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Why You Shall Not Quit Your Day Job To Make A Game App
by Jheng Wei Ciao on 12/07/11 10:10:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Level design draft on Bonnie's Brunch

Last year I left my job in an online game company to become a full-time indie game developer. After one year and countless struggles, our team finally made a commercial iOS game -- Bonnie's Brunch (iTunes Link). And I've shared the postmortem here.

Although the iOS gold rush was already over, I keep hearing a lot of people urged on jumping into indie/app game development. In reality, the time is different and the battle is tougher than before.

Recently I had a chance to give a talk on one local meetup for Taiwanese mobile app developers. Being an indie over one year, I had learned my lessons in a hard way. I think being an indie is less about how to make a fortune in a short time, but more about knowing thyself.

The following are the outlines:

You heard all the success stories on App Store(s), so you want to quit your day job? To be a full-time indie game app developer?

Think before you leap!

Because you...

1) Got Nobody Pays You Wage

Income != Expense

  • Time to live off the past savings
  • Say goodbye to luxury habits
  • Live a frugal life

2) Own A Million Dollar Baby 

Value = Idea * Execution -- Derek Sivers

  • Don't ask people to sign an NDA first
  • A great idea is worth a million dollars
  • ...Only if it can be well executed

3) Want To Do It All By Yourself

Band Of Brothers (Sisters)

  • Great partners do what you can't
  • Spend extra time with them
  • Know their itches & quirks
  • Friends != Partners

4) Not A "Mad Hatter"


  • "Small games need generalists" -- Adam Saltsman
  • Not just making a good game and then profit
  • Get your noble hands dirty
  • Know your audience: you won't be able to please everyone

5) Wanna Make A Fortune At Your 1st Game

Lessons To Learn

  • You won't hit the nail on the head in your 1st, 2nd & 3rd games
  • Don't make your dream game yet
  • Budget for at least 3 games
  • Don't forget to count in the living costs

6) Need Alarm Clocks To Wake You Up


  • No reveille to wake you up every morning
  • You are your own boss!
  • ...And that's the real problem
  • Enjoy your free time but not too much

7) Hate Getting Along With Yourself

You Are Alone

  • No peers to talk to, gossip & flirt with
  • You'll have many toys causing distraction & procrastination
  • Motivation: easy to lose, hard to recover

8) Have No Family Support

Relationship Matters

  • Try to convince your beloved ones
  • Unconditional love will get you through the hard time
  • Put out the fire before it burns you down
  • Career can be rebooted, life can't

9) Follow What They Said

A Hundred Shining Faces

  • A million sad songs underneath
  • Stories they won't tell & you won't hear
  • Go nowhere by just reading & listening stuff
  • Don't chase the fad

10) Born To Be A Shy Guy

Outside The Box

  • Speak up your mind
  • Join and/or build a community
  • Don't be afraid to flop -- It won't be the first & the last
  • No Secret Era: Honesty goes a long way

Final Notes

  • Make at least one game app when you have a day job -- If you can't make it now, you won't make it tomorrow
  • If everything needs to be 100% ready before taking action -- You can do nothing at all

My Q & Your A

  • How long can you live without income?
  • When the going gets tough, will you give up?
  • If you were going to fail, would you still go for it?

You may read and download the full version on Speaker Deck.

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Luis Guimaraes
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I did quit my day job to finish a game App.

I was needing more time to finish and release it and it was already half made. These have been hard times actually without the income I had before.

The good news are that I'm alive, and the game is released. I'm now working on marketing and translations, there's a long way to go still.

Andrew Beckford
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Hey Luis, Im actually student studying game design. I do have a game idea that I am preparing to develop and I was wondering, what was a estimated budget you had to come up with to make your game app. Granted I have animators, programmers and artist at my school (Fullsail University) but how did you conduct your team and how did you pay them?

Andrew Beckford
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Congrats on your release of Pet it out. I look forward to seeing more games from Candango.

Luis Guimaraes
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Thanks! We hope everybody enjoys the game and yes, already with plans for future titles.

We actually had a kinda tough budget to work with, I developed the game alone for 6 months, then got some people to help me polishing the graphics of levels, drawing the backgrounds and new animations, and programming all the non-game features (game center, ipod music, twitter, facebook...). It took a total of 14 months the whole development, including prototype and test, with only the last 3 months being full time for me, none of the other developers actually worked full time. Our spends were mostly toward hardware and licenses. Some in the team were paid upfront at some points, but all have shares on the project.

Pay attention to Lucifer's advices. Specially, don't make your dream game yet. You both can't finish it, and need more experience for it to come out great. Make a project, get a plan, and stick to it. Try not to float around different ideas, I actually spent two months deciding what exactly I was going to make. The rest, by all means, go and do it. It'll teach you everything you need to learn, faster and better than any other routes.

And one more thing, start with the most optimized performance possible. You don't want to squeeze it down later on.

Good luck!

Andrew Beckford
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Yes I went on your website and checked out some videos on youtube. And yes I totally understand what you mean by not making your epic game.

