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Is it Supposed to be This Hard?
by Jonathan Neves on 06/18/14 08:59:00 am   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.

 

Personal Reflections of an Indie Developers Leader

I don't know if anybody really knows this but making games in the Indie world is hard. Not to say that I have a vast experience in making games in the professional world, I don't. I'm not blind to the hardships that many a professional face in our industry, from the mass layoffs and uncertainty of professional growth, I sympathize. I know more people that have been clawing for a chance to work in the professional industry then people that actually work in it. I can't speak on the experiences of other Indie developers other than the ones I've witnessed in that Indie Game: The Movie bit which cut pretty hard and close to home, thinking about it now, it's nice to know that I'm not the first to experience the trials, as unique as my experiences are in comparison to theirs. I think most of the leaders I do know would rather choose not to speak out about their personal struggles within their developers because it's like an omission of failure, that this love of making games is not a game. To share my experience with others can either inform people of my mistakes and hardships or be a cautionary tale.

First some background on myself and how my journey began. I started my indie developer A Maniacal Game three years ago this month while still in school learning to become a programmer. I'm not a programmer though, I would never label myself that. My talents are for Design and Production, I mean I love game development in all aspects, but I just don't have the talent as a coder. My plan for success was of sound mind, at least I thought it was. After serving in the Army, I was going to excel at my studies, volunteer my time into extra curriculars and start working inside the professional environment. I thought with my work ethic and drive I'd be a shoo in for the industry, but I was wrong, without a moderate amount of experience in my specific job title I was ill equipped to even compete with other potential employees. After receiving thoughtful instruction from my professor on my abilities to succeed in either the professional landscape or the Indie field, I opted to start a developer, not just to start making games that I envisioned but also as a means to gain worthwhile experience.

The past three years of this developer can be described not as a roller coaster with many ups and downs, but more like a bullet-train to hell with sudden stops along the way. When it began I didn't want to take on the entirety of responsibility of the company so I sought out partners, primarily from fellow classmates. At first it seemed to be the right decision, we had a project to work on and our communication was steady, but it wasn't long after my first trip to GDC that I found out the main partner was lying to both himself and I over his desires not just for the company but for his very future in the industry. He left but not before taking, or convincing the entire art staff to leave with him. I was pissed, not so much disappointed just pissed. I was left with a handful of programmers and no artists, so I made the decision to hold off on working on our project until we had a stronger team behind it. We instead focused our efforts on a much smaller project that was helmed, coded and designed by our remaining programmers while I remained determined to strengthen our structure.

I found new partners, once again from fellow classmates, an artist that believed in what we were trying to accomplish and a business man that saw our company as not just a profitable venture but a competing one in our industry. I began to seek out like minded individuals that could begin working on our first project once again, with the art partners help we found many people interested in applying their skills to our vision, but nothing good ever lasts. Tragedy struck us once again when it was apparent that our business partner had mysteriously vanished, a month went by till I found out he was the victim of a near fatal car accident and was comatose in a hospital. He eventually pulled through it but at the time I felt numb, he wasn't just a business partner, he was my friend, and those months while he was in the hospital I saw a sharp decline in the productivity of everyone of the new people we had brought on. The art partner was obviously just as affected by the events and began to distance herself from both the company and the people she brought on. While development on the smaller project continued, I had to seriously think about where this company was heading and how to deal with a partner that may never wake up. In many ways I felt like I was betraying him. After he recovered from the hospital, it was determined that he could no longer be our business partner, his health just wouldn't allow it, so I made sure that he had no responsibilities to the company, while remaining fair to him.

I attempted one more time to bring on partners to help with the management and financial responsibilities of the company, but first I saw an issue that was prevalent within our industry that ultimately was effecting every student that was determined to work in the professional field. Lack of experience was the fault that a graduate couldn't help with, I saw this issue affect myself and many of my friends and associates, so even though I initially started this company for selfish reasons, I wanted to change it as a means to help others achieve their goals. With new life in our art partner and a new business partner we went over the problems that plagued us professionally. Learning the lessons of the past when it came to the needs of the individual, we set guidelines to follow that would ultimately change A Maniacal Game for the better and last into what it is today. The partners however would not stick around and before I could finalize the partnership paperwork, they left. To this day I'm not clear as to why they decided to quit, maybe the stress of their school work overwhelmed them, but I was once again alone to fight for the company.

