Balancing Indie Aspirations in a AAA Program

Author: 

My interest in the games industry has always been in indie games. For me, college is a chance to quickly level-up and round out my skillsets in as many games-relevant places as I can, so that I can be as strong an independent developer as possible when I graduate. The Game Design and Development program is a very programming-heavy, and focused more on the larger side of the industry. Starting my career in indie games, working through this industry-focused program, and maintaining my own personal well being is a very delicate balance.

The AAA games industry is all about specialty. What you specialize in can determine where you can go, how much your salary is, and how secure your job is. However, in indie games, specialty is not nearly as valuable. While it is important to have specific strengths, a good indie is more of a “jack of all trades” than the average AAA programmer. Luckily, the GDD program at IGM provides lots of opportunity for me to familiarize myself with many different non-programming sides of the games industry, from 2D & 3D art and animation to UI/UX design. Additionally, there are many other courses offered at RIT that help me expand my skills. I’m currently pursuing a minor in Music and Technology, as music has always been a passion of mine, but never a skill until recently.

It’s really difficult to stay focused on my personal aspirations while my friends around me are specializing and landing amazing co-ops and full-time jobs at big names like Microsoft, Blizzard, and Sony. They work on specific portfolio pieces “on the side,” and I  work on projects I hope to either make profit from, or make a name for myself with. These projects are more than side projects for me, they’re a major part of my career. I love my friends, but the disconnect between our goals and accomplishments is difficult. Luckily, I figured out early on to start attending games events with lots of other indies, and to make friends there. My friends across the world that I see in person once or twice a year are my biggest inspiration, and my support network.

Between classes and my projects, I put a lot of weight on my own shoulders. The biggest lesson I’ve only recently started taking to heart is to take care of myself. I watched a very close friend struggle with burnout, and it scared me to realize I was heading down the same path. These days, I put more focus on the “non games” things in my life, and I force myself to slow down and enjoy college a bit while I’m here. Balancing a full-time classload and a part-time indie career is insane, and requires self care. If I don’t leave RIT with the same passion I entered with because I burned myself out while I was here, then what would be the point?