Categories
Game Development Marketing/Business Personal Development Politics/Government

Reviewing an Underwhelming 2022, Previewing a Better 2023

At the start of the year, I like to look back on the previous year to see how well reality matched up with my plans, and then, trying to incorporate any lessons and insights I’ve gained, I make new plans for the coming year.

In the past, I’ve found myself weeks (or even months?) into the new year before I get around to this work. I was not exactly hitting the ground running, partly because I was still finishing the previous year’s efforts up until the end of the year and didn’t give myself time to reflect before the new year.

But this time around, I took off the month of December from my day job with the intention of journaling, reviewing the past, and figuring out what I want out of the future. December tends to be my least productive month in terms of GBGames, and while there were still plenty of errands and holiday preparations to work on, I did manage to make some time for some serious thinking effort, especially thanks to an early Christmas present from my wife for a week-long solo retreat.

The short version: 2022 kinda sucked. I’m looking forward to making 2023 into what 2022 should have been.

Here’s the long version.

In A Review of My 2021, and Looking at 2022, Already In Progress, I was coming off of the success of finally publishing Toy Factory Fixer, my first one-month Freshly Squeezed Entertainment project, after about 12 months of development.

I had a goal of releasing 6 such games over the course of a year, and so I was recognizing that my capacity as a very, very part-time indie meant that I needed to be a LOT more realistic about what I could actually accomplish.

My overall strategy didn’t change, but the values were significantly smaller. My goals for 2022 were:

  • Release at least 2 Freshly Squeezed Entertainment games by December 31st
  • Increase my newsletter audience from 22 to at least 34 subscribers by December 31st
  • Earn at least 1 sale per month by December 31st

Maybe publishing 2 games was still too ambitious, but I figured at least one game with one in development was still an improvement. And maybe 1 sale per month sounds laughable, but I didn’t come anywhere close to 1 sale per week OR per month in the previous year. And if it is so laughable, it should be easy to get more than one sale a month even if all I do is post a plea on Facebook asking friends and family to buy the game.

I right-sized my goals for what I thought was simultaneously a small step and also a stretch from what I have so far been demonstrating.

So how did I do?

Not great, actually.

Published Freshly Squeezed Entertainment Games (Target: 2) — 0 (or maybe 1)

I’ll explain more below, but other than working on porting my existing games to the desktop and creating Disaster City, my Ludum Dare 50 game, in a weekend, I made no new games.

I don’t really count my Ludum Dare game, though, because it was conceived and developed for the compo and wasn’t really something I was planning to make into my next Freshly Squeezed Entertainment game. I thought about making it a full-fledged project after the compo, but I never got the energy behind it to do so, even though I liked the germ of the idea I had created. I wanted to be more deliberate than “Here’s a game I quickly threw together, so maybe I can make a bigger version of it?”

At the end of the year, I started putting together a design document for my next Freshly Squeezed Entertainment, but it isn’t ready enough yet for me to formally announce its existence yet.

I might be too hard on myself, as I did put in time and effort to create ports, so it wasn’t a complete blank of a year, but it is my most clear-cut failure for a major goal to not get addressed at all.

GBGames Curiosities Newsletter subscribers net increase (Target: 12) — 3

On the bright side, it’s above 0. I should be pleased about that fact at least. And no one unsubscribed, at least.

My newsletter grew by 6 subscribers the previous year, though, so I’m not happy with gaining fewer subscribers, especially since I have Toy Factory Fixer and Toytles: Leaf Raking released on the desktop and so had more exposure with more incentive (you can get a free player’s guide for each game) to join the newsletter.

I don’t know if I should take it as a refutation of my strategy to release free games and grow my audience through them, or if it is still too soon to tell.

Sales (Target: 12) — 3

I sold 7 copies of Toytles: Leaf Raking in 2020, 5 copies in 2021, and only 2 in 2022, with one person giving me an optional couple of bucks for my otherwise free Toy Factory Fixer to make for what I technically call a third sale.

I don’t like this downward trend, either.

On the other hand, due to one of the two sales happening on itch.io which allowed for one customer paying me significantly more than the asking price (thanks, Mike!), I actually made almost $1 more than the year before, and making more money is a trend that I like.

But obviously I can’t rely on such generosity for everything.

Analysis

My major goals are above, but I also had minor goals to port my existing games to the desktop, especially after Ludum Dare 50 and my efforts to port my game for it to get as many potential reviewers as possible.

But before all of that, there were two big tasks.

One was to finish some post-release efforts for Toy Factory Fixer, such as creating and uploading a player’s guide and updating my website for it.

Another was a presentation I meant to give early in the year that never happened. I was scheduled to give a Toy Factory Fixer post-mortem presentation at my local IGDA chapter in February, but that month the meeting never happened, and the chapter hasn’t scheduled another one since.

