How do I get rich like John Romero?


Sami asks:

You said that for making games you need at least $750,500 but how did John Romero and team start when they didn't have this money. They are very rich today. If I want to make a game and want to become rich from it I have to learn C and that's what I'm doing now. but I want to make the graphics and the art and the sound in one computer like a Pentium 300 mhz or Digital 400 mhz.   Can I do that and why does it  take the programmer 1 year of programming?


Many games can be done for much less than $750,000. You point out a very good example with John Romero and the ID group. On the other hand they spent countless hours making those games probably on very little money and they worked for along time. I can't personally survive for a year or more with $0 in income and neither can many other people. You should count yourself lucky and make good use of this time in your life before you have lots of bills and other responsibilities. Most people find it very difficult to work 8-10 hours a day at a job and then come home and work another 4 or 5 on their own project everyday.

That was what it took the ID guys to make their games. They started alot smaller than DOOM or Quake though. They started with a much simpler game. I believe it was Commander Keen. They made some decent money on that game. Probably enough that they didn't need a second job while they were making Wolfenstein 3D. And of course they made lots of money from Wolfenstein 3D which funded them while they made DOOM.

Could that same model be followed today? Well, first you've got to create a game people are willing to pay for. For example a friend of mine tried to follow the ID model and helped to make a game called Alien Rampage. ( He told me he hasn't made any money yet but if you take a look at the game it's clear alot of work went into it. In other words, you've got to be damn lucky or damn smart to create a game with very little time and resources that will make you enough money to then create a better game and so on like ID did.

My point in spelling out the costs of video games on my website is two fold. One, that if you actually have to hire people it does cost lost of money and there are thousands of little things that have to get done and when you add them all up it turns out it really is a ton of work to make a video game. The other is that games that cost $50 a copy are not a rip off. They reflect the actual cost of creating a video game divided by the number of expected sales. Sure there are a few games turn people into millionaires but those are the exceptions not the rule.

Making a game and getting rich from it is about as common as saying you want to be a rock star and get rich or you want to make a movie and get rich. Lots of people want to do it but only a few actually have it happen. Sometimes through hard work somebody makes alot of money from a game. More often than not that's not the case though. Last year, over 5000 titles came out for the PC of which only the top 10 or 20 games made anybody rich. The next 100 or so probably didn't lose money but didn't make anybody rich. The other 4880 games lost money.

To make the music analogy. Of course Michael Jackson and Madonna are rich but look in a few independent music magazines and you'll see hundreds or thousands of bands that are not getting rich. The same is true in the video game industry and also, just like in the music industry, it's not always quality that sells, it's often the product with the best promotion/distribution/advertising...

It also depends on what you are trying to create. For example there are a bunch of guys making really impressive EuroDemos but you'll notice that very few of those guys are making games. Why? Because games are ALOT MORE WORK. I'll give you a personal example. Back in the mid 80s I used to make demos for the Atari 800. It use to take me about a day per display/effect. So, then I started working at Microprose, I was assigned to do the glue screens for Gunship. There are about 20 screens and so I thought to myself, "Hmmm, it takes me one day each to make these demo screens so it should take 1 day each to make these glue screens." Well it took me 3.5 months. Now you could say that maybe I just suck. But, in my opinion it was that I didn't know what I was getting into. Making the display was easy, making it work with all the various things it needed to do for different situations, making them interactive, that turned out to be alot more work.

Try this: Design your game, write down all the things that are going to be in it. Get specific. Then, add all the stuff up and give things a time. For example of your game is going to have 10 levels and each level is going to have 5 enemies and no enemies are going to be shared between levels than that's 50 enemies. How long will it take to draw and animate one enemy. Once you know that multiply by 50 enemies to find out how long it's all going to take. How long is it going to take to draw the backgrounds for 1 level. Then multiply by 10 levels and you know how long 10 levels will take. How long is it going to take to layout 1 level? Multiply by 10 levels to get the total time for that. How long to program 1 enemy? How long for 50 enemies. Add it up and you'll quickly see that unless you are going to write Tetris or Bust-A-Move it's going to be alot of work.

Let's say you're going to make a C&C type game. You decide there are going to be 8 types of infantry, 16 vehicles and 8 special use items (like Nukes, ION Cannon...) How long is it going to take one artist to do all the animations for one vehicle? First he's got to build the 3D model (one day?) Then he's got to texture it (one more day?). Then he's got to animate it going in 8 directions, shooting in 8 directions and he's got to render all those animations and give them to the programmer (1 more day?) Then the programmer has to get all the into the game and make it work (1 or 2 days?). Okay, you've got 32 things two sides (Nod vs GDI). Just for the artists that's 32 2 3 days or 64 3 days or 192 days. They're not going to work everyday. A very unrealistic number to choose would be that they'll work 5 days a week so if you do actually get 5 days a week of work out of them and they don't ever get sick and they don't take any vacation then one artist will take 38 weeks to do all that art. Of course if they also have to work a real job to pay their bills because you don't have the money to pay them then it's going to take alot longer. Remember though that this one artist is only doing the units. You need another artist to do backgrounds. Somebody has got to do effects like smoke and explosions, blood, wreakage. You need buildings with animations being constructed. You need damaged buildings and destroyed buildings. You need the side panel art and all the icons. You need artists (plural) for all the video sequences. Then you also need someone to draw the artwork for the installation program, the title page, the options screens, the multiplayer setup screen. Add it up and it comes out to alot of time and so far we've only talked about art. We haven't added programming and music and sound effects. Add it up and you should be able to see most games take alot of work. Alot of work equals alot of time. For most people to be able to spend alot of time you need to give them alot of money.


Sami Responds: 

1. You say that a game programmer is like the 1000s of music bands and not every one will get rich but look you know the games before Doom and when Doom came out with all this technology all the people got crazy. What if i make a game like that? Will the pepole get crazy like they did for Doom and will I get rich and people will know me?

2. Where can I get the source code of old games like Keen and Duke Nukem and others?   Can I get it for free?

3. I have heard that the ID team became multi-millionaires after Doom. How many copies did they sell and how much money did they get for each one?

4. If i know the basics of C programming and want to start game programming and work hard on this subject how much time will it take to me to be able tor make games like Keen, Duke Nukem 3D and Doom if i study very hard?

What is the game engine and the 3d engine what is all the time that it takes to the programmer to program a game?


If you create something as impressive as DOOM "for it's time" then you'll have a hit. DOOM was vastly superior in technology to all other games before it. Not just 1% better or 10% better but like 200% better. Since then, no game has had that much of a jump in technology. Quake may be real 3D (DOOM was fake 3D) but it plays and feels about the same as DOOM (and therefore was not as big a hit). It's going to be real hard to make something as totally new as DOOM was when it came out. If you learn how to make Keen or Doom all you'll have is something that was cool many years ago.

I think you can get the source code to Wolfenstein 3D on the id site ( I know it's available somewhere. For Quake you can get source code for a Quake Viewer at That's a program that will load a Quake level and display it for you. It would be up to you to turn it into a game.

Yes, the team at ID are all millionaires. I don't know how many copies they sold.

Knowing the basics of C programming will get you started. You'll need to learn alot more to finish. Game engines and 3D Engines take time in proportion to what you need them to do. For example you should be able to write Pong in 1 day or less. The engine for Keen would probably take 2 or 3 months at a minimum and then building all the art and levels for it would take another 3 months. The 3D engine for DOOM can be written in probably 1 month, then adding a game engine to it will probably take 3 or 4 months and making 30 levels and 10 monsters and 10 weapons will probably take another 3 or 4 months and then using those things to make good levels will also take 3 or 4 months.


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