If You Want to Make Games Competitively, Train to Compete

Dec 30, 2014

Making a videogame can be playful. Making a videogame can be hard work. There are times and places for both.

Often here at HobbyGameDev I focus on videogame making as a playful activity. Making a videogame can be a game in itself, a carefree way to fill time alone or with friends.

I started Gamkedo this year because whereas HobbyGameDev deals with videogame development as play, Gamkedo is about approaching game development as hard work.

If you want to make games competitively you have to stop thinking about it like just doodling a picture. It has to be more than just something to have fun while doing. That’s fine when starting out and you’re just getting your bearings, or if you’ve made up your mind that that’s what you want to get out of it. However if you want to do it competitively you have to start thinking about it a lot more like training for competitive athletics.

Hard Work Like Sports Practice

When I was a kid in basketball practice, a few of us were goofing off during drills. We were doing what coach asked us to do, we just talked and laughed while we did it.

We had the type of coach that I most respect. I learned from him that instead of bossing people around the better way to coach is to help people understand why the coach’s request is in the player’s interests.

Coach asked us, “Why aren’t you taking this drill seriously?”

“We’re here to have fun,” seemed like an ok answer. “Shouldn’t sports be fun?”

“It can be fun,” coach started, “but a different kind of fun. It’s fun to become better at something. It’s fun to do well against other teams. That fun only happens if you focus during practice.”

He helped us make the connection to the result we were after, and we were sold. Thereafter we took it seriously. There wasn’t any yelling or arguing.

You’ll Need Training and Sacrifice

Obviously videogame making is not going to require running stairs, lifting weights, or treating food the way that NASCAR drivers treat fuel. Pushups and creatine supplements probably aren’t going to help.

Think about the hours that athletes put into doing those things. They wake up early every day before sunrise or put in their hours first thing after work for five days every week.

Think about the compromises and extra effort that they have to make to schedule other obligations around their training whenever possible.

They put in full make up time when they can’t stick to their planned schedule, rather than letting anything else that life demands be an excuse to skip and cut corners.

They don’t do that for a few months and then expect medals, trophies, or careers doing it. They do it for year after year, knowing full well that even then there’s no guarantees because there are so many other determined, hard-working people also going after it.

Trading Short-Term for Long-Term Fun

What athletes do with the countless training hours isn’t much fun. It’s tedious and repetitive. It’s not entertaining. Sometimes it hurts.

The training is either testing and pushing their limits, refining how to do even better something that they already know how to do, or else it’s wasting time while someone else gets ahead.

Athletes train like that because when they don’t 9 out of 10 times they’re going to lose to someone else that does. Sure, success doesn’t always go to the person that put in more and harder preparation. Luck is a factor, and unexpected things happen. But nobody’s ever going to bet in favor of the person or team that you know didn’t take it as seriously and you know didn’t put in the same level of preparation.

People put up with the training to increase their chances for the far greater and longer-lasting fun of getting better results. That kind of fun is cumulative, rather than transient, meaning accomplishments add up in a way that forgettable goofing off doesn’t.

In Videogame Development Terms

It’s going to require tough decisions about what to focus on even when you don’t feel like it. It’s going to require not following your every distracting whim if you’re trying to wrap up a project. It’s going to mean pushing yourself to get to the other side of uncomfortably difficult problems.

It can be about staying up late going through many dozens of files to monotonously fix something that you realized too late wasn’t really done the right way the first time.

It can be about reading books that aren’t fun to read at the time, and working on practice projects that maybe aren’t the types of games that you’d otherwise be excited about playing.

It can be about needing to get the rest of your day-to-day life in decent, boring order: staying on top of schoolwork or career obligations, staying out of useless arguments, staying at least fit enough to sustain your energy and attention for hours at a time in the evenings even after a full day.

If you don’t keep on top of all that other stuff it’s going to rob your attention away from practicing videogame development whether you want it to or not.


If what you want is different than what most other people around you want then you have to make a consistent decision to spend your available time and energy differently than how those other people choose to spend theirs.


Prepare Your Game to Battle

There’s a level of immediacy in human athletics that makes it a central spectacle in every civilization. When one human being runs literal circles around another it makes millions of people want to sit down, pay attention, and buy season tickets.

How we compete in videogame development is more indirect.

A few years ago I had the pleasure of working for a summer with the genius Marc Thorpe (unrelated crazy fact: he did the face melting effects for Indiana Jones). Marc was responsible for Robot Wars, or what Americans came to know as Battle Bots. In that competition engineering gear heads built machines that had exposed saw blades, piercing pneumatic hammers, and layers of thick deflective armor to battle in an arena.

Videogame development is more like building those battle robots and pitting them against one another than it is like getting into the ring with who you’re up against. You’re making something then sending it out to fight on your behalf. By the time that competition is actually taking place you’d better have put in the work beforehand, because you’ll be standing behind the plexiglass.

It’s still competition, even if it’s indirect.

You can bet that the same values of dedication, perseverance, commitment, discipline, attention to detail, and other hard work tended to pay off, literally wrecking the work of competitors who simply threw something together that they felt was wacky and fun while hoping for the best.

Serious About It? Then Get Serious.

If you want to make videogames competitively, you have to get your game ready to compete. If you’re not at that level yet as a developer but want to be, then it’s time to get more serious about how you focus, commit, and stay on task when you’re practicing, studying, and otherwise putting in time to get better at it. Are you using what time you have in an effective way? Or are you at an ongoing disadvantage to other people who are?

How many world class boxers got there without ever having a boxing coach? How many world class athletes in any sport got to that level without having any trainers, coaches, or lessons when starting out?

If you want to make games for fun, there’s nothing wrong with that. I’ll keep making new free HobbyGameDev entries that consider videogame making from that perspective.

If you’re taking videogame making seriously, know that I take my work as a videogame development trainer equally seriously and I will help guide you to make more progress sooner and better than you will on your own. I’ll help you clarify exactly what you’re aiming to do, what it’s going to take to get there, and I’ll help keep you accountable and on track.

If you’re interested in more information or applying check out Gamkedo. If you’re reading this before January 1st it’s your very last chance to get on the wait list for my 2014 rates before my prices increase for applications submitted in 2015.


Some people get the wrong idea when I write about the sheer amount of indie competition, the realities of making videogames professionally at a company, or when I cautioned a beginning developer about spending money on custom-made music. The message isn’t that you can’t or shouldn’t make games professionally. The message is that if you’re aiming to do it as more than a hobby then you’ve got to do it at another level. Preparing to compete successfully won’t happen overnight or with the first game finished. Go in with eyes open about what you’re getting into. Wandering in unprepared isn’t going to give you the fair shot that you and your future players deserve.

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