At the time, I thought it meant I had more time to polish my presentation before it was rescheduled, but I didn’t really track the time I worked on it, so I don’t know how much effort it took.

My vague plan was to finish the presentation, then switch gears to quickly port my games, then switch gears again to creating my next Freshly Squeezed Entertainment game. Basically, my major goals were on hold, and maybe they shouldn’t have been considered my major goals if that were the case?

I worked on my presentation on and off for a few months, finishing it in May, but then never actually presenting it or recording it myself, completely wasting the effort for this supposed priority.

After Ludum Dare in April, I finally put together a backlog of tasks to port my games, only to kick myself for having put off for so long the 5 minutes it took to do it.

What followed was a few months of development effort to do the ports. Frankly, getting the games onto the desktop was easy work, and while I spent weeks creating the Linux port despite the fact that my main development system is Linux-based, it was because I wanted to make it a one-button, reproducible build. The Windows port was fairly straightforward as well and was almost a one-button build that needed a few tweaks. The Mac port was a little troublesome, but I eventually figured out the arcane incantation Xcode required.

In August, I participated in 60 FPS Fest again, and it was insightful watching complete strangers try to play Toy Factory Fixer. A number of people struggled to figure out how to start, which I addressed through some hints and UI changes in an update I made in the following weeks.

And then, after my Toytles: Leaf Raking desktop ports were announced, for some reason, I did nothing.

Well, that’s not quite true. In September I tried an experiment in which I did a daily game design exercise based on the day’s news headlines, and while I enjoyed the experience and think I got a lot out of it, it required too much of my time, way more than I could justify spending on it.

But I didn’t have a product plan. At the very least, I didn’t have a next project ready to go, and apparently my theme for this year was to struggle with overcoming inertia.

I also had some health problems which impacted my ability to sit long enough to work on anything.

So basically, my major goals took a backseat until I could get what at the time looked like quick goals accomplished, which ended up either taking me longer to get around to or taking me longer to finish than I originally anticipated.

But it wasn’t like I vastly underestimated how much work there was to do. I think it came down to not getting myself to do the work consistently.

In 2021, I had habits that got me to slowly but surely publish a game. I did exercise every day. I dedicated regular time to learning, mostly to take advantage of my Pluralsight subscription.

I had set my course, and each day I executed part of a plan that moved me in that direction until I was at my destination.

But this past year? I found myself between plans often. It’s one thing to take a step forward with an existing project. It’s another to figure out what a new project should be.

I think I usually find that I need a major break after a game project is completed, but I felt like I couldn’t get back into the swing of things this past year, and I still can’t quite put my finger on why.

I was fine so long as I was tracking some effort, but for some reason if I wasn’t dedicating time to development or writing or learning, I found it harder to keep on task, or start a task in the first place, even if I knew what that task was. In fact, whenever I don’t know what I should be doing, I take that as a clue that what I should be doing is figuring out what I should be doing. Yet, I couldn’t muster up the effort.

Was it burnout? Was I questioning why I was trying to accomplish things I set out to do so long ago that I forgot why I was doing them? Was it frustration that the rest of society seems to be trying to get back to a pre-pandemic normal that doesn’t and shouldn’t exist anymore? I don’t know.

But as someone who aspires to one day get back to full-time indie status, this past year felt squandered and lost despite the accomplishments I can point to.

What else?

Compared to the previous year, I only put in a third as much game development, a total of 101 game development hours. I only had five months that were productive, and they weren’t full months.

I blogged a lot less, with only 35 published posts compared to last year’s 60. About 9 of the posts were for Ludum Dare 50 weekend, and I don’t think I tracked my writing time then. Since many of my posts are sprint reports, and I was doing less development, it makes sense that I had less to say, but there are other kinds of blog posts that I could have written. I put in about 53 hours for writing that I tracked which is surprisingly only a little less than the time I put in the year before and which doesn’t include when I wrote for the player guides. My newsletter is supposed to be a monthly one, but I only sent out 4 issues last year, mainly because the only things I had to announce were the ports and updates to existing apps.

I had managed to keep my expenses down significantly relative to previous years, mainly by resisting game and book sales (I have plenty already purchased I could play/read instead), but it was still a bit more than I had planned and a large multiple of my income.

My personal goals were:

  • Do a minimum number of walking hours, push-ups, squats, and planking
  • Read a book per week
  • Create at least one doodle per day
  • Do 15 minutes of focused learning a day

I wasn’t able to keep up with my 15 push-ups, 15 squats, and 30 seconds of planks, mainly because I hurt myself bad enough that I had to stop, only doing the exercises for about half of the year.

I continued to do my exercise and stretches more or less as I have always done it, which has kept my back strong and meant that I haven’t needed to see a doctor about it in a couple of years. Unfortunately, at some point I had a severe pain that was quite debilitating, and I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what might have caused it other than helping someone move a mattress or twisting under a bathroom sink trying to fix a leak.

