How I Became a Game Developer

A look at an IEEE member’s career in game development

6 December 2011

blog_Peterson Photo: Visionary GmbH

Editor’s Note: IEEE Member Nicholas Peterson, featured in this month’s “Making the Jump Into Games,” is founder, CTO, and CFO of the game developer VisionaryX GmbH.  

When I was invited to write a guest blog for IEEE about my experience as a game developer, I felt very honored and was thrilled with the idea. I would like to thank IEEE for making this possible.

However, not being a professional blogger, it very quickly became a real challenge. I went at it like any good engineer does, and put it aside, took a bath, and left it on the back burner for a day or two to see what it cooked up. Then I promptly forgot about it in the hecticness of day-to-day work life. Lucky for me, I had a nice piece of engineering technology that helped me remember that I had this thing to do waiting for me: a little yellow note stuck to the corner of my desk.  So off I was. I grabbed my iPad, turned on the Pages word processing program, and starting writing—seven times. But I endured, and so here it is—my guest blog about my personal experiences in the games industry.

It all started about 50 million years ago with an ancient role-playing paper and pencil game called Dungeons and Dragons. As a young teenager that game cost me my grades and my pocket money, and it robbed me of many typical teenage social activities. But I loved it and dived into playing the game with the seriousness that any hardcore hobbyist would. Then reality struck, I graduated from high school, and D&D faded into the background.

Fifty million years later, my own son, Mark was 22 years old and had just finished his game design degree. I was a veteran of the IT industry with 20 years chasing bits and bytes down the enterprise planning system and business-to-business highway at Hewlett Packard and IBM. It was early October 2009, and way back then the newest big thing was the iPhone. We were sitting at home discussing the future of games and at some point we decided well, why not look into starting our own company?

Being an engineer I went at the idea the same way any good engineer does: I took a bath and left it on the back burner to simmer for a day or two to see what it cooked up. Mark went off to work on one of his customer projects, and we left it for a while. The idea simmered and cooked and one day a while later both of us were again discussing it over dinner. We decided to do a feasibility study, analyze the situation, and build a strategy around the idea.

Twenty thousand web pages, blogs, books, and articles later we had decided it was a feasible idea. However, we decided not to just make games—that was a key point. We decided we were going to create a game company, and we were going to go at it 100 percent.  So I quit my well-paid engineering job, took a long vacation, and Mark and I used the time to build the strategy for our blazing success as a gaming company.

Taking all our experience we decided we needed to build a core team of experts that would be the seed for the company. So the first thing was to choose what sort of company we wanted to be. We decided we needed a small team, with high flexibility, talent, and the ability to adjust to the ups and downs of a startup company. We also needed to look at being as efficient as possible. Finally being technically fit we decided to look at taking advantage of modern technology to enable a family-friendly company.

The next thing was looking at doing all the administrative and business-relevant stuff of creating a company. If you haven't done this before, it is an incredible learning experience. Then we looked at naming the company and getting the name registered as a trademark. You would think that's easy, well it's not. It took us an entire three days just to find a name that fit AND was available...the available bit took the longest. Every name we thought up had been taken, but we finally found one, and ta da! Our first financial investment was getting the international trademark on "VisionaryX". (A year later we had realized that half the world cannot pronounce it, and I had a mailbox full of advertisements from various sensors, lighting, glasses, and optical manufacturers).

Then we had the company registered and started to build the infrastructure needed to make games. I started investigating the various software tools needed to create games professionally, and specifically for mobile devices. Also, I had to spend lots of hours and days learning the ins and outs of Objective-C as well as game architecture. Meanwhile, Mark had started designing our first game, and we had put out our feelers for the first employees we would need.  

We were rocking and were on a roll. It was a great time, and by mid-2010 we had our first employee, our artist, our first external service providers for sound, and an excellent developer who was just finishing his master’s degree. By the end of 2010 we had the majority of the company in place as well as the first taste of the complexities of running a company, but the game development was rolling along well.

Remember, our goal was to build a successful company and not just a game. Some would say that is not good business—instead, get a product then build a company around it. They may be right, but we were determined to be successful. I personally still believe that if you put five talented individuals together they will be able to succeed given a common goal and common interests. It’s worked for us so far.

Then in May 2011, we went live with our first game, A Knights Dawn [a screen shot of the game is shown at the top], for iOS. In our eyes it was a hit—not as big as Angry Birds— but by September we had hit the Top 10 list in more than 10 countries, and we felt we could take on the world. Now we have released the game to the Android world and again it is proving to be highly popular, with over 25 000 users in the first five days.

So what makes us successful? First and foremost is the team, and it is they who get the credit for all of this. Second, it’s our unique business model: We all work from home, with flexible working hours so we can adjust to our individual family needs. Finally, it is the drive behind our name; we have the vision and expertise to build excellent games for gamers by gamers.

This unique structure would not be possible without the fantastic work of all the engineers out there who made things like cloud-based SVN systems, mobile smartphones, Skype, Google docs, and the iPad and other tablets. Also, using a cross-platform game engine like the unity3d engine makes development that much more of a pleasure. So in conclusion, if you love engineering like I do, and you want to get into game development I would say...do it—now while the fires are hot.

Remember though—go at it like any good engineer would: take a bath, leave it on a back burner for a few days, and see what it cooks up. It is worth the wait.

Last but not least, many thanks to my team and their families: Michael Lueckhof, our great artist; Stephan Krohn, our genius with bits and bytes; Alexander Luepke, game designer and Star Wars freak; and finally Mark, my son and our CEO. I would like to thank you all for your drive, dedication, and all the lifeblood you have put into the company. Keep it up.

Image: VisionaryX GmbH

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