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.