People tell me that part of the fun of getting old is getting hurt for no reason, and I don’t like it.

So unfortunately I spent a chunk of my summer recovering and doing physical therapy. For some time it was not my favorite thing to stand, sit, or lie down. The latter two were especially tough because getting up would send my back into painful spasms, and working in my office for longer than I needed to for the day job was not happening much. The physical therapy helped, and these days I feel a lot more confident and way less self-aware of everyday movement.

Even when I was feeling well enough to exercise, I wasn’t doing cardio, something I keep saying I’ll prioritize but never make happen, but we just got a new treadmill and I’ve started walking on it daily, and when the weather is nicer I might start making a point of going out for a walk instead. I want to eventually build up to running and perhaps look into actually joining a recreational soccer team. I miss playing the game, and I loved helping to coach my daughter’s awesomely inclusive soccer team in the previous year.

I read a total of 28 books last year, none of which were related to game development. Whoops. That’s usually something I try to prioritize. One book was “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” by Harlan Ellison, which I read because I was playing the game around May, so does that count?

Only 4 of the books were fiction, including Ellison’s. One book was about advertising, another was about product management, and the rest were either about history, computer science, business, self-improvement, and a few other topics. My favorites for the year include The Profiteers by Sally Denton, You Look Like a Thing and I Love You by Janelle Shane, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Work by James Suzman, and Humankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman.

Compared to the previous year’s 137.75 hours, I only tracked 22.5 hours of dedicated learning. I was trying to keep a daily streak going, which normally is fine since that’s the point of a daily habit, but it was stressing me out to do so. The problem was that I was also aware that I was making enough time for learning but not enough for doing. Why was I stressing myself out to do one but not the other? So I dropped the habit after a few months, intending to pick it back up when I was ready.

In fact, at some point I wondered if it made sense to carry over my daily habits from the year before, especially as I kept finding new ones I wanted to add and wondered what to cut. I don’t have infinite time, and while I find a number of things valuable, I needed to prioritize. It didn’t help when I found myself stressed about trying to keep on top of some of them, such as my daily doodle, daily learning, and daily Duolingo Italian lessons, so I dropped a few of them early in the year.

I found it incredibly helpful trying to stop self-inflicted stress from happening. Much as how in the previous year I didn’t need to stress about an arbitrary game publishing deadline I created for myself, I found myself questioning why I was staying up late to catch up on missed doodles that week or finding myself annoyed that a meeting I was in meant I couldn’t finish a Pluralsight module that day. I instead was trying to live by the philosophy of “do more of what makes you happy” although I did find a lot of relief just removing things from my life rather than adding to it. Pluralsight isn’t cheap, so I have some incentive to actually make use of it, which is what my daily habit was helping me to do, but I need to find a more sustainable way to do it.

Last year I said I wanted to make more time to actually play games, something I usually don’t do because if I have time to play then I have time to do development. I wanted to be more deliberate and regular about playing games, though, because there are obvious benefits of learning from existing games but also because when I do play games I tend to play them obsessively for days or weeks, pushing out other things I need to do. Unfortunately I never did figure out a regular game playing schedule, and so I once again had spikes of play between many long lulls throughout the year.

There was more going on that I won’t recount here, both in terms of challenges at the day job and family health issues and a major death, but suffice it to say that it was a difficult year to feel motivated and inspired.

I think the theme last year was questioning whether or not the path my past self had set me on was still serving me, and in the absence of finding a new path, I stopped traversing it to give myself time and space to eventually figure out where I wanted to go next. Apparently I needed a lot more time and space than I expected.

I also found myself struggling with the fact that I was still a very, very part-time indie, that the day job takes up such a large chunk of my waking hours that I would love to put towards a variety of other activities, so I feel like I have to prioritize what’s left over, and I’m unsatisfied with this situation.

Goals for 2023

My goals for last year were not supposed to be overly challenging. I figured that all I had to do was make a concentrated effort to easily meet them. All I had to do was convince one person to buy a game in any given month. I should similarly be able to get one person interested enough to subscribe to my newsletter each month. If I could do it, I imagined that the next customers wouldn’t be far behind.

Maybe the hardest goal would be publishing two games in a year, but I imagined that it would have come down to project management, prioritization, and limiting scope. So, doable.

I normally would right-size my goals based on the previous year’s results, but I think last year was an off-year for me. I think those goals are still doable despite the fact that I didn’t get them done.

So, I’m keeping them as my goals for 2023:

  • Release at least 2 Freshly Squeezed Entertainment games by December 31st
  • Increase my newsletter audience from 25 to at least 37 subscribers by December 31st
  • Earn at least 1 sale per month by December 31st

That’s at least one new subscriber and at least one new sale each month, and I’ll need to focus on shipping as quickly as possible to get two games out.

