Shareware Development Takes Patience

Tom Warfield had a number of articles written years ago that I’ve never read, and he’s been updating his blog by reposting them. The latest such article is How Long Does Great Shareware Take?, which he originally published in 2003.

Now, it is generally understood that you can’t go into indie game development and expect to become rich overnight. Steve Pavlina’s article on the difference between shareware amateurs and shareware professionals notes how important it is to realize that version 1.0 isn’t the latest version of your product. You release, fix, rerelease, update, rerelease, etc. Warfield mentions that most shareware products don’t do well initially, and his Pretty Good Solitaire actually took months to sell one copy and years before it was sufficient to live off of the sales.

Last month I found a thread on the old Dexterity forums about shareware games, and there was a discussion between Pavlina and Warfield likening their business models to rotating a flywheel. It’s harder to turn at first, and it might seem like you are putting a lot more effort into it than getting rewards out of it, but eventually it gets easier and easier to turn faster and faster.

But patience is required. If you aren’t satisfied with the immediate results and try to change them, you’ll constantly change and never let anything last long enough to actually work. If I kept restarting my own game development just because it took longer than a month, I would probably have four partially finished projects instead of one, er, much-more-completed project. And I’m just starting out! I’m just now getting feedback about the game from people, some of whom haven’t had a chance to actually see it in action.

If Joel Spolsky says that great software takes 10 years, and Warfield and Pavlina have said similar things for shareware games, then it would make sense to plan for the long haul for indie game development, especially when you are flying solo and aren’t able to lean on 10 employees of varying skills and talents.