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I'll Know I've Made it as a Game Designer When...

I’ll know I’ve made it as a game designer when…

… growing up, I design games that aren’t much fun, but I have a great time doing it.

… I eventually make an amateur game that people enjoy.

… I drop out of school to become a game designer.

… I beg to be a design intern and I tell companies I’ll work for free.

… I enroll in one of those new-fangled game design programs.

… I finally design a feature for a professional game.

… I design major systems for a game.

… I ship a game.

… I go to the store on launch day to watch fans pick up copies of my game. And then I pose with them in a photo, holding armfuls of my game with a stupid grin.

… I spend hours, days reading Amazon reviews and posts in our forums. I can’t stop; it’s like a drug. Players love our game, and I love our players. I get giddy. But players hate our game, too. I get furious. I am forever influenced.

… I ship a sequel to that game.

… I’m about to ship another game, and it has already been pirated and is available on the internet.

… I balance an entire game. It takes weeks. It feels wrong. So I balance it again. And again. After it’s perfect, we release, and players find ways to break the economy within hours.

… I work on new IP.

… I have to cut 70% of the entire game because it’s so over scope. It nearly destroys my soul.

… I come to enjoy the process of cutting and scoping. It makes my designs clean and elegant.

… I spend four years on a project that gets cancelled.

… I have total faith in my designs, but when I play them, they’re terrible. I rework them. I think they’re finally good. Players get confused in focus tests. I rework them again. Some end up great. Others get cut.

… I design a game that I can’t bear to see.

… I get hate mail. It scars me and I eat soup in bed and consider becoming a doctor, someone who can make a serious difference in life.

… I design a game that’s a success. I momentarily wonder if I can ever do that again.

… I secretly think my designs are better than anyone else’s.

… I secretly think my designs are boring and uninspired.

… I become a lead designer.

… I then realize my design opinions aren’t as important as supporting my team of designers, even if we disagree.

… I care so strongly that I uncharacteristically yell and swear in meetings to protect certain designs.

… I become a creative director.

… I pitch revolutionary ideas and concepts. But they’re too crazy.

… I work on a game that sells one million copies. Five million copies. Ten million copies.

… my game scores 95 on Metacritic and wins Game of the Year in the Game Developer Choice Awards.

… the game I designed lives on years after launch, a new team keeps releasing content for it, and I’m excited about that.

… I design a game with one of my favorite celebrities in it, but never get to meet that celebrity. But we get a mannequin with one of her dresses in our lobby.

… I go to the GDC five years in a row. Ten years in a row. Twenty years. I’m inspired every time.

… I give a game design talk at the GDC. I make a name for myself. I burn or tear money on stage to make a point.

… I start a blog. And the more I talk about design, the less I actually design.

… my shelf is packed with games I’ll never have time to play.

… I no longer play games until I beat them. The games that I do play, I often play just once. I see flaws in design everywhere and the games are nothing new.

… occasionally I find a great game that I want to play for hundreds of hours, but then I feel guilty that I’m not trying other games to expand my horizons.

… I have pages and pages of design notes for games I will never have the time to make.

… I work for 5 years jumping from team to team, and never ship a single project.

… I denounce the corporate culture and quit to join a startup.

… I work for a well-funded startup with rock-star executives. It falls apart.

… I work for a different startup, and realize startups aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

… I consider working for Zynga, and then I do.

… I consider working for Zynga, and then I don’t. But half of my friends do.

… I work on a Facebook game that 100,000,000 people play.

… I work for yet another startup, and it takes off. We get bought out.

… I get fed up with the mass market, and quit to go design indie games. Games that will be hailed as art.

… I release an indie game and only five people play it. It breaks my heart. But those five people are awesome.

… I travel from game jam to game jam, chasing novelty and heartbreaking works of staggering genius.

… I make an indie game with meaningful gameplay, and have to live with my parents so I have someone to remind me to eat and to not die.

… I design something truly original that the world has never seen.

… I earn over $50 million selling my game’s beta build on my website.

… a fan recognizes me.

… fans recognize me wherever I go. And they want to know if I’ll ever get around to making a new game.

… fans stop recognizing me. Or maybe I never had any.

… I return to my old job because the corporate culture is great and I miss my team.

… I pull all-nighters and crunch for months on end. Not because my boss makes me, but because I want to make an incredible game.

… I design a game that makes players laugh and smile, that makes them shout and cry.

… and, above all …

… I design a game that I am truly happy with.

This post was inspired by Justine Larbalestier’s “I’ll Know I’ve Made it as a Writer When…” It’s a fantastic piece and deserves to become a meme, so I’m getting the ball rolling.

Speaking of writing: I recently published a novel series about a company that grows a super-intelligent human in a computer and the mayhem that results. It is something I am truly happy with. Check it out here.

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