My current strategy is that my free games will drive newsletter subscribers who eventually become paying customers, but I of course also have to deal with the fact that my games are quite obscure and off the radar of almost all potential players.

One major focus will be on actual creation and development, things I’ve done before and understand. I have demonstrated that I can design, plan, create, and publish a game, and I just need to put in the hours.

But another major focus will be solving my obscurity problem, to figure out how to get my games in front of more people, something I have long recognized as a problem but have yet to put in a similar amount of effort to solve. While I believe the kind of games I make aren’t meant for the kinds of players found on Steam (and so most typical and accessible indie game marketing literature is irrelevant), I don’t have a solid idea of just who my target players are, and I haven’t defined them for years despite recognizing this need.

I need to actually answer these questions rather than merely ask them like I do each time I think about marketing and sales: Where do they live? How do they spend their time? How specifically do I let them know about my game when they are looking for new games?

But not in a creepy, data-harvesting, privacy-violating kind of way. Just in a “you are clearly looking for the kind of family-friendly, privacy-respecting entertainment that I provide” kind of way.

My goal isn’t to try to make a random hit game. My goal is to grow an audience who cares about what I make. I’ve done a poor job of finding such an audience all these years, and so my work in the coming months is to figure out how.

Outside of my major goals, there are a few other areas of my life I focus on.

I want to make my physical health a bigger priority. For years, I’ve been doing just enough to keep my body flexible and capable. My morning exercise and stretching routine takes mere minutes, and while I do get benefits from it, I’m not satisfied. This past year showed me that just enough isn’t enough, that my body needs to be more capable of handling day to day life as well as the occasional heavy duty chore. I need to move more and challenge myself physically, while also not overdoing it and hurting myself.

I have been fairly happy with investing time and money into learning. Whether it is my daily habit of reading in the morning, paying for books and courses, or going to conferences, I don’t see changing much. For years, my goal has been to read a book per week, but when I stopped listening to audiobooks in my car in favor of listening to podcasts, my total book count dropped. And working from home, I don’t drive as much anyway, but if I take up daily walking or running, I could watch presentations on a TV or listen to audiobooks or podcasts more while also getting the mental benefits that come from cardio. I recently acquired a number of books on game design, plus I have a number of ebooks I never make time for, so I have plenty of content. It’s just a matter of prioritizing quality reading as opposed to allowing myself to jump into social media multiple times a day.

And I want to make sure I give myself time to play. Not just games, although getting back into hosting a monthly board game night or enjoying the occasional computer game in my collection would be good, but I want to give myself permission to not need to be accomplishing or completing or checking-off something. I want to do something for the sake of doing, for exploring, for wondering, and not worrying that I’m supposed to be doing something else to be productive. I want to get some quality work done, but I also want to enjoy the process more.

I hope you have a safe, healthy, curious, and playful 2023! Happy New Year!

Categories
Game Design Games Marketing/Business

Announcing Toytles: Leaf Raking for Windows, Mac, and Linux

Toytles: Leaf Raking, my family-friendly leaf-raking business simulation game, was originally released for Android and iOS, but now you can get it for your computer!

Toytles: Leaf Raking

In this leaf-raking business simulation game that teaches responsibility and strategic thinking, you want The Ultimate Item ™, but it’s expensive, and your parents won’t buy it for you. So, with a rake and some yard bags, you start your leaf-raking business in the hope of earning the money to buy The Ultimate Item ™ yourself.

Learn more about the game and where to get it at the main Toytles: Leaf Raking page.

Toytles: Leaf Raking Player's Guide

Get the 24-page, full color PDF of the Toytles: Leaf Raking Player’s Guide for free by signing up for the GBGames Curiosities newsletter!

Categories
Marketing/Business Personal Development Politics/Government

A Review of My 2021, and Looking at 2022, Already In Progress

2021 ended weeks ago, and I’m only now getting around to having a retrospective about it.

We’re in our third year of a pandemic that a lot of us thought would be over within weeks or months at most.

Once again, my immediate family somehow managed to make it through the year unscathed as far as we know. I know a number of people who have tested positive for Covid, and we’ve lost a few people we knew.

I’m still employed and working the day job from home, and since I work in software consulting, it translates into a relatively comfortable income and life for my family.

We’re all fully vaccinated, and most of us have gotten a third vaccine. Recently with developments of variants, we’ve upgraded to KN95 and N95 masks.

And since our society in general seems interested in actually helping the pandemic, it seems like this is our foreseeable future.

That said, we’ve started venturing out of the house a bit more in the last year. My children participated in sports, and I even acted as unofficial assistant soccer coach for my daughter’s team. We’ve visited with family.

Some things felt normal, despite feeling weird, and despite knowing that some people are immunocompromised and most at risk as society prematurely decides the pandemic is over. It’s disappointing.

So with the pandemic as background music, how was 2021 for GBGames?

