This is the first part in a series of blogs around the idea of creating an indie game in three months whilst being a parent, a husband, holding down a 10 hour a day job, still keeping fit and not losing your sanity. It’s not easy, but I found that if you get the right balance of passion and motivation you will find yourself achieving things you previously only dreamed of. I will take you through my journey to tell you the story of how I achieved this and give some guidance on how you could do the same too.
This time last year I was hot off the back of releasing my first video game. Technically it was my first game but it was more of a test project to be honest. I’d basically followed a really good YouTube tutorial, by Brent Aureli, on how to make Flappy Bird for Android. I then modified it a bit, called it Cute Cate Splat and released it on to the Google Play Store. I thought it was going to be that life changing moment where I could quit my job and make apps for the rest of my career. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t. What it did do though was make me believe I could do it, make me realise that I could go through the entire process of making a game and release it. That I could do that by finding as much help along the way as I needed and that it wouldn’t take away from my achievement. That I could tell people I wanted to do this and they wouldn’t laugh at me for being unrealistic or childish but actually support me.
My plan straight after this was to make another game for Android but this time base it on the Super Mario Bros template. I started the initial steps towards this even starting a mini video blog explaining some of the basic steps I was taking. It was short lived though. At the same time as all of this I’d started listening to a podcast called LostCast. The podcast was run by two game developers who had made the transition from web design to game development ten years ago and who have experienced moderate success with a release on Steam with the game A Wizards Lizard. On one of the episodes they interviewed Zack Bell who had released INK to huge success on Steam. During the course of the interview Zack explained how he had struggled to find success as a game developer until the release of INK, a game which he had developed in three months using GameMaker Studio. This interview set my imagination alive with the thought of making a full PC gaming experience rather than a mobile game. Ideas of all the different game types were bouncing through my head, a lot of them heavily influenced by INK. Later that day I jotted down some notes and ideas, three months later, whilst also holding down a full time 10hr a day job, being a parent and a husband and taking part in a three month fitness transformation competition, I’d finished development on Glo, showcased it at the PLAY Expo and released it on Steam on 23rd October 2017.
Glo has not turned out to be a huge financial success and it has not enabled me to quit my day job to pursue full time game development. But what it has done is give me confidence I never knew I could have, taught me a lot of things about game development as a career and a hobby and made me realise we can achieve things if we set our mind to it. There are things I might have done differently, specifically to try and improve the success of Glo. But something happened over those three months which put me into my most productive, most driven and most motivated state I have ever been in my life and I want to share with you what I think came together to create that.
Reasons To Do It
First of all ask yourself why do you want to do this? There are many reason to want to go ahead and create your own indie game. The same can be said for any endeavour in life. For me there’s usually three main reason for doing something like this:
I find that the first two, “you have to do it” and “you want to make money”, naturally go hand in hand. At the end of the day why do you have to do something? Quite often it’s to survive or to get something you want, like money. I think most mundane jobs fall into this category. If you’re reading this I’m assuming it’s because you don’t want a mundane job and therefore this combination probably doesn’t apply, which is a good thing as there’re much easier ways to make some money than spend every spare minute crafting something and then struggling to get people to even know it exists in an already crowded ocean.
Common advice might also be to not do it for the money. I don’t necessarily think this is a bad reason and certainly not one you should be ashamed of. It’s certainly a reason that drives a lot of my decisions and I’m not ashamed to admit that. But if it is the only reason you’re less likely to succeed for a long period of time if at all. As an example, for many years I unsuccessfully tried to create a web design business. The problem was my main drive was to make money so I could leave my day job. There was only a very small part of web design I truly enjoyed the rest of it I found very tedious. This meant that the small success I did have wasn’t rewarding as it felt too much like a chore. Also I didn’t push myself enough to make a truly successful business out of it because ultimately the activity was not something I wanted to do. It took me a couple of years to realise this, but in the end I could see it was going nowhere and was actually relieved to call it a day.
The best reason I believe to do something like make your own indie game is because you love it. The next thing I want to add might be the controversial part for some; I will go so far as to say that I actually think it helps to want to make money too. If the balance is right then the desire to make money as well as loving the activity is what will elevate this from a basic hobby to something you drive yourself towards doing. I see “you love to do it” as the passion and “you want to make money” as the motivation. These are two crucial ingredients to success. If you put passion and motivation into anything then you will find yourself incredibly driven. And when you are driven by these two things you will find yourself naturally going above and beyond to achieve what you’ve set out whilst enjoying every part of the journey.
Is It Right For You?
If we take the fact “you want to make money” and “you love to do it” are great reasons to start the journey of making an indie game then we’re sorted right? Not entirely. For quite some time I believed I had this balance with web design. I certainly wanted to make money from my work but I also believed I really enjoyed designing web sites. Turns out I did enjoy designing websites; I just didn’t enjoy creating them. What do I mean? I enjoyed deciding how a website should look and the aesthetics behind it. What I didn’t enjoy was trying to make it work behind the scenes. The problem solving and bug finding just didn’t excite me at all. Sure I’d found a part of the job I enjoyed but it wasn’t right for me as a whole.
Move to video games. Ever since I can remember I’ve always loved video games, everything about them. Playing them, the stories they tell, the worlds they create and the mystery behind how they are made. My passion is even more than just playing them as well. In the early 2000s some of the games I was playing had level editors in them. Games like Timesplitters and Farcry. I would find myself spending more time creating levels than playing them. I’d spend hours upon hours creating worlds based on ideas in my head. I couldn't make them fast enough to keep up with the new ideas that were popping into my head. All this leads to the indication of how much I love video games even beyond playing them. I don’t have a passion for any other medium in the same way that I do for video games. That’s how I know I “love to do it” rather than just “like to do it”.
The funny thing is, is that game development has way much more problem solving and bug finding than web development ever had. But because I am so invested and passionate about the thing that I am making, I love the problem solving and bug finding too! I would go so far as to say that I enjoy the whole process of making a game and the challenge it provides as much as if not more than actually playing video games. Even the community building, marketing and PR is something I enjoy and it’s because it’s all in support of something I am so passionate about.
How do you know if you feel this way? Just give it a go, load a tutorial and start following it. That’s essentially what Cute Cat Splat was for me. It was an easy taster for what game development was like and once I’d experienced it I couldn't get enough.
Again I’m going to go against popular advice with this one. Popular advice is to not set high expectations, set your expectations in a way that you don’t expect success. That way when you fail you won’t be broken by this failure. I don’t agree with that. I’m not saying expect to hit the jackpot and sacrifice everything on the bet that you are going to succeed. But I believe some expectation of your ability to succeed is required to help fuel that motivation in the same way that the desire to make money does.
Throughout the development of Glo I always had this almost giddy feeling that I am going to succeed. The “what if?” thought of how my life could change if everything went to plan. I kept this in check though by constantly reminding myself of how difficult success can be to find and how a large part of it is in building relationships with people rather than just creating a good game. Although I kept it in check, I never quashed that giddy “what if?” feeling as I found it was such a motivating and exciting emotion. It’s an enjoyable emotion to experience and made me very driven. However the ability to manage this as just an excited emotion rather than expectation meant that when Glo didn’t sell as well as I had hoped it wasn’t a crushing blow. Sure it was a bit disappointing but it didn’t kill my passion. In fact it made me even more passionate about how I could change and improve things in the development of my next game to finally one day deliver on that expectation.
That is all you need to know if game development is something you want to or should pursue. In the next part I will be going over picking a game idea, picking your tools and finding further motivation.
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This blog post originally appeared on the Chronik Spartan blog.