survival game in Unity. I immediately lose all interest. In my mind, this is what at least 90 percent of game designers are making at this moment, and why none of them will stand out amongst each other.
When a trend establishes, the games that are made homogenize into basically the same game. Most first person shooters take directly after Resident Evil 4’s control scheme. Survival is trendy now thanks to Minecraft, Terraria, Rust, Don’t Starve, and other titles leading the trend. The more games in a genre are made, the more they head into the same direction. Eventually there will be so many survival games, they will all be accused of copying Minecraft or each other.
The point is that ideas age, just like everything else. Tons of people repeating the same ideas makes them age much faster. This determines the lifespan of a trend.
To be a successful solo game developer, you not only need to be skilled with programming. You need to be able to track current trends, in order to see what is popular now and foresee what will come next. In essence, you have to be your own businessman.
Yet on the other hand, most successful art takes the best ideas from many different inspirations. No man is an island – all ideas are interconnected. Anyone can build something original with the right talent and knowledge. “Steal wisely” is the writer’s axiom.
If you know what the rest of the world is up to, you may also know what isn’t being taken advantage of. You may see ways to exploit current trends that others don’t see. These are the innovations that lead to entirely new genres.
Find out what people want, but aren’t getting enough of.