Goals from 2021

As I wrote last year in 2020 in Review and My 2021 Vision, my goals for 2021 were:

  • 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

Increasing sales and increasing my newsletter audience aren’t things I have direct control over. They are lagging metrics, the kinds of numbers I can look at after the fact.

The only one of those goals I had direct control over was publishing games. This is a leading metric. That is, my hypothesis is that if I quickly work on and publish playable, polished prototypes, that it will lead to people finding my games and eventually subscribing to my newsletter.

And what I hypothesize is that those subscribers have shown they like my games and are more likely than random strangers to pay for Toytles: Leaf Raking and future non-free games I publish.

So how did I do?

Sales (Target: 52) – 5

In 2020, I sold 7 copies of Toytles: Leaf Raking. So, selling less means I went backwards in terms of results.

If there’s a bright side, unlike in 2020, I only released one update for the game, and most of my focus was on my new development. So 71% of the previous year’s sales despite a near-complete lack of me talking about the game?

Maybe that’s not bad, but it was clearly not anywhere near the increase I wanted.

GBGames Curiosities Newsletter subscribers net increase (Target: 84) – 6

I went from 16 subscribers to 22, about a 38% increase. Considering how the next goal’s results went, I’m taking it as a minor win, despite not hitting my goal of what now seems like a ridiculous expectation of a 525% increase.

And, no one has unsubscribed, so that’s another win in my book.

As this was probably the most important goal in terms of how much it will impact the future of GBGames, it is a bit disappointing, but again, it is a lagging metric. I can’t control it directly. Which leads me to what I could control.

Published Freshly Squeezed Games (Target: 6) – 1

Toy Factory Fixer was the only game I published last year, and it didn’t get released until mid-December.

So on the one hand, I am disappointed that I fell so far short of my original goal. Having such a late release meant that I spent most of the year not knowing how my Product Development Strategy was going to work out experimentally, which made me worry about the risk of taking so long to release something to get that feedback even more.

On the other hand, I finished and released a game I’m proud of, people are still downloading it and playing it, and I have already received some nice reviews.

And I think my regular posting about development progress has led to people signing up for the newsletter, so there is a direct connection happening there.

Analysis

Now, I think much like my arbitrary one month deadline for Toy Factory Fixer, these goals were more wishes than anything. I had no solid plan in place to make them happen, and any plan I did have was a bit vague and untested.

Literally, my plan was to release free games, hope some of the players signed up for my newsletter, and hope those subscribers eventually became paying customers.

And I think it isn’t a bad strategy overall, but in retrospect I was deluding myself with the fixed numbers I made up without anything to justify them.

I mean, I’ve made games in a weekend before, so taking two months instead of one month to make a game sounded like I was right-sizing that goal, but my experience with Toy Factory Fixer showed me that I was going to need to do something different if I wanted to make games anywhere near that fast that I would still feel good about releasing to the public. And everything else hinged one me releasing Freshly Squeezed Entertainment.

I wrote a post-mortem for Toy Factory Fixer, so you can read that post if you want to see my analysis of what I think went well and what went wrong and what I learned from it.

Otherwise, I think in general my specific goals were unrealistic. Which is frustrating because they feel like they shouldn’t be. In fact, I thought 100 subscribers was something I would hit much earlier in the year, and that what I was really hoping for was 12 games in a year.

Imagine if I made a game of the quality of Toy Factory Fixer every two or three months. Is it so unrealistic that I would have had 100 subscribers to my mailing list by the end of the year?

By my math, if I only gain 6 subscribers a year for some reason, am I really looking at 13 more years before I hit that number? That’s ridiculous.

But clearly something has to change if I want different results.

What else?

Well, I tracked 299 hours of game development, which is pretty close to almost twice what I did the previous year. 300 hours in a year might not sound like much, as it amounts to a little less than two months of full-time effort, but since I am part-time and have a family and other obligations, it represents the fact that I made it a priority to put in effort week after week.

I published 60 blog posts, slightly more than the 58 from the year before, and it was mostly weekly sprint reports. Those reports functioned almost like a combination sprint retro and demo, in which I demonstrated what I got accomplished. I got into the habit of writing the report, then planning the next sprint once I had taken time to think about how things went. Plus, people responded positively, especially when I had animated GIFs or videos to share, and since I love reading about behind-the-scenes of games, I thought others might, too.

I created an update for Toytles: Leaf Raking. It’s more compatible with modern Android and iOS systems. Otherwise, I haven’t changed anything about the game since the previous year. My expectation was that I would work on a Freshly Squeezed game, then work on a Toytles: Leaf Raking update, then work on another Freshly Squeezed game, but obviously I had no concept about how I was going to make that work.

Without contract work and with very few sales, it was very easy to have a lot more expenses than revenue. I can’t control my income, but I can manage my expenses a lot better going forward.

