You may dream about making your own videogame, but what does it actually involve?
We spoke to first-time game producer (and TECgirls contributor) Julia Le Gallo about how she turned her passion for games into a real game of her own.
Julia, tell us a bit about yourself and your background
I’m French, and I studied English Literature and European Studies at university. I had a few jobs in France helping to co-ordinate EU projects, but I didn’t want to stay there. I saw a job advertised in Cornwall and I applied and got it. Later, my partner joined me and we decided to stay because we love it here.
How did you decide you wanted to make a game?
Games have played a big part in who I am today. Just like reading a good book, I’ve played amazing games that told me beautiful stories that allowed me to escape when times were hard.
One day I went to an event that I remember really clearly. The topic was People, Planet and Profits. I was really inspired by one of the speakers who said we should follow our passion and do meaningful things and purposeful things. So that set me down the path of developing my own game.
Luckily I was working at the animation studio Engine House VFX, who are passionate about empowering staff and encouraging them to work on their own projects. So when I said I wanted to make my own game, they said ‘go for it’!
What was your idea – and how did you start to develop it?
Mindfulness is really important to me and I wanted to spread the word around it, because I feel a lot of people need it right now. So I came up with an idea for a game called Just Breathe, which gamifies breathing to help people relax and be less anxious.
To develop a game you need money. I applied for funding from the UK Games Fund and was awarded £5,000 to develop the prototype. They wanted to showcase the game at EGX, the UK’s biggest games conference, so I only had three months to build it. I had to put a team together fast!
What kind of team did you need?
Despite being a passionate gamer, I didn’t know anything about how to develop a game. Luckily I knew a few people in the industry so I was able to find mentors to advise me.
I also knew where I could find people to build the game and I hired a freelance programmer and game designer. I was the creative director, which means I had the vision for the game and I made all the decisions around the visuals and design. I was also lead producer, which means I managed the project.
It was a remote team, so I put processes in place to help us work well together. I created a Slack channel and a Trello board, and I briefed the designer and the developer on what I wanted them to do.
What was it like to develop a prototype in just three months? It was really intense – especially because I was very passionate about the game and it was really important to me that we got it right.
But I'm glad I did it, because we were able to show the game at EGX and get feedback from people in the industry. Seeing them understand what I was trying to do, and seeing them moved by the game, was incredibly special.
Seeing people understand what I was trying to do, and seeing them moved by the game, was incredibly special.
At the end of EGX we were offered another £10,000 to develop the prototype further. Unfortunately, there were some structural problems with the game that meant we would have to start again from scratch, which would have needed a lot more time and money. So unfortunately that’s as far as I was able to take it.
But I’m happy knowing that people have played it – and I still have it on my phone to play myself!
What did you learn from your experience?
I learned that being passionate can take you a long way, but you also need the right team, and enough time and funding to drive your project forwards. I also learned that programming takes way longer than you think, and there are always problems that you need to fix.
One other thing I learned is that working on a passion project is risky. It might feel extremely fulfilling, but you're so invested that it's difficult to take a step back. If I did it again I would definitely set some boundaries for myself at the start.
What advice would you give to girls who might like to make a game one day?
Definitely follow your instinct and your passion. Don’t let anybody tell you that you can't do it – I had no experience in game development, but that didn’t stop me going for it. There will be people to support you, and you will learn as you go.
Don’t let anybody tell you that you can't do it – I had no experience in game development, but that didn’t stop me going for it.
And there’s a need for lots of different skills in games – you can have an impact without being a programmer or a games designer or an artist. The industry also needs producers – people who make sure the game will be delivered on time and to schedule, and that it will be profitable.
It’s also never too late to start – I was 30 when I made Just Breathe.
And advice for parents of girls who are interested in games development?
If you’re not into games yourself, the first thing to know is that games have evolved a lot from 20 or 30 years ago. They used to have a reputation for being violent or mindless, but today there are many games that tell beautiful stories and make people think and reflect. They’re not just for entertainment any more.
It’s also a thriving industry with a lot of career opportunities and well-paid jobs. Around London, the salary for a junior producer is around £30k, and more senior roles can go up to £70k. And it’s going to thrive for at least the next 10-15 years, because games are a primary form of entertainment.
But I think the main thing is to listen to your daughter and understand where her passion for games is coming from, so you can help her achieve her dream.
UKIE is the industry body for interactive entertainment, with lots of information and resources
The Falmouth University Games Academy offers degree courses in all aspects of games development
The UK Games Fund supports and funds early-stage games companies
EGX is the UK’s largest games industry conference, attended by gamers, companies and journalists