The vision for change, the driving force, the determination for success behind the company was always coming from me, so it was logical that I take the mantle as sole owner. I was able to convince my professor to invest his time as a limited partner, but everything primarily would be handled by me. I accepted that, I loved designing the games we were working on and producing them, but I knew that the operational responsibility would never truly get done unless I was doing it. So how the company was structured and remains structured today is a for-profit limited partnership with no employees. We bring on members instead and each member brings a different level of experience and talent to the group. They also choose their desired membership type and it varies in both compensation and responsibilities. We have student members that act as unpaid interns and experienced mentor positions for veteran professionals to share their advice to others. The bulk of our members are labeled Project-Term, this basically means that they stay for the entire period of development of a project and are required to provide at a minimum of eight hours per week on tasks. As long as they are delivering on their tasks they are guaranteed to receive a contractual percentage of the net profits of that project when it goes to market. It's fair, we don't ask for more than the allotted time, there is no crunch, and they are free to work wherever they need to pay for life. Plus if they decide to work more than the minimum they get additional compensation on the back end, frankly because I believe people should be rewarded for their efforts.  I began to spread the message of the company and what we were trying to accomplish at the following GDC. 2013 for those that are keeping track. I was successful in getting people's attention, many prominent members of the IGDA took interest in what we were doing and offered their help. We were able to find proper legal counsel, and begin recruiting new members that are still with us today. It was one of the stops on the ride that I could finally breath, that I could see a light at the end that was possible to obtain, but nothing ever lasts.

As I was finding people to fill the ranks to restart the development of our first project, I remained focused on the continued development of our smaller project which was getting out of control production wise. Splitting my time between it's production and the development of the company had put a strain on its progress. I brought on a close friend and brilliant programmer to help keep the project on task and finish the much needed code work. Over the summer, I trusted that he was hard at work on the project as he gave me many updates as time went on. We planned to release a demo and begin a promotional campaign for the project titled Maniacal Mouth in the summer of 2013. It did not happen that way. The programmer took it upon himself to break our NDA on the project with a work associate of his, steal our code and waste four months of development time on the project. Needless to say I was pissed, I was livid. It didn't take long for me to sick the legal attack dogs on him as he made a fatal error in judgement towards me, as good military leaders will state, he mistook kindness for weakness. The issue was settled out of court, but he is no friend of mine, I only now keep tabs on him to warn other potential victims of his. You just don't do that, you don't take the work of others for your own personal whims and pass them off as your own.

I set my small team to the task of completing the project by early 2014. I even handled parts of that project that I never before would have seen myself doing including the sound design and the animation. As I continued to recruit new members to the company, primarily for the larger project, they also provided small assistance to the smaller projects completion. We were able to present a working build to the IGF for the following years competition and start a small promotional campaign through our YouTube site and Steam Greenlight. We saw some interesting feedback for the game, lots of angry and confused people out there. I felt vilified that some people got the idea, that they understood what we were trying to accomplish with this unorthodox game. This game that we never took seriously in it's content but others considered it to be a horror genre. As development continued in the positive direction, I had developed a partnership with a well respected networking agency by the name of Mary-Margaret Network through a contact at the IGDA. We had begun an Indie talent board and my email was flooded daily by people interested in working with A Maniacal Game for their own benefit. For the first time I felt a sense of accomplishment in what I was doing, in what I was attempting to do, that people could work together on projects while potentially earning a place in the professional industry from their experience here. We were providing them the door, it was up to them to walk through it.