My personal goals for the last year were similar to the year before:

  • Do a minimum number of walking hours, push-ups, squats, and planking
  • Read a book per week
  • Create at least one doodle per day
  • Do 15 minutes of focused learning a day

I successfully did 15 push-ups, 15 squats, and 30 seconds of planks every day of 2021. Look at all that green in those columns!

Morning Exercise Routine In 2021

Technically, my daily exercise streak goes back to October 19th of the previous year.

I also did yoga on most weekends, and I think my body feels more physically capable than it has in a long time. In the past I would sometimes hurt my back or side, but I’ve been able to avoid seeing a medical professional for a long time.

Unfortunately, I rarely did anything cardio-related. Once again, the best of intentions doesn’t mean much, and my goal of walking everyday was hampered by the lack of habit, the broken treadmill I’ve been meaning to repair, and a lack of commitment. I sit too much, especially since I have my day job work and then put in even more time for my business.

I read a total of 33 books last year, the most in a given year since I stopped listening to audiobooks and switched to podcasts in my car a few years ago. I count 11 books related to games, including a bunch from Ian Bogost and a couple about making games with deeper meaning. Another 10 books were productivity or business-related.

I only read four fiction books, including Seveneves and A Game of Thrones, each of which took up a significant amount of my before-bedtime reading. I also greatly enjoyed Redwall, which was seemingly even more brutal than A Game of Thrones was.

Other books were related to history, parenting, comics, or DIY renewable energy.

I continued to do a daily doodle, alternating between drawing faces, drawing objects, and body parts like hands, legs, and feet. Sometimes I did cartoony drawings, and sometimes I tried to make it as realistic as I could. Once in a great while, I would look up a tutorial online, but I felt like I was in a holding pattern of putting in the time to make the doodle but not really growing in skill.

The new thing I tried to do was make explicit time for learning. I value learning and growth, and in the past I have invested in books, conferences, online courses, and such, but I never made an explicit plan to take advantage of those investments. So I made it a daily habit. 15 minutes a day adds up over time. I tracked 137.75 hours of learning, on topics as varied as game programming, game art, game production, creativity, and various personal development and technical things. I have had a Pluralsight subscription for the past couple of years, and this goal allowed me to take advantage of it more than I have in the past.

Goals for 2022

If the last year has shown me anything, it’s that even if I were to write down all of the outcomes I would like, it means nothing without a plan and without my capacity to work on that plan.

In 2010, I quit my job and became a full-time indie game developer. After running out of cash, I went back on “corporate welfare” in 2012. My expectation then was that I would build up some savings and quit again, but I didn’t take into account how being married and having a family would affect my risk assessment (or how much my family’s risk tolerance would inform my decisions), and I have had a day job ever since.

Clearly I wasn’t going to accidentally make GBGames my main employment, so last summer I started writing a “Full-time Indie Plan.” I wrote down how much money I was currently earning from my day job and how much money our family budget currently is vs what it would look like cut to its essentials. I documented details about platforms, revenue sources, challenges, risks, what I wanted to accomplish and what I explicitly didn’t want to do (such as spy on customers or bombard them with ads) and more. And the most important part of it is answering questions about how I was going to make it happen, such as identifying exactly what needs to happen in terms of sales, marketing.

This document isn’t finished, and while I expect it to be a living document, I recognize that I am repeating mistakes I’ve made before when I’ve done similar exercises in the past. Namely, I can come up with a lot of questions or categories, but then I don’t actually address them.

So while I have documented what I value, such as privacy, encouraging curiosity, supporting creativity, and others, and while I have done a SWOT analysis (although maybe I can iterate on it some), I haven’t answered questions about who my audience is and how I can reach them. I haven’t made a solid plan for actually marketing my games besides blogging and sharing on social media. It’s a 13 page document that has a lot of TODOs and headings without content in it.

But of course, I only have so many hours in a day. Even if I could identify 100 marketing activities, if I can’t actually make time to do them or manage someone else doing them, it does me no good.

My current lack of capacity should inform my goals more than they have in the past. Any marketing I would do would be inbound in nature rather than outbound, as it is less expensive and takes advantage of doing something once, such as publishing a blog post, and distributing it multiple times for near free.

So here are my goals for 2022:

  • Release at least 2 Freshly Squeezed Entertainment games by December 31st
  • Increase my newsletter audience from 22 to at least 34 subscribers by December 31st
  • Earn at least 1 sale per month by December 31st

I still think my overall Product Development Strategy is still sound. Create free value, ask for permission to talk with people who have shown they like my games, and then use their feedback to help me make deluxe games that are more likely to sell.

Creating two games in a year should be doable if I put on my game producer hat more often. I would love to try for four games, giving each one on average about three months, but I’m already worried that I’m still overestimating my capacity with two.

