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

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 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!

Categories
Game Development Games Marketing/Business

Say Hello to Toytles: Leaf Raking v1.4.0

I just released a new 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 1.4.0 is a small update that allows the neighbors to express themselves in unique ways.

Toytles: Leaf Raking

Before this update, the neighbors were all mostly interchangeable. They had a unique picture and name, and each had their own house in the neighborhood, but otherwise they were identical in terms of behavior. They could hire you, but then you would never hear from them again unless they fired you.

Mr. Cardinal's greeting

Now you have the option to visit with your neighbors, and they will each have a unique greeting for you.

Even the store owner, Mr. Matt, has something to say, whereas before he only existed in the name of the store and otherwise made no appearance in the game.

Mr. Matt's greeting

This latest version is the first of what I refer to as the “Personality Injection” updates.

My plan is to slowly add multiple storylines for each of the 20 or so neighbors and provide ways for your actions to potentially impact them. For example, Mr. Cardinal, your first client, is an inventor, and one of his storylines will follow his attempts at creating something that gives him the prestige he has always desired.

It’s my attempt to give the game more character, and I look forward to exploring the hopes, dreams, aspirations, and fears of the town’s inhabitants.

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 Development Games Marketing/Business

Announcing: Toytles: Leaf Raking, Now Available on iOS

I’ve finally gotten around to porting Toytles: Leaf Raking, my family-friendly leaf-raking business simulation, to iOS so now you can get it for your iPhones and iPads.

Download Toytles: Leaf Raking on the App Store!

Download on the App Store

Toytles: Leaf Raking

I originally created the game in 2016, and I’ve updated it a few times since then. My original announcement for the Android release of Toytles: Leaf Raking on Google Play was met with some enthusiasm (thanks, Mom), and I have been slowly making improvements and plans for newer features since its release.

I was quite proud of the game, and I had plans to update it sooner, but I had a few changes in my life occur. One request I received was to get the game out for iOS, and and I am happy to say that after only a few short years, it is now available.

I hope you enjoy it!

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

Books I Have Read: A Social Strategy

Mikolaj Jan Piskorski’s “A Social Strategy: How We Profit from Social Media” was published in 2014, which is quite a few lifetimes ago in the tech world, but I checked it out anyway.

A Social Strategy

It’s an academic text, looking at the success and failure of different social media platforms and a few companies attempting to take advantage of them through the lens of sociology.

It can get quite wonky at times, but I like wonky.

It also attempts to give advice to anyone looking to establish a new social network or use existing social networks to either save or make money.

In economics, there is a concept called “market failure” in which economic transactions do not happen or happen inefficiently due to some reason or another.

Piskorski notes that there are also categories of “social failure,” social
interactions that people seek and would better their situations if they happened but cannot accomplish in the off-line world. Social failures are about the interactions that do not occur, which is an interesting way to look at things.

For example, single people might find it difficult to meet others, and so dating platforms such as Ok Cupid and eHarmony provide social solutions. He analyzed how each differed in their approaches and how one succeeded due to providing a superior, more effective solution.

Besides “meet” failures, there are also “friend” failures, in which a person might find it difficult to share information or social support in an existing relationship. There’s a chapter in which Zynga is a case study that focuses on this context.

And much like how in economics there can be transaction costs as the underlying reason for a market failure, there are economic and social costs that prevent or inhibit otherwise good social interactions from happening. He categorizes them as breadth, display, search, and communication.

It’s a fascinating analysis, which is especially relevant if you are trying to create a new social app or platform. Piskorski juxtaposed Facebook and the Japanese social media platform mixi, as well as LinkedIn and Friendster, explaining how each tackled their solutions to the above social failures differently and how those different approaches created different results.

He argues that a social solution needs to address both the economic AND the social causes of interaction costs. Otherwise, it will be ineffective. In fact, he argues that social solutions that provide breadth, display, search, and communication functionalities will do better than others that only provide a few.

But, he also says that there are often trade-offs that need to be made. Some solutions increase the costs of certain functionalities. Facebook will never replace LinkedIn because Facebook would need to offer a way for people to meet strangers. In fact, Facebook once did offer a way to search and find strangers, but it had the side-effect that individuals in relationships used this functionality to cheat on their partners, which reduced the effectiveness of the “friend” solution that Facebook is offering. So Facebook removed the functionality, leaving LinkedIn as the dominant platform to meet people on.

