So you wanna be a game dev? You might want to think again
Young video game artist shares advice on navigating sea of online negativity
For CBC Ottawa's Creator Network project, 27-year-old game developer and 2D artist Max Wayne created an animated video to address some of his concerns about entering a video game industry fraught with online toxicity. He interviews long-time game developer Jonah Davidson as an animated avatar.
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Video game artist Max Wayne shakes his head in disbelief when he scrolls through the sea of negative comments aimed at game developers on social media after the recent release of an update.
From the time the 27-year-old first booted up his Nintendo GameCube, he knew he wanted to be a video game developer, or game dev, and build games from the ground up.
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But reactions like these from what's called the player base makes him wonder if he'll have a thick enough skin to weather the storm of toxicity found in the industry.
"That hate could be directed at me one day," said Wayne, who largely does development for independent games.
"You're the reason this game exists, but you don't have control over every update. And it feels like players are shooting the messenger when you're just doing your job."
A parallel universe
Wayne said he first fell in love with video games during a difficult time in his life.
In the winter of 2002, Wayne's mother Wendy Macleod was in a car wreck which left her severely injured. She lost mobility in her legs, and recovered slowly over the course of Wayne's childhood.
"During that time I felt alone and found comfort in games," said Wayne, who at seven escaped into the Nintendo game Animal Crossing. In the bright and cheery game, money falls off trees, animals talk and players receive encouraging letters from their parents.
"When my mother couldn't be there for me, my Animal Crossing mom was sending me love," he reflected. "I wanted to make my own games to help others like they helped me."
Wayne, who is partially deaf, said choosing a career in games was a practical aspiration too.
"I can sit in front of a computer with a pair of headphones and turn up the volume as loud as I need, and not bother anyone," he laughed.
Dream job or nightmare
He enrolled in Algonquin College's illustration and concept art program and graduated in 2020 and has since found work as a 2D developer, where he paints landscapes, characters and video-game assets on the computer.
But since graduating, Wayne has heard from friends in the field grappling with their mental health after experiencing online abuse ranging from crude name-calling to threats of physical violence and even death threats.
"We've seen a lot of game devs who've quit from all of this toxicity and negative interactions from players or others," said American coder Andrew Harland.
It's an experience echoed by Jonah Davidson, who runs a group to help gamer devs weather the abuse called The Dirty Rectangles collective.
"My friends and my colleagues have dealt with everything from annoyances to serious harassment," Davidson said.
"Many players lash out with negative feedback, because they are invested in the game and may not fully understand what the developers are trying to achieve with new updates."
Davidson, who works as a quality assurance technician at Finji game studios, said game devs from Algonquin's animation program formed the group because they saw a need to support each other.
"The best thing that we can do to combat toxicity is to provide outlets for people to come together and find some stability in an unstable industry," said Davidson.
Davidson points out how vital it is for game devs to hear feedback from players on their games.
"I've always tried to encourage my friends in game development to give both positive and negative feedback and be as constructive as possible. You can't learn from silence and you can't learn from hate and harassment," he said.
His advice to Wayne and Harland: keep showing up.
"Find community. And the best way to build a community is to do good work and stick around," said Davidson.
Imagining a different world
Wayne says Davidson's advice helps him think about a collective approach to dealing with toxicity in the industry and with players and feel hopeful about his future.
"I don't want to stop being a game dev. I have these dreams of people playing my game," says Wayne.