Andrew Augustin: Turning passion into a career

Risk-taker: Andrew Augustin

Founding his own video game studio may have been a risk, but it was his dream to draw like his comic and animation art heroes.

Andrew Augustin has been inspired by art since he was a boy. He dreamed of creating his own worlds as an animator or comic-book artist when he grew up. Today, he has achieved his childhood dream, and then some, as the founder of Notion Games LLC, an independent game development studio in his hometown of Austin, Texas.

Augustin is the first to admit that he has faced plenty of obstacles along the way.

Getting to create games all day may sound like the best career idea ever, but the road to start doing that career — and keep doing it — took hard work and a willingness to take numerous risks.

Turning art into interactive games

Calling Walt Disney a childhood hero, Augustin explains, “He’s someone who created a ton of characters and inspired many through his imagination.” Augustin didn’t know it as a kid, but Disney also took a lot of risks to build his empire. He had to file bankruptcy on his first animation company and start again with a second.

When Augustin discovered the imaginative world of gaming, he was immediately hooked — game development became the main goal. “I realized my art could come to life and that people could actually control and interact with my creations,” he says. “I couldn’t help but think every day that I was wasting my life doing things I didn’t want to be doing.”

Before he took the leap to pursue his design work, Augustin worked a few unfulfilling factory jobs to make ends meet. On top of that, Augustin had made the tough choice not to go to college after graduating from high school due to concerns for his financial future. Without a degree to impress hiring managers, he had to work harder to create an impressive resume of relevant experience that would make him stand out in the competitive design field. “But that motivated me to take risks and try to make it as an artist,” Augustin says.

Starting a company

Augustin’s first illustration gigs were as a comic book and manga art instructor at some middle schools and high schools in Austin. Not only was he teaching drawing skills, Augustin mentored his teen students and helped them pursue their creative interests.

Along with sparking a dedication to mentoring, the teaching work inspired Augustin to also focus on his own creative projects. Pushing those creative projects forward helped lead Augustin to his big break: designing characters for The Sims franchise on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. This major commission gave him the confidence to start his own company — despite only having $5,000 in the bank. “Looking back, I don’t know what truly made me take that leap of faith.”

With that low budget and only six months of professional experience working in the gaming industry, Augustin knew his jump from employee to entrepreneur would be seriously risky. Because the stakes were high, he devoted himself to learning as much as possible about the industry. Still, he found himself unprepared when the programmer he hired quit during Notion Games’ early days. They were tough times, he says. “I felt like the company would sink.”

Operating on a limited budget, he decided to put his work ethic to the test and teach himself the tough skill of programming. “It took a ton of reading and playing around with things, but now I am at a point where I can create games by myself, if necessary,” Augustin says.

Learning programming skills had a major payoff: He built his first successful game, Super Ubie Island. Not only was it a hit with gamers, it got nods from Nintendo and industry legend Warren Spector. In fact, Spector was so impressed he awarded Augustin a full scholarship to attend the Denius-Sams Gaming Academy at the University of Texas.

Work-life separation

Now balancing university courses and running his company, Augustin’s schedule is busier than ever. Not to mention he also has a life — he’s married with two children.

“It used to be hard for me to separate the two,” he says. “Being an independent game developer, I have to create and release projects in a timely manner, promote, travel, learn new skills, network, and a lot more. That basically bled into my normal everyday life, and sometimes it takes away time from my family.”

Having the opportunity to be his own boss isn’t something he wants to get in the way of his aim to build the best life he can — not for himself but for his kids.

His solution: renting a studio space for his business, effectively moving his game-creating equipment out of the house and away from his family life. “I try not to work at home anymore and keep all my working hours spent at the studio,” Augustin says. “It has helped out tremendously.”

Still, being the CEO of a start-up is a round-the-clock job. Even when he’s not technically working, Augustin keeps a major social media presence, acting as Notion Games’ biggest cheerleader and advocate. That came about because he didn’t have the money to hire someone to do marketing for the company, but ultimately, he feels it was the right move. “Without having the money to pay for promotion,” Augustin says, “I ended up making myself more of a figure by promoting my art through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and more.”

And that mentoring? He’s still doing it: Through enrichment programs like e4Youth and Girls Make Games, Augustin holds workshops to teach kids how to harness their creativity and turn it into a career path.

“It’s better to have money than spend money.”

— Andrew Augustin

Money management: playing it safe

Despite his risk-taker tendencies in most aspects of life, Augustin has learned that his company’s finances are an area where it’s best to play it safe.

“When it comes to making financial decisions, I try to ask myself if there are any benefits. Will this new drawing tablet make for better art and quicker turnarounds? Will paying to attend this convention help me reach the right audience enough to justify the price and loss of development time?” he explains.

Due to the lean years after high school, Augustin’s mantra is, “It’s better to have money than spend money.”

Handling success

Effort is also something he brings up when people tag him with the label “successful.”

“I want people to perceive me as someone in the trenches, trying to work as hard as possible to make my dreams come true,” he says. “I try to be an inspiration and show others that it is possible, and that it also takes a ton of work.”

Want to read more about lessons from those pursuing their passion?

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