Production on our first project Screaming Eagles restarted and I was at the helm for both games at the same time while juggling the operations. I won't say that it was easy, but I will say that I felt content in my place in the universe. We had drawbacks of course, some new members were not happy with the direction of the project and decided to leave, all on good terms and are still capable of coming back if they desired. Sometimes I feel like I should have addressed their concerns a bit better and perhaps they wouldn't have left, other times there's just nothing you can do when someone has it in their mind that they want to quit. I knew that with a project of the size we were attempting I didn't want to micromanage the production so leads were asked and people volunteered for them, and that helped to let me breath a bit better. The completion of Maniacal Mouth was near and I set my sights on GDC once more. It's amazing how much GDC has coincided with this company. This past year I used it as an opportunity to have some fun, MM was a week away from releasing, SE was on production track and the company was stable. It would be my last GDC at least from my current perspective as the financial strain began to tighten.

Since this company began I've been the sole investor in everything financial, I started with a very healthy bank account, now I find myself struggling. I never assumed that developing games on our own would be my sure fire way of earning a stable living, that was never in my mind when I started this, but getting something back for the effort would be appreciated. When we launched Maniacal Mouth finally after all the drama and headache it didn't sell very well, in fact other than family members and friends that purchased the game only one random person purchased it. To Jared Jones if you're reading this, thank you, thank you for getting the game and enjoying it, thank you for understanding what we were trying to accomplish, thank you for standing up to the naysayers on Greenlight without us asking. The fact that we were able to reach someone that none of us knew personally is an accomplishment in itself. I feel a bit of success in that regards. Releasing a game in the Indie field separated us from so many other developers because we finished and released, and even though I tried to publicize the game to journalists while offering free versions, no one wanted to even be bothered. It's a harsh reality but I'm still making an effort to spread word about it as it doesn't lend itself to any established genre and has the courage to not take itself seriously. We have since lowered the price and even though we have an Android version completed we decided to archive it until there's an actual demand. It doesn't take much effort from me to continue marketing it as I continue to produce Screaming Eagles and even find time to start designing something fresh. Designing something new is still my primary passion. I've always looked at the people that work here with pride, that they have chosen to develop games when so often they are told they don't have the experience to do so. I feel a great sense of responsibility for them, not unlike a non-commissioned officer has for his soldiers. I want them to never be afraid to ask me something, to have everything available to them so they can work freely without hassle, to know that though we don't share the same work environment they are part of this family.

This month marks the 3rd year that this company has been operational, we didn't start with the same name or most of the same people, but the ideals remain the same. This month also marks one of the toughest months for me to handle financially as I feel the walls closing in. We have more recurring bills this year than any other, they're small for the most part and to help with them we've asked for donations from friends and family. This was the first year however that we made profit, and not to be left unprepared I filed the company taxes. The preparation was pricey but not unexpected, no the unexpected portion was the state law forcing me to pay $800. Here I am with a company that hasn't even broke $20 in profits and I'm expected to pay that much to the state. It's enough to make me afraid. That's saying a lot since I'm not afraid of death, or being alone, or the combination of both. I'm afraid that I will fail the people that are working here. That they will look at themselves after all is said and done and be drained of any hope to fulfill their goals. I don't want that to happen but at the same time I have to seriously think about what I can afford anymore. All the sacrifices I've made to my own life for the success of this company can't be for nothing and it's in danger of that very thing.

It's been a week since I started writing this and feeling like shit about the problems that I'm currently faced with. I have some resolutions, most were just discussed at a recent company meeting, they have the potential of saving this companies financial issues but nothing is ever guaranteed. Since I've been doing this work for three years I finally qualify in experience for many positions in the professional industry, so I've been applying again. How perfect would it be if I was working for someone else in the industry to help pay for my own company's survival. Some may say that this could be a problem because of the exchange of information, but I held a secret clearance in the military, keeping a secret is not an issue for me. A change in the structure of the company is almost certain before years end, being an LP gave us a bit more validity as a company but the costs are just too great for us to handle. Kickstarter is also a viable option that I'm considering but I have my reservations. Firstly I don't believe we can successfully obtain a financial goal on Kickstarter without having something to show, something that is actually playable, something that gets people excited for what we are trying to accomplish. We have a major milestone for Screaming Eagles coming up and that's when we'll launch that campaign, not before and not unless it's a presentable experience that lives up the vision of the project. Kickstarter is like first impressions, you only get one. Don't deliver on your promises and you'll alienate yourself and your potential community. I'm also open to the idea of having partners again, people that are actually serious about the success of this company and willing to share the financial burden.

