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2020 in Review and My 2021 Vision

Another year has passed, and I feel very fortunate that my family and I survived it fairly unscathed. I know that a lot of people didn’t, and I know the COVID-19 pandemic is still taking its toll, both in lives and lives affected.

It has been a tough year, but I continued to be employed and was able to work from home. Most of our extracurricular activities, such as taking our kids to dance and Cub Scouts meetings, basically stopped. I rarely left the house all year except to pick up groceries or go for a walk around the neighborhood with the kids.

I got to spend more time with my family. Without school providing meals, my wife and I cooked a lot more, and we found that we enjoyed doing so together. We got the kids playing Just Dance and following yoga videos online to get daily exercise in. Internet outages went from being a minor annoyance to having a major impact on our work and school, and as I am the main IT department in my house, it all fell to me to make sure that the Wifi kept working.

It took a lot of adjustment, but we made it.

Goals from 2020

I had a few major business goals for last year:

  • Finish the contract game project
  • Game Sales: from $0 to $10,000 by December 31st
  • Release one more game before December 31st

The contract was finally finished in January, and aside from one more update to comply with changes in the App Store in the summer, I was done. I was happy to have had such a direct impact on the creation of a published game, as well as getting paid for it, but I was even more happy that I could direct my attention back to growing my own business.

Last year, I said:

Ostensibly my goal for the last few years was to get from $0/month to $10/month in sales. Again, the goal was meant to be achievable and to be a stepping stone to increasing sales over time.

But I think what might help is if I gave myself a much more inspiring goal, something that is doable but also would require me to stretch to make it happen.

So my 2020 goal is to get $10,000 in sales by December 31st.

It’s not quit-your-job money, but it’s not so small as to let me think I can procrastinate and make it happen in the last weeks of the year, either. It’s also not about the money, but money is an easy metric to track.

I came nowhere near to making that amount of money. That sum did not end up inspiring me, and it is probably because I didn’t see a clear path to it. Last year I wanted to start creating and finding my audience again after ignoring my business in favor of contract game development, but I didn’t formulate a coherent plan to do so until December. So for most of the year, I worked on creating updates for my existing game.

In the end, I was paid a total of $16.79 from sales of Toytles: Leaf Raking, my leaf-raking business simulation game (I have another payment coming this month from a sale from last month).

Now, I know there are a number of reasons for the low sales. Almost no one knows about the game, for instance. I haven’t been doing a good job pushing it out there.

But I did port and release the game for iOS, and then I published 6 of what I called Personality Injection updates since July. Each time I did so, I not only posted an announcement on my blog and shared it on social media, but I also sent out an email to my GBGames Curiosities Newsletter subscribers.

Oh, that’s another thing I did: I brought back my mailing list. I used to have one years ago, but I decided to start a new one. I invited the previous subscribers to join, and some did. Sign up, and you get a free player’s guide for Toytles: Leaf Raking, which is another thing I created last year.

Since I had a new mailing list, I also added a new goal for the second half of the year: grow my subscribers by 10. I ended up increasing the number of subscribers by 3, but since I didn’t promote it any more than the game, I think that’s a decent improvement.

I ended up publishing a total of 58 blog posts throughout the year, partly because I started writing a weekly sprint report, documenting the highlights of what I accomplished in the previous week of game development. Considering that I published a total of 3 blog posts the year before, this output is a significant improvement, and I think it directly led to people learning about Toytles: Leaf Raking.

Now, I thought I would get to a point where I would consider myself “done” with Toytles: Leaf Raking updates and could start working on a new game early enough to get one released by the end of the year, but since I was only working an average of about 5 hours a week as a very, very part-time indie game developer, those Personality Injection updates sometimes took me over a month to get out. So no new game has been published yet.

But if you’ve been paying attention, you know I’ve been working on one since December, and strategically it is the first of my Freshly Squeezed line of games. More on that later.

