My 16 Answers

In my post You’re an Indie. Now What?, I linked to Seth Godin’s 16 Questions for Free Agents. Below are my answers.

1.Who are you trying to please?

The short answer: my customers. But I think this question is really about identifying who your customers are. After all, you can’t please everyone, and if you try, you’re probably making something watered-down that pleases no one.

So who do I want to please? One, I’ve always wanted to make sure that I make games that I can also play, so cross-platform compatibility is very important to me. I use GNU/Linux at home, and I am frustrated when a game is released that is Windows-only. It’s even more frustrating for a game to be ported to the Mac but to hear that the developer refuses to support GNU/Linux. That’s like finding out that an old high school buddy traveled across the country to visit a mutual friend but refused to visit you because “it’s too far” even though you live just two blocks away. Web games are usually better at cross-platform support, but when they rely on Windows and Mac-only plugins, again, it shuts out people like me.

Two, even though I’ve quit my day job and no longer have to be there for 40-60 hours a week, I remember not having a lot of time to play games, at least not as I used to when I was younger. Years ago, playing 4+ hours per day after school was easy. Today, I don’t think I even WANT to dedicate that much time when I have so many other things I want to do. But I don’t want to play Bejeweled for 10 minutes. I want to play bigger, more complex games. Thinking games. Involved games. I just don’t want to need to dedicate hours upon hours to playing them in order to get satisfaction. So if I make a game, I would like to appeal to the gamers who wish they could game more often but find it difficult to do so. There are casual games, but sometimes they’re too simple for our tastes.

A perfect example of a game that allows you to get involved without needing to spend inordinate amounts of time to do so is Neptune’s Pride by Iron Helmet. It’s a real-time strategy that doesn’t require quick reflexes or quick thinking to do well. In fact, the faster you are, the less you’ll have to do since most of the time you’re waiting to see how your strategies play out. While it has a fun social element, allowing you to trade and backstab and do all sorts of diplomacy-related things, I like that you can log in only once a day or every 5 minutes and not gain or lose much over your opponents, and yet it is deep.

So the customer I’m trying to please right now is someone who wants to play deeper, more intricate games but have the same time commitment as he/she would with more casual games, and he/she wants to do so on the platform of his/her choice without absurd arbitrary limits.

2.Are you trying to make a living, make a difference, or leave a legacy?

I don’t believe these are mutually-exclusive. In fact, I have a hard time seeing how you can make a sustainable living without trying to make a difference or make your mark on the world. That said, the question of “what are you trying to do” is an important one to answer.

I won’t be satisfied with merely getting by. Granted, my income is nearly nonexistent at the moment, and there is definitely a desire to change that, but I don’t want to make bad long-term decisions just to make a quick buck now. I want to be creative and encourage others to be creative. I want to pursue curiosity and support others in their own pursuits. I want to make something that gives people a reason to think and talk about it.

3.How will the world be different when you’ve succeeded?

Earlier this year, I thought long and hard about how I wanted my life to turn out. I knew I was in charge of making decisions that would impact my quality of life, and if I didn’t become more self-aware and more conscious, then life would impact me instead.

In an earlier post, I mentioned going through some exercises in the book Life on Purpose: Six Passages to an Inspired Life. If you want some great advice for getting some guidance in your life, I’d highly recommend reading that book and actually running through the exercises yourself.

My current identified life on purpose is a joyful life of freedom, continuous learning, encouraged and supported creativity, insatiable curiosity, and prolific creation, all driven by passion and a desire for excellence, powered by a healthy body and soul.

The thing about a life on purpose is that it isn’t just about me. It’s about everyone else, too. I want my life to be a joyful life of freedom, and I want others to experience that, too. I hope I’m always learning in my life, and as important as it is, I hope the same is true for you.

While I anticipate my life on purpose will change as I grow, currently the above statement indicates how I hope the world would be changed when I’m through.

4.Is it more important to add new customers or to increase your interactions with existing ones?

It’s a question I’m wrestling with. There are only three ways to increase your business, according to Jay Abraham’s book Getting Everything You Can Out of All You’ve Got: 21 Ways You Can Out-Think, Out-Perform, and Out-Earn the Competition: increase the number of clients, increase the average size of the sale from a client, and increase the number of times a client returns to buy again.

So clearly adding new customers is important, but increasing interactions with customers is also important. Of course, just starting out, I have no customers. Having one customer is more important than giving great service to no customers, at least if I want to see revenue.

But there are two speeds when it comes to adding new customers to your business: fast and slow. Amazon.com needed to get big fast and gave very little thought to company culture. Ben & Jerry’s wanted a certain culture and built up slowly.

As an indie, I’m not interested in producing five or 10 games a quarter in the hopes that one of them becomes a hit and makes up for the investment in all of them. I’ll leave that business model to the major publishers. I’d rather have customers that are willing to talk to me about what they like and what bothers them.

So while it is more important to add customers, I don’t want to try to “get customers” at the expense of the longer-term relationship I could have. I don’t want people feeling ripped-off. I want to know that the people playing my games are satisfied, that they have no problem telling their friends and family about my games, and that they look forward to my games.

