Can You Learn Game Development On Your Own?

A question we often get asked is ‘can I learn game development on my own?’. Perhaps you cannot afford formal training or live in a part of the world where it is not available. Perhaps you just want to dabble and see if it’s right for you. Luckily, whatever your situation, you can teach yourself game development with nothing more than a laptop and an internet connection.

Depending on your financial situation, you can find formal training online for a reasonably low cost, or you can find free guides and tools to get you all the way from first introductions through to a finished game. We’re going to look at both options, but first, we need need to figure out what you’re aiming for.

What Do I Want To Do?

An important first step will be to figure out what exactly you want to learn. This may seem strange at first as you want to learn ‘game development’, but that’s a very broad topic spanning many different careers, each of which someone can spend a lifetime learning.

If you are interested in making your own indie game solo, then you will need at least a passing knowledge of most areas of development. Depending on what you are making you can fill in some knowledge gaps with resources already out there, such as game engines to do much of the programming, or buying art assets to avoid needing to make them, but you will still need some basic knowledge in each area to tie it all together. This is a very achievable goal, but it will be a long and difficult process.

If, on the other hand, you are interested in developing the skills to get yourself a job at a game studio then you can target your learning on a certain area, such as coding, but the barrier to entry will high. Depending on where you live you could be competing for the job against people with 3+ years of university training who can be applying from across the world. Once again, this goal is definitely achievable but it will require focus and commitment to break through.

Learn Game Development With Paid Online Courses

The easiest and perhaps the best way to teach yourself how to create games will be using paid online courses. Some good places for online courses include, but are not limited to, Pluralsight, Udemy, and Skillshare. These websites will have courses uploaded by industry professionals that will help you learn various aspects of the industry. Depending on the course you take, you may also get 1-to-1 tuition to give you directed feedback and make sure you are on the right path, these courses can become expensive though.

Pluralsight's learning resources to learn game development on your own.
Some of Pluralsight’s game development courses.

Using this method should guarantee a fairly high quality of teaching, especially if they include 1-to-1 tuition, and if you do well (a pay enough) you can even get accepted on to famous industry professionals courses and get taught by some of the masters of the craft. This can be especially useful in the artistic fields where having a strong mentor has been known to produce some of the best results throughout history. Although courses tend to be fairly short in comparison with something like a university course if you get the right one it has the potential to be worth even more.

The biggest downside is, unfortunately, the cost. Possibly the biggest reason someone would want to teach themselves over being tutored is the cost, so this will be a no-go for a lot of people looking to start out. That being said you can certainly find relatively cheap courses out there that are still useful, but you often get what you pay for. Finding the right course at the right price when there are so many available can be tricky, but well worth your time.

Learn Game Development With Free Tutorials

Similar to learning game development with paid online courses, there are also plenty of free tutorials available online that can help you along your journey (Including here at GameDevInsider). There is so much free learning content out there that you could spend a lifetime getting through it all. Youtube on its own to packed with useful content. You can also go to businesses that would benefit from you doing well for free content, such as the game engine you are using, like Unreal or Unity. They are eager to get as many people using their platforms as possible, so making it easy and accessible is a great way of doing that while helping out the game dev community.

A benefit to learning game development on your own with free tutorials over online courses is that it’s much easier to find targeted content to what you need. If you need a tutorial on how exactly to make a tower defense game in Unreal, just give it a google and you’ll most likely find something. In truth, even the most seasoned developers will still fall back to this time and time again to figure out all the intricacies that come with game dev.

Unreal Engine's tutorial to learn game development on your own.
Unreal Engine’s tutorial on how to make a Tower Defence game.

Unfortunately, the pay-off is that the quality bar is often lower for free content and you have to spend much longer searching for what you need. Sometimes official tutorials from game engines may be way too complex, at other times a youtube tutorial might not go into enough detail or not explain it well enough to follow. If you have the patience you could easily teach yourself with free online tutorials but many people will use this in conjunction with other techniques where possible.

Hands-On Learning With Industry Tech

Another alternative, and perhaps the best way, is to just dive straight in and start to develop, leaning through trial and error along the way. When starting out it can be difficult, and in some cases impossible, to know exactly what you need to learn and when. Even those with years of experience will regularly get tripped up with totally new concepts they hadn’t even considered could be a thing, so learning by working until you get stuck can help your guidance as you go. Luckily there’s lots of free software out there so the money will not restrict if you choose to go for this path.

Realistically, this will be the best way to learn game development on your own, and there’s no other way to get around it. Hands-on experience is essential. That’s the reason that having a released game title on your job application is worth more than any grade on a university degree. Many people will also find this the most engaging way of learning as well. Although progress will be slow, especially in the beginning, once you start to see your very own working game elements it may be the motivation you need to continue on with it.

Unreal Engine which can be used
Unreal Engine 4 – Free to use at entry game engine.

The difficulty here really lies with self-motivation. It can take a very long time before you start to see any real progress. Knowing where to focus can also be difficult, and working hard towards something that is a dead-end and kill all motivation. It’s also possible to get lost in the incredible depth of one topic to the point where you either get overwhelmed by the complexity or forgot about all the other aspects. That’s not to say that you need to already have game development knowledge to start, it just means that you will need to be smart while learning and try to identify when something isn’t worth pursuing.

Best Approach To Self Teaching

These are some of the best approaches for learning game development on your own, but which is the best approach? In reality, nobody will follow just one path of learning, and many who take a more formal education route will also you all of these approaches to some extent. The most important thing will always be to have hands-on experience. Reading and researching are invaluable but it will never be able to fully replace getting your hands dirty. It’s also potentially the best way of keeping your self-motivation going for what will be a very long journey.

It’s also important to make liberal use of free online tutorials and learning materials no matter what stage of the process you are at, beginner or expert. This should be your greatest supporting tool in your belt while getting your hands dirty with development. If you do well you might be able to find some great resources out there that will guide your learning, but much of this will have to be self-directed.

In terms of paid learning or tutorage, it will be incredibly useful for most people, if they can afford it, but it is by no means essential. It can be a great resource for those who understand the basics and want some help getting up to the next level. If you are able to go for it you will almost certainly be pleased you did, but it absolutely does not function as a paywall to keep out those who cannot.

Overall, it’s absolutely possible for you to teach yourself how to make games. Remember some of the biggest game development legends started out in parent’s basements or their bedrooms who went on to change the games industry and become millionaires. Game dev is much more complicated now than in the ‘golden years’ and it is much more competitive, but there are also many many more resources to help you, from tutorials to software.