I also had a few personal goals for 2020:

  • Do a minimum number of walking hours, push-ups, squats, and planking
  • Read a book per week
  • Create at least one doodle per day

Take a look at this chart of the year:

Morning Exercise Routine Tracking in 2020

The green indicates days in which I did a minimum of 10 push-ups, 10 squats, and 30 seconds of planking. The red indicates days in which I skipped. There is a big block of red near March, when my back was bothering me significantly enough to prevent me from exercising, but otherwise most of the year I kept up the habit. I feel fitter and more capable. I also did yoga on weekends, which I credit with preventing my back from hurting throughout the rest of the year.

I was trying to walk on a treadmill for 30 minutes a day but our treadmill’s motor started to smell like burning, so I haven’t been using it. I did walk with the kids during the summer after lunch, but otherwise I didn’t do walking regularly.

I read a total of 25 books, which is less than I read the year before. Still, between listening to podcasts instead of audiobooks in my car (and then not driving anywhere when the pandemic hit) and reading longer books, I think the fact that I was able to keep up a reading habit during the pandemic was a win.

But my favorite habit was doing a daily doodle. This one appealed to me partly because I always liked drawing but I also liked the idea of getting better at it. My programmer art is decent, but I want to make it more decent, and I know to get better I need to practice more than I do.

I’ll have a separate post about the improvement of my doodles, but here are my first few drawings:

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

And here are some of my favorites:

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

My 2021 Goals

Creating an aggressive sales target didn’t seem to work for me, but I still managed to make some sales happen despite a lack of advertising or contacting reviewers or anything.

It was a total of only 7 sales across Google Play and the App Store, but I can build on that.

My goals for 2021:

  • Go from ~0.146 sales per week to at least 1 sale per week by December 31st
  • Increase my newsletter audience to at least 100 subscribers by December 31st
  • Release at least 6 Freshly Squeezed Entertainment games by December 31st

I explained a bit what Freshly Squeezed Entertainment means, but the main idea is that I will be following through on my goals to create more and find my audience. I want to create free, quality games that encourage curiosity and support creativity. I want the games to find the people who love playing them and encourage them to sign up for my mailing list. And I want them to see my mailing list as a way to give me feedback and collaborate with me on the kinds of games they want to play, which means that when I release a game for sale, I am more likely to have an audience interested and willing to pay for it.

There’s a lot of uncertainty to this strategy. I don’t know how many people who play games would be willing to sign up for a newsletter these days. I don’t know if people who play free games are less likely to pay for a game. I don’t know how many people will sign up, nor do I know how many who do sign up will read the emails I send out. I don’t even know if my free games will be seen or get lost in the huge number of games that get released each week.

But the general idea is sound: give away value to attract players, get permission from players to talk to them, and use conversations with those players to get feedback and learn how to make what my audience is willing to pay for.

It’s way better than hoping and praying that strangers discover and pay me for each new game I create.

I was originally aiming to release one Freshly Squeezed game a month, but so far I think my 5 hours/week isn’t going to make it work out for me. It’s especially doubtful as I still want to create updates for Toytles: Leaf Raking in between Freshly Squeezed games. Still, I hope to have a release for my first new game before the end of this month.

One thing I realized is that out of the three goals, the only one I have direct control over is publishing games. I can’t control how many people sign up for my newsletter or how many people buy a game. But if the three goals are as connected as I expect they are, then releasing quality games should attract newsletter subscribers who eventually become customers.

Again, there’s a lot of uncertainty, and I recognize that 1 sale per week works out to almost 7 times what I am currently (I originally had a goal of 60 sales per week but realized it was much, much more ridiculous to expect an almost 400x increase in sales), but I can’t wait to get some hard data in the coming months to see how well this strategy plays out. I’ll adjust my expectations accordingly.

As for personal goals, I like aiming for a book a week as well as not sweating it when I don’t make it. I will continue to do daily exercise, and in fact I’ll increase my push-ups and squats from 10 to 15. I need to either fix my treadmill or get a new one so I can get in daily walking or running even when the weather doesn’t work out. I think I’ll continue to create daily doodles, but I am going to want to learn other aspects of art, such as color, character design, perspective, environmental design, and more.

Happy New Year

I hope 2021 sees the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, a safe transition of power, and justice, equity, and compassion in human relations. I hope my kids can play with family and friends without worrying about someone getting seriously or fatally sick. I hope you and your loved ones stay safe and healthy in the coming year.

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