Well, what if you aren’t setting up your own social network but want to take advantage of existing networks for your own business?

Piskorski also talks about the concept of the “social strategy.” In general, organizations use either low cost or high willingness-to-pay strategies. If you can lower the former without lowering the latter, or if you can increase the latter without increasing the former, you have a competitive advantage. Piskorski goes one step further to say that a social strategy involves leveraging people willing to take on business tasks for free in order to indirectly lower costs or increase willingness-to-pay.

A social strategy is different from a digital strategy, which is basically taking the familiar activity of broadcasting content at an audience and applying it online. A social strategy involves identifying and implementing a solution that solves unmet economic and social needs. In short, if you can introduce people to each other AND get them to do things for you for free, you are leveraging social media for your organization’s benefit.

The generalized framework used:

1) A viable social strategy seeks to increase a company’s profitability
2) by improving interactions between people
3) if they undertake a set of corporate functions for free

Piskorski discusses ways an organization can develop a strategy that fits the framework, as well as identifying what problems can occur if the strategy does not focus on how the proposed solution can both provide business value and social utility.

I am not sure exactly how different the social networking world looks in 20202 compared to 2014, and I would love to see if Piskorski has a new, updated analysis.

But “A Social Strategy” provided a set of principles and a framework that I think I can use to figure out how to more effectively market my games. Instead of randomly tweeting and posting on Facebook and wondering why I’m not getting the results I want, I can be a bit more analytical and thoughtful. I can be more purposeful and deliberate. And I can recognize when a strategy isn’t working that doesn’t involve merely noticing a lack of sales.

Categories
Marketing/Business Personal Development

My 2019 In-Review and My 2020 Vision

Every year end and start, I spend time reassessing how my life is going. I look at my goals, think about what I envisioned at the beginning of the year and how I would change things with an entire year of experience, and set new goals. It helps me collect a summary of my thoughts and plans, and it makes them public.

I just checked and found that my last published year in review was for 2016. My next post reviewing 2017 was still in a draft state and never published, which is too bad, because 2017 was a year to report on!

A lot happened in the last couple of years to throw me off of my pattern, but let’s do a quick recap of 2017 and 2018, then I’ll focus on 2019.

A QUICK LOOK AT 2017

From my 2016 New Year’s post Looking Back on 2016; Looking Forward to 2017:

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.

I didn’t need an overnight hit to be successful. I needed a foothold.

My goal was to go from $0/month to at least $10/month in sales by December 31st.

I know $10/month doesn’t sound like much, but that was the point. It should be relatively easily achievable, but it still required me to put in the work to setup my business to make sales. The idea was that once I had $10/month in income from sales, I could build on it to $20, then $50, then $100, and so on. I was in it for the long haul, and I was fine with being patient while I learned what I needed to learn and put in the hard work to make it happen.

In 2017, I had my first profitable year in probably forever. Awesome!

But I had $0 in sales. Not so awesome.

My income came from part-time contract work. In 2017 a colleague from a former job introduced me to a family in Chicago who wanted an app created. I explained what I knew about game development and mobile in particular, and then offered my services, being completely upfront about my inexperience with contract work and my day job obligations which would prevent me from working on the contract full-time.

It has taken a long time, much longer than I thought at first, and there have been requirements changes, art direction changes, and porting challenges.

But I remember that first payment coming in and feeling pretty good. Here I was, getting paid to create games. It wasn’t full-time work, but within just a few months, I had earned more in 2017 than I had in 10 years from advertising and game sales combined, which was simultaneously a good and awkward feeling.

On the learning front, I got ambitious.

At the end of 2016, I saw a tweet by IGN’s @_chloi about her plans to read 100 books in 2017.

In the past, I would try to read or listen to one book per week, but I was so enamored with the idea of all of the learning and exposure to new ideas that doubling my efforts would bring. So my 2017 reading goal was to read two books per week.