My newsletter went up by 6 subscribers last year. Now that I have one Freshly Squeezed Entertainment game out and expect to have at least one more by the middle of the year, can I find 12 more fans who are interested enough in my games to sign up?

I don’t have a sales plan in place, and clearly one sale a week was too ambitious. Still, one sale a month sounds like a ridiculously small amount, but then again, it is clearly a difficult goal for me at this time. It works out to a little more than double the sales I made in 2021, which was slightly fewer than sales from 2020. Making that trend go back up will be huge.

Besides those overall goals, I do want to spend some time porting my existing games to desktop platforms, and I’ll need time for that effort that isn’t going to be going into new development. I already develop on my Ubuntu system, so creating a Linux-based release shouldn’t be difficult, but since both Windows and Mac OS are trying to be walled gardens, I need to figure out how I can create free games for them without it costing me a ridiculous amount of money.

I also want to make time to actually play games. Between all of my old consoles, Steam, Humble Bundle, GOG, and Itch, I have a lot of games, many of which I’ve paid for, that I never enjoy or even learn from. Last year I played Castles I, Sunless Sea, To the Moon, Minecraft, and Super Crate Box, and shortly after I released Toy Factory Fixer, I allowed myself to play The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker during my week off from the day job near the holidays.

But much like my 15 minutes of learning each day habit, I’d like to make regular time to play games, even if it isn’t daily, even if it is a dedicated part of a day once a month.

Ok, so maybe two games in a year is starting to sound ambitious…

Anyway, I hope you have a safe and healthy 2022! Happy New Year!

Categories
Game Development Games Marketing/Business

Toytles: Leaf Raking v1.4.6 – More Responsive and More Compatible 🐢🍂

Just in time for the start of Autumn and leaf-raking season here in the northern hemisphere, I just released the newest version of Toytles: Leaf Raking, my family-friendly leaf-raking business simulation available for iPhones, iPads, and Android devices.

Toytles: Leaf Raking

Both Google and Apple changed certain requirements for Android and iOS devices, which meant that there were certain issues with playing the game on their latest phones and tablets.

For example, the game should play in landscape mode, but on Android 11 it was not rotating the screen correctly. On both Android and iOS, input would not always get detected properly, so you would tap the screen and it would seem like it was ignoring you.

I have addressed these issues, ensuring the game plays correctly on older and more modern devices as well as making it a lot more responsive to your actions.

Learn more about the game and where to get it at the main Toytles: Leaf Raking page.

Toytles: Leaf Raking Player's Guide

Get the 24-page, full color PDF of the Toytles: Leaf Raking Player’s Guide for free by signing up for the GBGames Curiosities newsletter!

Categories
Marketing/Business Personal Development Politics/Government

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.

Categories
Game Design Games Marketing/Business

Announcing Toytles: Leaf Raking v1.4.5 with Transitions and More Dialogue

Toytles: Leaf Raking, my family-friendly leaf-raking business simulation available for iPhones, iPads, and Android devices, has a new “Personality Injection” update, available now in the Apple App Store and Google Play store!

Version 1.4.5 adds more unique dialogue for each of your 19 neighbors, turning the neighborhood into a more lively and interesting place.

Clients now have different things to say for each of the three months of the leaf-raking season, and they say something different when you finish the job in their yard.

For example, Mr. Cardinal says the following in October:
Mr. Cardinal October dialogue

And after you finish raking all of the leaves in his yard, he’ll instead say:

Mr. Cardinal October dialogue

Also new are screen transitions that, frankly, make the game more enjoyable to look at and play. You can see for yourself how it enhances the game nicely:

Learn more about the game and where to get it at the main Toytles: Leaf Raking page.

Toytles: Leaf Raking Player's Guide

Get the 24-page, full color PDF of the Toytles: Leaf Raking Player’s Guide for free by signing up for the GBGames Curiosities newsletter!

Categories
Game Design Games Marketing/Business

Announcing New Holiday Dialogue in Toytles: Leaf Raking v1.4.4

Toytles: Leaf Raking, my family-friendly leaf-raking business simulation available for iPhones, iPads, and Android devices, has a new “Personality Injection” update, available now in the Apple App Store and Google Play store!

Version 1.4.4 introduces unique, holiday-specific dialogue for each of your 19 neighbors.

Mr Cardinal dialogue on Labor Day

There are currently 6 major calendar events, and when you visit your neighbors, they will have something new to say to you depending on the date.

Luciana's dialogue on Halloween

You’ll get a better sense of who your neighbors and clients are. Learn who loves being part of a crowd and who loathes a party! Understand who makes the best of a bad situation and who sees the world as glass-half-empty.

Amy's dialogue on Thanksgiving

Learn which of your clients is cheering for you as you try to earn enough money to buy yourself the Ultimate Item(tm).

Learn more about the game and where to get it at the main Toytles: Leaf Raking page.

