Welcome to 2012! I hope you enjoy your stay!
How was the last year for you? Mine was a mixed bag.
First, the good:
- I went to the Game Developers Conference for the first time, meeting and hobnobbing with the best and brightest of the game industry. GDC was a blast!
- I got engaged on the balcony of Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany while taking a once-in-a-lifetime trip through Europe with her graduate class.
- On the way back from that trip, I learned I had a new niece. The last time I saw her, she was already starting to walk.
- In January, I started my term as a new board member of the Association of Software Professionals and ended up becoming the President two months ago.
- I finished a game for the Ludum Dare #20 Jam in May.
- I started taking pre-orders for Stop That Hero! at the end of September, and I released the alpha version of the game for sale a few weeks ago.
Now, the bad:
- I’m probably in worst shape than when I started the year.
- I missed the IGF deadline.
- I’m out of money.
While 2010 saw me make the leap into full-time indie game development, 2011 saw me struggle to stay there. My burn rate estimate said I should last through to October using only my savings. Years ago, I bought a few shares of stock, and I had to sell those recently at a loss (Thanks, economy!) to cover my expenses. While I’ve sold a few pre-orders and a couple of alpha versions since its release for Windows and GNU/Linux, Stop That Hero! isn’t finished and won’t likely pay the bills anytime soon. And I still need to find a way to get the Mac port made for the Mac pre-order customers. I feel terrible about not having it made yet. B-(
So in terms of my business, was 2011 a failure? Yes, in the sense that my project was really late and overbudget, ruining any plans and revised plans continually throughout the year. Yes, in the sense that I no longer have my savings to allow me to focus on my business full-time. And yes in the sense that I feel I wasted my opportunity.
But no in the sense that I’m wiser for it all. I got an education without being saddled with student loans, at least.
Now, I learned a lot. Yes, I learned more about the technical details of making games. I gained some valuable, in-the-trenches experience in running a business on a scale I’ve never seen before.
But to be honest, that’s small comfort when I need look into contract work to make ends meet now.
I got a lot of advice throughout the last year. People told me that I was focusing too much on the technology and not enough on the game, that my insistence on making a downloadable game for GNU/Linux was a poor business decision when I should be targeting mobile and web-based platforms, that C++ was a poor language to use, that I should be focused on making quick games to see if one becomes a hit, that, basically, I was doing things wrong. In other words, I was being way too indie for their tastes, that I should be indie their way instead. B-)
It was all good advice, but I ignored most of it. It was my decision. And if I had to do it again, I’m not sure I would have done it differently.
My problems did not come from the technology I used or my target platforms, even though I could have done more to leverage existing libraries and to learn from open source games. My problems were not a matter of not using Flash or Unity, or of insisting on using GNU/Linux as my base development platform. If any of these were problems, they were mere symptoms.
My real problems stemmed from:
- a lack of experience.
- a lack of collaboration.
- being undisciplined in producing results.
- ignoring cash flow.
That last one sinks more businesses than any other issue. And I KNEW this fact, yet I kept pushing forward to get my game out as soon as I could, figuring that I would stop then to figure out what I was going to do. Every month ending without a released game had me thinking that I just needed a few more days, and a few more days, and the next thing I knew, it was a year later without a released version of the game to show for it.
When my business plan fell apart, I shouldn’t have put off fixing/rewriting it until after the product was finished. It seems obvious as I write this, but I guess my head was buried in my work, and I wanted to have something to show for my efforts. Instead of running a business, I was only focused on trying to make a game. There’s a lot more to running a game development business than game development.
Sadly, the one piece of advice I took to heart was probably the worst. I stopped writing so I could focus more of my time on game development. My writing is one of my biggest strengths and providers of value, and the less I wrote, the less chance I had of gaining an audience, getting feedback, and interacting with other game developers in general. I used to be the orange juice-drinking indie game blogging guy. Now I’m just another obscure struggling indie.
To the future!
So what’s 2012 going to look like?
Honestly, I’m not sure yet. I’m still figuring out my game plan, but here are some major themes.
I’ll be married in a few months. Woo!
Of course, it means it is even more important for me to figure out how to pay the bills. My expenses are already very low, so it is a matter of getting more income, and right now I don’t see how my business is going to provide it. I’m going to be looking for contract work, but I am keeping an eye out for creative funding opportunities.
As a result, I’ll once again have less time than I like for my business, which means I’ll need to make sure that I spend that time wisely. I intend to focus on creating results more rapidly than I have. Perhaps it means collaborating with other developers or using other technologies, but it will mean holding myself to deadlines and focusing on providing value consistently.
And you can bet that I’ll be writing about my progress.
I hope 2012 is prosperous and full of opportunity for you. I’m figuring out my plan to try to make the most of mine. Happy new year!