Category Archives: Business

Let’s Talk About Failure

Way back in March, I left AAA game development to go indie. My plan was thus:

“As an independent creator, I’ll repay my cultural debt and pursue self-sufficiency via two paths. The first is by producing small, focused independent games with niche appeal, according to the design values I’ve developed and honed over my eight years in the industry. And the second is by resurrecting my other creative skill: writing, specifically sci-fi and fantasy fiction, which has long laid dormant due to the relentless hours and pressure of the mainstream commercial games industry.”

I started failing right away.

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Available for Contract Work

Just a quick update to say that I’m now available for contract work, including game design consulting, programming, and video game writing! (I’ve actually been open to this for some time, but haven’t really advertised it until now.)

Check this page for details.

And if you’re wondering what happened to the whole “indie game developer” thing: nothing at all! I’m still hard at work on a game that I’m looking forward to announcing soon. Along the way, though, I sort of “fell into” a contract on the side, and quickly discovered that this sort of work suits me… so now I’m looking for more of it. :)

The Self-Publishing Generation

The current generation of games could be called the “online” generation; that is, the first time games consoles had robust online features as a standard part of the package. Certainly current-gen consoles have done a lot more than that, but I’d bet “online” is the key thing the history books will look back on.

With the announcements by both Sony and Microsoft that their next-gen consoles will support self-publishing, I predict we’re about to enter the “self-publishing” generation, in a far bigger way than anybody really recognizes. Both companies have sort of downplayed these announcements relative to their main selling points – more power, and bigger and better games – but unless they totally screw up the implementation, self-publishing is now positioned to engulf this industry like wildfire.

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Standing Out In An Abundance Economy

A couple generations ago, when games were exclusively physical products, you could have local scarcity within which you could relatively easily stand out. Now the market is the entire global Internet, and we’re all operating within an abundance economy whether we like it or not (but mostly we like it). Your game will be competing against every other indie game and every other commercial game out there: competing for marketing attention, for sales, for play time.

You can’t stand out in that kind of market by trying to out-shout your competition. It’s like E3: every booth is trying to be louder and flashier than its neighbors in an attempt to get you to pay attention to them and not the competition. How do you get your message across in that environment, especially if you don’t have the resources to shout louder?

The thing about E3 is those booths aren’t talking to anybody, they’re just blasting their message out omni-directionally and hoping enough people will notice. So you stand out by instead walking up to someone and saying, “Hi, I made this game and I think you might be interested in it. Want to chat?”

You don’t stand out by shouting louder: you stand out by speaking quietly, directly to your audience, and giving them the opportunity to talk back. They can’t ask questions of a loudspeaker or a TV monitor, but they can ask questions of you, and you can have a dialogue.

Don’t Kill Yourself For A Job

I’ve seen several pieces online lately about the work ethic of successful creators in various media – from books and movies, to music and video games – and there’s a conspicuous common thread: they all work totally insane hours, all the time. 60- and 70-hour weeks are the norm. 12- to 15-hour days are commonplace. And working 7 days a week is just “how it’s done”.

Our culture implies that the more hours you work, the more success you’ll achieve. When we say someone is “hard-working” we always mean “they work a ton of hours”. There’s no similar praise for people who can get the same work done in fewer hours; instead, we ask those people why they’re slacking, why they aren’t doing more.

Our culture also implies that successful people sacrifice a lot (though we usually prefer to call that “dedication”). They sacrifice sleep, outside hobbies and recreation, and sometimes even their health. They go days, weeks, or even months without seeing their families or friends. Projects swallow up childhoods and tear apart marriages. Meanwhile, they glorify their “intense” schedules, their “drive” and their “passion”. They throw a cursory acknowledgement into the credits, thanking the people they neglected for years for their “understanding” (as if they had a choice in the matter).

Every once in a while someone says, “Hey, we should stop this insanity. The 40-hour work week was invented for a reason. There’s even some evidence that the creative professions benefit from working even less.” We tell those people they’re just lazy, that they don’t have what it takes to succeed. You’re probably thinking that about me right now, just for bringing it up.

Well, I refuse to believe in a world where we have to sacrifice our lives for our jobs. I refuse to believe we have to throw everything else away and work ourselves to death to achieve success. And I get very, very frustrated when we elevate “doing a lot of work” over “doing the right work”.

It’s easy to work a ton of hours. It’s harder to make them count. But when you do, you find you need far fewer of them to make an impact. And that leaves a lot of room for the rest of your life to flourish.