Toytles: Leaf Raking Player's Guide

Get the 24-page, full color PDF of the Toytles: Leaf Raking Player’s Guide for free by signing up for the GBGames Curiosities newsletter!

Categories
Game Design Games Marketing/Business

Know Who Your Clients Are in Toytles: Leaf Raking v1.4.3

I’m excited to share another Personality Injection update for Toytles: Leaf Raking, my family-friendly leaf-raking business simulation available for iPhones, iPads, and Android devices.

Learn how to get it at the Toytles: Leaf Raking page.

With v1.4.3, you can now more easily tell which of your neighbors are clients and which are ex-clients thanks to the new client status indicators.

In Game - Client Status Indicators

While walking around your neighborhood, you’ll now see a speech bubble next to your client’s home.

If you see a rake, it means the client is waiting for you to clear their yard of leaves.

If you see an angry squiggle, it means the client is getting worried that you are allowing too many leave sit in their yard and are not being responsible.

And if you finish raking all of the leaves in their yard, they’ll show a smiling turtle face.

But if you neglect a yard for too long and lose the client, you’ll see an icon to let you know that you can’t rake that yard anymore. You can still visit the neighbor, but do not be surprised if they are unhappy to speak with you.

Thanks to these changes, your time playing Toytles: Leaf Raking has just gotten a bit easier.

Toytles: Leaf Raking Player's Guide

Get the 24-page, full color PDF of the Toytles: Leaf Raking Player’s Guide for free by signing up for the GBGames Curiosities newsletter!

Categories
Game Design Games Marketing/Business

Chat with Grumpy Clients in Toytles: Leaf Raking v1.4.2

Here’s information about another one of my Personality Injection updates for Toytles: Leaf Raking, my family-friendly leaf-raking business simulation available for iPhones, iPads, and Android devices.

Learn how to get it at the Toytles: Leaf Raking page.

There are two major changes in this release.

Streamline waiting for rain

Waiting for the rain to stop so you can rake a yard is now less tedious. Your options before were to wait 10 minutes or to wait an hour.

The idea is that drizzle starts and stops every 10 minutes, but heavier rain starts and stops at the top of the hour, and so here are two options to match.

But the problem was that you might try to rake leaves in the middle of an hour. For example, let’s say that it is 3:40pm and raining. If you try to rake some leaves, you’ll be told it is raining and given the two options above. The optimal thing to do is to wait 10 minutes twice because it might stop raining at 4:00pm. The less optimal thing to do is to wait an hour, because then it would be 4:40pm. You would lose 40 minutes of time in that case.

But the optimal decision is annoying, especially if it were 4:10pm and you would have to wait 10 minutes five times!

So I changed it.

Now you can either wait 10 minutes or wait until the end of the hour, which is what you were trying to do anyway.

Wait for rain

Hopefully this change makes the game more enjoyable and less frustrating.

Unhappy client dialog

In keeping with the Personality Injection theme, your clients now say something unique when you neglect your work and allow too many leaves to remain in their yard.

You already get a report from your mother at the beginning of your work day to inform you who is getting concerned about their yard, but now when you visit grumpy clients, they can express their grumpiness to you in person!

Mrs. Smith is a sweet elderly turtle who never has anything bad to say about you.

Mrs. Smiths grumpy dialog

Other neighbors are a bit more direct about their displeasure.

Brians grumpy dialog

Future updates will continue to allow your neighbors to share their hopes, dreams, aspirations, and fears with you, as well as the occasional reminder that you have a responsibility to do what you said you would do. I continue to look forward to meeting the neighbors with you.

Toytles: Leaf Raking Player's Guide

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Categories
Game Development Games Marketing/Business

Play Toytles: Leaf Raking v1.4.1 – Now with More Personality!

I’ve published another update for Toytles: Leaf Raking, my family-friendly leaf-raking business simulation available for iPhones, iPads, and Android devices.

Learn how to get it at the Toytles: Leaf Raking page.

Version 1.4.1 is part of what I am calling the “Personality Injection” updates. It builds upon the previous update to give the neighbors even more things to say when you visit them.

Your neighbors are now starting to show their individual personalities. For example, Pierre seems friendly when you first meet him:

Pierre's initial greeting

Once he becomes a client, you learn that he is a birdwatcher!

Pierre's a birdwatcher!

Eventually future updates will allow Pierre to demonstrate his love of birds as well as potentially a few of his other interests.

Of course, if you neglect his lawn and get fired, Pierre will find that he wishes he had his free time back:

Pierre's disappointment

Your neighbors are film fans, students, painters, animal lovers, day dreamers, and more.

I hope you enjoy getting to know the neighbors as much as I have been. I can’t wait to find out what Pierre discovers.

Toytles: Leaf Raking Player's Guide

Get the 24-page, full color PDF of the Toytles: Leaf Raking Player’s Guide for free by signing up for the GBGames Curiosities newsletter!