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'The best way to make a hit is to fail a lot'
'The best way to make a hit is to fail a lot'
July 10, 2014 | By Mike Rose




Spontaneous hits are a massive part of the indie success story narrative, with monthly tales of indie studios who have seemingly come out of nowhere, put out a great game, and found instant success.

But Thomas Was Alone creator Mike Bithell argued at Develop Conference today that these stories can actually be quite dangerous for new devs coming into the space and want to achieve the same sort of success because, in Bithell's words, "It's all bollocks."

"This is a story we keep telling, and it's a great story - the person who comes out of nowhere and makes a great game," he says. "Upcoming devs expect, or at least hope, they will achieve a spontaneous hit."

"There will be indies who look at how I sold 1 million copies of Thomas Was Alone and think 'My game actually has art, I could sell 10 million copies!'" he laughs. "If you think Phil Fish's first game was Fez, or Jonathan Blow's first game was Braid, that's going to inform how you make your first games. It's all bullshit. Everyone has a bunch of games you've never heard of."

Indeed, Bithell himself released more than half a dozen games before finding success with Thomas Was Alone. The key, he says, is to realize that you are going to be bad at making games to begin with, and the only way to get better and hopefully find that hit is to keep trying.

"Everyone fails. Everyone sucks at making video games. We're shit," he says. "The objective when I get up in the morning is to suck slightly less than yesterday."

"It's fine to be a failure - everyone is, and it's awesome," he adds. "There is no way to make a guaranteed hit. It's a lie. The best way to make a hit is to fail a lot."

Of course, you still need to be able to survive while failing, and taking on other work elsewhere alongside your personal stuff can be key to keeping that dream alive.

"The best thing you can do is survive and wait for that hit to happen," Bithell says. Be ready to fail. You're going to fail over and over again."


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Comments


Guillaume Boucher-Vidal
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"Survive long enough to get lucky" is both true and extremely scary. We all know we have finite resource or time/money/morale, but not everyone wants to see that there is no guarantee that once you've spent it all, you will have created something "viable". Any game is a huge risk, no matter how good it is.

What I've found to be a healthy outlook when taking such a crazy risk is realizing that even if I was to fail commercially, I am still building up my skills and my career is still moving forward thanks to the crazy amount of experiences and contacts I make in the process. Even if my company were to fail, I gained so much by creating a game studio. Focusing on that keeps me going.

Besides, I'm enjoying it so much, this is by far what's most important. Job security doesn't exist in the game industry anyway, might as well go a little crazy before having kids.

Kujel Selsuru
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In response to the title of this article "fail early, fail often", very useful advice.

Gary LaRochelle
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I'd like to add: "Play a lot of bad games". There are a lot of them out there (most of them are free). Play them and figure out why they failed. You'll save yourself the lost development time. Let the other guy's failures teach you what not to do. They'll probably fail in ways you never thought of.

comparin christophe
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Well I would advise to play sucessfull games and learn from them. This will save you a huge amount of time over playing "bad games". First I don't see what bag games are, second why should I waste time playing them ?

sean lindskog
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Yes.

Haha, I love this:
"The objective when I get up in the morning is to suck slightly less than yesterday."

Isaac Nichols
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I was going to comment on that quote too. Hahaha

Curtiss Murphy
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New devs rarely get the idea of Deliberate Practice or Trying, Failing, and Improving, until too good to ignore. I loved this post and congratulations on your success.

Gigi

Rasmus Rasmussen
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Like with every other creative endeavor, you must spend years working up to your overnight success. Great post.

Alan Barton
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@"you must spend years working up to your overnight success"

I like Bill Bailey's views on this subject...

"Twenty-two years I've been doing this comedy lark, so it's been like a meteoric rise to fame... if the meteor was being dragged by an arthritic donkey across a ploughed field, in northern Poland."

:)

Mike Shafer
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Great post. Don't forget you can fail on the same project and if you're stubborn, you would keep at it until it's a success. My project wasn't that hot to begin with, but a year later, it's turning some heads. Failure has been a part of the scientific process for as long as we can remember and I would say is almost necessary for success.

Marouf Arnaout
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What we need is a website, blog or features on websites like gamasutra similar to post mortems except focusing on failures whether they're big failures or small failures because I find that the press discusses different successes almost nonstop and so many young and inexperienced gamedevs can become disillusioned with what game development is actually like in terms of how hard it is to actually finish a game or market and sell a game. So the occasional post mortem of a failed game would be both a very enlightening and educative read for many devs like myself. I mean I'm sure we all get ahead of ourselves sometimes when we read about someone's breakout success with their first game and things like that and by presenting the opposite end of the spectrum we can keep ourselves in check and also learn from others mistakes

Simon Lachance
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A master has failed more times than and beginner even tried!

I can't agree more. I made a complete episode on Berzerk Studio's near-bankrupt, and how we dealt with it. Hard times, but 2014 is a lot better for us now. (Shameless plug! : http://youtu.be/mtGATeWQeEw). As long as you survive, and keep making the thing you love, you'll get better at it.

Wes Jurica
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Simon, love your stuff. :)

Wes Jurica
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I think a healthy bit of clarification here would be: "Don't expect failure. Strive for greatness but, prepare for failure. Then provide a swift groin kick to that failure by learning from it."

Daap Lok
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Perfectly explained! Thanks Mike.


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