A question I get asked a lot – and one I asked when I was getting started in GameDev:
What Equipment do you need to be a Game Developer?
Equipment needs depend on your plans.
This one is pretty easy to answer. All you have to do is ask yourself what kind of game you’d like to devbelop. If you plan to develop games for mobile, you don’t need the same gear a VR developer needs.
When I started out, I was inspired by VR. I played an HTC Vive demo station in a Microsoft Store in the mall. I was hooked. I decided that the world needed Legend of Zelda VR, and I was going to make it. I already had a decent gaming PC, so I plunked down the $800 for the headset, and headed home.
Equipment needs depend on your BUDGET.
I started my GameDev journey later in life. I already had a good job that paid well and provided for me and my family. Buying that VR headset was an expense, to be sure – but it was one I could afford (and one I talked with my wife about first). I’ve heard horror stories of aspiring developers who invest in hardware, software, etc. on credit – then end up never finishing a game and over their heads in debt. Hopefully, I don’t have to tell you that this is a BAD IDEA. So many VR devs I met and befriended when we were working on SellswordVR are out of the industry now because they overextended. Start small, and use resources you already have. Use your existing computer or laptop, and…
Try before you buy!
The best thing about becoming a game developer right now is the sheer amount of free tools available. You can use open source and free software to dip your toes into the world of GameDev. If you run into a technological wall, or reealize that you want to dive deeper into the proverbial “rabbit hole,” you can do so with a much better idea of what your specific needs will be.
Game Engines (a few of the options available):
- Godot is an up-and-coming open source engine. Completely free, no console support (as of June 2020).
- Unity has a free tier. You can design all you want, and only pay a subscription fee when your games have made more than $100K.
- Unreal Engine, like Unity, has a free tier. A royalty is charged once your games make over $100K. There are some deals if you launch your game exclusively on Epic’s storefront.
What I use: Unity. It’s easy to use, has TONS of support and tutorials, and can build for any platform with minimal rework. Unity uses C# (my preferred language), and has the cheapest licensing cost (besides Godot).
Do I need a powerful computer?
Not really. I taught a game development class using Unity on leftover computers from the surplus yard – Core2 Duo CPUS, no video cards, and 4GB of RAM. Equipment isn’t really a factor if you’re working on a 2D or low-poly 3D title. If you’re looking to make the next Skyrim, you’re going to need a bit more power.
CPU power matters when you’re baking lighting or compiling code. There have been a lot of improvements in Unity recently that speed both of these processes up, but more cores and a better video card WILL help save some time here.
My recommendation: CPUs have more cores and are cheaper than ever. A Ryzen 5 with 6 cores can be had for $120. For RAM, get at least 8 GB (16 is better). Get a decent graphics card, like an RX 570 ($100) or GTX 1660 ($150). All together, you can build an amazing workstation for around $500. One part I HIGHLY RECOMMEND is a SSD. For $100, this single part will save you more time than anything else.
What I use: My equipment is overkill: I have a Ryzen Threadripper 2950X, 32GB RAM, a GTX 1080ti, and 2 NVME SSDs. This was a HUGE upgrade once I decided GameDev was my future, and once I was financially able to afford it!
What about Drawing Tablets?
I’m going to be VERY HONEST here – if you plan on being a game developer, you need to learn to edit graphics. I’m not a great artist, but I know my way around Clip Studio Paint. If I’m completely honest, I spend more time in CSP than I do in Unity, and my tablet gets used every single day.I know plenty of developers who use a $30 Huion tablet and make INCREDIBLE art. I tried it and just couldn’t get used to looking UP at my monitor while drawing on the surface of the tablet. So I spent a bit more money and got a better piece of equipment.
If you have $200 to spend, you can grab a PEN DISPLAY. It’s basically a monitor for your computer that comes with a pen. You draw right on it, which makes life SO MUCH EASIER. Look for a “battery free” pen. I used a Huion Kamvas Pro, which was a great value as I started out.
What I use: Again, I upgraded once I determined I needed pro-level equipment. I have a Wacom Cintiq Pro 24. As of 2020, it’s the industry standard that professional artists use. Do you need it? No. Is it worth it? Yes. It’s superior in every way to my old Huion. I smile a lot while using my Wacom; I frown when making the credit card payment.
What I recommend: Grab a smaller Pen Display. You can get a smaller Huion or XP Pen device for $150. Don’t waste money on a model with “touch” support – it only gets in the way. Shortcut keys are LIFE – you want them!! If you’re fortunate enough to have an iPad (8th gen+ or Pro), you can use it and an Apple Pencil to make artwork.
Any other Equipment?
You’re going to be spending HOURS in front of your computer. I can’t stress enough the value of working safely and comfortable. TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF.
Recommended Equipment: An ergonomic keyboard and a trackball. These take some getting used to, but you’ll thank me later. If you have the space and funds, multiple monitors are AWESOME (if you use a pen display, you already have a second monitor!)
What I use: My first ergonomics purchase was a Logitech MX Ergo trackball. You can find them for $50 on sale. I followed up with an Ergodox EZ – pretty radical and extreme as far as keyboards go, but these two all but eliminated my shoulder pain and headaches (I wrote about my switch to the Ergodox HERE). My monitor is actually a 42″ LG 4K TV I got for $200 on a black Friday sale, which makes an incredible monitor (like having 4 HD monitors!)
That’s a LOT of Equipment!
I am very well equipped for an Indie Game Developer with no commercial success. Remember, I’ve upgraded my gear over a long period of time…little by little as my finances permitted. I can’t stress this enough: Buy what you need, and only what you can afford.
You don’t need 16 cores, a professional pen display, or a high tech ergo chair – as your needs grow, you can always UPGRADE THOSE LATER!
BETTER EQUIPMENT DOES NOT MEAN BETTER GAMES – Only hard work, creative ideas, and a developer’s passion and commitment can do that.