5.Do you want a team? How big? (I know, that’s two questions)

No. Ideally my team would be just me.

I’ve realized over the years that I can’t do everything myself, though. While I’ll take advantage of contractors and freelancers, I’d still prefer to keep my “team” small. I am not interested in turning GBGames into a massive company.

6.Would you rather have an open-ended project that’s never done, or one where you hit natural end points? (How high is high enough?)

Open-ended project that’s never done? I’m pretty sure Duke Nukem Forever covers that. B-)

Joking aside, I’m making games, and I’d rather have projects I can say are finished. While I could see making social MMOs requiring updates throughout the life of the game, there will still be a 1.0 version released.

7.Are you prepared to actively sell your stuff, or are you expecting that buyers will walk in the door and ask for it?

“If you build it, they will come” is widely regarded as a lie, and so if I expect to sell anything, I need to be prepared to actively do so. I won’t last long if I am sitting back and waiting for the customer to do the hard work of discovering my game, determining whether or not he/she wants to play it, and paying for it.

8.Which: to invent a category or to be just like Bob/Sue, but better?

While creating innovative and unique games sounds more creatively satisfying, I don’t want to make them so foreign that people don’t know what they’re playing and therefore won’t. At the same time, I don’t want to merely clone other successful games. Even if they could be financially successful, I wouldn’t be happy with it.

9.If you take someone else’s investment, are you prepared to sell out to pay it back?

Yes? By taking someone else’s investment, don’t I have an obligation to do things with the expectation that I will pay it back? If someone gives me $10,000, I’m going to want to do something that makes back at least $10,000, and I suppose that could be seen as “selling out.”

As of now, the only person’s investment I need to worry about is my own. Of course, I’d still like to be able to pay myself back (and then some!), so my behavior will still be geared toward getting my business profitable. It is a business, after all.

10.Are you done personally growing, or is this project going to force you to change and develop yourself?

Is anyone ever done personally growing? My business will definitely force me to change and grow much more quickly than I ever had to before.

11.Choose: teach and lead and challenge your customers, or do what they ask…

While I’ve been writing about having customers who are willing to tell me what they want, I am not going to be bending over backwards to make games that appeal to all customer requests. I’m the game designer, after all.

Also, part of my life on purpose includes continuous learning, and again it applies to everyone, not just me. And so I choose to teach, lead, and challenge my customers. What I choose to teach, however, is a different question.

12.How long can you wait before it feels as though you’re succeeding?

Before I quit my day job, I determined how much my burn rate was based on my current savings. I figured that the worst-case was that I had only a year before my savings ran out, but if I had to, I had even more time if I didn’t mind dipping into retirement savings.

And even if my savings did run out, I would find a way. I’m indie now, and I don’t see myself going back. At the moment, I feel that, if I had to, I could wait indefinitely.

13.Is perfect important? (Do you feel the need to fail privately, not in public?)

Heck, no! I’m planning on blogging about my failings. B-)

14.Do you want your customers to know each other (a tribe) or is it better they be anonymous and separate?

I’d love for my customers to interact with each other if they choose to. Going along with my answer to #4, I want these people to enjoy being customers. I don’t want them to be one-off cash register chimes.

15.How close to failure, wipe out and humiliation are you willing to fly? (And while we’re on the topic, how open to criticism are you willing to be?)

I’m all in as far as quitting my day job and relying on myself to earn a living goes, but per project? I don’t think I would try to spend everything I have on my first project. While it might result in higher quality art and sound as well better quality work (I’m not so arrogant as to think that I couldn’t hire someone to do a better job of programming than I), that’s it. If the game doesn’t earn me a living, it’s over for me.

So realistically, I’m going to be more cautious and less willing to spend money when I don’t need to. I need to be careful that I’m being too cautious. After all, if I can pay someone to do something in 30 minutes that would take me weeks to do a poorer job of, I should pay the money. But if I wipe out, I’m not going to do it in one big expensive effort in the first month of being indie.

Humiliation and criticism? I’m open to the possibility that people will laugh at my efforts, but I’m not going to let them discourage me. Cynics do not create.

16.What does busy look like?

I’m going to assume the use of the word busy here does not imply that you’re spinning wheels as opposed to moving forward.

I think there won’t be any one activity that I can point to and say, “If I’m working, this is what I’m doing.” I can’t expect to do well if I focus exclusively on product development because there won’t be any marketing or sales efforts. People won’t know what I’m offering or why they should pay for it. If I only do market research, then nothing is ever going to be produced. And if I only sell, then I’m not going to be creating anything, either.

But, if I can identify goals I want to accomplish, and if I make sure to do those activities that will help me accomplish those goals, then I can know whether I’m being busy or wasting time.

What are your 16 answers?

Some answers were harder to answer than I anticipated, while others were questions I’ve never thought about before.

If you’re an indie, have you taken the time to answer those 16 questions? Care to share them?

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