The next six months will be the proof that A Maniacal Game can still survive. I never in my life thought it would be this hard, but my experience with these people and with the numerous amount of supporters I've come across would never make me feel regret for all that I've done and attempted to accomplish.


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Comments


David Klingler
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It's nice to read this story. You have my support, and I just followed you on twitter! Good luck my friend.

Jonathan Neves
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Thank you for your support.

michael naunton
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I don't want to be a Debbie Downer here, but you might want to rethink:

if a $800 state charge causes you pain, why are you even a corporation?

You have NDAs? why? and, as you note, what are you going to do if someone breaks it?

Someone walks off with code. Did he write it, and did you pay him for it? Yes, you're angry, but how is this affecting your ability to produce the game you envision?

Can you pay your programmers and artists? If yes, do it. If no, they are your partners, forget about NDAs and IP. Just write a one pager about how you are all going to build a game you jointly own.

I really hope you succeed, but focus on getting it done: if you aren't an artist or a programmer, you need to be providing either the bankroll, or the design, or the financial plan. Which one are you doing?

Jonathan Neves
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Well technically we're not a corporation, we're a limited partnership and I already stated that we won't be by the end of the year. Before I even began the company I was tasked in one of my classes to write a research paper with a subject of my choosing, I chose to research Indie developers, I had the opportunity to chat with Edmund McMillen and Amir Rao and got some insights on the ups and downs of it. It seemed like the challenge I was looking for.

That singular incident with the wayward programmer, he didn't write the code, he was supposed to add to it, and he signed a contract for his work. I was angry at the time, and we finished the game eventually.

I would love to be able to pay the people that work here up front, but I can't, I'm not rich. But they're not partners in the company because they're not financially responsible for losses of the company, I am. No one forces them to work here, but it's in the mutual benefit to do so. They can't get experience in the industry because of how the industry is run, we offer them a chance to gain experience, they get paid for their efforts when the game ships. Every single person accepts that, it's not like I'm putting a gun to their head.

I do provide the design as stated many times, both projects were designed by myself. The project we're currently working on is getting done, everyone is focused on it. Thanks for the debbie downer questions and comments.

Michael Herring
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It sounds like this whole project started out way too seriously for what it was: spare-time hobbyist development on friendly terms while in college, with almost no experience. Your military analogies paint this as a super-serious endeavor, but your peers only have an 8 hour/week minimum requirement? In general it just seems like you're expecting too much given the resources you have at your disposal.

Don't let that get you down, though! You shipped a game. That alone puts you leagues ahead of what other teams, bigger and smaller, have managed to accomplish. Ship more small, focused games and build that base of experience (as well as your portfolio). You can get there.

Jonathan Neves
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When I stated the first project as a large game, I meant it as a larger game than what I had previously done in school, which for the most part is actually a moderate sized game for an indie developer. It's getting done, the team is focused and I'm proud of them.

I refer back to my military analogies a lot because I spent a large portion of my life in the military. It may surprise you but leading a team in this industry is very similar to leading a squad of troops into combat, the big difference being our lives aren't in peril.

I have to be realistic in the fact that everyone else can't do this work 24/7 like myself, that they have families and loved ones to take care of, that their jobs that they work at are important to them to stay afloat. Working here gives them a chance to express themselves as developers, I try not to be too serious for their sakes.

Thanks for the comments.

Alan Barton
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@"With new life in our art partner and a new business partner" ... "The partners however would not stick around" ..." maybe the stress of their school work overwhelmed them"

Frankly it sounds like you started way too big and no one on your team sounds like they are really experienced enough to work in a team yet, let alone build a company with a big team.