I was in the process of writing one of my games which will be my first game and will published for a platform, but I've feel in love with the characters and the development story that I decided to shelf it and take my time in producing it for 2013 year. However, I am trying the phone app route and have came up with a concept for the IOS and the Android that I would like to get created and publish. Thanks for the advice though I really appreciate it Luis.

james sadler
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I think this is a place where many mess things up for themselves. A lot of people think that their game will sell millions on day one and they wont need to work again. There is a lot of research needed when diving into a project to really find some realistic data as far as how well first time developers do in a given market/platform. There are still a ton of people trying to rush into the iOS market when very few people can make good money from it anymore. It is a flooded market.

There are a lot of developers also that might rush a product because of money getting tight, and then have it fail which would put them further in the hole.

This is way my partner and I have agreed that we wont quit our day jobs until we've have enough from our game to fund a salary for us for at least 5-10 years. Not having to worry about that kind of thing once we do quit is a huge load off of our backs. We're also making sure we take the time to make sure our game is of a caliber that it could make us those kinds of numbers, as well as planning for future updates and add-ons.

Andrew Beckford
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Thats a great strategy, longer the development the better the quality.

james sadler
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Thanks Andrew. From your other comments on this article it looks like you are looking at things right. I can't say how many failed groups and projects I have been a part of in the last three years because people couldn't get past the "design" phase and into the actual development phase. One of the biggest things you can do is really think about all the areas of things you will need to finish a game (art, music, sound, graphics, programming, etc) so that you can figure out which areas you might be lacking in and either focus on those throughout development instead of at the end like most people do, or delegate those parts to other people. My partner and I originally started our team by coming up with one idea and as we developed it we saw it was getting way too big for the two of us, so we scaled things back and shelved the game until we are in a better position to handle it.

Ideas are cheap and throughout development a ton of new game ideas will start to pop up, usually when development starts to get boring. We take a few hours to cultivate those ideas and put them into a folder. Once we're done with our current game we will go back and look at that folder and see if any of those ideas sound like a good idea. I've found doing things like that help get those ideas flushed out of the brain and clear the way to developing the current game.

James Coote
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The longer the development period, the higher the risk that the market moves on?

I'm using android 2.1 because that's what most phones supported when I started my app. Now my app is in danger of not being compatible with the latest devices.

james sadler
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@James: That is always a problem in development and a risk you will almost always take. There is never a guarantee that a platform one is developing for wont be upgraded or go by the way side. Its best just to make an engine, or use an existing one, that can be easily adapted towards future changes. Would one really expect there not to be a decent change in a platform over the course of a 2 year development?

Pieterjan Spoelders
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I quit my day job as well to start a game app project.

I was a bit fed up with programming work on the company's (rather dull) legacy product and I also needed to put some things into perspective for myself. I decided that it was now or never, so I jumped ship.

I never expected or hoped that I would make a lot of money on this project. Whatever happens: it will still be a great portfolio piece.

What I've found to be the biggest grievances: It is quite a lonely job, especially when you're used to working with great colleagues on your previous job.

On the issue of writer's block. It was an issue that worsened for me gradually on my previous job .While working on my own project so far I've had relatively little trouble with it .

I feel more accomplished now and am generally happier with my life.

Where am I now: I wrote a rather basic 2d game framework and am now building my first game on top of it.

I'm now struggling to get an art pipeline up and running.

I'm well on schedule to release something early in the new year so let's hope it goes well.

Thanks for this article! Brought up a lot of stuff I recognize.

James Coote
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I was in the very fortunate position that I had an income from outside work that I can (just about) live on, which is dangerous in itself as it means deadlines slip far too easily and there is no 'empty stomach' motivation.

I get around the social and alarm-clock problems by living in a big house-share (9 other people). My flatmates wake me up every morning as they get ready for work and guilt me into not staying up all night or rocking round the house in my dressing gown till 3pm.

Some people take the line that you should even wear a suit when you work at home to create an atmosphere of professionalism, though that's a bit far for me.

The bigger problem is not having other devs to help me out. I rely on places like stackoverflow a lot in that regard

I made the mistake of being far too ambitious for my first game (which I am still working on 8 months after starting). Full 3D, building my own engine from scratch was fun but has taken a disproportionate amount of development time relative to the benefits it has given to the app.

On the flip side, I think unforuntately, I'd have to agree that the gold-rush is to a certain extent over, and that making some small, 2D games as a stepping stone to bigger projects is over (though with Windows 8 coming out with integrated app-store, it may open up some new opportunities for a time)

Rey Samonte
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I've been developing games on the side for the last 2 or so years. There have been many times during these past few years that I wanted to give up my day job but just couldn't get myself to do it. If I were single, the risk would be worth taking. But when you have a family to care for, sacrifices are made for the good of the family. Those sacrifices usually means sticking with my day job so I can provide for my family and sacrificing my free time and energy to work on the game(s) after I get home.

