Born Again Indie
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.
For a good year and a half now, I've wandered around, trying to figure out what it is I want to do and what I would like to accomplish with my Indie dreams. First a little back story.
I left a high paid, high stress job as a director of technology at a large media company in April 2013. The change was forced on me after my eyesight began to deteriorate rapidly, and I could no longer execute my role effectively. I was at the top of my game, and I was kicking butt, and then it was all over within a short two week span of days. I sat at home and thought, OK that was interesting. Now what?
I decided to do what I do best. The one thing I truly enjoy. The one thing I'd NOT done the past 5 years. I decided to dust off the old programming skills and make some games again. I did a quick port of an old Mahjong game I made for PC a few years back, to iOS, as a warm up.
My foray into mobile / iOS development was pretty typical. Basically a waste of time and energy (although, as a generally positive person, I did learn a lot and I did make some pretty cool code). To date, I've made around $500 from the Mahjong game. I put this failure down to a couple of things. First and foremost, it's just too damn difficult to get a game noticed on the app store, unless you have some serious marketing dollars, or get lucky. I don't think it was a quality issue. The game was polished and played well. And looking at what does do well on the app store, quality doesn't seem to be a factor, always. No, the key is exposure, plain and simple. Getting your game ranted at by PewDePie, or one of the other sweary, game celebs on Youtube seems to be where it's at.
Additionally, making stuff that people actually like is also pretty key. Now that sounds a bit obvious, but if you're wanting to tap the mass market, then you have to make mass market stuff. Mahjong isn't mass market, and it doesn't have Kim Kardashian in it. Like any sort of media, you can be an artist or a boy band, and you can make niche stuff, or crap for mass consumption. Now, having said all that, there are always exceptions and a seemingly, unfathomable random element to all this. Sometimes a game comes along that's so good that it just captures the imagination and actually attains a small level of success, or not.
After my experience with Mahjong, I tried a number of other tactics. I got distracted making some web sites, which was somewhat interesting, and then I decided to sell out and try to make small, playable, highly commercial, mass market games .. like a million other devs. I spent about 2 months making a couple of cute, fun little games with kittens and hampsters, and by the end of it, I was so down about my day-to-day existence, that I couldn't even bring myself to upload them to Apple for approval. I still haven't, months later.
I realized I was completely disillusioned with mobile and specifically iOS. It's a mugs game. It's heartbreaking to make something you're invested in and see it immediately buried, or worse, sell your soul and make crap shovelware, hoping to hit the lottery. I completely stopped developing for 2 months, and moped around doing contract work. The break did me good, as did the money.
And then, one day, I woke up and knew what I wanted to do. If I was going to put ANY time or ANY money into a new project, it was going to be a project that I wanted to do. Commercial or not, it doesn't matter. All that matters is that I am entertained, and that I am making something that I want to make. Now that view of things sounds a little self centered, and it is, and it's OK. It has come down to a simple fact. I really, REALLY enjoy programming games, and the twisty, ill-conceived adventure I've spent the last year on, has sucked all that love and enjoyment out of it. I have lost the thread, big time, and it has basically ruined the process of making games for me.
So I sat down and gave some serious thought to what I'd like to do. Do I just throw in the towel and concentrate on contract work, or go find another full time job? Do I take up gardening? Do I become a Naturopathic Doctor (don't ask)? Or do I quit whinging and make something for myself? I decided to make something for myself.
I have a list of genres and games I'd like to make. I've had the list for a long time. Over the years I've made a lot of commercial games, professionally, and some of them hold very fond memories, and some genres are very dear to me. I posed myself a question. If I could make ANYTHING, what would I make? A platformer? A text adventure game? A classic scrolling shoot em up? An RPG? Why yes! All of those, of course! This was a revelation to me. The notion that I could basically sit down and create anything I fancied was like someone pulling back a blindfold. I started to get excited about programming again, and so I picked one and began.
So, here I am, four weeks into my first game as a born again indie. I am writing the game for desktop computers only (although my code is basically cross platform, and could work on anything later on, with a bit of platform specific work), and I am excited to get to work in the mornings. I feel like I am free of the shackles I imposed on myself the past year and a half. I have no agenda other than to make something I like, and have fun doing it. I'm doing some of the best coding of my long career, and every day is a blizzard of problems to solve, good and bad. For better or worse, every day is a challenge in the best possible way.