Also unless you have a lot of money to get started, you can't just start a company, then make a game. (And even if you do have money to try this with so little experience, in all likely-hood, you will loose a lot of money on mistakes).

Its much better to start with very small and short projects, then you can all work out and learn how to behave like a team and you will all gain confidence from finishing small projects.

But then the core problem is your chosen *current* skill set doesn't fit into a small project. The smallest projects are programmer only, where they do everything themselves, including all art and games design. Then the next company size step up, is to bring in an artist. This makes making a game harder as both of them have to learn how to best work together, but the end results are usually much better than most programmers on their own. But even on this scale you don't fit in with your chosen role of being the boss.

You are behaving like an empire builder wanting to lead a team. But you don't sound like you have the money or the experience to take on such a big goal in one step. You need more smaller steps to building a company.

I'm sure the idea of you telling your team your big vision for your big games ideas is very intoxicating, but you really have to scale down you goals to start with something more realistic.

I would suggest you start by building very simple games with something like the Unreal 4 engine. That is drag and drop games development. You can even do this on your own with no artist. (It doesn't matter if your first enemies look like a chair and a table to start with), just get some simple gameplay working first. You sound like you know enough about programming to get into learning Unreal's Blueprint game scripting system on your own, so with that you can start making games on your own. (You don't even have to start with any real coding, you can do it all just in the scripting system).

In summary, start small and make and *finish* small games. Then once you have made a few, you can build up to making larger games with more team members. (Also you will learn the most from finishing making games, because that is much harder than starting to make a game).

Jonathan Neves
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We did start too big, that's true. No one had any real experience working with a team, other than my Army days, not even on school projects. I don't have an MBA, this whole experience of mine building this company and starting projects has been one mistake after another, but I'll always learn from my mistakes better than I would learn from success. It's how I've grown, how I've been able to change myself and this company for the better.

When I said the first project was too big to continue, at the time, we had about 3 people working so it did seem large and it was larger than any project I had worked on before, when compared to today and the experience I have now, it's actually quite moderate in size for us to complete. The current team is about 4 programmers, 7 artists, 3 designers, 2 sound and music, 2 producers, and 1 writer. Not to mention the 3 20 year developer veterans that act as mentors to the less experienced. Also when we started, the programmers at the time wanted to create their own engine, we're not doing that anymore as we're now using Unity.

Personally I'm not a fan of Unreal, I worked a lot with Unity and CryEngine, I don't know why I don't like Unreal I just don't.

Thanks for the advice and comments, we'll always from now on keep our focus on the projects we can actually handle.

Alan Barton
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As long as you all listen to the veterans, then you have a good chance of making a good game whilst avoiding a lot of costly (and potentially company killing) pitfalls the veterans would have already learned how to avoid, but its the money/business side of the business that sounds shaky?. For example:

@"4 programmers, 7 artists, 3 designers, 2 sound and music, 2 producers, and 1 writer"

That's 19 people. That is a big team. How are they able to afford to live whilst creating the game? Are they all paid? Or are they doing it for free, hoping to be paid later?

If their money runs out, you'll loose staff, because they will be forced by life to rethink their priorities. Most people can't afford to do it for free, because once they run out of money, they are faced with no roof over their heads, so as much as they want to finish the game, they won't be able to. Life gets in the way of the dream of making games.

But then even if you are paying them even just a basic minimum survival level, to cover their food and rent etc.. (until they hope to get their return on the finished game (assuming its a success)), you'll still have a burn rate of at least $40k per month. That adds up very quickly.

So how long is the project expected and scheduled to take? Have you asked your staff how they will cope financially during all this time? Also if the development time overruns, will they be able to cope with that overrun as well?

Its these kind of non-technical issues that can trip up even veterans because that work is very often done by others the veterans worked with and not the veterans themselves. (They often just focus on being creative, but all creativity has to be funded).

Open big pitfall a lot of new companies make is that leading a team of creative people is like herding cats. A creative team isn't like a military team. In the military, everyone has to follow the chain of command. Whereas in a creative team they each have their own mind and you have to keep them all on focus or they'll all meander off onto wanting to polish various parts of the project. It sounds great at first until you find you haven't got the time to keep that style of work going. They can end up polishing 10% of their part of the work, and then find they don't even have time to rush and hack together the other 90%. So the end result can really suffer if that happens.

