Looking Back on 2016; Looking Forward to 2017

Wow, it’s almost February? I’m incredibly overdue for the blog post in which I give a post mortem of the previous year and talk about my plans for the coming year.

Which isn’t to say that I’ve been doing nothing this past month. I just haven’t prioritized telling you about it over actually doing it. B-)

WHAT WENT WELL IN 2016

As I said in 2015, I improved my ability to remember my goals. I no longer did the equivalent of setting New Year’s resolutions that I forgot within weeks. Throughout the year, I knew how well or poorly I was doing according to metrics I tracked.

Unfortunately, it meant that I was very aware of how poorly I was doing most of the time.

Last year I set out to build on my success with remembering goals by focusing on what’s needed to actually accomplish those goals.

One big and important improvement I had was in the area of project planning.

In the past, even if tried to be formal about my project management, my actual planning efforts never amounted to more than creating a list of tasks.

Now, some developers find that they can do just fine with nothing more formal than a TODO list or two, and it worked fine for me if I just wanted to know WHAT to work on and maybe even in what order.

But when you’re a lone wolf indie game developer, you need to wear a lot of hats. I had no problem with donning the Software Developer Hat, but my Producer Hat was neglected and gathering dust.

So I might spend weeks working on a particular feature or task without realizing it because I never stopped to think about how the entire project’s progress was being impacted.

At the beginning of the year, I spent quite a bit of time in project planning mode. I even wrote about how I approached it in How to Create a Game Development Project Plan. Then I dove into executing the plan.

And I was very pleased at how well following the actual plan worked for me. Even when my project started running late and surprises appeared that I hadn’t planned for, having a more active Producer Hat meant that at any given time I was focused on actually shipping my game.

Which leads me to the next thing that went well: I shipped!

I published my business simulation game Toytles: Leaf Raking for Android.

I still need to write the post mortem for it, but it is my first finished commercial project in years. While there are still features and content I wished I could have added, I’m proud of what I put together.

The release of my first commercial game in years also gave me my first sales in years. After earning $0 in 2015, I like this new trend of actually earning money from my business.

Speaking of money, 2016 was also the first time I put together a detailed budget for my business.

I used to track my expenses and income as they happened, and my aim was to ensure I had enough money in my bank accounts to cover everything.

But I got tired of learning that my bank account balance was lower than expected, only to discover that an automatic renewal on domain names or web hosting had occurred. I felt like I should be able to anticipate such regular expenses instead of being surprised by them.

So, I put together a projected budget, which allowed me to see not only how much I anticipated spending in the coming year, but also when my expenses were expected to spike. For example, I knew that my annual web hosting renewal was coming up in August.

And then I tracked my actual expenditures against the budget. It was eye-opening, and not just because I was able to quickly learn that my web host increased its rates without telling me before autorenewing. B-(

As a side effect of being hyper-aware of where my money was coming and going (er, mostly going), I also added to my budget a plan for a monthly investment into my business. I managed to add a significant amount of money into my business bank accounts by the end of the year.

Also, I updated my website, which is something I’ve been meaning to do for quite some time. My blog used to be completely separate from the main site, and now it’s integrated.

WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER IN 2016

Aside from my newly detailed budget and more robust project plan, I didn’t have plans for much else.

I wish I had spent some significant time on creating a promotion plan for Toytles: Leaf Raking. I had done some keyword research and put together a list of reviewer contacts, but most of my effort was spent on actually finishing the game.

Once it was nearly ready, I struggled to make forward progress on getting it in front of people. I realized quite late that the reason I was struggling was because I had no real plan to make it happen.

I didn’t even blog much about it, so I rarely mentioned it during development. I was a bit too accidentally secretive.

For a long time, I had a TODO item on my list to create a skill development plan for myself. I wanted to direct my learning more rather than pick up things haphazardly, but all of 2016 passed without such a plan in place.

I read 54 books, but only 8 were business related, of which I believe only one was game development related.

My project ran late. I didn’t plan for balancing the design, and so quite a bit of work to make the game feel complete wasn’t in the original plan.

Had I published it in three months, I would have had the rest of the year to figure out how to promote it. I wanted to try earning $1,000 by December 31st, but between the late release and my lack of promotion, I fell way short of that mark.

WHAT I WANT 2017 TO LOOK LIKE

2015 was about keeping my goals in front of me and establishing habits.

2016 was about being outcome focused. I logged more game development hours in 2016 than in 2015, but the more important thing was that those hours were aimed at targets.

In 2017, I want to focus on promotion and sales.

Which means I’ll be putting together concrete, specific, actionable plans instead of hoping and praying, or haphazardly trying to tweet about what I’ve made, which is basically the same thing.

I’ve already started the year with efforts to port Toytles: Leaf Raking to other platforms. More platforms means more opportunities for people to find my game. First up is GNU/Linux, mainly because it is my development platform and is easiest for me.

But what about making other games? Project planning is one thing, but product planning is another thing entirely. I have various ideas for new games, but I don’t want to be random about picking something just because it appeals to me. It will be easier to promote new projects if I do my market research and ensure my projects already appeal to players.

My blog has historically been about running an indie game development business, and so my audience has been other game developers primarily. My customers, however, aren’t going to be other game developers and aren’t necessarily going to care about what happens behind-the-scenes.

The thing is, I like writing what I’ve been writing on my blog and don’t want to stop. Can I address players more directly, or do I need to separate my business from my blog to do so?

I am confident when it comes to creating games, but thinking about selling them is both exciting and terrifying to me, the way new things often are.

2017 is when I challenge myself to be incredibly proactive about putting myself and my work out there.

Let’s start. Oh, and happy new year!

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