However, looking back was the right thing to do. As I continue to learn more and more about my abilities to develop a game on my own and with the lack of other resources such as code support, art, and marketing...I see that jumping out early would have been a costly mistake. The decision to jump out on your own should not be taken lightly. I discovered it was so easy to get a game prototype up and running with placeholder art, but unless you take the time to establish a good code base/engine to build upon, an art pipeline, and tools to help with content'll find it difficult to break past the prototype phase into full production.

Like others have said, if this is your first game...keep it simple! In fact, even the most simple ideas I thought I had ended up being huge. Once you start thinking about the quality and polish you'd like to add in order to provide the player with a good user experience, adding tutorials, etc... things start to pile up quickly. It's easy for a simple idea to turn into a huge monster and unless you have the resources, it will be difficult to complete.

But don't let these warnings discourage you! If ever, use the wisdom you get from articles like these and listen to others who have gone through it so you can make the best decision for yourself. Plan wisely before any work is done and that should give you a good idea of the kind of work that's involved. From there, evaluate the time you think it will take to achieve your plan...then double it.

I haven't released a game yet but am still in the process. I've had to go through many projects in order to find one that's doable for the time and resources that I have. It's difficult but so far it's been a worthwhile effort that I know will be rewarding once I'm done.

I wish everyone the very best! :)

james sadler
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I'm much in the same boat as you. I have a family, along with a ton of other money sucking hobbies, so quitting my day job just is not an option. This was why my partner and I said that we wouldn't quit our normal jobs until we had earned enough from our games to put in a bank to give us a modest salary for at least a good few years. Good Luck.

Rey Samonte
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@James..Thanks! It's good you and your partner realize what needs to be done in order to develop and ship a game of your own. There are a fortunate few who have jumped and survived, but I believe the majority finds themselves back looking for work feeling defeated simply because they didn't take the time to plan things out.

On another note, a business savvy friend of mine questioned me with regards to my efforts. For the last two years, I've been so focused on trying to do it on my own time and funds. That time has been very valuable for my growth as a developer but he told me that if I was really serious about starting my own studio, I would take the time to write up a business plan. Without it, the chances of going anywhere is slim. He's not the only one who has told me the same thing as a CEO of an umbrella company I spoke with shared the same thoughts about my journey.

Both told me that it's risky on my part to take it upon myself to do so much work without any kind of funding because I am the one taking all the risk. My friend encouraged and challenged me to take the time to write up a business plan even before I continue to work on my games. I have to admit, it's been quite the challenge as I've never written a business plan before and my heart is really into diving in and developing my ideas. However, I know it's sound advice and I try to work on my business plan on and off. If you and your partner haven't done so already, I would also encourage you two to do so as well.

My friend told me there are a bunch of VCs that are willing to invest IF they see a business plan that is well thought out and have an idea that justifies their time to invest in your company/studio. Although it's not guaranteed you'll get funding right away, it's still a good exercise to do because it will help define the path and goals you want to strive for. I figured as long as I keep developing my ideas, developing small games or tech demos, I can use that along with my business plan to convince potential investors later in the future when the timing is right.

james sadler
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That's good advice Rey. We haven't written a formal business plan, but we have written agreements and plans about the studio.

Doing things on your own is extremely hard to do, and it is something I always advise people not to do. Having a partner or somebody you can bounce ideas of of and/or share the responsibility with is the best thing one can do. Having someone else with you along the journey makes it a lot easier to see things outside of your prospective, like areas the game might be lacking, that you might not have noticed. I could write a lot about solo vs. a team, but I wont take up too much space here.

For a person or team that doesn't have the luxury of working while developing their game, trying to find investment partners would be a good idea. They can also help one who is not great with the business end of things take the game and make it great. There is a lot of darkness that lurks in those areas though too so I would warn anyone going that route to make sure to find a lawyer and have them look everything over.

Personally I don't think we will ever go the route of looking for investors. I just don't see a need for it at this point and would like not to have that ind of responsibility hanging over me. We are a really small team (2 people at the moment) and will probably stay that way until our 3rd game. We want to get to the point where we can completely fund ourselves for so many years (that salary, office space, a few employees, utilities, etc.) for at least a few years strong. There is just too much risk in doing things otherwise, and I'd rather take my time growing the studio then take on a bunch of someone else's money and possibly lose it.

James Coote
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Also, when working from home, get a crap internet connection. My productivity has gone through the roof since I can't play online games anymore

Aslak Gronflaten
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I also quit my job to do game development. Mainly because I've been working on other people / companies' systems for too long, and wanted to make some products of my own.

I've got quite a few games out on the appstore already, but having no idea how to market them, I'm not making more than a couple of dollars a day. Definitely not a millionaire over night thing.

But my reason for doing it wasn't to get rich, but to be doing something I want to be doing.

So my goal is to make enough one day to pay my rent , which would allow me to keep developing, and learning, and producing games along the way.

Luis Guimaraes
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Getting the game know out there is the hardest part, specially in this time of the year.

Only very few of the 45 promotional codes I send out answered already. Actually, I might have had only 15 or so downloads of those redeem codes, about 10 days later. And by now, only 3 reviews are up.