So pacing and scheduling planning are as vital, as the creative aspect of games design.

Anyway good luck.

Jonathan Neves
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It is the money/business side that is shaky, I frankly would rather not be in charge of it, but there just is no one else that will. I'm good at stepping into situations that need help with and having no experience in actually doing it. At least I'm stepping up.

Almost everyone has employment somewhere else, including some industry jobs. In fact as it stands right now, I'm about the only one that doesn't have a steady form of income, hence the constant application for employment within the industry. But I'm happy to say that I no longer receive notification that I lack the experience to be hired. Baby steps.

Our expectation for completing the current project is summer of 2015. The hardest part about getting through the production is the first level, afterwards things become much easier.

One thing I always ask people when i first talk to them to work here is their availability and stability. I don't want them to hate life financially as I do when working here, and if they can actually provide the minimum hours of work.

In the macro sense of the term, yes it doesn't make sense as a military analogy, in the micro sense it does. Think more in lines of the NCO support channel, where there are people in charge but actually care about what happens to the people that are underneath them. Who actually have to work together to make things work not just remove themselves from the process and delegate what should happen. I'm not the officer of this team I'm more like the staff-sergeant with a few sergeants, specialists and privates to worry about and if they fail it's because I'm not doing my job correctly. I help them stay focused on what matters first and worry about that polish when we have the time to worry about it. Especially when we set goals or milestones to meet, we can't afford to waste time trying to be perfectionists.

Thanks for the good advice.

Alan Barton
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The money/business side is often shaky in start-ups. The more staff a company has, the more it increases the financial loss from any unexpected delay and there are so many ways a project can get delayed and some of them are unavoidable, no matter how much pre-planning you do. (For example, like you experienced, when a member of staff suddenly becomes very seriously ill. Life can throw all sorts of things in the way).

(It can be a bit like being on the deck of a sail ship in a heavy storm. You never know when the next big wave will hit and how hard. All you can do is hang in there and try to last out the storm whilst trying to keep on course to the finish. You can be sailing along thinking everything is fine then suddenly, another storm appears on the horizon).

@"The hardest part about getting through the production is the first level, afterwards things become much easier."
No unfortunately that's the eye of the storm, so to speak. The middle of the project is where the early delays have been fixed and the team is adding big lumps of the project, so progress is often good, but the worst is yet to come. Finishing a game is always the hardest part, because of all the small jobs to do at the end. These take a lot of time to finish and fix no matter how much planning you do. Also finishing a game is the least fun part of games development. Its doing all the tidying up and fixing and polishing things that have to be done at the end of the project.

You'll often see developers talk about the importance and difficulty of finally finishing a game. Its always a struggle to get a game finished, but a very worthwhile learning experience even if it isn't a success and it is a very good feeling, once you can look back at a finished game.

Christian Nutt
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So after I read this I poked around your website, and you have some rookie mistakes. For example, your page for Maniacal Mouth doesn't have screenshots, just the video, which is hosted on YouTube.

There's no press page where people can easily get assets and info for press coverage. Contrast against a great site like this: http://yachtclubgames.com/shovel-knight-press-kit/

Of course, realistically, you weren't/aren't going to get a ton of coverage (or maybe any coverage) for Maniacal Mouth because it's a very small game and expectations should be low for that kind of thing. It's also on the amateurish side art-wise, which I think is always a big problem (and something I never understand, really, given how many great artists are posting art for free on sites like DeviantArt.)

Anyway, I think you probably need to take a break from trying to run forward and stop and think, which I suppose is the purpose of this blog post. I wish you all the best, but it's probably time to do some really critical thinking about where you are and where you're going.

I would definitely say what you ought not to do is worry about collaborating with the people from your school program. Not sure where you went to school or what kind of program it is but it doesn't sound like it's helping you a lot or generating people who are actually serious about making games.