In 2017, I read:

  • 29 books on success
  • 25 non-fiction books (histories, technologies, true crime stories, biographies)
  • 12 books on game development
  • 7 works of fiction
  • 6 books on software development
  • 5 books on marketing
  • 4 books on business
  • 4 books on leadership
  • 4 books on productivity
  • 1 book on child-rearing
  • 1 book on creativity
  • 1 book on sales
  • 1 book on speaking
  • 1 book on writing

That’s a total of 101 books in a single year, just short of 104 to meet my goal. Even though I failed, it was a year that really expanded my mind. I learned so much about so much, and getting it all in a compressed time period helped it all reinforce each other, especially when it came to the success and game development books.

Also that year I set a goal to attend at least one professional development event a month. According to my records, I attended 8 local IGDA meetings, giving a presentation at one of them. I went to two software development conferences as well.

But in 2017, I also succeeded in stressing myself out. I put too much on my plate. I wanted to do it all: marketing, writing blog posts and newsletters, game development, contract game development, exercising, giving presentations, joining the chorus at my church, and getting more involved in social justice efforts at my church as well. Oh, yeah, and my wife and I were licensed for foster care as well.

2017 was going to be a year of market research, customer development, and sales. It turned out to be full of stress and pain, a lot of it self-inflicted.

I realized at one point that I never gave myself time to just be. If I wasn’t reading, writing, programming, designing, planning, or exercising, I was worried I was squandering my precious resource of time. I had to make every second count, and I didn’t realize that my priorities had gone out of wack, that I was letting down my family for not recognizing that I was taking them for granted.

Once I stopped putting so many expectations on myself and demanding that I put in 29 hour days, my life immediately became less stressful. It only took a few months of talking with a friend for me to be convinced to give myself a break, that I’m only one person and can only do so much.

Thanks, Shane! I miss our regularly scheduled talks.

WHAT I WANTED 2018 TO LOOK LIKE

I wanted to finish the contract, which would free up time to focus on my own business again.

I realized that my blog, while enjoyable to write, attracts other game developers primarily, and other game developers are not the primary audience of my games. I mean, yeah, sure they might buy some of my games, but my target customer is not “indie game developer.”

So I planned to change my blog’s target audience.

I wanted to read more books by women and people of color. I wanted to play more games. I wanted to spend more time enjoying life.

While I enjoyed the experience of trying to finish two books a week in 2017, it didn’t give me a lot of time to reflect on what I had read or heard before I was off on to the next book. So I scaled back to one book per week.

WHAT 2018 ENDED UP LIKE

2018 was a bit of a mixed bag.

I did not finish the contract, which meant I did not spend any time on my own business. My profit was still mainly due to income from the contract.

I did have almost a handful of sales of my game Toytles: Leaf Raking, although I am sure it was all people I knew personally.

I showed off my game at a local art and games expo, so it was great and gratifying to get feedback from strangers.

My writing output dropped significantly. I had a total of four blog posts for the year, and they weren’t exactly focused on building an audience for my games.

I surpassed my reading goal with 56 books for the year although I did not read much in the way of game development books. I cut myself some slack here, though.

And I gave a presentation at dsmAgile, earning myself a nice Amazon gift card for it, which I’ll count as getting paid for presenting for the second time in my life. It helped me buy myself a 4K monitor.

In the spirit of realizing that I can’t do everything all the time, I cut back on extra-curricular activities, such as choir or attending IGDA meetings, especially when I became a parent of two kids.

I was trying to have a day job and be a parent while continuing to work on the contract at the same rate as before. The more I put into it, the sooner I could be done, right?

But it left a lot of the burden on my wife to act as a single-parent, which was not fair to her. So I cut back the hours I let myself work on the contract in order to contribute to the labor of our home. She still does the lion’s share of the work, especially when it comes to scheduling appointments and coordinating with school, but I do dishes and laundry a lot more often. Our home is still stressful (we went from 0 to 7-year-old and 9-year-old within months), but it’s a bit less so.

Becoming a parent was a huge change, and I’m still coming to terms with how much of a challenge it is. I was always told I’d be a great father, and now that I’m here, I feel like I suck at it. To be fair, parenting is a skill that I had no practice with. Still, I used to think I was a disciplined, calm, patient, and easy-going person, but it turns out that I’ve just never been tested before.

FINALLY, LET’S LOOK AT 2019

My two main goals for 2019 were to finish the contract and earn $10/month in sales by December 31st.

I accomplished neither of these goals.

