To the Aspiring Game Maker,
Back when I was sitting in my college dorm room coding up my first games, I had no idea what I was getting into. It was beautiful, glorious even. When the rest of the students toiled away learning how to write enterprise code that will save people time and money, I wrote code that did the exact opposite. I wrote code that made companies bleed productivity. I wrote code that made people laugh, rage in anger, sit on the edge of their seats and twitch. I made the addictive digital equivalent of Meth.
I sent my builds to the best coders in my class with the note, “Go ahead and build that OS you’re working on. I’ll make darn thing fun.”
I was always ‘that guy’. Missing parties to sit in my dorm room and code. Skipping class because my lecturers gave me attendance to finish my games from home. Sitting in the college lab playing games and calling it research.
Somewhere down the line, reality hit me square in the face. Game production is not all fun and games.
College education is the best phase in a person’s life to make mistakes. You’re young enough to learn from them, bounce back and hit the grind again. Frankly, if you haven’t messed up big time at least once while in college, you’ve missed out on a grand opportunity. But once you’re out in the wild, reality has a way of slowly seeping into your brain and messing with your dreams.
So here I was, trying to make a living from my games. When reality hit me in the face, the following fell out…
- I’ll be giving away my games for free to my players (Awesomesauce, where’s my lunch money going to come from?)
- Players have millions of free games out there that they can play instead of yours.
- I knew how to make games, but I didn’t know how to make revenue.
I could get hired at a studio and become a Game Engineer but then,
- I don’t get to make the games I love to make.
And so I turned into one of those unpredictable creatures they call the ‘Indie Game Developer’. I thought I was done with the learning from mistakes part in college, but boy was I wrong. Here’s what I had to learn the hard way…
- Fitting your big idea into a timeline and a budget is HARD and painful. You find yourself pacing around thinking what part of the awesome feature set you’d kill to let the rest of it survive and get released. It’s very much like a hostage situation where somebody is definitely going to die.
- Murphy’s law is a very real factor when building games.
- Things always take longer and cost more than planned, even if you keep this in mind while planning and costing.
- If you do it right, you’ll probably hate playing your awesome game by the time you ship it. If you still enjoy playing it, it probably means either of two things…
- You’ve not worked long and hard enough on it.
- You’re a delusional narcissist.
- Till you ship it, you’ve done nothing.
- A late game is only late till it ships. A bad game is bad till the end of time. (Thanks for warning me about this Miyamoto-san. But I still had to learn it the hard way.)
- Build only the best thing you can build. Repeat.
- Never trust the publisher.
- Never expect the player to do what you want him to do.
- If there is a possibility of an exploit in your game, your players WILL find it.
- They’ll also make a blog post about it and share it on social media.
- They’ll not find it necessary to tell you about it.
- If you can’t make revenue, you can’t make games. Not the other way around.
- Always make your decisions based on data.
- Relying completely on your gut feel and instinct will get you far if you’re heading towards failure. Here’s the thing, you need to use your instinct to develop the hypothesis, but you need data to validate them.
- Surveys don’t generate usable data…
- A lot of people can’t articulate what they want.
- Some people just won’t tell you what they really want.
- A lot of people don’t know what they want.
- But they all really want it. Now.
- Opinions are opinions.
- You can never make a list that is actually fully exhaustive. That includes this one.
- Don’t take advice from a stranger on the internet. That includes me.
That was my Indie phase. It was after I came to TechTree that I went from being an eccentric creative with no direction, to being a methodic and meticulous craftsman with a mission statement. Mark Skaggs, an industry leader credited with making legendary games like ‘FarmVille’ and ‘Command and Conquer: Red Alert 2’, once told me that he was just like me – the difference being just that he had made a lot more mistakes than I have and learnt from them.
Enough reading: Now go out there and make some mistakes.
Your friend, the domesticated Indie Developer,