I would stop and think about what you consider yourself capable of, and what resources you have, and then consider booting up a project that aligns with that reality.

Jonathan Neves
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Actually the screenshots are there, scroll down a little but more and you'll see a running slideshow of them, and what's wrong with the trailer being hosted by Youtube?

The press page issue is something I'm currently looking at as a friend of mine suggested before I wrote this blog. So I absolutely agree with you there.

We knew realistically that the game wouldn't sell very well, we knew it would only appeal to a niche audience. As for the art, I can defend myself against that, it was primarily developed at the time when we had no artists while still in school. The art was done by a programmer. Frankly for his effort and experience he did a pretty good job. At a certain point I had to put a stamp on things and state that the art can't get any better with the people working on it so lets just move on.

Most of the people working here now, didn't go to school with me, the programmers did but they have been here since the beginning and are always working hard and delivering.

Thanks for the advice and comments.

Ted Brown
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First off, I know you're in a tough spot. I sympathize.

But I wanted to reach out specifically because, by all accounts, you are shedding people left and right, and don't know why. You end up taking more and more control just to get things done, and instead of keeping things buttoned down, everything comes apart faster.

I've been in those situations before. I was "people blind" for a very long time, and it turns out that I'm "on the spectrum," so to speak. In other words, I have Asperger's syndrome, and I think you do, too. The emotional pain and social grief it has caused over the years is nearly incalculable. But, also like me, you sound like a problem-solving kind of guy, biased towards action. The good news is: if you do have Asperger's (and I strongly suggest you take an online test to find out), that "burden" is also a toolset you can use to solve the problem. Teach yourself how to thrive in a social environment, and learn how to be a leader that people want to follow, instead of a director that is always, "somehow," misunderstood and/or betrayed.

Good luck to you.

Jonathan Neves
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In an effort to take your advice I took an online aspergers test, I scored an 8 so I'm quite far from having it. This blog was a week of minor depression do to financial problems, but I have my resolve and I've discussed it with the other team members and we're focused. I find writing about my struggles therapeutic, and the following comments of questions and advice are equally helpful.

Thank you for your comments.

Martin Grasso
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I think there are some strong positives from all of this. You just need to take the time to fully reflect on the lifecycle you went through with your game project. I believe your blog post is the beginning of that and the time you took thinking about it before writing it. Also, first and foremost you finished something that someone could purchase. You put it out there. That is a success.

You went through a difficult cycle and for better or for worse, you made it to release. Many projects never get there. Now is the time to understand where the problems are for the next project. Why was there no market for the game? Did you not show enough people what you were working on early on to get feedback? When someone outside of the team picks up the game, do they get it? Were you protecting your IP so much that you didn't show anyone outside the team?

IMO, you can't shelve the Mouth project. Strip off the company identification and show the game to people you never showed it to before. Tell them you just downloaded this different game and you were wondering what they thought of it. Collect some feedback on it.

You obviously sound fearless in approaching others and getting them excited in what you are doing. It sounds like you can recruit unpaid workers almost at will into your projects. This is a strong skill.

I'm guessing here, but I would say the problem arises after they are part of the team. Somewhere in there was a lack of feeling part of something, that their contribution mattered? You lost that initial excitement that you were able to recruit them with.

I'm curious on how you ran it all. Were the tools in place that your team could just focus on their objective and not fighting their workflow?

How fast was a team member's contribution integrated into a working copy of the game? You have to see the small successes to encourage continued participation. "Wow, that is the piece I wrote right there running in the game."

I feel that your jump to company is a missed opportunity. You were/are in school where you could have initially formed a club. At my school, you would have been provided with some $$ to buy pizza and soda and hold weekly meetings, where you could sit and talk about progress and hold playtest meetings. I don't know if it is necessarily too late to go back to that.

I'd suggest going to or reading up on these game hack-a-thons out there. Get in contact with people that have participated in them and get a feel for how they accomplished their projects. These small teams of, sometimes/often students, are pumping out games of similar capabilities and quality in days.


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