My expectation was that I would focus on finishing the contract, which had been “almost done” for over a year, then port Toytles: Leaf Raking to iOS, then work on a very quick project to get it published before the end of the year.

But my primary focus was the contract, which was in a weird state. I was pretty much finished with my part of it by September. There were no more deliverables for the client to test, and so I was helping the client get the app into the Google Play and Apple App stores. It’s been waiting to be published for months. I would periodically get a request for a small change or a question about the project, but otherwise, the rest of the work of publishing the game is on the client’s plate.

I’m not actively working on it, and since there are no more deliverables I am no longer getting paid, but it feels like sitting in front of the finish line instead of crossing it.

Before the contract and kids, I had regular morning habits and routines related to my business. I needed to relearn or reconstruct them all. Despite having the time, I finished the rest of the year doing very little non-contract game development. I opted instead to focus on resting and being more present for my wife and kids.

I only wrote a total of three blog posts. Heck, I barely wrote in my own personal journal.

I only read 32 books for the year. It sounds like I fell very short of my one book a week goal, and if I compare it to previous years in which I tracked the books I have read, it is the fewest I’ve read since 2013.

However, the 100+ books in a year experience from 2017 drove me to choose relatively shorter books and audiobooks. I would often go to the library and pick a 5-CD books over a 20-CD book, even if the latter was something I found very interesting, mainly so I could get more books finished sooner.

This past year, I decided to consciously pick larger books, which took longer to get through. Also, I decided to stop listening to audiobooks in my car in favor of listening to podcasts for a change. Currently, I am catching up on the strategy game podcast Three Moves Ahead, which led me to research some older yet fascinating games.

So between the longer books and lack of audiobooks I can listen to on my day job commute, my “# of books read” metric was lower, but I’m not sweating it. I’m still learning and exposing myself to new ideas, and with podcasts I’m getting a wider variety of ideas than before.

Last year, I showed off Toytles: Leaf Raking as well as the contract game at the local art and games expo again. I felt a bit more prepared, and I enjoyed the experience of getting feedback as well as connecting with others showing off their games and art. I wish I had a newer game of my own to show off, but there’s always next year.

GOING INTO 2020

I’ve been assessing the last few years and comparing them to what I wanted them to be.

My main efforts and income came from the contract. I just received my final payment for helping to get the game through the app store publishing process. The contract is over after 2 years and 10 months. It is no longer a source of income, but it also means that I can put my focus back on my own business.

And I’m going to pick up where I left off in 2017:

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

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.

Ok, so that’s a goal. How do I go about accomplishing it?

I’m still working on my plan to do so, but I can already think of a few things that will feature as key to that plan.

I need to start creating again. Between the lack of game releases and blog posts, I feel quite irrelevant in the game industry. It’s been years since my last new game. I haven’t been participating in game jams either.

I need to find my audience. Blogging for the benefit of other game developers is great for building relationships, and I want to continue to do so. But I also need to work on finding and reaching people who are interested in entertainment that encourages curiosity and supports creativity.

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

Uh, ditto for 2020. I will be working on getting back into the swing of things and doing my part to contribute to the indiepocalypse (are we still calling it that?).

It will be challenging, and a big part of that challenge will be in trying to be present for my family. With a day job, wanting to sleep a full night, and spending real quality time with my family, I only have so many hours available to make things happen for my business. Luckily, I can dictate what the pace and cadence for my business will be instead of trying to hold myself to other people’s expectations for how I should run it.

Perhaps it is unrealistic, and something will have to give. A giant chunk of my waking hours are taken up with “Not Game Dev,” with the day job taking up the lion’s share. Maybe I will find I am moving so slowly in my business that I’m actually falling behind, that it takes me months to do what others do in a few days of concentrated effort.

I worry there is a minimum amount of time and effort required that I’m not going to be able to give with my chosen priorities. It would be one thing if I was Sisyphus pushing a boulder up a mountain and having to do it again and again. It’s another if I am barely budging the boulder while it grows moss.

I’m saying no to a lot of things in my life to try to make sure I do have time for the things that are most important to me. I have been greedy in the past and have wanted to do and learn and be everything, but I know now that I have limits.

But in the spirit of my past goals, I’ll make slow and steady progress, and then I’ll build on those successes.

And perhaps those successes will give me the capacity to start saying yes more often.

Let’s start.