Indie Dev Confessions: Part 1

2015 was an incredible year. My son was born, my wife has an amazing new job, and I walked away from a career ten years in the making to care for my son and pursue my passion. I finally had the chance to take a run at full-time game development. While last year was full of unforgettable memories, the truth is that it also came with a lot of painful realizations about my indie dev career.

A basic Google search reveals that this experience is not uncommon. Countless developers have stopped to assess wreckage, unable to put their finger on exactly what went wrong. Others have made very astute observations about the challenge of going it alone in the game industry. I think the best thing we can do to carry that discussion forward is to be very open and honest about where we’re at in an effort to determine how we got here. That in mind, I’ve decided to start a series of posts exploring the real, hard truths about my experiences in the indie dev game.

Confession #1: I Abandoned the First Indie Dev Project I Announced Almost Immediately

Before I had even quit my day job I became fascinated with the idea of paying tribute to the old text-based adventure games with my own updated take on the genre. The ingredients were perfect: It would allow me to write (my other great passion), there’s a ton of room for improvement in the traditional formula for these games, and I could use web languages and tools like HTML, JavaScript, CSS, etc., all of which I’ve been fluent in for over well over a decade. It took some stumbling around but I eventually landed on great mechanics for updated text games and it didn’t take too long to lay a strong foundation for the engine. The writing also picked up encouraging momentum as soon as I was able to invest some dedicated work sessions. I settled on a story that I felt was compelling in its own right, but would also allow me to write about some issues that were very close to home for me. I was finally doing work that truly meant something to me.

It was at this point that I fell into a notorious indie dev trap. Instead of taking advantage of being my own project manager, PR lead, and filling all other pertinent roles, I wanted to act like a triple-A tough guy. I put together some screenshots and GIFs, wrote up some basic marketing material, and announced a needlessly aggressive release date for what would be my first product as a full-time game developer.

It felt great at the time. People liked and shared it around Twitter, they left notes to commend the ideas and implementation I was showing off, and let me know they were enthusiastic to get their hands on it. “This is it” I thought to myself. “I’m finally doing it.”

That’s when the most difficult development challenges arose, the writing got less creative and more technical, and the project generally demanded the most from me. I got quiet on social media and even quieter in person. I pounded at the keyboard every chance I got, working way harder than I had in my full-time traditional office job. I stayed in this state as my own senseless deadline came and went, never saying a word. I eventually gave in to the growing desire to work on something fun and new. I’ve never gone back.

It’s hard to remember what was going through my mind when I put that kind of pressure on myself and my project. I’m sure I felt embarrassed that I went months with nothing to show for leaving my office job. I’m sure the family was trying to adjust to less income. I have little doubt that I let my nerves get the best of me. I love being connected with larger indie teams on Twitter and I know a number of great indie dev community managers all over the world. It’s possible that I tried to follow their lead, much to the detriment of my one-man operation. I can tell you for sure I’ll never handle another project this way again. You’ll hear about my games when they have a functional beginning, middle, and end. If I’m not in the polishing stage, you’ll have to be content to hear that “work is going well!”

Join me in the rest of the series and I’ll tell you more cringeworthy tales, like how I left an LLC behind in another state and why I actually hate working in Unity. If you’re an indie dev yourself, leave a comment and tell me about the coolest project you left behind.

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