Andrew Bereza, an 18-year-old student at the University of Washington, had more success as a game developer before he got to college than many who’ve spent their entire careers working in the industry.
He started early, playing on the popular gaming-for-kids platform Roblox before he was 10 years old. By the time he was 14, he was building his first game and at 15, he found a hit with “Miner’s Haven,” which has been played by about seven million people and which allowed him to begin making money as a game developer.
I interviewed Bereza on Tuesday as part of Safer Internet Day, an event held at the Austin Omni Hotel Downtown by ConnectSafely, a Palo Alto-based nonprofit that seeks to educate young people on safer online practices, privacy and security.
Here are five things we learned about Andrew and his approach to game development at the presentation:
1. Open worlds and tools can lead to great things
Bereza says that he was always curious about how games worked and spent time hacking “Super Mario World” to build his own stages. With Roblox, he found a physics tool that allowed him to make his own obstacle courses and arenas. “I was really attracted to the potential to create anything you wanted,” he said. “(My first game) probably wasn’t very good. I thought the platform was pretty amazing and I’ve been hooked on it ever since.”
He continues to build on Roblox while he goes to school and has interned for the company, but has dreams of running his own game studio eventually, making AAA games with the skills he’s still building now.
2. A carefully filtered sandbox environment has made Roblox a safe place for kids
Roblox launched in 2006 and Bereza says it has changed a lot as it’s evolved into a social and gaming platform geared toward young players. “Today it’s the premiere gaming platform for kids and a lot has gone on behind the scenes to make it the safest place for kids,” he said. “Roblox works directly with developers to ensure we’re following best practices to handle user information and how to make sure users stay safe.”
That includes filtered and moderated custom chats and lots of tools available to parents to help them determine how their kids play in these virtual worlds.
3. Success brings unexpected responsibilities
Bereza’s success after working on his games for months was something that at first his father couldn’t believe. “When I first told my dad I was making money on the Internet, he thought it was a scam and didn’t believe me. I told him they needed my tax information, he said, ‘no, no, don’t give them that.’ “
Creators, including game designers, YouTube video makers and online streamers aren’t necessarily prepared for the kids who will put them on pedestals, Bereza said. “A lot of us didn’t go into this expecting to be the role models in supposed communites, we just wanted to make something fun. But now we have that responsibility. We have tons of kids who look up to us and we sort of have to stop up tot he plate and be those role models. We can’t just be game developers, we have to be something to look up to,” he said.
4. Want to make games? Just do it
Bereza’s advice for anyone interested in game design is, “Just go for it.” He says the tools are readily available to experiment and learn and anyone can take games they like and try to improve upon them.
“The best thing you can do is make games for yourself, make games you would want to play. What’s a game you really wish existed or a game that you think should be better and then go and do it. My very first game, I was 14, looking at the tycoon game genre and seeing what I could do better. What hasn’t been done yet?”
He says “Jailbreak,” perhaps the most popular game on Roblox, was an idea done many times, but tweaked in the right way. “They just took a concept that’s already been done to death and they did it just right,” he said. “As a developer you need to find what you want and make it and hopefully people will agree with you.”
5. Ignore the negativity
One problem Bereza says he’s had to deal with is that online, it’s very easy for people to be critical or ugly about anything you do. “There’s always going to be a ton of really negative people,” he said. “The best thing you can do is learn to manage that and learn to pay attention to people who care about you and who have positive and constructive things to say.”
You can watch a video of the full presentation below: